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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part V


Chapter 14


Phase III and Phase IV Operations*

While planning and preparation for what in 2003 was called Phase III, Decisive Operations, of a joint campaign will always tend to have primacy for Joint and Army planners, it is time to increase the importance of what is now known as Phase IV, Stabilize. Sustained and decisive ground combat is the sine qua non of the US Army. The Army’s operational record from Phase III of OIF, though not without flaws, is superlative. Phase III military operations may be the most intense and dangerous within a campaign, and without a military victory in Phase III, strategic success is impossible. At the same time it must be remembered that the purpose of military operations is to achieve a specific strategic or political objective. As OIF has shown, this phase of operations is ultimately more important than Phase III in securing the end for which military operations were initiated. In spring 2003, however, the DOD and the Army lacked a coherent plan to translate the rapid, narrow-front attack that avoided populated areas whenever possible, into strategic success. Soldiers and commanders at nearly every level did not know what was expected of them once Saddam Hussein was deposed and his military forces destroyed.

Clearly the Coalition lacked sufficient forces on the ground in April 2003 to facilitate, much less impose, fundamental political, social, and economic changes in Iraq. Troop density ratios were on the low end of previous US occupation experiences, much lower than many of the prewar plans for the invasion of Iraq and far lower than previous US and Western counterinsurgency campaigns. These factors were in line with prewar planning for a quick turnover of power to Iraqis and a quick withdrawal of US forces, leaving Iraqis to determine their own political future—options that proved impossible to execute. While CENTCOM and the US Army might not have been expected to plan for a full-blown insurgency of the type that emerged by late 2003, the historical record should have indicated that many more troops would be needed for the post-Saddam era in Iraq.† Key decisionmakers ignored cautionary warnings about the paucity of troops, both official and unofficial, without giving them sufficient review. The Coalition’s inability to prevent looting, to secure Iraq’s borders, and to guard the vast number of munitions dumps in the early months after Saddam’s overthrow are indicative of the shortage. US commanders found it difficult to balance increasing requirements with the units available throughout 2003 and 2004. Furthermore, by the time the Saddam regime fell, most Iraqis had yet to see a Coalition soldier. Unlike Axis military forces and their citizenry in 1945, who had no doubts about their utter defeat and who accepted the imposition of far-reaching political and social changes by the victorious Allies, Iraqis not favorably inclined toward the Coalition’s postconflict goals had much less reason to passively accept fundamental change.

It is too early to pass definitive judgment on the wisdom of the strategic decisions in mid-2004. In that period, the Coalition decided to rely on the Interim Iraqi Government (IIG) to implement a federal solution to Iraq’s political and economic problems and to keep US force levels relatively steady while rapidly building up Iraq’s security forces so they could tackle the internal security problems. By mid-2006, however, it appeared that the dysfunctional qualities of the nascent Iraqi political process, the chronically slow rise in effectiveness by Iraq’s security forces, and the incredibly violent sectarian strife undermined the hopes generated by the success of the Iraqi elections of January 2005 that serve as the end point of this study. What is not open to dispute is that deposing the Saddam regime was far easier than imposing or fostering a new political order in Iraq. One simple explanation is that the Coalition directed far more resources and energy into planning for the former objective than it put into planning for the latter goal.

The concepts concerning postconflict operations are not new to military history or to US military doctrine. Joint and Army commands, nevertheless, have over recent decades rather consistently shown a tendency to ignore them in practice. Joint and Army planning doctrine and processes must be changed to more specifically include planning and preparation for the inevitable transition to Phase IV and the achievement of strategic objectives. The transition to stability operations should begin before the end of major combat operations. Thus, planning must occur nearly simultaneously. Force level or troop density calculations must not simply be an exercise in minimalist thinking based on an alleged revolution in military affairs. Planning must also include an analysis of Phase IV force level requirements at every phase of a campaign. The doctrinal military decision-making process (MDMP) should make this explicit and prevent the sharp division between those phases that allow commands to relegate Phase IV planning to another day or to a follow-on command. Planners must also take into account the historical, cultural, and political factors that will affect national strategy and military operations, particularly Phase IV operations. The Army’s education system must emphasize these principles beginning at the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) and the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), and continue it through the Army War College. Army training programs, such as the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP), should include Phase IV planning and operations in their exercises and simulations—not as an afterthought, but as a primary exercise goal.

*The 2006 version of Joint Publication 5-0, Joint Operations Planning, includes six campaign phases that should alleviate the artificial distinction of the previous four-phase model. They are shape, deter, seize the initiative, dominate, stabilize, and enable civil authority.

†Most senior US commanders, though not all, believed they had sufficient forces in Iraq throughout 2003 and 2004 to accomplish their missions. As this study has shown, this often meant concentrating forces for particular operations in specific regions while accepting risk in other areas and deploying additional forces to Iraq for temporary periods.

Chapter 14. Implications

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