Academic journal article Military Review

Theater Land Operations: Relevant Observations and Lessons from the Combined Joint Land Force Experience in Iraq

Academic journal article Military Review

Theater Land Operations: Relevant Observations and Lessons from the Combined Joint Land Force Experience in Iraq

Article excerpt

In 2016, the campaign to destroy the Islamic State as a fighting force while also pushing any remaining fighters out of Iraq was in full swing. The combined joint force land component command (CJFLCC) in charge of the joint fight during Operation Inherent Resolve was based on the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division, but the mission differed notably from previous division-level efforts during the coalition-led counterinsurgency fight in Iraq. As a combined joint land component, it was the lead agency for a nineteen-nation coalition that supported combat operations across the entire country, and it was the principal interlocutor and liaison with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) leadership. The ISF consisted of a combination of Iraqi army, air force, special operations forces, and police who together provided the essential and decisive but finite ground-maneuver component. Throughout 2016, they conducted large-scale offensive maneuver-and-hold operations to clear Daesh (a derogatory Arabic language acronym for the Islamic State) from the Euphrates and Tigris River valleys with an emphasis on the principal urban areas including Fallujah and Mosul.

The CJFLCC mission was focused on the military defeat of Daesh and required a diverse and active advise-and-assist network. Mission accomplishment necessitated the establishment of combined, joint, and supporting fires; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities; and logistical networks to enable ISF operations. This was supported by a force generation effort to prepare, train, and equip key units of the ISF for combat against Daesh. The CJFLCC was a principal integrating node at the upper tactical and operational levels inside Iraq, and it held and exercised significant authorities and influence over the coalition support to the ISF-led campaign. The CJFLCC operated across all domains and, to some extent, functioned as a key integrator across all domains. For example, even in this largely landlocked tactical fight, maritime ISR, fires, and strike effects launched from the sea made a significant and sustained contribution to the CFLCC mission.

In this situation, the CJFLCC came head-to-head with the nature of the modern battlefield as it operated against a capable, though not near-peer, enemy whose grasp of action across domains, including cyber and human, was notably high. The year 2016 saw the marked degradation of Daesh inside Iraq as the ISF successfully retook 60 percent of the ground previously lost. This fight has significant lessons for future warfare, including some that may inform the nascent multi-domain battle (MDB) concept (see figure).

Lessons Learned

Success in 2016 was in part due to MDB-style cross-domain application of capabilities integrated with "old school" ISF-led close combat. To properly share significant lessons learned from this fight, we provide the following key observations.

Observation 1: Global capability sourcing is now the norm. Geography is less of a constraint on sourcing capabilities than at any time in previous history. While physics still applies to constraints, particularly in air, land, and sea, the options to source a diverse range of capabilities globally is now a reality. The range and reach of the physical domain capabilities are at a historical high, and the cyber and human domains are not limited by time or space. Coalition force contributions are also now more diverse and add value as multiple options exist across the domains. For example, some nations have different legal frameworks that enable action in cyberspace or in the information environment more quickly or with fewer constraints. This had a direct tactical and operational impact inside Iraq during 2016. Instant and ubiquitous modern communications and information technology have compressed the boundaries between the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. And, in some domains such as cyber and human, the boundaries can be meaningless or at least blurred. …

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