After the Fight: Interagency Operations

By Schnaubelt, Christopher M. | Parameters, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

After the Fight: Interagency Operations


Schnaubelt, Christopher M., Parameters


In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 23 June 2005, the head of US Central Command, General John Abizaid, reported that the strength of the insurgency in Iraq had not changed since the beginning of the year. Further, he said, "I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago." (1) General Abizaid's testimony shortly followed statements in the press by Senator Chuck Hagel that "things aren't getting better; they're getting worse .... The reality is, we're losing in Iraq." (2) The post-major combat operations phase in Iraq is a stunning example of how the failure to effectively plan and execute interagency operations turned what started as out as a rapid victory into a long, hard slog. Despite the lightning-quick defeat of Saddam's army and the destruction of his regime, US and Coalition forces in Iraq are struggling to create a secure environment and bring to fruition a stable, democratic Iraqi government.

The situation may not be nearly as dire as some pundits and much of the media would have the American public believe, (3) but there is certainly a long way to go before most Iraqi citizens will be living in a safe and secure environment under a democratic government. This state of affairs begs the question: How did we regress from a stunningly rapid conventional military victory to a slow, painful, and drawn-out counterinsurgency effort? James Fallows argues that two themes have emerged: "a lack of foresight and a lack of insight--that is, a failure to ask 'What happens next?' and a failure to wonder 'How will this look through Iraqi eyes?"' (4)

US and Coalition military forces did very well during the initial major combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, yet subsequently failed to recognize the political, social, economic, and ideological aspects of the campaign. A substantial reason for this breakdown was the lack of effective interagency collaboration at the operational level--in other words, a lack of interagency unity of command and effort. This in turn resulted in a failure to apply effectively all the elements of national power: diplomatic, informational, and economic as well as military. Using the relationship between Combined Joint Task Force-Seven (CJTF-7) and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq as a case study, this article argues that improving its ability to conduct interagency operations needs to become one of DOD's highest priorities. (5)

Post-Major Combat Operations in Iraq

President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on 1 May 2003. Nonetheless, during the first few months of 2004 strategic planners in CJTF-7, the senior military headquarters in Iraq, commonly asked each other: "Are we in Phase IV yet?" This phase consisted of post-combat operations in which the role and footprint of Coalition military forces would begin to sharply decline, while civilian authorities played a greater role and began the process of returning sovereignty to what was expected to be a 'friendly Iraqi government.

Although Coalition soldiers were experiencing increasingly frequent attacks from guerillas or insurgents, especially from roadside bombs, Saddam's armed forces clearly had been defeated. There was even a period of several weeks in which US casualties from traffic accidents exceeded those from enemy action. Yet the slaughter of American contractors on 31 March 2004 and the subsequent "first" battle for Fallujah, combined with al-Sadr's assaults on Najafand Kut, clearly indicated that there was still plenty of combat in Iraq.

Much of the press has asserted a failure to plan for post-combat operations. (6) The greater problem, however, was that of execution. Before the war, US Central Command published a 300-page operations order for Phase IV. (7) A key aspect of DOD planning was to appoint a senior civilian administrator upon the completion of major combat operations. This was initially accomplished by the appointment of retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner and the creation of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). …

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