Lessons learned in Iraq war will apply in future conflicts

Lessons learned in Iraq war will apply in furture conflicts

by Drew Brooks

Fayetteville Observer

Col. Robert Forrester, deputy director of CALL - the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. - said the war resulted in countless compilations, newsletters and handbooks that have changed Army policy and practices.

The newsletters alone number between 400 and 500, he said.

Forrester, who previously served as an adviser to an Iraqi general, said CALL has been analyzing and dispersing lessons learned since the Iraq War began and will continue to do so for years to come.

After speaking to other CALL analysts, Forrester said, he compiled an unofficial "top 5" lessons learned from the war.

He said those lessons have led to a more productive, comprehensive approach to operations, better intelligence, an emphasis on cultural understanding, ways to counter improvised explosive devices and more efficient sustainment.

The sustainment improvements include using contractors to provide the bulk of support for soldiers.

In military intelligence, Forrester said, the Iraq war taught the Army that there is no substitute for human intelligence and that officials can't rely on templates as they have in the past.

"In the past we were guilty of believing we could know and template an enemy, that we could somehow know and prevent actions," he said before explaining the Army's shift toward more investigative-type intelligence. "Now it almost looks like law enforcement."

Perhaps the lessons that have saved the most lives in Iraq come in counter IED operations.

"We had no counter IED effort when this war started nine years ago," Forrester said. "Now we have a robust effort across the board."

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Mr. Bacon's sarcasm is not lost on me....

Some stuff that comes to my mind:
1. How is it that logistics are mentioned...we had many of the same lessons from Desert Shield / Storm. It was very evident that sustainment was unlikely to maintain pace with the combat units and the tooth to tail ratio has always been an issue. We reduced troop levels to the point that we had to have contractors for support as we couldn't do it organically. So, we're are about to reduce troop levels again, apparently. Not to mention a lot of those fat contract jobs are going to disappear. There will again be no mechanism to ensure sustainment needs are met. So I have to ask: how can we say we've learned a lesson if we insist on setting ourselves up for the same shortfall?

2. Intelligence...the lesson here should be, "laziness doesn't work". We look to cameras, sensors, drones, aerial platforms and everything else except brain power and humans. There's a reason our tactics dictate a leaders recon before departing the ORP: you can't count on ISR assets without verifying with humans, what the ground truth is. Our military is like a group of seven year olds in front of a Playstation: totally mesmerized by the fancy graphics and the wonders of technology. Are we really still having to learn this?

3. IEDs and C-IED. Sorry but that's just plain negligence on the part of leaders and planners. IEDs are not new. The concept has been around for a long time. Complex ambushes in urban terrain, also been around for quite a while. Our vehicles, body armor and other baseline items should have been better from the start. Instead we went into reaction mode and screwed it all up. Body armor is too cumbersome, MRAPs lack mobility. We have sacrificed speed, surprise, and the initiative all because of the implementation of crude weapons systems buried in a mound of trash next to the road.

4. The comprehensive approach to ops, I assume, refers to the new FSO we talk about. We HAD to do FSO for a long, long time now. Our doctrine, however, was more in line with AirLandBattle, despite the talk of FSO. We still want to fight that way and many of our leaders are still trying to fight the battle like it's ALB not FSO. The continuum we speak of in FSO has always been there but we are unable to establish and sustain the continuum needed, linking the political and military aspects of warfare. When that doesn't exist, the real doctrinal way we do things will not resemble the template of FSO.

5. I see no mention of risk aversion, "toxic leadership" or careerism that has plagued us and delayed our progress by years.

Ah come on BumperPlate.

1. How is it that logistics are mentioned...we had many of the same lessons from Desert Shield / Storm.

So you want to compare a week long war to one lasting 8+ years or another that will be 13 years? Imagine what it would have cost and how difficult the logistics would have been if we had tried to do tanks and Bradleys in Afghanistan in any numbers. How about getting them to Taiwan...or South Korea.

2. Intelligence...the lesson here should be, "laziness doesn't work". We look to cameras, sensors, drones, aerial platforms and everything else except brain power and humans.

I'm sure the Raven, Shadow, Warrior A, and Gray Eagle operators would appreciate you calling them lazy as they work their 12 hour shifts providing human-derived intelligence 24/7. The Kiowa Warrior and Apache guys have similarly fought for intelligence with astoundingly low loss rates and lethal response, as required.

3. IEDs and C-IED. Sorry but that's just plain negligence on the part of leaders and planners.

That may be true, but their was no shortage of response to an essential need. Cannot agree with your assessment that body armor and MRAP/M-ATV/double V-Hull Stryker were not game-changers now and the future. HESCO and COPs are also here to stay in full spectrum operations.

You make some good points, but here are my counterpoints:

1. We saw the logistics problems in the week long war...what convinced anyone they wouldn't still be there later. Oh and by the way it wasn't long in OIF before tracked vehicles a) got inadequate support; b) stopped being used that much. Still our ability to sustain operations were precarious. Risk aversion prevented the security of much terrain, which increased the risk of RPGs downing rotary wing, which took them out of the planning in many instances. So we ran CLPs everywhere, which only made the IED concerns worse. The point here is that sustainment during war entails a lot of combat operations. Contractors are not a viable option for combat sustainment. The counter is always that personnel costs make contractors the good short term solution. If we'd quit making our personnel costs so stupidly expensive we wouldn't have the problem and we could provide sustainment with organic assets. Finally, if you want to question sustainment, research how many badass DFACs were around in WWII, or how many TCNs were paid to serve food and provide fore-pro in WWII, etc. We did almost 100% of it organically. Logistics is where I say we beef up and restructure our reserve forces, not defaulting to contractors.

2. Not saying a shadow operator is lazy, although let's please be real about Warrior A and the others - they are flying out of CONUS locations in some instances, collecting combat pay, and going home to the wife and kids each day. No beef with the rotary wing stuff you mention. In line with that, how about we use our recon dudes for that purpose - oh, risk aversion again. I saw commanders looking for data from shadow, mast-mounted camera and other stuff - rather than send out a scout platoon or similar. The scout plt was used for, you guessed, security for the CLP. My comments aren't about the collectors, it's about the commanders. They need to value the skill of collecting information, not delegate it to the newest toy on the shelf.

3. Yes, the industrial response was there. Body armor was a game changer: Soldiers no longer effectively fight from the prone, no longer instinctively move to cover, etc. Watch Restrepo, Soldiers standing up firing when they could be behind a hesco. They do this because the ability to get into a good firing position is not tenable many times. It's not about the SAPI plates, it's about the absurd package we wrap them in. Plate carriers were always the right answer but we entered the war with IBAs - and awful contraption. MRAP may take the blast pretty well but it's not a fighting vehicle. Obviously when it's all you got it's all you got. But to enter theater in a state where we have to restructure International utility trucks and send them into theater as the MRAP is nothing short of saying we were unprepared. Strykers required bird cages which made them offlimits on many roads. The failures are there. And no, I wouldn't say it's a total failure. But it's outright negligence to be completely unprepared for the IEDs, I mean we're basically talking about ambushes with claymores, mine fields - it's only a slight variation on a theme. Here's my big problem, we were reactionary. We got hit in the gut and our solution was to put a pillow under our shirt rather than stopping the guy from punching. We have people that went to Somalia, Iraq, Kosovo, and other locations, not to mention war games, training centers and other things where these lessons were seen and experienced but we neglect them and when war starts we bury more people because we ignored them.

Dod speaks of lessons learned but very soon METLs will get trimmed down to what can be trained given reductions in dollars and people. They will train the canned scenarios that look good and we will enter another war and when that one is over, and the bodies are buried, we'll trumpet our lessons learned once again.

I totally understand that not everything can be foreseen. But let's face it, the lessons learned we are touting are the lessons previously learned or were identified long before 2003. Also, there are many lessons unlearned that need to be highlighted, such as the bulk of our conventional leaders not understanding partnership, SFA, etc.

I realize my tenor is closer to 'debbie downer' than to a sunshine pumper but it's annoying that we see a lot of back slapping and congratulations and I don't think a realistic appraisal merits that. Let's just be honest about how this thing went and get better, rather than exercise ourselves in self-aggrandizement.

2. Not saying a shadow operator is lazy, although let's please be real about Warrior A and the others - they are flying out of CONUS locations in some instances, collecting combat pay, and going home to the wife and kids each day.

Believe you should research what/where the TF ODIN guys are flying: Warrior A and it's not from the states. Gray Eagle, the more automated Army version of Predator has also been flying in both theaters for years. The ground guys rightfully claim that OIF-I was almost all movement to contact and they got insufficient intelligence. That's in part because all the Predators were looking for Scuds, and V Corps had a Army Hunter or two at most. Eight years later, hundreds of Army UAS have accumulated a million combat hours, equaling the USAF totals.

I have watched Restrepo and read the book. I know more about Wanat, Keating, and Ganjgal than most Army historians and have read the other historian's studies and 15-6 investigations. Did you see the original Cubberson Combat Studies Institude draft that attributed more blame at Wanat to lack of UAS? Key narrative from the original study draft did not make it into the final version to include conversations with villagers about UAS, although the final study is certainly a quality product.

How much area can a ground patrol on foot cover vs a UAS, aerostat, or sensor tower? In an operational environment the size of Texas and larger than California, it is illogical to believe a few thousand SOF could secure it on foot alone. Even our two aforementioned states have 70,000 law enforcement officials to cover that wide area expanse in vehicles. In big cities they also use aircraft and would use more if the airspace restrictions were overcome. And that is in peacetime, let alone with insurgents carrying automatic weapons and RPGs running around and hiding in plenty of sanctuaries, where every valley is its own mini-kingdom.

Wide area security cannot exist with foot Soldiers and mounted scouts alone. The Taliban refer to the Apache as monster and are equally fearful of Kiowa Warrior. The death totals would be far higher in both combat theaters without those aircraft. And yet, Kiowa Warriors are completely ill-suited to high altitudes in many Afghan areas. The courage of their pilots is unfortunately shoved aside by inadequate funding of an Army replacement that might cost $15 million...while Marines seem to have no problem getting $70 million MV-22s.

The future is manned-unmanned teaming, both in the air and on the land/sea. But that assumes the Army has sufficient funding available after the AirSea Battle folks have their way trying to posture a threat deterred by MAD, our quieter subs, ample stealth aircraft, cruise missiles and standoff weapons, 10 times as many carriers and carrier aviation on 22 ships. We also have ample aerial refueling assets to allow standoff of those carriers early on.

If forward-deployed Army forces were in theater in other areas besides South Korea, they could easily transport troops to Taiwan and other areas by island hopping. But then primary naysayers critical of light forces and stability operations would poo-pooh that capability instead believing that we could get substantial Army heavy forces onto Taiwan by ship. No wonder the AirSea Battle advocates are winning.

Good comments, however:

1. We saw the logistics problems in the week long war...what convinced anyone they wouldn't still be there later.

We did not go nearly as far in Desert Storm and that resupply was cross country to a greater degree away from populations/insurgents who plant IEDs.

And Desert Storm had 6 months to prepare in which time Saddaam conveniently did nothing to hinder us. That will not always be the case as the Anti-Access/Area Denial folks like to claim.

The difference is that in WWII, we had 2700 Liberty ships being cranked out at a rate as fast as one every 60 days at the end. Today, how many fast sealift ships do we have, and we give away JHSV to the Navy, and Maritime Prepositioning Ships get abandoned. But the Marines get 33 amphibious ships, don't they.

Then we need things like Antonov planes and commercial 747s to carry M-ATVs. We also get the USAF to become experts in airdrop, and the Army is doing plenty of aerial resupply in Afghanistan as well, to include Marine unmanned airlift. More lessons, and your combat logistics patrols (which is a term I believe the Army does not like) are now safer because they have uparmored vehicles and escorts.

Organic and reserve/guard logistics continues, sure. But at some point when the bean counters are looking at total numbers in the Army and in theater, the tail starts getting cut and replaced by contractors for long term logistics efforts. We had a whole lot bigger ground forces in WWII when even the Red Ball express had problems with tanks burning far less fuel. That 60 gallon Stryker fuel tank looks a lot more attractive than the 500 gallon one of a M1 or 175 gallon tank of a Bradley.

Heck, even in the civil war there were contractors and civil trains (as in choo choo) played a major role in the north's victory. The lack of such trains in Afghanistan and Iraq is another reason resupply is so costly. Sure there were no dining facilities in WWII or Korea most likely. Those were not volunteer Armies and times have changed when you start asking troops to deploy on year long tours multiple times vs. the 6-7 month tours of Marines and Navy/USAF. Yet just as we get to the point where 9 month tours may be possible...the cuts come again.

In other news, a new report says that maintaining proper tire pressure will result in better fuel economy.