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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

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


On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign is the next volume in the US Army’s series of studies focused on its operations in Iraq. The first volume, On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, showcased Army operations in the decisive maneuver phase of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) through April 2003. On Point II begins with President George W. Bush’s announcement of the end of major combat on 1 May 2003 and follows the Army’s operations through the January 2005 Iraqi elections. In many ways, On Point II is a book the Army did not expect to write because numerous observers, military leaders, and government officials believed, in the euphoria of early April 2003, that US objectives had been achieved and military forces could quickly redeploy out of Iraq. Clearly, those hopes were premature. Like the first volume, On Point II will focus on the US Army within the context of a combined joint campaign and will also chronicle and analyze the Army’s efforts across the spectrum of conflict to create a secure and prosperous Iraq.

These two volumes share the crucial purpose of telling the US Army’s story in OIF, a task that is challenging because of the contemporary nature of the events under scrutiny. As the authors of the first On Point stated in their Preface, “Interpreting history is difficult; interpreting ongoing events is even more difficult.”1 Additionally, just as On Point was not the definitive history of the first phases of OIF, On Point II is not the seminal history of the Army’s struggle to transition from decisive combat operations to a new type of campaign in Iraq. More will be written in the future, and readers will come to understand the events of OIF better as time passes; however, for those Soldiers engaged in future campaigns involving full spectrum operations, On Point II will provide initial insights into the Army’s experience in OIF. The authors of the first On Point stated their goal was “to kindle the discussion on what happened and why.”2 Ultimately, that is the goal of On Point II as well.

The idea for this study emerged in 2005 when General Kevin Byrnes, commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), and Lieutenant General William Wallace, commander of the US Army Combined Arms Center (CAC), realized the Army had no means in place to capture the contemporary understanding of OIF in any comprehensive way. Both leaders found this troubling. Wallace knew that the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) offered the Army expeditious analyses of current operational issues in the form of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) and Initial Impressions Reports while the Center of Military History wrote the Army’s official histories 10 to 15 years after the fact. Both Wallace and Byrnes envisioned a historical work that would close the gap between the analyses of TTP and the official histories. Wallace stated that this type of study would not be a “definitive history,” but “an analyzed, researched chronicle of the events that says, ‘here’s what happened and here are the implications thereof.’”3

To fill this vacuum, Wallace directed the Combat Studies Institute (CSI) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to research and write the Army’s immediate history of the Global War on Terrorism. Since 1979 CSI has conducted original, interpretive research on historical topics relevant to the current concerns of the US Army and published this research in a variety of forms, including Leavenworth Papers and, more recently, Global War on Terrorism Occasional Papers. In late 2005 CSI formed a team of researchers, writers, and editors to create this study.

While writing On Point II, the authors were very aware of the pitfalls that, since the era of Herodotus and Thucydides, face those attempting to write contemporary military history. Among the most daunting of these challenges is the lack of perspective that clouds the historian’s full understanding of events and their implications. The authors also faced the related problem of using sources that are, depending on the topic, too few or too many, classified, or problematic in other ways. To overcome these potential obstacles, the authors of On Point II relied on a broad foundation of unclassified primary and secondary sources, though the researchers and writers also reviewed many classified documents that provided context. The research and writing team conducted 200 oral interviews and a large number of discussions with many key political officials and military commanders, including most of the division and brigade commanders who participated in OIF between May 2003 and January 2005. The study also used thousands of unclassified documents, such as briefings and reports, which shed light on US Army operations during this period. While much of the material generated by the Army in OIF remains classified, the authors believe they have based this study on a solid foundation of sources composed of unclassified documents, oral interviews, and secondary accounts. In fact, one of the project’s greatest challenges was to use even a small percentage of the primary materials gathered.

On Point II takes up where On Point left off. The authors of the first volume viewed their mission as recounting the Army’s history in OIF from the planning stages through the toppling of the Saddam regime in April 2003. It focuses on Soldiers conducting conventional combat operations, though doing so with unusual boldness and speed. Accordingly, the key conclusions are closely related to the Army’s future role as an institution that conducts conventional warfare, albeit in a new, dynamic environment replete with changing technology and emerging threats. Because of its scope, however, On Point did not address the Army’s transition to the new campaign. The summer of 2003, the time On Point was written, was clearly too early to assess subjects such as the American response to the rising insurgency. In its conclusion, the authors of the first On Point recognized the need for subsequent studies that would closely examine the rest of the campaign, especially how the Army made the transition to the postconflict phase of the operation.

On Point II begins in May 2003, soon after President Bush’s announcement of the cessation of major combat operations. The study does not progress chronologically, but instead takes a thematic approach. Many, if not most, works of military history recount the history of conventional campaigns in which the end result is known and the historian can discern a chronological framework for the progression of the war. Perhaps the best example of this methodology is the widely used approach that shapes historical accounts of the US Army in the European theater during World War II. That approach makes use of a generally accepted narrative that begins with the invasion of North Africa (or Normandy) and ends with the fall of Berlin. Using such a narrative, the historian can demonstrate progress toward the final objective, regardless of the many obstacles that slowed and diverted the effort.

On Point II takes a thematic approach for two reasons. First, this study was written in 2006 and 2007, long before the Coalition terminated its operations in Iraq. Thus, the authors do not know when and how the campaign will end. Second, the 18-month period under study does not lend itself easily to a narrative approach. To be sure, Coalition forces achieved major political and military milestones during this time. Events such as the capture of Saddam Hussein, the establishment of the Interim Iraqi Government, and the elections of January 2005 were significant successes and shaped the campaign in important ways. Because of this, the authors have tried to capture the general chronological structure of the May 2003 to January 2005 period in an overview chapter to provide some understanding of the major events, decisions, and crises that shaped this period.

However, for the US Army, operations in Iraq were not progressive in the sense that, over time, terrain was won from the enemy allowing forward movement toward a geographic objective, such as a capital city, followed by a surrender agreement and the establishment of peace. Nor was the nature of those operations compartmented in that they proceeded sequentially from peacetime buildup and preparation, to decisive offensive operations leading to victory, to brief and benign stability operations, and finally to a transition of authority and redeployment home. Instead, units conducted multiyear operations that were multifaceted and directed across what Army doctrine described as the full spectrum of conflict with the amorphous goal of establishing the conditions for Iraqi self-rule.

The concept of full spectrum operations provided the foundation of the US Army’s doctrine in 2003, though few grasped the practical implications of the concept as OIF began. Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, the Army’s 2001 capstone manual, described a continuum of conflict that began on one extreme with major theater wars for which the Army would primarily conduct conventional combat operations, to military operations other than war (MOOTW) on the other extreme that featured stability operations and peacetime missions such as security assistance. FM 3-0 mandated that Army units at all echelons have the capacity to mount operations along this entire continuum or spectrum. Moreover, doctrine stated that Army units must be prepared to “combine different types of operations simultaneously and sequentially to accomplish missions in war and MOOTW.”4 Doctrinally, all units had to have the capacity to conduct a simultaneous mix of offensive, defensive, stability, and support operations, changing the relative weight of each of these four categories of operations depending on the nature of the conflict. In early 2003, however, few Army leaders had fully internalized the tenets of full spectrum operations. In addition, many national and military leaders incorrectly equated the types of operations (offense, defense, support, or stability) with the type of conflict (conventional war, irregular war, small-scale contingency, or peacetime engagement).

In March and April 2003, OIF began as a traditional, though very bold, conventional military offensive directed toward defeating Iraq’s military forces and removing the Saddam regime from power. Following the accomplishment of this goal, most commanders and units expected to transition to a new phase of the conflict in which stability and support operations would briefly dominate and would resemble recent experiences in Bosnia and Kosovo. This phase of the conflict would require only a limited commitment by the US military and would be relatively peaceful and short as Iraqis quickly assumed responsibility. In this mindset, full spectrum operations would occur sequentially over time as one type of operation finished and another began. Few commanders foresaw that full spectrum operations in Iraq would entail the simultaneous employment of offense, defense, stability, and support operations by units at all echelons of command to defeat new, vicious, and effective enemies. Nor did they anticipate that it would require US and Coalition military forces to take the lead in providing security, reconstruction, and governance for Iraq for years. Certainly, few if any military or national leaders foresaw the beginning of full spectrum operations in Iraq as marking the Army’s transition from its traditional role as a military force unequalled in the fighting of conventional wars, to a force engaged in an irregular war in which a variety of enemies would nullify many of the technological and organizational advantages enjoyed by American Soldiers while creating many advantages of their own.


Nevertheless, the US Army did become engaged in a new campaign in Iraq after April 2003, a type of campaign that required its units to conduct full spectrum operations in a manner unprecedented in complexity and comprehensiveness. Indeed, after the toppling of the Saddam regime, it became common to find combat arms battalions conducting intelligence, reconstruction, governance, combat, and information operations, while simultaneously training Iraqi Security Forces and sustaining these efforts with basic administrative and logistics support. This complex set of missions was not directed at any one, concrete, easily measurable objective, but toward less tangible achievements such as the erosion of the power held by a shadowy insurgent network and the garnering of popular support for the Coalition and the emerging Iraqi Government.

Accordingly, the authors concluded that a thematic approach would best address the broad and complex aspect of this campaign. Following this Introduction and the Prologue, which summarize the events that brought the United States and the Coalition into the conflict in Iraq in early 2003, the study is broken into parts, each encompassing chapters that discuss a specific category of operations and efforts.

The first part is titled “Setting the Stage” and includes the following chapters:

  • Chapter 1, Overview of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: May 2003 to January 2005: This chapter provides a chronological narrative of major military and political events, including major policy shifts and operations that shaped the overall campaign between May 2003 and January 2005.
  • Chapter 2, The US Army’s Historical Legacy of Military Operations Other Than War and the Planning for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: The US Army has a long history of conducting what were commonly, if imprecisely, called stability operations. This chapter reviews the Army’s experience with these operations in the years before OIF, including a discussion of doctrine, training, education, and relevant historical experiences. The discussion concludes with an analysis of the prewar planning for Phase IV, the postinvasion phase, of OIF and how the US Army’s history with stability operations shaped those plans.
  • Chapter 3, The Rise of the Iraqi Insurgency and the US Army’s Response: This chapter is a review of the insurgency’s rise after May 2003, the insurgent groups that made up the threat network, and their most common tactics. The discussion then shifts to how the Army units understood the insurgency and generally shaped their responses to that threat.

In the second part, “Transition to a New Campaign,” the first chapter examines the command transitions that took place and the evolving responses chosen by US Army units to counter the growing insurgency threat. Each of the chapters that follow focuses on a distinctive set of missions, such as intelligence or detainee operations. Taken as a whole, these actions became the critical components of full spectrum operations designed to foster the growth of a new Iraq and counter a growing insurgency.

  • Chapter 4, Leading the New Campaign: Transitions in Command and Control in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: This chapter examines the major transitions of command and control during the period under study, focusing on the creation of Combined Joint Task Force–7 (CJTF-7), the evolution of that headquarters, and the shift to Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF-I) and its subordinate elements.
  • Chapter 5, Intelligence and High-Value Target Operations: Many American Soldiers have emphasized the critical role of intelligence in full spectrum operations, especially those focused on countering an insurgency. This chapter examines how the Army collected, analyzed, and disseminated information, including the use of interrogations in that overall effort. However, its focus is on the emergence of human intelligence (HUMINT) gathered at company and battalion levels as the main source of actionable intelligence and how that imperative shaped unit operations in Iraq. The chapter closes with a discussion of the operations that sought to capture or kill key individuals from the remnants of the Saddam regime and the emerging insurgent network.
  • Chapter 6, Detainee Operations: This chapter covers the emergence of the detention mission as a critical part of the larger campaign in Iraq. The discussion covers a wide range of detainee operations in Iraq, from the problems at the Abu Ghraib Prison to the detainee operations conducted at the tactical level by units unprepared and untrained for this difficult mission.
  • Chapter 7, Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq: Because generating support among the Iraqi population for the Coalition’s vision for the country became critical, the US Army became engaged in a competition of ideas. This chapter looks at information operations in the larger campaign and the role public affairs and the media played in those operations.
  • Chapter 8, Combined Arms Operations in Iraq: By the end of the 20th century, the US Army had become adept at synchronizing the actions of various types of units such as infantry, artillery, aviation, and engineers to achieve mastery of the conventional battlefield. This capability also played a role in the new campaign in Iraq as the Army found ways to employ its skills in combined arms warfare in counter-improvised explosive device (IED) missions and countermortar operations. This discussion will look at the combined arms aspect of these missions and then consider four of the large-scale combined arms operations mounted between May 2003 and January 2005. These four actions demonstrate how and why Army leaders in OIF during this period focused their considerable conventional combat power against enemy forces when they believed major offensive actions were critical to achieve key goals in Iraq.

“Toward the Objective: Building a New Iraq” is the title of the third part. Certain aspects of the reconstruction of the country were tangible, such as the building of schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. Others, such as the establishment of new forms of governance and the creation of indigenous security forces, were more abstract. All of these efforts became critical elements in the larger campaign to attract the support of the general population for Coalition goals in Iraq.

  • Chapter 9, The US Army and the Reconstruction of Iraq: American Soldiers became heavily involved in a wide range of reconstruction projects in Iraq. This chapter looks at the broad Army campaign to rebuild the country and deals specifically with civil affairs operations and the role of tactical units in nation building.
  • Chapter 10, A Country United, Stable, and Free: US Army Governance Operations in Iraq: This chapter looks at how American Soldiers became involved in assisting Iraqis in the establishment of new governing institutions at a variety of levels.
  • Chapter 11, Training the Iraqi Security Forces: The US Army’s effort to train Iraqi forces became a critical facet of the new campaign. This discussion will encompass the Coalition Provisional Authority’s early program to create a new national army as well as the CJTF-7 efforts to build the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. The chapter will also highlight the establishment of the Multi-National Security Transition Command–Iraq and its new program to enhance the fielding of Iraqi Security Forces.

Part IV is titled “Sustaining the Campaign.” The US effort in Iraq was large and complex, requiring a great deal of support of various kinds. The two most critical areas of sustainment—materiel and human support—are the focus of this block.

  • Chapter 12, Logistics and Combat Service Support Operations: Sustaining the larger campaign in an increasingly dangerous environment became a major challenge for American Soldiers. This chapter addresses how US Army units sought to sustain its operations using both traditional and innovative techniques and technology.
  • Chapter 13, Taking Care of Soldiers: This broad chapter touches on the overall issue of sustaining the Soldier’s well-being during war. To fully engage this topic, the discussion ranges from medical treatment and casualty reporting to issues concerning families and morale.

In the “Conclusion,” the final part of this book, Chapter 14, Implications, and the Epilogue will provide an assessment of how American Soldiers handled the challenges during this period of OIF and how the campaign will affect the Army in the future.

A central theme emerging from this work is transition. Out of necessity, the US Army made an astonishing number of transitions between May 2003 and January 2005. In fact, one could easily state that the US Army essentially reinvented itself during this 18-month period. There is, of course, the most critical transition that took the Army from major combat operations to the postinvasion phase that featured full spectrum operations. However, that larger transition encompasses a multitude of smaller yet no less dramatic changes. A series of important political transitions took place in Iraq during this period. At the same time, in June 2003, the military’s theater-strategic and operational-level headquarters reorganized and, a year later, reorganized again. Many of the units that began the campaign in May 2003 returned to their home stations in the spring of 2004, to be replaced by units that had no experience in Iraq. The security environment required transitions as well, demanding that units conduct a wide variety of missions for which they were untrained. That environment likewise required Soldiers to give up their positions as field artillerymen and tank crewmembers to become multipurpose warriors, adept at the wide variety of missions necessary in a campaign that took place across the spectrum of conflict.

Other more profound transitions also altered the lives of American Soldiers. The campaign took hundreds of thousands of Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard troops away from their families and placed them in an incredibly difficult environment. A large number of these men and women returned to their loved ones after being wounded in the effort, and some made the supreme sacrifice by giving their lives. Those involved in writing this study also recognize that members of the Coalition forces, the Iraqi Security Forces, and, most of all, the Iraqi people, have all paid a high price in the campaign to create a free, stable, and prosperous Iraq. This has driven the authors to present an accurate and meaningful history of the overall campaign, both for its participants and for those who might face similar challenges in the future.


1. COL Gregory Fontenot, US Army Retired, LTC E.J. Degen, US Army, and LTC David Tohn, US Army, On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2004), iii.

2. Fontenot, Degen, and Tohn, iv.

3. Lieutenant General William S. Wallace, CAC Commander exit interview by CAC History Office, digital recording, Fort Leavenworth, KS, 8 September 2005.

4. Headquarters, Department of the Army, FM 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC, 14 June 2001), 1-47.

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