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Research Question

  1. What lessons can be drawn from the experiences of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM that will improve the U.S. Army's ability to participate in joint coalition operations?

Soon after Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) began in March 2003, RAND Arroyo Center began compiling an authoritative account of the planning and execution of combat and stability operations in Iraq through 2004 in order to identify key issues that could affect Army plans, operational concepts, doctrine, and other Title 10 functions.

The resulting analysis, completed in January 2006, will interest those involved in organizing, training, and equipping military forces to plan for, deploy to, participate in, and support joint and multinational operations. Although focused primarily on Army forces and activities, the analysis also describes aspects of joint and multinational operations. RAND analysts collected the information in this report from many sources, including unit after-action reports, compilations of lessons learned, official databases, media reports, other contemporary records, and interviews with key participants in OIF.

This report presents a broad overview of the study findings based on unclassified source material. It traces the operation from its root causes in the first Gulf War through operations up to approximately the end of June 2004. It addresses strategy, planning, and organization for OIF; air and ground force operations; personnel, deployment, and logistics issues; coalition operations; the occupation that followed combat operations; and civil-military operations. Also, because the research conducted for this report covers events only through June 2004, events that occurred after that date would alter some of the conclusions and recommendations. In other cases, some recommendations might already have been implemented in whole or in part. Nevertheless, the report’s recommendations are provided as they were originally formulated.

Key Findings

Planning was effective in producing a quick and decisive defeat of Iraqi military forces yet ineffective in preparing for postwar operations.

  • Problems arose from the failure of the planning process to identify resource requirements for the transition from combat to post-combat operations, as well as from the failure to challenge assumptions about what postwar Iraq would look like.
  • Problems arose from the failure of the planning process to identify resource requirements for the transition from combat to post-combat operations, as well as from the failure to challenge assumptions about what postwar Iraq would look like.

Iraq's rapid collapse was due to a number of factors.

  • Strategic miscalculations on the part of Saddam Hussein led to deployments of Iraqi forces to the north and east, leaving these forces in poor position to counter an attack from the south.
  • Saddam was preoccupied with internal threats to his person as well as his regime, leading him to shape his forces with an eye to forestalling coups rather than defending the country.
  • Shortcomings in planning, leadership, command and control, coordination, battlefield positioning, situational awareness, and training plagued the Iraqi forces and severely diminished morale among troops.
  • The glaring weakness of the Iraqi forces limits the lessons that can be drawn from this conflict.

The authorities and procedures established to exercise command and control over coalition and U.S. forces consisted of a combination of doctrinal and ad hoc constructs that worked reasonably well throughout Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

Situational awareness did not always go as well as it could have during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

  • Battle damage assessment (BDA) — necessary to make the ground commander aware of the effectiveness of the enemy about to be faced — often was not available to commanders because the assets used to conduct BDA were given other, higher-priority tasks.
  • Sensor coverage of the battlespace was unprecedented, but did not alone translate into situational awareness. Timely processing and dissemination are needed as well, as is information at an appropriate level of resolution, to be useful to tactical commanders.

Postwar operations struggled to develop an approach to reconstructing Iraq.

  • Lack of sufficient prior planning for the peace contributed directly to the civil unrest that followed once the war's major combat operations came to an end.
  • The single most important failure in the postwar planning and execution process was the failure to assign responsibility and resources for providing security in the immediate aftermath of major combat operations.
  • Prewar planning assumptions and expectations were not seriously challenged, even as postwar events began to indicate that most of those assumptions were invalid.

Deployments to the Gulf using the Request for Forces (RFF) process was more agile than traditional deployment procedures, but had disadvantages as well.

  • Approval of each RFF at the Secretary or Deputy Secretary of Defense level opened the deployment process to micromanagement.
  • A new support concept called Distribution Based Logistics worked overall, but encountered problems for all classes of supply other than fuel.

The United States will continue to need a balanced mix of land forces to accomplish a broad range of future missions.

  • These forces will range from small, light special operations forces to large, heavily armored and mechanized forces.
  • Urban combat is unavoidable when the United States has to occupy a country or region and will require combined arms teams well supported by air forces.

Research conducted by

This research was co-sponsored by the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3, U.S. Army, and the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, U.S. Army. It was conducted in the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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