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On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign; The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, May 2003 - January 2005

On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign; The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, May 2003–January 2005 by Dr. Donald P. Wright and Col Timothy R. Reese with the Contemporary Operations Study Team. Combat Studies Institute Press, 2008, 718 pp.

May 2003 through early 2005 was one of the more tumultuous periods in Iraq’s recent history. Events coming on the heels of the downfall of Saddam Hussein’s regime as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom had not yet transpired as envisioned by key US and coalition planners. What followed in this new campaign—known in US planning jargon as phase four (stability operations)—were 21 turbulent months during which coalition forces began to hand control of Iraq back to the Iraqis, using what appeared to be an ill-prepared plan executed nearly ad hoc. The US Army, a key player during this time, contributed tactical forces to enable this transition as well as staff elements to form the cores of multiple prominent headquarters guiding the effort. Dr. Donald P. Wright, Col Timothy R. Reese, and the Contemporary Operations Studies Team at the US Army Combined Arms Center published On Point II as the exhaustive, unclassified results of a study spanning the period in question. Because I was on one of the staffs examined during this time, I took a personal interest in the study. On Point II covers these 21 months in 14 chapters, each covering a specific topic. The authors logically group several chapters into larger themes (parts 1 through 5), and seven appendices round out the book.

The authors repeatedly stress that US and coalition forces lacked a unified, comprehensive plan for phase four. Reese’s team emphasizes that several such plans existed in a variety of forms, few of which were mature or final, albeit some were in motion during the first months of this period. Additionally, the authors impress upon the reader that almost six months elapsed before V Corps (the nucleus of what became Combined Joint Task Force [CJTF] 7) began to receive sufficient augmentation to effectively take on the role of a CJTF. Lt Gen David D. McKiernan, the combined land force component commander at the time, best summarized the first six months: “What is the lesson learned out of all that? You have to put as much effort into the back end of the campaign as you do into the front end” (p. 165). The authors conclude by reiterating that “the transition to the new campaign was not well thought out, planned for, and prepared for before it began” (p. 568). They then follow through by summarizing each chapter’s highlights in the greater context.

In particular, I enjoyed the depth of the examination of individual topics. I had piecemeal knowledge of some of the subjects mentioned in the study, all of which fell in lockstep with my background. In fact, the book helped fill in the information I lacked. Furthermore, the authors do a fantastic job of refraining from assigning blame; instead, they simply report events recorded and recalled by the participants. However, the study missed some opportunities by not including input from prominent coalition senior officers such as Canadian general Walter Natynczyk, who deployed with III Corps in January 2004 as the corps’s deputy commanding general and served in Iraq first as the deputy director of strategy, policy, and plans (CJTF-7/CJ5) and then as the deputy commanding general of Multi-National Corps–Iraq.

Some readers may be put off by On Point II’s heavy focus on the Army’s role both at the tactical level and in fleshing out the higher headquarters operating in Iraq. The authors point out that they wrote the study to begin establishing the historical record of that service in Iraqi Freedom. Despite the Army-centric focus, I recommend On Point II as a relevant read for Air Force officers and senior enlisted personnel, especially those who could someday find themselves on the staff of a CJTF.

Maj Paul Niesen, USAF, Retired

Scott AFB, Illinois

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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