Operation Iraqi Freedom
Major Combat Operations
"Dash to Baghdad"
At 9:34 PM EST on 19 March 2003 (5:34 AM local time in Baghdad on 20 March 2003), United States and United Kingdom forces consisting of 40 cruise missiles and strikes led by 2 F-117s from the 8th Fighter Squadron (supported by Navy EA-6B Prowlers) and other aircraft began conducting military operations against the state of Iraq designed to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and to remove the Iraqi Regime from power. Less than two hours after a deadline expired for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq, the sound of air raid sirens were heard in Baghdad. A short time later, President Bush addressed the American public stating that coalition forces were in the "early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger." In less than 30 days, the combined forces had effectively toppled Saddam Hussein's regime and seized the capital, in what became known as the "Dash to Baghdad."
US Army V Corps and I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) attacks across the border into Iraq in March 2003 demonstrated effective operational planning, flexibility, and agility. After building on 12 years of theater preparation, followed by approximately 9 months of planning, preparing, and deploying into the theater, coalition armed forces sought to liberate the Iraqi people, preserve Iraq's natural resources, and supplant a 30-year dictatorship. The ensuing campaign quickly achieved the first of several national goals: securing the Iraqi oil fields to preserve the future prosperity of the country. At the tactical level, the first 72 hours marked a lightning advance of over 400 kilometers (in the case of Objective RAMS) to secure the first 2 primary objectives. Yet the coalition did not merely attack from Kuwait. Special forces operated against the Iraqi western and northern areas, undermining the regime, supporting US allies, stabilizing the Kurdish Autonomous Zone, and protecting Iraq's western neighbors from Scud launches. So, in addition to forces advancing from Kuwait, Iraq faced mounting pressures from its other 3 borders, and in the center, from relentless coalition air attacks.
Violating virtually all of the traditional wisdom about how to prepare for a campaign of this scope, the V Corps and I MEF forces appeared to have achieved operational and tactical surprise when they started their attack before all of the "necessary" forces had arrived and without a lengthy air effort. Accepting the inherent risks, General Franks and Lieutenant General McKiernan understood the necessity and value of attacking early and aggressively. The running start appeared to throw the Iraqis off of their defensive plan, and they were never able to regain their footing. Coalition forces moved farther and faster than any Iraqi, and even many in the coalition, believed possible. The force was well on its way to Baghdad after the initial attack.
Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and the Iraqi defenders offered a few surprises of their own. The widely expected mass capitulation of the regular army never materialized. Generally, they did not surrender or even vigorously defend. Instead, the majority of Iraqi soldiers just melted away, offering relatively light, if any, resistance. Yet, it was unclear whether this was a deliberate tactic to preserve the force, the result of the extended PSYOP campaign, the result of the ongoing attacks on their command and control systems, the result of their fear of coalition combat power, or simply as close as the soldiers could come to a formal capitulation given the tight control imposed by the layers of security services.
More surprising, the Fedayeen and other paramilitary forces proved more of a threat than anyone had expected. While the paramilitaries were always considered part of the enemy capabilities, the intelligence and operations communities had never anticipated how ferocious, tenacious, and fanatical they would be. The attacks were never able to interrupt the coalition's advance, but they did disrupt operations in An Nasiriyah and As Samawah and inflicted the first startling casualties of the war.
The "darkest day," 23 March 2003, marked the soldiers', marines', airmen's, and the American people's true baptism under fire, when all were reminded that the liberation of Iraq would not be accomplished without spilling coalition blood. Clearly, at least some element of the Iraqi nation was willing to close with and engage the overwhelming American ground forces. Worse, they were attacking in a manner that avoided traditional American strengths: high-technology, stand-off weapons. An Nasiriyah and As Samawah offered the first inklings of how the Iraqis would attempt to defend through the conclusion of major combat operations and after.
Despite being caught in what was referred to as the "Mother of all Sandstorms" between 25 and 27 March 2003, coalition forces continued their advance. Between 31 March and 5 April 2003, coalition forces mounted constant attacks on Iraqi Republican Guard forces. By 7 April, the coalition had achieved total air supremacy over Iraq and by 8 April 2003, had secured Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) to the point where the first coalition aircraft had begun to land there. The Battle for Baghdad lasted from 9 April to 12 April 2003, after which efforts were targeted to eliminating any remaining concerted resistance by Iraqi forces. By 15 April 2003, the first of many transitions had been made with units being designated to continue combat and conduct stability and support operations in assigned zones.
The president of the United States, George W. Bush, declared major combat operations over on 1 May 2003.
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