The XVIII Airborne Corps on the Ground in Iraq
Vines, John R., Military Review
FROM JANUARY 2005 to January 2006, XVIII Airborne Corps served as the nucleus of Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I). The Corps deployed with an experienced staff of officers and NCOs who had spent time in Afghanistan or Iraq, and it went through extensive training and preparation; however, it quickly became clear once we got in country that this deployment would present unique challenges.1
The intent here is to offer observations, lessons learned, and recommendations based on our rotation. As a professional staff we have an obligation to share our thoughts with leaders and organizations that continue to support our military's "Long War" strategy for winning the Global War on Terrorism.
After a brief review of the Corps' year in Iraq, this article will focus specifically on three areas: the operational environment; battle command and the challenges in achieving a common relevant picture in a dynamic electronic warfare domain; and reengineering our existing Live-Virtual-Constructive (L-V-C) processes to better prepare Soldiers and units for deployment.
Iraq held a national election in January 2005 that was preceded by significant coalition combat operations in Ramadi, Fallujah, and Najaf. In the wake of these kinetic operations, observers questioned whether conditions were right for an election, but Iraqi citizens came out in record numbers and, despite threats against their lives, voted for a new and free Iraq.
After the elections, there was a lull before the Iraqi Transitional Government formed and its ministers were appointed. Some had underestimated the challenges of establishing the government and the elements of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Maintaining the momentum of those elections would be a key mission.
When the Corps arrived, Saddamists and members of the former government and army were identified as the principle threat. This view changed in the spring, when a wave of suicide attacks pointed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's (AMZ) Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as the primary threat to the successful establishment of a legitimate government. Some Corps elements were specifically focused on AQI. To support this effort, the Multi-National Force Commander directed that Iraqi control of the border be reestablished by November. His three broad themes were: AQI out, Sunni in, and ISF in the lead. Kinetic operations were only a part of this process, as information operations were employed to inform the Iraqi populace.
Intelligence emerged of a network that moved foreign suicide bombers through infiltration routes in the Western Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys to attack Ramadi, Fallujah, Baghdad, and Mosul. Some of those infiltrators attacked Shi'a at mosques, markets, and where large groups collected. Zarqawi released a letter in July declaring that Shiites were legitimate targets and that any Sunnis killed in attacks were acceptable collateral damage. This letter confirmed AMZ's willingness to kill innocent Iraqi citizens to advance his goal of establishing a caliphate.
Consequently, our operations shifted northwest to Sinjar and Tal Afar. A regiment was sent to Multi-National Division-Northwest, where it was partnered with an Iraqi division.
Military Transition Teams (MiTTs) from all four services and some coalition partners were sent to facilitate the training of Iraqi forces. Linkages to the other elements of the government remained latent or immature.
Much effort was given to develop a means to gauge the readiness of Iraqi forces. A Training Readiness Assessment (similar to our own Unit Status Report) was developed that was an entirely new tool for the Iraqis. Under Saddam, it was extremely dangerous to identify shortcomings, so the report represented a significant cultural shift. Another key event occurred in May, when the Iraqi Ground Force Headquarters was created. That fall, the headquarters executed its first operation, and with good success. …