Innovation, Transformation, and War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005-2007 by James Russell, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Innovation, Transformation, and War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005-2007

Innovation, Transformation, and War: Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces, Iraq, 2005-2007

by James Russell

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Within a year of President George W. Bush announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq in May 2003, dozens of attacks by insurgents had claimed hundreds of civilian and military lives. Through 2004 and 2005, accounts from returning veterans presaged an unfolding strategic debacle—potentially made worse by U.S. tactics being focused on extending


Within a year of President George W. Bush announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq in May 2003, dozens of attacks by insurgents had claimed hundreds of civilian and military lives. Through 2004 and 2005, accounts from returning veterans presaged an unfolding strategic debacle—potentially made worse by U.S. tactics being focused on extending conventionally oriented military operations rather than on adapting to the insurgency.

By 2007, however, a sea change had taken place, and some U.S. units were integrating counterinsurgency tactics and full-spectrum operations to great effect. In the main, the government and the media cited three factors for having turned the tide on the battlefield: the promulgation of a new joint counterinsurgency doctrine, the "surge" in troop numbers, and the appointment of General David Petraeus as senior military commander.

James Russell, however, contends that local security had already improved greatly in Anbar and Ninewah between 2005 and 2007 thanks to the innovative actions of brigade and company commanders—evidenced most notably in the turning of tribal leaders against Al Qaeda. In Innovation, Transformation, and War, he goes behind the headlines to reveal—through extensive field research and face-to-face interviews with military and civilian personnel of all ranks—how a group of Army and Marine Corps units successfully innovated in an unprecedented way: from the bottom up as well as from the top down. In the process they transformed themselves from organizations structured and trained for conventional military operations into ones with a unique array of capabilities for a full spectrum of combat operations. As well as telling an inspiring story, this book will be an invaluable reference for anyone tasked with driving innovation in any kind of complex organization.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[T]his work is an important contribution to understanding how the situation in Iraq was pulled back from the brink of defeat by committed and innovative officers in the field . . . [Russell] has provided a work that will clearly benefit a military readership. This work stands as an important contribution to the literature on military innovation, and an especially valuable addition to the literature on counterinsurgency."—W. Andrew Terrill, Parameters: U.S. Army War College Quarterly

"[Innovation, Transformation and War] is a compelling assessment of current history and recent interpretations of ongoing conflict, written with lucid prose and a mature understanding of irregular warfare. . . . [It] is recommended with great enthusiasm for its conclusions on adaptation and operational flexibility, as well as for its provocative assessment of the prevailing Iraq history. No professional library devoted to modern conflict or the study of how our military needs to prepare for war in the 21st century would be complete without this study. It represents the front edge of a major research thrust, and will surely prove to be a lasting contribution to our growing grasp of the challenges of modern conflict and measurably adds to our understanding of military innovation. It is strongly recommended for senior military leaders in the Joint and Service combat development community and all students of innovation and history."—Frank G. Hoffman, Small Wars Journal

"James Russell describes in intimate detail an important part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division's successful campaign to retake Ramadi from the insurgents in 2006 and 2007. As revealed in this book, operations in Ramadi were often devised at the lowest echelons and adopted first by battalions and then throughout the brigade combat team. Anyone interested in how some creative Soldiers and junior leaders can change the course of a battle, an operation, and a war, needs to read this book."—Brigadier General Sean MacFarland, U.S. Army, Former Commander of the 1/1 Brigade Combat Team in Ramadi, 2006-2007

"James Russell has written an essential text on how militaries adapt—one of the central issues in the Iraq War and the study of war in general. His groundbreaking field research sets a new standard for scholarship on the Iraq campaign while at the same time adding important new findings to the growing literature on military adaptation—no mean feat by any standard."—Carter Malkasian, co-author of Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare

"On the grueling battlefields of 'post-war' Iraq, the US Army and Marine Corps underwent a transformation. Through a series of superbly researched and fascinating case studies, James Russell shows how American soldiers and marines developed wholly new capabilities and approaches to counter-insurgency. This important book provides a vital corrective to the existing literature on military innovation which presents it as led from the top. For students, scholars, and practitioners of modern war, this is a 'must read.'"—Theo Farrell, Professor of War Studies, King's College London

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Counterinsurgency operations in Anbar and Ninewa, Iraq, 2005–2007

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2011 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7309-6

Chapter One


The United States stormed into Iraq in March 2003 boasting the world's best-trained and -equipped military. Using a host of technologies and new weapons that had been integrated into its force structure over the preceding decade, the invasion force made quick work of its adversary in a march on Baghdad that took only three weeks. The invasion unveiled a "Shock and Awe" campaign of rapid dominance packaged under the ostensibly new paradigm of "effects based operations." The invasion framed the impressive application of combined arms conventional military power that routed Saddam's armies and delivered U.S. forces into downtown Baghdad in three weeks. The invasion force applied a new generation of sensors, standoff munitions, and digitized command and control systems to great effect during the invasion against a marginally competent enemy. The invasion seemed to confirm to many the primacy of U.S. global military power.

As is now widely known, however, the actual invasion of Iraq represented only the opening phase of the war. Unfolding events gradually drained away the initial sense of optimism over the removal of Saddam and the defeat of his army as the security environment inside Iraq deteriorated over the summer of 2003. By the winter of 2003–4 it became clear that, while Saddam's army had been defeated, armed resistance to the invading and occupying force had only just begun. While the U.S. political leadership tried to discount and marginalize the initial appearance of Iraqi resistance groups in the summer and fall of 2003,5 the American military gradually became aware that it was immersed in a full-blown insurgency—a kind of warfare for which it had failed to prepare. The American military slowly came to the inescapable conclusion that the methods and equipment for defeating Saddam's Army wouldn't work against increasingly well organized and adaptive insurgent groups. The U.S. military either had to adjust or face defeat.

This book addresses a discrete, but arguably vital, part of the U.S. war in Iraq in Anbar and Ninewa Provinces during 2005 through early 2007—a period when the United States clearly faced the prospect of battlefield defeat and strategic disaster. It focuses on counterinsurgency, or COIN, operations by a series of Army and Marine Corps battalions operating in a variety of environments during this period. The book seeks to answer one central question: how did the units examined in the pages that follow adapt to the growth of the insurgency during this period? The book presents evidence suggesting that the units successfully innovated in war—a process that drew upon a complex series of forces that enabled the units to transition successfully from organizations structured and trained for conventional military operations to organizations that developed an array of new organizational capacities for full-spectrum combat operations.

The research for this book adds an interesting dimension to the established popular narrative of America's counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. That narrative contains several elements. The first is that military success magically materialized after President Bush sent an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq (the so-called surge) in the spring of 2007. The second is that military success materialized only after General David Petraeus decisively reoriented American battlefield tactics toward COIN, once he assumed command of U.S. forces in Iraq during the same period. The third is that improved battlefield performance directly followed the promulgation of new counterinsurgency doctrine in December of 2006.7 While each of these narratives is correct in an overall sense, they are also incomplete and present only part of the story of how America's ground force decisively reoriented itself toward irregular warfare in Iraq. Evidence presented in this book suggests that by the time President Bush announced the "surge" and Petraeus was named to "rescue" the COIN campaign in the spring of 2007, the units in the following case studies had already built successful COIN competencies and were experiencing battlefield successes—most dramatically in Anbar Province in the fall of 2006. Importantly, in Anbar, at least, these were not ad hoc unit innovations made to no strategic effect. In Anbar, it is clear that the wartime innovation process did produce strategic effect and proved instrumental in the defeat of the Sunni insurgency, as will be addressed in Chapter 4. The units examined in this book showed an ability to adapt and innovate in the field dating from late 2005 with little direction from higher military and civilian authorities. None of the units examined herein received what could be considered command-level guidance from the headquarters level on how to structure their counterinsurgency operations.

It is clear that the commitment of additional troops in 2007 proved instrumental in improving the security situation throughout Iraq and most particularly in Baghdad, just as it is clear that the appointment of Petraeus—a leader committed to COIN—represented an important signal of America's commitment to the new methods of fighting the insurgents. It is equally clear that the promulgation of new doctrine helped to systematically enhance the preparation of incoming units to conduct counterinsurgency, just at it is clear that the manual for the first time provided senior military leadership at Multi-National Forces Iraq, or MNF-I, with a template around which to structure and direct a national-level counterinsurgency campaign. While the promulgation of new joint COIN doctrine in December 2006 unquestionably helped to better train and prepare incoming units that subsequently arrived as part of the surge in the spring of 2007, it does not explain the improved battlefield performance of the units studied here in the eighteen preceding months. This book argues that it is somewhat misleading to assert that the new doctrine suddenly and systematically enhanced battlefield performance that had been notably lagging. This book presents evidence suggesting that tactical momentum (particularly in Anbar Province—the epicenter of the Sunni insurgency) had been building for the previous eighteen months largely as a result of innovation exhibited at the tactical level by a number of Army and Marine Corps units.

Prior to the appointment of General Petraeus as military commander in February 2007, U.S. military commanders in Iraq, Tampa, and Washington had not systematically re-examined the nation's approach to fighting the war. Within Multi-National Forces Iraq (MNF-I), there was debate in late 2006 over the desirability of increasing the number of U.S. troops on the ground but little examination over the overall approach. In early 2006, however, a drafting team headed by Conrad Crane and Jan Horvath working under General Petraeus at Fort Leavenworth feverishly prepared a new counterinsurgency manual—an effort that in itself happened because of the recognition that deploying forces needed a new doctrinal template to prepare them for COIN operations in Iraq. This book has little to add to the already told story of the preparation of the new manual and the important impact of the new doctrine on military operations in Iraq after the manual's publication in December 2006. This book instead chronicles the parallel search for solutions to the insurgency that proceeded on an ad-hoc basis at the tactical level in several U.S. units fighting the insurgents during the same period that the team worked to develop the new COIN manual. These parallel searches for solutions to the tactical and operational problems in fighting the insurgency were loosely connected in that the team preparing the new manual was generally aware of the tactical experiences of U.S. units fighting the insurgents. The team preparing the new manual certainly knew of the ad hoc, tactical innovation process, as can be seen in certain sections of the doctrinal manual. In the field, however, brigade and battalion commanders received little in the way of headquarters-level guidance or information from the team writing the new doctrine or from other higher headquarters on how to conduct counterinsurgency operations. In the cases studied here, it is clear that the improved battlefield performance of certain American units during 2005–6 occurred in the absence of, and not because of, competent top-down direction from the highest reaches of the civilian and military hierarchy. As recounted in several well-known summaries of the period, the White House, State Department, Defense Department, Joint Staff, the Central Command, and MNF-I appeared incapable of jointly formulating and directing the execution of a unified strategic plan in Iraq that linked the application of military force to clearly defined political objectives.

During congressional testimony in October 2005, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the U.S. military strategy in Iraq as "clear, hold, and build." Whatever those terms meant, they had never been communicated in any operational form to the military prosecuting the counterinsurgency, and senior military commanders had no idea what she was talking about. Rice's approach seemed to draw upon an article in the journal Foreign Affairs by Andrew Krepinevich in which he called for an "ink spot" strategy which recommended that U.S. military forces stop focusing on killing insurgents and instead shift to providing local security for the Iraqi population. On the military side, ideas had surfaced independently in the summer of 2005 that units should structure their operations along a number of simultaneous Logical Lines of Operations, or LOOs, to apply their capabilities across the full spectrum of the combat environment. President Bush echoed Rice's words in October 2005 without input from those prosecuting the war. In November 2005, the White House released a National Strategy for Victory in Iraq that repeated the "clear, hold, and build" approach, though there is no evidence that this document provided the basis for a military strategy that was communicated to forces fighting the insurgents. If anything, the White House gave conflicting messages on military strategy throughout the period. In a speech at the Naval Academy on November 30, 2005, President Bush described the U.S. approach somewhat differently from clear, hold, and build, telling cheering midshipmen: "We will continue to shift from providing security and conducting operations against the enemy nationwide to conducting more specialized operations targeted at the most dangerous terrorists. We will increasingly move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate, and conduct fewer patrols and convoys." In December 2005, Bush repeated the mantra coming from MNF-I Commander General George Casey, telling an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

While political leaders appeared confused over military strategy, senior U.S. military commanders with responsibility for Iraq operations articulated a relatively consistent set of objectives. MNF-I Commander General George Casey and the Central Command's General John Abizaid pursued an approach from 2004 through 2006 that sought to turn over responsibility for local security to the Iraqis as quickly as possible. Casey and Abizaid believed that the insurgent violence was directed primarily at the U.S. occupation. Both believed that U.S. troops represented an "antibody" to Iraqi culture and society and that lowering the profile of U.S. troops by consolidating them at a few isolated military bases would reduce insurgent violence. Neither saw the insurgency as a complex, tribal, ideological, and sectarian battle for political power and influence between a variety of different groups with competing objectives. To his credit, Casey clearly realized that American units needed to build COIN competencies, although he refused to embrace or operationalize a national-level campaign plan that reflected general principles of counterinsurgency. In August 2005, he commissioned Colonel William Hix, who headed the MNF-I strategy office, and Kalev Sepp, a COIN expert at the Naval Postgraduate School, to survey U.S. units to determine their COIN proficiency. The survey found that 20 percent of units in the field were demonstrating COIN proficiency; 60 percent were struggling to reorient themselves; and 20 percent of the units showed little COIN proficiency at all. Interestingly, the survey found the younger officers more flexible and interested in exploring COIN capacities than the senior battalion and brigade commanders. There is no evidence that Casey ever used the study to argue for enhanced COIN training with either the Army or Marine Corps back in Washington. Casey's establishment of the COIN Academy in Taji, Iraq, in late 2005, however, demonstrated his awareness that U.S. units needed to reorient themselves away from traditional conventional-style military operations and reflected his lack of confidence that the lack of preparation for COIN could be remedied in predeployment training. The academy conducted five-day courses to familiarize incoming U.S. commanders with the tenets of COIN theory. The curriculum drew upon the writings of David Galula and other noted COIN theorists. The academy played to mixed reviews, however, and the administration of the facility eventually was turned over to retired military officers with little background or expertise in COIN. The MNF-I command emphasis during this period of the war overwhelmingly remained on building up the Iraqi Security Force, or ISF, and conducting "decisive" military operations like that which happened in November 2004 in the assault on Fallujah. Once the Iraqis became capable of independent operations, both Abizaid and Casey sought to withdraw U.S. forces to several major operating bases and then withdraw them from the country altogether—as quickly as possible. Neither Casey nor Abizaid ever promulgated a nationwide campaign plan to counter the emerging insurgency as it gathered strength and momentum in late 2003 and 2004. In the summer of 2005, Colonel Hix's office finally produced an overarching campaign plan that formalized the approach of building up the ISF. The plan, however, did not emphasize the core COIN principles of local security and population protection. Many officers in the field felt a disconnect between Casey's emphasis on demonstrating "progress" in developing host-nation military capabilities and the difficult realities of standing up a new ISF in places like Anbar Province. Some within the MNF-W staff felt pressure to generate indicators showing unrealistic progress in the development of the ISF so that Casey could realize his objective of extricating the United States from Iraq as quickly as possible. A PowerPoint briefing slide describing Casey's campaign dated June 12, 2006, did not refer to local security, the insurgents, or the need for the United States to adopt a new approach to COIN. During the summer of 2006, Casey unsuccessfully pushed a plan in the interagency in Washington to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq from fourteen brigades to five or six by the end of 2007. Growing increasingly skeptical of Casey's approach, the White House formed an ad hoc group to review U.S. strategy in the fall of 2006 that provided three options for a revised Iraq strategy. In January 2007, President Bush chose the group's option to increase troop strength. In the spring of 2007, as General Petraeus took over command, the focus on building up the ISF had not changed substantially. In a briefing prepared for Petraeus by MNF-I deputy commander General Ray Odierno, dated February 8, 2007, the emphasis remained on setting the conditions "for the ISF to emerge as the dominant security force."

The disconnect between battlefield commanders and the confused national level leadership adds another interesting twist to the problems facing tactical commanders responsible for structuring field-level operations. All the cases examined in this book show that the search for tactical solutions to the problems presented by the insurgency proceeded for the most part without interference from higher headquarters at MNF-I or any other headquarters elements that might have imposed solutions that dictated battlefield tactics, such as the Central Command in Tampa, Florida, or the Joint Staff in Washington, DC. Moreover, there is no evidence that the political leadership in the Defense Department or other executive branch agencies sought to impose solutions at the tactical level—although General Casey clearly faced political pressure from Secretary Rumsfeld to avoid "Americanizing" the war. Despite the pressure on Casey, however, no school solution materialized à la Vietnam that allowed systemic biases at senior levels to impose themselves on commanders leading engaged forces. Ironically, the lack of a school solution can be explained partly by the lack of a doctrinally approved joint approach to fighting an insurgency before December 2006, when the Army and Marine Corps jointly released a draft of FM 3-34 Counterinsurgency. While the Army had released an interim doctrinal manual, FMI 3-07.22, Counterinsurgency Operations in October 2004, the manual applied only to Army units and contained no guidance on structuring COIN operations at the "joint" level. The interim manual generally emphasized the kinetic side of COIN, focusing on destruction of the enemy's forces—as opposed to full-spectrum operations. These limitations mitigated the manual's impact in Iraq, since most military units were faced with a requirement to master full-spectrum operations and conducted tactical operations as joint task forces that incorporated units and organizational components from across the Department of Defense. Unconstrained by an established COIN doctrine, and impelled by desperation to find anything that worked, brigade commanders and their subordinates covered in the following case studies received wide flexibility to structure their operations to fight the insurgency. As a result, commanders and their supporting organizations freely cycled through a series of actions that helped reduce the effectiveness of insurgent operations directed at their units.


Excerpted from INNOVATION, TRANSFORMATION, AND WAR by JAMES A. RUSSELL Copyright © 2011 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

James A. Russell is an Associate Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey. He previously spent 13 years in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, working on Persian Gulf-related strategy and security policy.

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