Operation Iraqi Freedom: Coalition Operations

By Gardner, Sophy | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Coalition Operations


Gardner, Sophy, Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract:

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime during the combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom between March and May 2003 marked the culmination of many years of cooperation between US and British forces in the Middle East, brought together for Operation Desert Storm and remaining for 12 years policing the northern and southern no-fly zones over Iraq side by side. In this article, the author attempts to identify the issues and challenges posed by coalition operations in Iraq as a way of understanding how to maintain and best nurture the close professional military relationship that exists between the US Air Force and the Royal Air Force as we look, collectively, to the future.

IT IS JUST 22 months since the US-led coalition entered the final planning phase in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. At the time, the debate was raging about whether the United States was going to be forced to "go it alone."1 In a press briefing on 11 March 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the United States had alternative plans to invade Iraq if Britain decided not to take part in military actions, adding, "To the extent they [Britain] are not able to participate, there are works around and they would not be involved."2 In the United Kingdom (UK), the prime minister was facing significant opposition from within the Labour Party and from the general public, with demonstrations in London in mid-February 2003 drawing an estimated (and record) one million people. These political problems created a febrile atmosphere in the run-up to a potential operation (and gave US military planners a task that, to say the least, was extremely challenging). Nevertheless, it was widely recognised that the United States would attract greater international legitimacy if it could form a coalition, particularly if this could be garnered under United Nations (UN) auspices.3 Also, the UK military contribution on the table, though small in relative numbers, provided some capabilities which were particularly valuable and included key top-up forces in areas where the United States was stretched.4 Going it alone was certainly not the preferred course for the United States.5

Of course, Iraqi Freedom was ultimately conducted as a coalition operation, with troops from the United Kingdom and Australia in combat alongside the US military. But no UN mandate was forthcoming. In the aftermath of combat operations, military commentators lined up to analyse the operation, its perceived successes and failures, and the lessons that could be learnt for the future (not least in the context of the operation as a coalition enterprise). As the British chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) said, "As an example of a coalition operation in modern times, it [the operation in Iraq] has just about everything for the analysts to scrutinise and the armchair generals to comment about."5 The aim of this analysis is to identify the issues and challenges that coalition operations presented during phase three of Iraqi Freedom and extrapolate from these the wider lessons which we need to identify if we are to move forward in order to prepare ourselves for future coalition operations. But firstly, five caveats. I intend to concentrate on the UK/US relationship, despite the fact that there was also a considerable Australian presence-around 2,000 personnel, comprising elements such as special forces, commando units, FA/18s, frigates, and a diving team, as well as a national headquarters similar to, though smaller than, the UK National Contingent Headquarters (NCHQ) at Camp As Saliyah in Qatar (alongside US Central Command [CENTCOM] Forward). The Australians will have their own perspective, although they may well have similar observations on the challenges of participation in this coalition endeavour. Indeed, there were many more layers of complexity to the "coalition" context of this operation, given the dozens of other nations that were involved in some way (whether in providing overflight rights, basing rights, or logistic support). …

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