Iraq War, theater operational planning

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Once the strategic decision was made to go to war in Iraq, the theater operational planning for the Iraq War was the responsibility of GEN Tommy Franks, head of United States Central Command. Franks had already begun contingency planning. Franks discussed high-level concepts with Rumsfeld and his staff, and returned with alternatives. Once the broad theater-level concept was ready, Franks tasked his subordinate land, air, special operations and naval commanders to go to the next level.

With the recommendation of Newt Gingrich, COL Doug Macgregor prepared a briefing, which went to Rumsfeld, which went against the conventional wisdom that large forces would be needed to defeat Saddam. [1] Macgregor geve the briefing to Gingrich on December 31, 2001. It advocated a quick strike into Baghdad by three brigade-sized forces, followed by 15,000 light infantry forces to maintain order.

Macgregor was sent to brief Franks on January 12, 2002. After Macgregor briefed Franks, Franks responded, "Attack from a cold start. I agree. Straight at Baghdad. Small and fast. I agree. Simultaneous air and ground. Probably, but not sure yet." After his return to Washington, Macgregor decided that Franks had given him a polite reception as a courtesy to Rumsfeld; Macgregor wrote a memo of the meeting, which Gingrich forwarded to Dick Cheney and other political contacts. Franks' planner, MG Gene Renuart, argued to Rumsfeld that Macgregor's plan was too light.

Critical factors

Several key factors had the potential to override any plan. First, the Iraqi oil infrastructure had to be protected from sabotage, as its revenue would be key in reconstruction. The military and CIA had different information as to Saddam's intentions; as a practical matter, the oil facilities were kept under close surveillance as the attack grew closer. [2]

Second, Saddam Hussein was the key to Iraqi resistance. Ideally, he would leave the country. If, however, he could be located and killed by air attack, that also would change priorities.

Alternative approaches

GEN Franks briefed Secretary Rumsfeld on February 1, with two alternative plans. The first, informally called "DESERT STORM II", repeated the sequential approach of Operation DESERT STORM:[3]

  • Phase I: buildup of forces before invasion, with increased air strikes in the no-fly zones and early staging of special operations forces; prestaging of approximately 160,000 troops
  • Phase II: Air-centric operations of approximately 3 weeks, preparing the battlefield for the major ground forces attacks
  • Phase III: Major ground forces attack with approximately 105,000 troops
  • Phase IV: Occupation and reconstruction

The alternative, preferred by Franks, was called RUNNING START, and was chosen as the next planning point. It moved Special Operations preparation into Phase I, made the air and ground phases essentially simultaneous (i.e., merged into a combined Phase III of decisive combat operations), and then a reconstruction phase; the phases were not renumbered.

In the next review, additional alternatives were introduced, still assuming some level of simultaneous air and ground attack, as distinct from the separate air phase of Operation DESERT STORM. They varied with the number of troops required:

  • GENERATED START took the most troops, and was considered impractical almost from the beginning; Saddam had learned not to give the U.S. time to prepare. GENERATED START assumed the U.S. would launch an attack only when it had all forces in theater, which would take the longest time and be inflexible.
  • RUNNING START option, which assumed launching combat operations with minimum forces and continuing to deploy forces and employ them as they arrived. The final option stemmed from wargaming the running start.
  • HYBRID PLAN, which evolved from war-gaming RUNNING START. reflected an assessment that the minimum force required reached a higher number of troops than envisioned in the running start option.

The selected plan was a compromise solution between HYBRID and RUNNING START, with more forces than the latter but fewer than the former. RUNNING START offered operational surprise and less demand for synchronization than HYBRID PLAN.

Land forces command

In the Gulf War, there was no common commander for all land forces; GEN H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. gave direct orders to the U.S. Army and Marine unites. Experience both then and in WWII showed the need for a land forces commander.

In November 2001, the commander of United States Central Command, Tommy Franks[4] designated Third United States Army as the CENTCOM Land Forces Component Command (CFLCC). LTG David McKiernan took command of Third Army in September 2002. According to MG Henry "Hank" Stratman, deputy commanding general for support of Third Army, eventual combat with Iraq was assumed when he took his post in the summer of 2001, even before the 9-11 attack.

V Corps

While V Corps was stationed in Germany, all plans assumed it would be the heavy striking force in any attack against southern Iraq. Planning for such an attack had long been one of its responsibilities. Planning intensity intensified in April 2002. It deployed to Poland and conducted Exercise VICTORY STRIKE, a training exercise with Iraq in mind. Under CFLCC, a command exercise, LUCKY WARRIOR, in Kuwait, involved V Corps and I MEF. Next, the annual CENTCOM exercise, INTERNAL LOOK, added practice for the Joint Force Air Component Command (JFACC), while Special Operations Command for CENTCOM (SOCCENT) formally established two Joint Special Operations Task Forces (JSOTF): JSOTF-North and JSOTF-West. It assumed I MEF with part of its air wing, 1st Marine Division with two regimental combat teams, and V Corps with all of 3rd ID, an attack helicopter regiment, and part of the corps artillery. [5]


U.S. Marine planning had, since the Second World War, focused on relatively small, quick-response operations from the sea, typically by brigade-sized Marine Expeditionary Units. Their Vietnam War experience holding ground in the northernmost part of South Vietnam was unusual. They had fought a large-scale operation in Operation DESERT SABRE, which was closer to the WWII experience of multidivisional attack.

Nevertheless, the first Operational Planning Team, held in March 2002, assumed that the I MEF effort would support large-scale Army movement. Its concept was that the Marines would send "Task Force South" to move from Kuwait, capture Jalibah Airport, and stage from there to capture Qalat Sikar and An Kut airfields closer to Baghdad. They would then secure southern Iraq, while the Army brought in resources for the main attack.

This was too deliberate and logistics-intense for Rumsfeld's "RUNNING START" model. Counterproposals were sent back to plan for single Army and Marine brigades to start individual advances. I MEF countered that it was a better overall headquarters than V Corps, since it was experienced in controlling air operations where an Army corps was not. In the planning of July 2002, it was tentatively accepted that I MEF might indeed be the main headquarters. The U.S. Marines also welcomed the participation of British Royal Marines.[6]

The Marines also needed to coordinate with Special Operations forces.

Special Operations forces

Special Operations had played a major and effective part in Afghanistan, and were visible to Rumsfeld and Franks. As in Afghanistan, they divided into "white" (i.e., acknowledged) and "black" (i.e., covert forces).

The main white operations were 5th Special Forces Group (5 SFG) in the south, under COL John Mulholland, and 10th Special Forces Group (10 SFG) in the north under COL Michael Repass. Repass was promoted to command a joint special operations task force containing the two groups; COL Charles Cleveland replaced him in the 10th. They reported both to CENTCOM and Task Force 20, performing, at first, Advanced Force Operations.

Larger, however, was Task Force 20, secretly located on Saudi soil at Ar'ar, commanded by MG Dell Dailey, who was also the overall head of Joint Special Operations Command. TF 20 included Delta Force, the 75th Ranger Regiment, MC-130 COMBAT TALON and other large Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft and helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. In an unprecedented move, the task force was supplemented with a conventional paratroop battalion from the 82nd Airborne Division. [7] Eventually, Joint Special Operations Task Force-North, under Cleveland, would, in addition to 10 SFG, had a significant number of conventional military units under operational or tactical control: [8]

  • 173rd Airborne Brigade
  • Task Force 1-63rd Armor (1st Infantry Division)
  • 2-15th Field Artillery Headquarters (10th Mountain Division)
  • 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

One of the key, although controversial, contingency missions for TF 20 was seizure of Baghdad International Airport, especially if the Saddam Hussein regime collapsed. The latter was always at the minds of the senior civilian leaders, but contingency planning for leadership collapse went back to the Second World War: Operation RANKIN CASE C or the airborne option of Operation ECLIPSE. In WWII, that indeed was an airborne mission. In this war, however, the 3rd Infantry Division staff felt they could do the job more efficiently and with less risk.

Delta and supporting TF20 units, however, had other missions.

The Turkish front

Relations among Turkey, the Iraqi government, the Kurds of Iraq, separatist Kurds in Turkey, and, to a lesser extent, Kurds in neighboring countries has always been sensitive. When it was still assumed that U.S. forces could operate from Turkey, Task Force Viking was formed, to be Joint Special Operations Task Force-North. Its core was the 10th Special Forces Group, under COL Charles Cleveland. While still at Fort Carson, Colorado, it was composed of:[9]

  • 10th Special Forces Group Headquarters
  • 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 10th Group
  • 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group
  • 404th Civil Affairs Battalion
  • D Company/96th Civil Affairs Battalion
  • Task Force 7 Special Boat Service (UK)
  • 352nd Special Operations Wing (USAF)

Elements of:

Using the 4th Infantry Division (U.S.) (4ID), commanded by then-MG Ray Odierno, the most technically advanced in the U.S. Army, planners wanted to launch a northern front from Turkey, but Turkish public opinion was opposed. On March 1, the Turkish Parliament refused to consent to any U.S. operations, including overflights by cruise missiles or aircraft, search and rescue, much less ground troops. At this point, the 4 ID was already in ships off the Turkish coast. Colin Powell had considered the need for a northern front overrated. If there were no northern front and Iraqi forces moved south, that would simply make them better targets. He did think Rumsfeld liked the idea as part of keeping the southern force smaller.

Eventually, Turkey gave some limited and low-visibility access, including overflights by aircraft and missiles, and operations by Task Force Viking. On March 22, it flew to the Bashur and Sulaymaniyah areas in the Kurdish zones of northern Iraq, using a complex, low-altitude, and dangerous path over the Sinai Peninsula, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Turkey did allow one damaged MC-130 COMBAT TALON to make an emergency landing in Turkey. The 10th Group eventually raised 70,000 Kurdish fighters that interfered with the southern movement of Iraqi Army units. [10] Turkey allowed overflights by the 353rd Special Operations Wing to support the peshmerga fighters, and eventually permitted border crossings. [11]

McKiernan, in February, had recommended to Franks essentially the same thing as did Powell: send the 4th ID to the south. If the Turks changed their position, units could always be sent there. [12] Franks, however, thought that keeping a northern threat would keep the Iraqis distracted. He believed that the Iraqis focused on the 4th ID as the main invasion force; even when its ships moved south through the Suez Canal, Arab media reports assumed that it would land in Jordan and attack from the west. By not committing the division to the south, he believed he could maintain a diversion. [13]

Phase IV Planning

Before a decision to invade Iraq had been made, the U.S. State Department began a study, in October 2001, for post-Saddam Hussein transition in Iraq. The project was headed by Thomas S. Warrick. Thirty-three total meetings were held primarily in Washington from July 2002 through early April 2003. [14]

In October 2002, the Defense Department did not create a postwar planning organization, because it might give a message that they were not trying to avoid war. No one organization was in charge. The Joint Chiefs, in December, created Joint Task Force 4 (JTF 4) to do more planning.[15]

Feith and Hadley went to Rumsfeld about Phase IV planning, and proposed that it be in Defense, not CENTCOM and not State. Powell did not object, thinking Defense would have the needed staff.[16] The policy recommendation became National Security Presidential Directive 24, signed on January 20, 2003, creating the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), headed by LTG (ret.) Jay Garner. Garner had experience running humanitarian operations in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. Garner said that he always considered himself in a temporary role. He said that Franks had been promised a large number of constabulary from other nations; his immediate goal, before de-Ba'athification, was "...setting up to pay the civil servants and the police and the pensioners."[17] ORHA, however, never really was operational. It was caught, in part, in bureaucratic fighting principally between State and Defense, with some separate positions from Cheney and Rice. ORHA never really became operational. Rumsfeld told Franks that ORHA would be responsible for reconstruction, reporting to CENTCOM. [18]

According to Feith, Warrick told Iraqi-Americans to stay away from a February 23 meeting with Wolfowitz, which, with other incidents, led Rumsfeld to tell Bremer not to employ Warrick. Feith denies, however, that the Defense Department "trashed" the Future of Iraq project, because, as he put it, it was nothing more than concept papers; there was nothing to kill.[19]

Frank Miller, NSC staff director for defense, had chaired, since August 2002, an Executive Sterering Group that, to his surprise, had to coordinate offices inside the Department of Defense as well as across government. Specifically, he found the budget office, Feith's policy office, the Joint Staff and CENTCOM were not talking. He observed that many of the Defense staff liked to conceptualize, but, as he told Rice and Hadley, "They don't do implementation." His personal contacts told him that internal communications were terrible; the Joint Staff was afraid of Feith and Rumsfeld and did not want to be interfering with Franks.[20]

Feith wrote that the IIA concept was presented to the National Security Council on March 10. [21] The organizations most loyal to Saddam,[22] such as the Saddam Fedayeen, Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, and Special Security Organization would be shut down.

Miller planned to have the interim government run prison camps for formations of Iraqi units, but "not immediately demobilize all the people and put them on the street, but use them as a reconstruction force." In his presentation to the National Security Council, he did not assume that the army would simply go home. [23]


  1. Michael R. Gordon, Bernard E. Trainor (2006), COBRA II: the inside story of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Pantheon, ISBN 0375422625, pp. 33-35
  2. COBRA II, pp. 166-167
  3. Franks, Tommy & Malcolm McConnell (2004), American Soldier, Regan, p. 366-370
  4. unrelated to Gen. Fred Franks in the Gulf War
  5. Gregory Fontenot, E. J. Degen, David Tohn. United States Army Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group (2005), Chapter 2: Prepare, Mobilize, and Deploy, On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Center for Army Lessons Learned
  6. Nicholas E. Reynolds (2005), Basrah, Baghdad, and beyond: the U.S. Marine Corps in the second Iraq War, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 1591147174, pp. 31-33
  7. COBRA II, pp. 327-328
  8. Michael D. Hastings (2005), The Integration of Conventional Forces and Special Operation Forces, Master's Thesis, Command and General Staff College
  9. Isaac J. Peltier (Academic Year 2004-2005), Surrogate Warfare: The Role of U.S. Army Special Forces, School of Advanced Military Studies, Command and General Staff College, pp. 26-27
  10. Peltier, p. 7
  11. Field Manual 3-05.130, Army Special Operations Forces: Unconventional Warfare, Department of the Army, September 2008, p. I-3
  12. COBRA II, pp. 115-116
  13. Franks p. 559
  14. Farrah Hassen, ed., New State Department Releases on the "Future of Iraq" Project, George Washington University National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 198
  15. EPIC Ground Truth Project, Chapter 3 The Department of Defense Takes Charges, Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction’s “Hard Lessons"
  16. Bob Woodward (2004), Plan of Attack, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 074325547X, pp. 281-282
  17. , Interview: Lt. General (ret.) Jay Garner"The Lost Year in Iraq", PBS Frontline, Aug. 11, 2006
  18. Franks, pp. 422-423
  19. Douglas J. Feith (2008), War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism, Harper, ISBN 9780060899738, , pp. 377-378
  20. Woodward, pp. 321-322
  21. Feith, War and Decision, pp. 423-424
  22. Central Intelligence Agency (2004), Iraq’s Security Services: Regime Strategic Intent - Annex C
  23. Woodward, p. 343