Operation Iraqi Freedom: What Went Right, What Went Wrong, and Why

Operation Iraqi Freedom: What Went Right, What Went Wrong, and Why

by Walter J. Boyne

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No war has ever had the intensive media coverage of the 2003 war in Iraq, and none has ever had such monumental second-guessing. Months before the war began, domestic and international pundits painted a gloomy picture of a new Vietnam or of a nuclear Armageddon that would see Israel reduced to ruins.

The war started with a brilliant series of pre-emptive

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No war has ever had the intensive media coverage of the 2003 war in Iraq, and none has ever had such monumental second-guessing. Months before the war began, domestic and international pundits painted a gloomy picture of a new Vietnam or of a nuclear Armageddon that would see Israel reduced to ruins.

The war started with a brilliant series of pre-emptive bangs that shattered Iraqi leadership and seized the most valuable areas of Iraq. How did the US military machine, assumed to have insufficient air power, too few troops, and little momentum take a country the size of California within three weeks?

In the 1991 victory in the Gulf War, the United States lead a much larger coalition force into a heavy air campaign followed by a lightening quick ground campaign. In the years that followed, the United States military experienced a continuing series of reductions in the national defense budget.

What was left unrecorded was the incredible degree of competence with which the US military leadership managed the reduction in resources, balancing force structures against personnel requirements against procurement needs and logistic realities.

Any one considering the great military victory achieved in Iraq must ask the following questions: Who was bright enough to plan to have the weapons systems in the right place at the right time? Who orchestrated this vast complex array of sophisticated military machinery-ships, submarines, missiles, armor, and soldiers-all needing fuel, ammunition and water?

The answer is the much-maligned civil and military leaders of the American defense establishment, working in concert with the most advanced defense-based corporations in the world. While there were those anxious to parade the iniquities of a two-billion dollar bomber, most often failed to appreciated the genius required to conceive of, much less create a system which can use a satellite to send signals to a B-1B to program a precision guided missile to take out a Soviet T-72 tank parked in a mosque-without damaging the mosque!

Admittedly, there were lapses in the Iraqi war, such as the looting of museums by members of the Ba'ath party just a day after many had declared Baghdad liberated and the raids on hospitals, another problem that could have easily been remedied by a show of U.S. presence and force. And there were technological complications as well, including the aching misfortune of death by friendly fire. The author deals with these shortcomings in a straightforward manner.

Operation Iraqi Freedom: What Went Right and Why; What Went Wrong and Why gives intimate insight into the way in which the armed services, particularly the United States Air Force, managed to overcome genuine budgetary, political, and military difficulties to create the finest military force in the world, one that operated with the most extreme care to avoid collateral damage and to prevent loss of life.

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Operation Iraqi Freedom
1A Contrast in ValuesThe conduct of the coalition forces led by the United States in the brilliant campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq has been unique in history. Never before has there been a war waged in which the difference between an evil regime and its captive population was so clearly defined and in which hostile actions were aimed solely at the regime. Never before has an enemy been assaulted with such precise force and firepower. Iraq was buried in a technological avalanche that decapitated leadership, disrupted communications, and devastated forces in the field yet permitted civil life to go on relatively untrammeled.Coalition forces moved swiftly while taking care to avoid collateral damage, which confused not only the enemy but also much of the media reporting the conflict. Within days of the war's start there was intense clamoring about Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) being "bogged down" and of the certain prospect of Baghdad turning into a Stalingrad-like graveyard for coalition forces. Experts of gloom and doom cited dozens of possibilities about what could go wrong, but even as they speculated, the fingers of coalition forces closed around the enemy's windpipe.aThe reportorial situation simmered in the ironic contrast between the often-carping questions at the daily CENTCOM (central command) briefings at the in-theater headquarters and the obvious front-line excitement reflected by the embedded reporters who saw firsthand how well the war was executed.The luster of the campaign is all the more striking as a portent for the future. For the past decade, concerns have been raised about "asymmetricwarfare" being waged against the United States, offsetting the immense advantages in technology, mobility, and firepower it possesses. The coalition forces reversed the process in Iraq, using its advantages to fight an asymmetric war against a continually confused, out-maneuvered, and out-anticipated opponent. Some airpower theorists have searched since World War I for the means to strategically paralyze the enemy. The search was derailed by the advent of nuclear weapons so terrible in their destructive capacity that they became means of deterrence rather than of warfare. But today's technology has advanced to the point that the concepts of later theorists, including John Warden and David A. Deptula, can work to a degree beyond the dreams of Giulio Douhet, Billy Mitchell, and even Curtis E. LeMay. It can be said that ideas similar to those of another airpower theorist, John Boyd, worked equally well in land warfare.bWHAT THIS BOOK IS AND WHAT IT ISN'T.Operation Iraqi Freedom: What Went Right, What Went Wrong, and Why is an analysis of the military actions taken by the armed forces of the United States and its coalition allies against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Its purpose is to examine the efficacy of U.S. and coalition strategy, tactics, operational methods, weapon systems, and personnel during the period of armed conflict. It is not intended to investigate stability and control (the so-called peacekeeping) operations, except in passing. It will not cover counterinsurgency actions, nor will it speculate on the prospects of extended guerrilla warfare.In terms of time, this book, Operation Iraqi Freedom, is confined to the period from March 19, 2003, through May 1, 2003. It is primarily focused on the actions that took place up through, and shortly after, April 9, 2003.The problems of peacekeeping and counterinsurgency will be extended and lend themselves to an entirely new operational name--and an entirely new book.Perhaps even more important than the actual combat was the black-and-white contrast of the ethics and the humanity with which the warwas waged. While coalition air strikes and artillery fire conscientiously sought to avoid damage to civilian institutions, particularly schools, mosques, and cultural centers, the hard-core members of Saddam's regime used those very places to store ammunition, act as communication centers, and occasionally serve as impromptu fortresses. When hostile gunfire erupted from these locales, the withering return fire of coalition forces was featured prominently on Al-Jazeera television and in other Arab media.The most instructive demonstration of the difference between the two opposing forces' view of human life and the worth of an individual soldier came two weeks into the war.On April 1/2, 2003, the United States put together a joint (combined services) special operations team on a daring rescue mission that went into enemy-held territory to rescue a badly injured American soldier, young Private First Class (PFC) Jessica Lynch. The twenty-year-old Army supply clerk was one of twelve members of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company who were captured on March 23 after making a wrong turn in An Nasiriyah. Ambushed, the unit fought fiercely but was captured by overwhelming forces.Lynch was placed in an Iraqi hospital.c A sympathetic Iraqi informed coalition forces of her situation, even as a Marine unit moving up for an attack on Tikrit was made aware of the proximity of American prisoners of war being held by the enemy.The United States used a full panoply of weapons and techniques for the rescue, including the use of an unmanned Predator aircraft, patrolling over her location, viewing the activities in real time.d But this was only the beginning; an Air Force Special Operations Lockheed Martin AC-130 gunship, perhaps the most formidable close-air support (CAS) weapon in existence, was on hand for fire support. Beneath the AC-130 was a flight of USMC Bell AH-1W Cobras, in concert with Army Special Operations Boeing MH-6 Little Bird helicopters. Backing up this already-formidable combination were two Marine AV-8B Harriers. The action began when the two vertical takeoff fighters from VMA-214 created a diversion by striking a Ba'ath Party headquarters. Two other Harriers then took up position to provide additional firepower, staying in the area for almost forty minutes and not departing until after the rescue partyhad left. The Harriers were equipped with the Northrop Grumman-Rafael (Israeli) Litening-II targeting pods, one of which was an advanced model with a video downlink to provide real-time imagery. Both carried Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs).The Harriers worked in concert with a Lockheed Martin EP-3 Orion aircraft that was monitoring Iraqi communications. Ten Marine helicopters, five Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallions, and five Boeing CH-46 SeaKnights landed near the hospital to deliver the Kevlar-clad rescue force.1 PFC Lynch was rescued by the integrated team of special operation forces; which, in the heat of battle, behind enemy lines, and against the press of time, exhumed and brought out the bodies of nine American soldiers.In a parallel development, Marines encountered seven missing prisoners of war walking near the biblical town of Samarra. The seven were flown by helicopter to an airfield in southern Iraq, transferred to a C-130 transport, and taken to Kuwait for further medical evaluation and treatment.The national jubilation when PFC Lynch was brought home was soon matched by a similar outpouring of joy when five other members of her unit and two Apache attack helicopter crew members were returned to freedom on April 14.eIn sharp and bitter contrast, on April 3 the Iraqi military forced a pregnant and obviously unwilling woman to undertake a suicide bombing mission against a coalition-manned checkpoint about seven kilometers from the Haditha Dam. The dam is northwest of Baghdad and about fifty kilometers from the Syrian border. Screaming hysterically with fear, knowing that she and her baby were doomed, the woman stumbled out of a civilian vehicle in a desperate attempt to escape to the sympathetic coalition troops moving forward to help her. The Iraqis detonated the car bomb, killing her, her unborn child, the driver of the car, and three coalition soldiers. Two other coalition soldiers were wounded. Only a week previously, another suicide bomber in a car killed four American soldiers at a checkpoint in An Najaf.This ghastly sacrifice of a woman and her unborn baby occurred even as Saddam Hussein's forces, including the special Elite Republican Guard, the Fedayeen Saddam, and the supposedly effective regular RepublicanGuard, disappeared from the battlefield, retreating from the savage pounding by coalition airpower. Rarely in the history of warfare has an enemy used more cowardly, unwarlike tactics than those of the Iraqi armed forces, who increased their threats of homicide bombings even as they cast off their uniforms and scurried from the battlefield.The contrast in behavior was accentuated in the respective ways that prisoners of war were treated--humanely and in accordance with the Geneva Convention by the United States and coalition partners and inhumanely and in violation of that convention by the Iraqis.Saddam Hussein's colossal disregard for the well-being of his people was expressed in his disastrous planning. Seldom has an enemy force been so badly led as Iraq's, and never has an enemy government been so obviously willing to sacrifice its civilian population, for not even Adolf Hitler called upon Germany's women and children to march as hostages in front of his troops. As will be seen in the later day-by-day description of the conflict, the dispositions and the decisions made by Saddam Hussein ran counter to all military logic and played directly into the hands of the coalition forces.The banality of Saddam's orders can only be understood in the light of his complete misreading of the United States and its leadership. He held a mythic vision that he could wage a traditional war of attrition, inflicting unacceptably heavy casualties on the U.S. and coalition forces. He believed that American popular opinion would revert back three decades to the era of the Vietnam War and that an outraged public would demand an end to the conflict. Saddam expected to survive as he had done after the war with Iran and again after his 1991 debacle in Kuwait. He apparently was realist enough not to expect military victory but counted on his backers--a majority of the Arab world and, somewhat less officially, France, Germany, and Russia--to help him secure a second negotiated peace from a suddenly war-weary United States.It was an intoxicating perspective. In his own mind (and in the minds of many Arabs) he had won the 1991 Gulf War merely by surviving it. Surviving again would be another victory and he would have thus "won" two wars against the Americans. Doing so would raise his standing in the Muslim world to the level of his Tikrit hometown hero, Saladin, who defeated the Christian Crusaders and captured Jerusalem in 1187. It was a policy of unimaginable hubris, possible only for a murderous dictator whose followers never dared give him advice contrary to his whims. To Saddam, the willing sacrifice of the lives of thousands of his followers was a mere bagatelle for his opportunity to gain the highest place in Muslim mythology.The following chapters will demonstrate the depth and degree to which Saddam was out-thought as much as he was out-fought. Many of the weapon systems used by the coalition forces were excoriated as "billion-dollar blunders" by opponents, from the earliest talk of their existence to their deployment and beyond. Some, such as the Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit, were derided as too expensive, unworkable, and prone to failure. Others, such as the Predator, were considered totally impractical and vulnerable to air defenses, human error, and weather during wartime conditions. A few (e.g., the Global Hawk) were forced upon the military against its wishes but were proven in combat. Almost every weapon system deployed in the war, from the venerable Bradley Fighting Vehicle through the Tomahawk cruise missiles and the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) had vehement detractors. Fortunately, almost all of the weapon systems performed superbly in action. (There were exceptions, and they will be noted.)The proper functioning of these weapon systems into an integrated war-making capability was important to the coalition leaders. Failure to perform as required would have been intolerable, for the United States, under the leadership of President George W. Bush's choice for Secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, was demonstrating a true Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). RMAs are often talked about but rarely seen; in the case of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the entire world watched, first in confusion, then in disbelief, as the advancing coalition forces secured an impressive victory in a matter of days.What was less obvious and will be covered in some depth later is the fact that there was not only an RMA but also an RDA--a Revolution in Diplomatic Affairs. The swift, sure actions of the coalition forces have swept the cards off all the diplomatic tables in the world, and for the foreseeable future the United States will not only select the diplomatic game to be played but also deal the cards. To implement this RDA will require a transformation of the Department of State on the scale and to the radical degree that the Department of Defense is starting to be transformed.This new high tide of military proficiency was demonstrated on a far greater scale than anyone except those in the tightest inner circle of planners could imagine and was of a degree completely unanticipated by Saddam, the United Nations, or anyone else.The standard truism that "the next war is always fought like the last one" was totally disproved in the brilliant display of American transformational strategy and tactics that disregarded the past even as theypainted bold new strokes for the future. These radically new methods, only superficially similar to those employed in the 1991 Gulf War, and far more sophisticated and daring, were implicitly riskier from a political viewpoint than a military one.The new methods were less militarily risky because the revolutionary techniques had been tested in Kosovo and Afghanistan and there was tremendous confidence in the Pentagon, particularly in the Checkmatef planning office. A less confident set of leaders might have experimented on a smaller scale to validate them. The new methods were much more politically risky because if they didn't work, the effect on the war on terror, on international world opinion--and on the chances of President Bush's reelection--would have been disastrous.The gamble (and neither Bush nor Rumsfield would have characterized the operation as such) to use the available array of modern weapon systems in the revolutionary manner in which they were employed paid off handsomely and clearly charts the future of military operations. Another factor illustrating the imagination of the Bush team was that while they learned from the lessons of the 1991 Gulf War, they elected not to mimic the highly successful strategy used there.The 1991 Gulf War came about abruptly when, desiring to recoup the billions he had spent in the Iraq/Iran war, Saddam seized the rich oil reserves of Kuwait by overrunning that small emirate in August 1990.At that moment, the Iraqi dictator, Hussein, possessed the sixth-largest air force and the fourth-largest army in the world, both well seasoned in the bitter eight-year war against Iran. His army was equipped with 5,530 main battle tanks, 7,500 armored vehicles, 3,500 pieces of artillery, and 1,800 surface-to-surface missiles, including both static and mobile ballistic missiles.g His air-defense system was formidable, with as many as 17,000 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and about 10,000 antiaircraft guns connected with redundant links to a vast radar network. His 1,000-plane air force included 550 combat aircraft, including MiG-29s, one of the finest fighters in the world.2SADDAM'S STRATEGY: STUPID OR UNBELIEVABLY CUNNING?In the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein believed that the United States would not have a stomach for fighting and would, after encountering heavy losses, quit the war. Even after the extremely effective aerial bombardment, he continued to dispose of his forces in a way that showed he anticipated a grueling land battle. When that did not materialize, he sought the cease-fire, which returned independence to Kuwait--but maintained his power within Iraq. He later interpreted this as a victory, and it was widely seen as such in the Muslim world.In 2003, Saddam Hussein hoped that the United States, faced by opposition from France, Germany, Russia, and most of the United Nations, would back down and not go to war. If this happened, he would have become an even bigger hero to the radical Muslims in the world and to the people who backed him in his own country.Saddam certainly knew that he could not defeat the United States in battle; his second hope, however, was, as stated elsewhere in this book, to inflict so many casualties on the U.S. and coalition forces that popular sentiment in America would turn against the war, as it had done during the Vietnam War. In that case, a negotiated settlement in which he retained power would still be widely interpreted as a victory.A third, and far less likely case, is that Saddam Hussein was so wonderfully cunning that he planned to lose the wars and turn it, as it has, into a guerrilla conflict. It is difficult to believe that even a canny clansman from Tikrit would sacrifice his army, his infrastructure, his nation, and most of all, the oil revenues that he was so assiduously skimming to become a resistance leader. First of all, he had to reckon with being killed--as he so nearly was on two occasions at least; and second of all, he had to reckon with all the people who have scores to settle with him. Without his elaborate security procedures, he is more likely to be killed by an aggrieved Iraqi than by an American patrol.The fourth, and more likely case, is that he (a) expected the U.S. not to fight, or to quit if it fought and suffered casualties and (b) that having lost, he turned to the only thing he has left, guerrilla warfare--a term that does not fit because there is no popular sentiment involved.Saddam's advance forces stood on the border of Saudi Arabia and could have covered the 200-mile distance from Kuwait to Dhahran in little more than a day. To deter him, the United States dispatched forty-eight McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagles from the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. After as many as seven in-flight refuelings for the roughly sixteen-hour flight, the Eagles landed directly in Saudi Arabia. The F-15s, with their implicit promise of American involvement, were, with the partly effective Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force, all that stood between Saddam Hussein and the conquest of Saudi Arabia. (There was also a brigade of Saudi National Guard ground forces.)The President, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, began a double-track process involving intense diplomatic action at the United Nations and reinforcing Kuwait.General Powell, who recalled the bitterly disappointing way the United States had waged war in Vietnam, had enunciated a doctrine stating that military action should be used only as a last resort but when used should be applied with overwhelming force.To apply overwhelming force against Saddam's huge military meant building up a mammoth array of power during a holding operation called Operation Desert Shield. An enormous ground, sea, and air buildup followed, and it was revealed that both military air- and sea lift were inadequate. The airlift was partially alleviated by the first-ever use of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). By the January 17, 1991, start of Operation Desert Storm, more than 125,000 personnel and 400 tons of cargo had been flown in. The peak rate of 17 million ton-miles per day was exactly ten times the rate of the famous Berlin Airlift. Nonetheless, the war revealed the serious inadequacy of both air- and sea-lift capability, and these shortfalls were only partially remedied in the years that followed.While the buildup proceeded, President George Herbert Walker Bush used the unprecedented effect of a U.N. Security Council Resolution to conduct the war. An intensive air campaign was designed to exploit the coalition's strengths when all alternatives to war had been exhausted. This occurred on January 15, 1991, the deadline set by the United Nations for Saddam's withdrawal. On January 16, the day before Operation Desert Storm began, the coalition had an air force of 2,790 aircraft ready to take to the skies, with 600,000 ground troops, 4,000 tanks, and a formidable naval force with more than 150 warships on hand.The coalition forces' superior command and control network was ready to direct the activities of its superbly trained aircrews. The United States planned to employ special operation forces, stealth aircraft equipped with precision-guided munitions (PGMs), and very accuratecruise missiles that would suppress enemy air defenses and eliminate the enemy's integrated air defense and command and control systems. Initial strikes were intended to destroy or degrade Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the reputedly effective Republican Guard divisions.Three phases, intended to last from eighteen days to thirty days, were planned for the air campaign. They included a general strategic air campaign, the elimination of Iraqi capability in Kuwait, and direct attacks on Iraqi army units. The fourth phase was the ground campaign to liberate Kuwait, amply supported by airpower. The fourth phase was expected to be short--but no one expected it to be as swift as it turned out to be, a mere 100 hours, or just over four days. (Extraordinarily bad flying weather forced an extension of the air campaign from the planned thirty to thirty-nine days.)In addition to the initial objectives, the air campaign was intended to establish complete air supremacy, destroy key military production facilities, knock out Scud missiles and launchers along with their production and storage facilities, and bring about the collapse of the Iraqi Army by destroying its mechanized equipment.The plan was initiated when a flight of seven Boeing B-52Gs made the first takeoff for the campaign, lifting off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, at 6:36 A.M. on January 16, 1991, for what would become the longest air combat mission in history at that time. The next morning, the B-52s (the prototype of which first flew in 1952) launched their Boeing AGM-86C conventionally armed air-launched cruise missiles (CALCMs)h at keyIraqi communications, power generation, and transmission facilities.3The CALCMs were joined by the General Dynamics (now Raytheon) Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from naval warships, and they were followed by a host of special mission U.N. aircraft that filled the Gulf skies.While the TLAMs were still in flight, Air Force Sikorsky MH-53J Pave Low led Army McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) AH-64 Apache helicopters to attack Iraqi radar sites, destroying them with withering blasts of Hellfire missiles and cannon fire. The combination of helicopter, stealth, and cruise missile operations peeled Iraqi defenses apart, permitting nonstealth aircraft a less hazardous approach to Baghdad and other targets in Iraq.This was the beginning of a forty-three-day air campaign in which the coalition achieved almost immediate air supremacy and fulfilled all of the assignments it received--with two exceptions. The Iraqi mobile ballisticmissiles were difficult to find and destroy, and a lack of information made it impossible to destroy all of the elements of the Iraqi nuclear industry.4The air campaign was such an overwhelming success that it made the ground campaign painless. The coalition flew 109,876 sorties, of which the U.S. Air Force flew 59 percent.5 Precision weapons were used with great effect but constituted just less than 9 percent (7,400 tons) of the total of 84,200 tons of munitions dropped during the war. (As a matter of comparison, 1,613,000 tons were dropped on Germany and 537,000 tons on Japan during World War II.)The results were so spectacular that they caused a complete reexamination of strategy by the Soviet military, who in August 1991 had tried to seize power. The ill-fated coup was put down, and the commanders did not receive the summary executions that would have been standard in Stalin's time. Instead, there was a recognition that they could no longer compete with the United States, and the Soviet Union dissolved with a whimper--and not a nuclear bang--on December 25, 1991. Even the allies in the coalition were startled at the comparative advances made by the U.S. forces, and many were forced to recognize that they were in fact so far behind that they were, to a greater or less degree, "noninteroperable" with U.S. forces.Such overpowering success might have led to hubris, but the U.S. military faced a ten-year-long period of budget reductions, so it became imperative to learn as much as possible about what went right and what went wrong in the Gulf War.First and foremost, the training of the U.S. and coalition forces had brought them to a level of efficiency that made difficult operations seem easy. The integration of air and space technology, as costly as it was, also worked very well, with some exceptions. The expensive (and much criticized) space and satellite systems that provided intelligence, communications, navigation, and meteorological information were indispensable. The Northrop Grumman E-8A Joint STARS (Surveillance Target Acquisition Radar System) prototypes were rushed into action some five years in advance of their intended operational debut. Perhaps the most amazing discovery was that stealth actually worked. No one had really known for sure that the Lockheed Martin F-117A Nighthawk would be able to perform as intended. In practice it did better than expected, attacking 31 percent of Iraqi strategic targets on the first day, although constituting less than 2.5 percent of the allied force.6 And it did this with impunity, flying through the flak-filled skies of Baghdad without ever taking a hit.Some things did not work, and the most costly of these were the low-level tactics employed by the Royal Air Force, which lost three PanaviaTornado GR.Mk 1 aircraft in delivering airfield-denial bomblets at a 200-foot altitude. The Royal Air Force then switched to using LGBs from a medium altitude.There was also a severe shortage of PGMs. Had they been available in greater quantities, many fewer missions with conventional bombs would have had to be flown, and results would have been greater.The intelligence systems, particularly those involving Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA), did not operate as efficiently as they should have because of a lack of a high-resolution system to analyze mission results.When the weather was poor, the accuracy of LGBs was impaired. After the war, the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, and Secretary of the Air Force Donald B. Rice assigned themselves the task of solving this problem. On a single sheet of memorandum paper they wrote their requirements. The new PGM was to be in the form of a kit that could be strapped onto a conventional "dumb bomb." It was to have its guidance system continuously updated by GPS (Global Positioning System) until it struck its target, with a Circular Error of Probability (CEP) of thirteen meters. Its cost was not to exceed $20,000.After much work in development, they got the JDAM, which has a better CEP than specified and cost less than $20,000.7Another problem existed with communications. While the Air Force's Computer Aided Management System (CAMS) could distribute the daily air tasking order (ATO) to most units electronically, the lack of an interface with the Navy's computer system required that a floppy disk containing the information be hand-delivered each day.8A problem that was more political and psychological than military was the difficulty encountered trying to find and destroy the mobile missile launchers, and a disproportionate number of sorties were devoted to the task. Postwar analysis revealed that not even one ballistic missile was successfully attacked.All of these problems were addressed in the years after 1991, not all with equal success. As serious as some of them were, it was obvious that more had gone right than had gone wrong in the Gulf War. So, when it was apparent that the United States intended to use military force if Saddam Hussein did not comply with the requirements of U.N. Resolution 1441,i it was widely assumed that the general 1991 pattern of combat would be repeated. One aspect that was not only repeated but also improved upon was the minimization of collateral damage. The leaders of the Coalition of the Willing made it absolutely clear to the public but, more important, to their military leaders that collateral damage was to bekept to an absolute minimum, that the Iraqi infrastructure was to be preserved to the greatest extent possible, and that Iraqi civilian casualties were to be avoided at almost any cost. This became an open invitation to the hard-core Baa'thist leaders to use civilians as hostages and shields and to seize upon every casualty as a propaganda triumph. They were ardently supported in this by the Arab media and, to a somewhat lesser degree, by many of its coalition counterparts. Nonetheless, the concept was adhered to with gratifying results.Instead of repeating 1991's strategy and tactics, the newly "transformed" forces of the coalition employed asymmetric, network-centric warfarej in an exhilarating demonstration of both joint operations (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard) and combined operations (U.S., U.K., and other forces). Two additional factors added to the drama and to the success of the concept. The first of these was the effective integration of space-based technology with every aspect of military operations. The second was the unique demonstration of the capabilities (and perhaps the ultimate limits) of the Total Force concept, in which reservists and National Guard members are woven into extended combat operations.k And while the numbers of personnel and equipment employed were far fewer than in 1991, they still represented overwhelming force in the manner in which they were applied. Colin Powell's doctrine was not abandoned, just improved upon.The war (or in current terminology, the Battle of Iraq in the War against Terrorism) was won by an unprecedented confluence of political and military forces. The coalition intelligence organizations, so fiercely and perhaps appropriately castigated after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, were extremely effective (with the perhaps glaring exception of being unable to bring first Osama bin Laden and then Saddam Hussein to justice and to find weapons of mass destruction). One vital use of the intelligence gathered was enabling a very large number of special operation forces to wreak havoc upon Iraqi civil and military organizations, operating alone or in concert with coalition military units. The exact techniques and the true achievements of the special operation forces will notbe known for years, if ever, for reasons of security. These SOF actions, combined with brilliant target selection and expert bombing execution, provided an entirely new method of battlefield preparation. Instead of days of bombings to prepare a battlefield for a massive advance of huge numbers of ground forces, the aerial attacks were conducted with a rapierlike precision, enabling relatively small numbers of highly trained ground forces to seize critical points before the Iraqis were even aware that they were in danger. Much experience had been gained in Afghanistan, and it was put to good use in Iraq. It is difficult to find a civil analogy to the degree of change in the military from 1991 to 2003; in medical terms, it might be the movement from the use of traumatic invasive procedures to microsurgery.There has been speculation that among the achievements of the special operation forces was the systematic payoff to critical leaders.l While this purchase of a monumental bug-out is not impossible, it is more realistic to attribute the rapid dissolution of Saddam's forces to the relentless application of integrated air and ground power. (The opposing view might be that the "bug-out" was not paid for but was, instead, part of Saddam's diabolical plot to create a huge underground movement.) From the surprisingly few opening bombs of the war to the last surgical strike against irregular forces, the air war was conducted with a precision and scientific discipline that makes the highly successful conduct of air operations in the Gulf War seem primitive in comparison.Ironically, the Olympian success of the air war has gone largely unappreciated and under-reported. (General Charles "Chuck" Horner, the Joint Force Air Commander during the Gulf War, believes that reporters should have been embedded on air operations in the two-seat Lockheed Martin F-16s and Boeing F-15Ds, despite the attendant risks. He feels that the airmen deserved to have their story told as well and if the reporters "puked on the camera and the cockpit, just give them some Handi-Wipes," for it would be a great story to tell.)9The air war was conducted on two levels, one of which was the precisely executed bombing of carefully selected targets in Baghdad. The other level was the relentlessly savage hammering of Iraqi ground forces wherever they were found, far away from any television camera. In the April 27 briefing at the U.S. Air Operations Center (AOC), Air Force Lieutenant General T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley, of the Coalition Forces AirComponent (CFAC), said, "We're killing the Republican Guard, but I want you to kill them faster."10 A veteran F-15 pilot with 2,800 hours' flying time, Moseley is the Commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces and Ninth Air Force and the architect of the successful air plan. Said with a deceptively mild homespun demeanor, Moseley's words did not mean that he enjoyed killing but that he recognized the duty of his air forces to eliminate ground opposition to advancing coalition forces.Air- and ground power worked with an alternating synergistic effect. Airpower sought out and destroyed enemy forces, but they were sometimes difficult to find when in static positions. The amazingly rapid movement of coalition ground forces forced the Iraqi military to try to move its own crack divisions to new defensive positions. When they moved, airpower found and destroyed them, day or night in any weather.The effect of this combination of attacks was to sap the strength of the Iraqi divisions, destroying their communications and effectively neutering them. The air attacks on Iraqi combat units did not just take them far below the 50 percent level that is usually regarded as adequate for their elimination as a coherent fighting force; it utterly destroyed them. Yet, as devastating as they were, these strikes went largely unreported in the media, and were given only minor emphasis in CENTCOM briefings, usually in the form of two or three video presentations showing PGMs eradicating a tank or a parked aircraft. (Reporters, like the public, quickly become blasé. These presentations, which in 1991 aroused vicarious video-game excitement, were regarded with ho-hum indifference this time. Just as with man and dog biting stories, if a precision-guided bomb missed a mosque, there was no interest, but if a mosque was accidentally hit, that was news.)The air attacks, conducted far behind the front lines, lacked the excitement of "embedded" reporting and thus allowed the shift in the public's attention away from the heart of the air-war action to ground operations. Reporters riding in Bradley armored vehicles, bonding with the troops, provided a correct and very agreeable image of coalition armored forces. They permitted the world to see the massive firepower wielded by pleasantly mannered young American soldiers who could blast an enemy target into submission and then ten minutes later risk their lives to save Iraqi civilians. There was no room to carry reporters on aerial combat missions, so live television coverage was limited almost exclusively to shots of naval aircraft taking off or landing on the massive aircraft carriers that lingered in harm's way. These were impressive of themselves, but they did not carry the cachet of an unbathed, bewhiskered, obviously fatigued reporter viewed by a night-vision camera, surrounded by soldiers who have just brought him another quick thirty klicks into enemy territory.The degree of the success of air operations was further obscured bythe fact that individual sorties were no longer the measurement used to gauge the intensity of the conflict. The reason for this was the fact that individual bomber and fighter aircraft had such a vastly increased capability to take out targets. As an example, the Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit, the beautiful flying wing stealth bomber that flew from its home at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, as well as from new island facilities at Diego Garcia, could strike as many as sixteen different targets with PGMs in a single raid. The long-derided Boeing B-1B and the veteran Boeing B-52 did even more spectacular work, and just as so many right-thinking officers have demanded since Vietnam, results were measured in the number of targets destroyed, not in the number of missions flown.In the following chapters, the efficacy of all of the services will be depicted on a day-by-day basis, with emphasis given to the background of the successes but also with full acknowledgment of defects.MILITARY VERSUS POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONSThe road to the hell of the Iraq war was paved with good diplomatic intentions. The United States, surprised and sandbagged by its erstwhile friends France, Germany, and Russia, was unable to obtain the U.N. sanction that it sought. Instead of the desired U.N. support for a coalition, the United States and Great Britain announced that they were joined by a "Coalition of the Willing," nations that supported the idea that Saddam's repeated violations of U.N. Resolution 1441 had to be addressed, by force if necessary.Political and economic factors, combined with a complete misreading of President Bush's firm resolve to combat terrorism and its sponsors, seemed to induce France, Germany, Russia, and much of the U.N. leadership to attempt to delay an American-led military intervention in Iraq to a time when it would no longer be politically practical. Many volumes will be written about the personal connections between France's President Jacques Chirac and Saddam Hussein as well as the long-standing business, scientific, and military collaboration between the two countries--a collaboration that led to the creation of the Osirak nuclear facility that Israel fortunately bombed out of existence in 1981.There are obvious parallels between the Israeli decision to bomb Osirak and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq more than twenty years later. Israel had come to a political decision that Iraqi possession of nuclear weapons would be fatal to Israel as a state. The raid took place on the afternoon of June 7, 1981. American-built McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15sand General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) F-16s flew a long low-level route that evaded enemy radar. The F-16s then popped up and, using accurate dive-bombing techniques, demolished their target. The raid itself lasted one minute and twenty seconds. The destruction of the reactor had tremendous implications for the Middle East.In 2003, the United States faced the same dilemma, the certainty that Iraq had possessed and used weapons of mass destruction in the past. Their future use, either locally or by provision to al Qaeda or other terrorists, was potentially fatal to the United States. The President decided that it was not a question that could be left to chance or to the hope that the Iraqis had in fact gotten rid of all weapons of mass destruction as they had claimed.Russia seemed to join France in opposing the United States in a less contentious manner. For his part, President Vladimir Putin had to consider the long relationship that the Soviet Union had maintained with Iraq, as well as the huge Iraqi debt owed to Russia, estimated to be between $7 and $12 billion. (Yet to be fair, we have to acknowledge that the United States has both a national and a personal interest in Iraqi oil. Firms such as Carlyle, Halliburton, and Chevron-Texaco made enormous sums over the years from trade with Iraq, and many members of the administration--Condoleeza Rice, Vice President Richard Cheney, and others--were formerly involved with those very firms.) Russia, now potentially the most oil-rich nation in history, had grave concerns about the conduct of the Iraqi oil operations. But more important, Russia had legitimate worries about the possibility of an Arab-Kurdish conflict breaking out, one that might result in Islamic fundamentalists assuming power in what had formerly been a secular state. Both Russia and France have large and growing Muslim minorities and regard them as political factors that must be catered to. The prospect of Islamic fundamentalists in control of both Iran and Iraq was frightening.In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had only recently eked out a narrow electoral victory on the basis of his anti-American fulminations and had virtually no choice but to oppose American actions in the United Nations. (In fairness, Germany helped guard American facilities and provided almost unlimited overflight privilege).The Chirac-Schroeder-Putin combination scored initial successes in the U.N. arena, which was generally biased against the United States. The three nations pleaded for more time for small and obviously ineffective teams of U.N. inspectors to be led to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction even as Saddam's followers hid them well. France, Germany, and Russia had all voted for U.N. Resolution 1441, and Iraqi violations of that resolution had already provided adequate justification for military intervention.Yet they joined forces to succeed in discouraging the United States in its ill-advised attempt to obtain another resolution that would provide for actions already sanctioned in 1441. This success, won in part by the expected results of Chirac's ardent lobbying of former French colonies in Africa, may have led them to overestimate their joint capabilities. They apparently came to see their three countries as a potential "New European" counterbalance to U.S. economic and political influence. Contributing to this international hubris was their private and disparaging assessment of President Bush, who they believed could be finessed into a long delay in attacking Iraq and perhaps, in the face of their joint intractability, might ultimately be persuaded not to attack at all. (They overlooked the fact that France undertook military action in Africa without requesting U.N. sanction.)Ironically, it is entirely possible that the delays encountered at the United Nations may have been not only welcome but also necessary to implement the daring plan of attack envisioned by Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and their military leaders. This time they did not have the luxury of creating a counterpart to Operation Desert Shield, in which defenses were slowly gathered over several months to defend Saudi Arabia from meeting Kuwait's fate in 1991. But they did need time to prepare for the hard-hitting Operation Iraqi Freedom, which would out-storm Operation Desert Storm and use the lessons learned from it. The result would be unique in history, an amazing combination of an RMA that dazzled the soldiers of the world and an RDA that rocked diplomats in embassies all over the globe.It is interesting now to see how combat action in Operation Iraqi Freedom compares with what was expected and what was planned. As previously noted, one of the most extraordinary aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the degree to which collateral damage was minimized. Ironclad procedures and protocols defined exactly how operations would be conducted, and, in short, it is no surprise that the coalition was successful in reducing the casualties in a savagely fought war to a minimum.For almost ten years, the United States had been developing Operations Plan (OPLAN) 1003, Major Theater War-East, to defend Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from Iraq. The OPLAN also provided for the security of U.S. interests, including its military and civilian personnel and equipment.The original OPLAN 1003 relied on deterrence first; if that failed, U.S. forces were to be rapidly deployed using prepositioned stocks to establish a defense that could hold until sufficient forces arrived to undertake an offensive. The phases overlapped, with the deployment to establish a defense lasting for 90 days, while the defensive phase was to last from Day 45 until the conflict was concluded.The second Bush administration insisted that a counteroffensive element be added to the plan, one that foresaw the elimination of the Iraqi regime. A counteroffensive was to begin as soon as sufficient forces were available to fix and destroy Iraqi forces, with attacks coming from the north, the south, and the west; it was expected to last twenty days. The battle was expected to be one of attrition, in which American ground forces would engage Iraqi forces depleted from air attack and destroy them.When war seemed inevitable in Iraq, a series of revisions were made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to OPLAN 1003, ultimately resulting in OPLAN 1003V, which greatly reduced the number of troops involved and increased the tempo of operations. In the U.S. Air Force, for example, the Checkmate office worked with others to plan a series of alternatives that included the prospect of Turkey refusing to allow troops to cross her borders. It was conceded that all plans change with the first contact of the enemy, but OPLAN 1003V would be at least a baseline from which deviations could be charted.It is important to note that while some have said that there was no "softening-up" air campaign as there had been in Desert Storm, this was not the case. The Air Force Chief of Staff, General John P. Jumper, is emphatic about the advantage that studying the enemy on a daily basis during the twelve years of air operations over the Iraqi "no-fly zones" gave the United States. And after the Commander in Chief of Central Command, General Tommy R. Franks, allowed full implementation of the applicable rules of engagement (ROE), no fewer than 8,600 sorties were flown from July 2002 to March 19, 2003. These significantly reduced Iraqi SAM capability as well as their command and control networks.11OPLAN 1003V was put to the test on March 20, Baghdad time.Copyright © 2003 by Walter J. Boyne

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Meet the Author

Walter J. Boyne is the former Chairman of the Board of Wingspan, the Air and Space Aviation Channel, and President of his own firm, Walter Boyne Associates. The author of 42 books, he is one of the few persons to have had best sellers on both the fiction and the non-fiction list of the New York Times. His books have been published in nine countries. His Beyond the Wild lue: A History of the United States Air Force was made into a five part television series for the History Channel, and his Clash of Wings: World War II In The Air was made into a thirteen party series for PBS. Boyne hosted and narrated both series.

A career Air Force officer, Boyne retired as a Colonel with 5,000 hours flying time in everything from the T-6 to the B-1B. After his retirement in 1974, he joined the National Air&Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. He became Acting Director in 1981 and Director in 1983. Upon his retirement in 1986, he began a third career of writing and consulting. His fourth career, in television, began seven years ago when he co-founded Wingspan the Aviation Channel, of which he was Chairman of the Board. His consulting clients include aviation, publishing and television companies.

A honor graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, with a BSBA, he graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh with an MBA. He received an honorary Doctorate of Aeronautical Science from Salem University in West Virginia. He is married to his wife of 50 years, Jeanne; they have four adult children, five paragons of virtue grandchildren, two priceless dogs and two perfect cats.

WALTER J. BOYNE is the former director of the National Air&Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Boyne's books have made both the fiction and the nonfiction bestseller lists of The New York Times. His novels Roaring Thunder and Supersonic Thunder cover the first forty-four years of jet aviation. His critically acclaimed nonfiction book, Dawn Over Kitty Hawk, recounts the story of the Wright Brothers. A retired Air Force Colonel, Boyne was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame class of 2007.

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