After Action Report, “SUBJECT: Operation Iraqi Freedom After Action Review Comments,” April 24, 2003, conducted by TCM C/3-15 Infantry, Task Force 1-64 [declassified].106
After less than 48 hours after the first battlefield engagement, members of this company team were tasked to conduct checkpoint operations southwest of al-Najaf. With no training, soldiers were expected to search vehicles, interact with civilians with no CA (Civil Affairs) or PSYOPS (Psychological Warfare) support, detain EPW’s (Enemy Prisoners of War), and confiscate weapons. Less than 48 hours after this, the unit was again heavily engaged in combat operations. The radical and swift change from combat operations to SASO and back to combat operations over and over again causes many points of friction for the soldiers and their leaders.
With the exception of a class given to the platoon leaders, there were not formal classes or training conducted by CA prior to the operation. No training on checkpoint operations or dealing with civilians was received.
Material resources continued to be an issue. The team brought extra CL IV on all vehicles in anticipation of having to conduct blocking operations but the capability to haul the quantities required by SASO was not there. Having emplaced checkpoints on four different occasions, by the time the unit reached Baghdad, there was no remaining CL IV (construction and barrier materials). The unit was in desperate need of materials for force protection. It took weeks for materials to arrive; in the meantime the unit utilized destroyed cars, flower pots, bicycle racks, and whatever else was available for force protection.
Interpreters were not available to the company team at any point during the operation. These interpreters are critical to the team’s ability to interact with civilians, discern their problems, and broadcast friendly unit intentions. Often times the unit had crowds and upset civilians to deal with and absolutely no way to verbally communicate with them.
Lack of information from higher headquarters greatly complicated the task of converting from high intensity conflict to SASO. Weeks after occupying Baghdad in force, the unit is still unable to direct the civilian populace to humanitarian agencies other than the Red Crescent. We have no way to direct people to places to receive food and water, to search for loved ones, to located deceased personnel. The unit did not have the ability to answer any questions simply because of the unsynchronized and unplanned operations of the Civil Affairs community and other non-governmental organizations.
The problem with the switching from combat to SASO is the impact on the soldiers and leaders of the unit. Transitioning from combat to SASO requires a substantial and fundamental shift in attitude. The soldiers have been asked to go from killing the enemy to protecting and interacting, and back to killing again. The constant shift in mental posture greatly complicates things for the average soldier. The soldiers are blurred and confused about the rules of engagement, which continues to raise questions, and issues about force protection while at checkpoints and conducting patrols. How does the soldier know exactly what the rule of engagement is? Soldiers who have just conducted combat against dark skinned personnel wearing civilian clothes have difficulty trusting dark skinned personnel wearing civilian clothes.
A. Integrate SASO training into the unit METL (MISSION-ESSENTIAL TASK LIST). This was has provided ample instances where units are conducting both combat and stability operations at the same time. Thus, we should no longer expect to be able to compartmentalize ourselves as either “war fighter” or “peacekeeper”. With the ever-present threat of terrorist attack, it is critical that soldiers know the correct tactics, techniques, and procedures for providing security while also enforcing peace.
B. Heavy duty CL IV materials are required for blocking positions and should be maintained at the task force or BCT level. Lift and freight assets need to be responsive and capable of delivering reinforcing materials in short order.
C. Civil Affairs, pysops, and interpreters must be integrated at the company team level. Every checkpoint must have an interpreter and these interpreters must be with the company team throughout the operation as it is impossible to predict when you may be required to fight or keep the peace.
D. Improved information flow and the quicker establishment of Civil Military Operations Centers. Units occupying positions in built up areas make frequent contact with civilians. Information and a centralized theme must be passed to the company team level as quickly as possible to ensure the proper message is being sent to the populace, and in turn, input from the populace is reaching the highest levels. The company team level is the level where the interaction with the populace occurs.
E. We must train our leaders and soldiers in the conduct of SASO operations. Leaders must be sensitive to the flux between war fighting and peacekeeping and the demands of each not only on the unit but the individual. We owe it to our soldiers to train them on the differences. It is the responsibility of leaders to ensure PVT Plunger and PVT Snuffy know what the proper posture or attitude is and to enforce it.
106 “SUBJECT: Operation Iraqi Freedom After Action Review Comments,” April 24, 2003, conducted by TCM C/3-15 Infantry, Task Force 1-64 [declassified], http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/20030912.asp, last accessed October 17, 2003.