Logistics in the Iraq War: "A herculean feat"
“Good generals study tactics. Great generals study logistics”
By Ed Marek, editor
December 16, 2015
A long US military convoy moving inside southern Iraq, March 21, 2003.
“I’m certain that when the history of this campaign is written, people will look at this move that the land forces have made in this amount of time as being not only a great military accomplishment, but an incredible logistics accomplishment.”
“We were out of MREs (meals ready to eat) and were told to conserve what we had, because we didn’t know when we would be resupplied. This was another one of those things that I didn’t think could happen in 2003 – no resupply?”
Good point. How does it all get there?
The short answer is logistics, an incredible logistics machine, one I see as a Herculean feat.
That is the focus of this story —- sustainment of troops in combat, at war. We will look at the 2003 US-British invasion of Iraq, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Our look will be broad brush, and will only cover the first couple weeks — the complexity of all this is mind-boggling.
There has been a significant amount of study on logistics support provided during OIF. I am certain the studies will continue, and the lessons learned will be applied to transform the military's logistics systems beyond what we saw in OIF. I refer you to:
- "Logistics Transformation: Restarting a Stalled Process," by Lt. Colonel Victor MacCagnan, Jr.
- "Sustainment of Army Forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Battlefield Logistics and the Effects on Operations," by Eric Peltz, John M. Halliday, Marc L. Robbins, Kenneth J. Girardini, the Rand Corp.
- On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom by Col. Gregory Fontenot, USA (Ret.), Lt. Colonel E.J. Degen, USA, and Lt. Colonel David Tohn, USA
- Operation Iraqi Freedom: What Went Right, What Went Wrong, by Walter J. Boyne
"Tank engines sat on warehouse shelves in Kuwait with no truck drivers to take them north. Broken-down trucks were scavenged for usable parts. Artillery units cannibalized parts from captured Iraqi guns to keep their howitzers operating. Army medics foraged medical supplies from combat hospitals."
He said the military's focus was on the combat units, which held back the support troops. In fact the combat started before the support forces were in place. And he goes on and on, as did several other news outlets, citing several of the reports to which I have alerted you.I commend all these reports to you. Much of what he said is true; much of it is normal military fare, and has been throughout history.
Arguably, the most painful of the critiques for me came from the Fontenot "On Point" study when the authors wrote:
"No one had anything good to say about parts delivery, from the privates at the front to the generals.''
Lt. Colonel Wes Gillman, USA, commander 1-30 Infantry, 3 Bde, 3 ID underscored this point. He was interviewed on December 7, 2005 by Lynne Chandler Garcia, Contemporary Operations Studies Team at the Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Gillman said:
"Having been in Operation Desert Storm, we suspected that repair parts would be a problem, and that continued to be a problem and it got worse. It ended up affecting simple things like water."
It's never uplifting to hear the troops did not get what they needed.
"With the combat troops of Iraqi Freedom moving at a faster pace than ever before, the ability of logisticians to keep them supplied was taxed but never in danger of breaking down.”
Referring back to Col. Gillman's interview, he described it all this way:
"We move fast. We use the night. We move with a small force forward and you are able to react to contact. You try to bring your logistics trail up."
I am neither a logistician nor a ground combatant, though I am a retired USAF officer with some knowledge of the subjects. My purpose here is to get a sense for the enormity of the challenge to sustain a rapidly moving ground force exposed to jaw-dropping dynamism on the battlefield. And I don't care what war you talk about, there is always the element of what is known as the "fog of war," to wit, uncertainty, ambiguity, and incomplete information in the heat of battle.
Next time you watch TV News and see our military forces responding to war or to rapidly evolving contingencies, I want you to think about how all that stuff was ready and available for them to fight. To me, it is staggering and, I must say, impressive. I will comment here and there on things that did not go well, but it is not my purpose to dwell on those. The fact is that whatever went wrong with logistics sustainment on the battlefield in Iraq, our forces, combat and support, pressed ahead, innovated, sucked it in, fought and won. That for me is the true testament of the American in uniform — somehow, some way they get it done. They always have.
Allied forces crossed the Berm on the Kuwait-Iraq border on March 19, 2013, one day early because reports were coming that the Iraqis were sabotaging the oilfields.
This next photo shows the 5th Special Operations Group (SOG) ready to go across.
The Iraqi government collapsed within three weeks under the weight of the US-British invasion.
We will look at just part of the march from Kuwait northward toward Baghdad. I have limited this story to addressing Army logistics support to V Corps during a very brief period of time, the initial days of the war. The Marines have yet another incredible story which I cannot handle here.
By most measures, the run to Baghdad resulting in the fall of Saddam Hussein and his government was quite successful. I published an article about the drive to Baghdad, entitled, “'Thunder Runs' and the drive from Kuwait into the center of Baghdad." This article described the combat run to Baghdad by the 3rd Infantry Division (3 ID), and also described plenty of background that I will not cover here. I commend that background to you, as well as the Thunder Runs. As an aside, our forces were not actually supposed to go into downtown Baghdad the way they did — but they went in and the dominant worry after they did so was how were they going to be supplied?
Let me set the stage for just a bit of background.
First, when did planning for OIF begin? Recall the invasion began on March 19, 2003.
The Highway of Death, Iraqi forces in full retreat from Kuwait
It is hard for me to pin down exactly when military planners began to prepare for an invasion of Iraq. It looks like embryonic planning began as early as 1992, shortly after Desert Storm 1991, the operation to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. As an example, the Army's Field Support command wrote in a March 2005 study:
"The build up and use of prepositioned equipment started increasing after Operation Desert Shield/Storm. After the Gulf War there was a pressing motivation to reduce the timeframe it takes to deploy and equip soldiers on the battlefield."
Indeed for 12 years following Desert Shield the Army maintained a heavy brigade combat team set of equipment in Kuwait.
So one is compelled to ask, "Why?" The short answer was to prepare for another invasion.
In 1992, the military began conducting a series of military exercises in Kuwait involving the 1st Cavalry Division, 3 ID, 4 ID, Special Operations Forces (SOF), and the 1st Armored Division in 1992. The exercises were rather benign in the beginning, but grew more aggressive and intense over time. By 2002, there was no question among the troops that they were preparing for war. This photo happens to show NCOs training the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) how to run their convoy, teaching the members on what to do if ambushed.
"All of the sudden we see headlights – and I mean miles of headlights. Suddenly we see [semi-trailer trucks] filled with ammunition, rockets, Bradley fighting vehicles and TOWs (anti-tank guided missiles) as far as the eye can see … The next day we woke up and we combat loaded. The Bradleys were stocked with enough ammo for four days of constant battle … You could see on the faces of the senior [non-commissioned officers], they had never had this kind of training before."
Then, during the first week of March 2003, his commander ordered his unit to "sit on the Iraqi border." On March 18 the commander called his unit together and, Tangi remarked:
"Finally somebody asked, ‘Are we going to war?’ I’ll never forget the captain’s response, ‘Please don’t make me have to actually say it, here is the Iraqi border and here is where we are going – do you understand.” Nobody had any further questions.
One important objective with these exercises was to build a data base of what might be needed to conduct warfare in this region again.
Bombs and bullets were of special concern. So was fuel, arguably the dominant worry.
A decision was made to position three sets of equipment in the Southwest Asia Theater (SWA): Qatar, on the Persian Gulf; Camp Doha Kuwait (near the city) and Arifjan, Kuwait, Kuwait on Iraq's southern border. Work began on the Qatar facility in 1995. Furthermore, equipment was prepositioned on ships, keeping the ships at sea close to potential threat areas.
Camp Doha, Kuwait
Walter J. Boyne, in his book, Operation Iraqi Freedom: What went right, what went wrong, and why, said, “The US had a contingency plan for operations in Iraq and for the last ten years (let’s say 1993) and it has been updated continuously.” He wrote that part of the planning involved pre-positioning massive amounts of equipment in the region, at Doha, Kuwait.
National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice chaired a top level meeting in June 2001 to discuss what to do about Iraq. One option was to invade.
I mention this about General Newbold only to highlight there was much controversy around the idea of invading and the force structure to be employed. I cover much of this in my story, “'Thunder Runs' and the drive from Kuwait into the center of Baghdad."
In late November, 2001, Rumsfeld ordered CENTCOM to develop a new estimate for invading Iraq and removing Saddam from power. As you can see, the mission grew exponentially. Rumsfeld told General Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander, he wanted surprise, speed, shock and an early decapitation of the Iraq regime. There was quite a bit of debate, often quite heated, over troop numbers during the weeks ahead. Rumsfeld kept insisting that the military wanted to use too many forces, and the military kept on insisting that such was the need. Franks’ plan ended up with 148,000 Americans, and Rumsfeld approved that, though Franks would end up with far more. Little did the politician-corporate executive realize that the military would figure out a way to ramp that number up on the quick over time, as the forces got closer and closer to invading.
Diane K. Morales and Steve Geary, writing for the Harvard Business Review, said General Tommy Franks, the commander, CENTCOM "envisioned a swarming, rapid, responsive force capable of removing threats immediately: relying on speed more than mass.” Paul Needham and Christopher Snyder, in their Case Study, "Speed and the Fog of War: Sense and Respond Logistics in Operation Iraqi Freedom-I," said, " The concept of speed became the underlying theme throughout the war for all commanders." As one writer would say, "speed became a culture."
The need for speed among the main combat forces driving toward Baghdad at a breakneck pace in turn drove logistics planners. They had to keep up with the fighting force, and as we will see, it was far more complicated than that. The overall plan was bold. Unlike Desert Storm, which evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait, OIF would cover a lot of ground, about 300 miles the way the crow flies. The advance was to be rapid, very rapid, avoiding cities and towns to avoid getting bogged down in fighting. The objective was Baghdad and removal of the Iraqi government.
The Military Sealift Command (MSC) maintains sea-based ships around the world uploaded with prepositioned military equipment. I'll talk more about this capability later. MSC began off-roading prepositioning ships in Kuwait for Army exercises occurring there in the summer of 2002. Much of that equipment was retained in theater for future use. Sealift began in a serious way in November 2002 and surged through the beginning of the war.
Assuring there was enough fuel available to propel the advancement for forces was arguably the highest logistics priority.
In September 2002 seven (I have also seen reports of only five) reserve component fuel truck companies were alerted for deployment. They arrived between January and March 2003. Fuel farms were set up in northern Kuwait and prepositioned stocks were moved from Qatar to Kuwait. The 49th Quartermaster Group (Petroleum and Water) was put in charge of fuel. José Hernandez, the director, Petroleum and Water Department, Quartermaster School, said the 49th had become the mecca for petroleum and water planning. I'll talk more about fuel later.
President Bush warned Saddam on March 6, 2003 that his time was running out to accept the UN process for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and he issued his final ultimatum on March 17, 2003.
The force crossed the line of departure from Kuwait into Iraq two days later.
This diagram presents a top-level look at the battle plan. It generally reflects what happened once executed. It's worth taking note that this graphic shows only the main combat forces. They were the focus.
The Army (dark blue arrow) and Marines (light blue arrow) would invade on the ground, and each would maintain separate command and control organizations and procedures. All together, about 130,000 troops were in Kuwait ready to go. Another 100,000 or so were in the region around Iraq.
The Army’s V Corps forces included the 3 ID, the 101st Abn Division, and the 2nd Brigade 82nd Abn Division, Special Operations Forces (SOF).
The First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) included the 1st Marine Division (1 MARDIV) and the British 1st Armored Division.
In addition, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Harry Truman Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) were in the region ready to launch air attacks. They aircraft carriers were kept in the eastern Mediterranean for air operations over Iraq while members of their strike groups, destroyers and submarines, moved into the Red Sea, able to launch cruise missile attacks.
Fundamentally, the 3 ID crossed the line of departure and went up through the west side of the Euphrates and crossed near Karbala, the dark blue arrow on the map.
The mission was to get the 3 ID and the 1st MARDIV to Baghdad at all costs, and in a hurry. Everyone else backed them up.
The 101st Abn Division (short white arrow) would secure An Najaf to facilitate the 3 ID running through the Karbala Gap, and the 2nd Brigade 82nd Abn Division (long white arrow), originally slated to paradrop into and secure the Baghdad International Airport, was instead tasked to take As Samaweh. We'll talk more about this later. The Karbala Gap was very important. The US expected Saddam's frontline forces to be defending it. The US forces would have to take them down and break through, after which it was a straight shot to Baghdad.
Both the 3 ID and 1 MARDIV arrived outside Baghdad at about the same time, in early April 2003, a remarkable achievement. Remember, they crossed the line of departure on March 19.
To achieve tactical surprise, the combatants took a “running start.” Combat operations began before all hands, combat and support, were in place. Additionally, for several reasons, the decision was made, really nearly at the last moment, to start the ground offensive before the air offensive, to further the chance of tactical surprise.
There was no opportunity to set up large supply points between Kuwait and Baghdad prior to the invasion. The Army employed what it called “Distribution Based Logistics," or DBL. Rand Corp. described this as meaning "limited inventory to cover small disruptions in distribution flow and enough supply to cover consumption between replenishments. The primary reliance is placed on frequent, reliable distribution rather than on large forward stockpiles." I like this photo; it's the closest one I could find to help you understand — here you see soldiers from the 3rd COSCOM's (Corps Support Command) Task Force Bandit showing how to change a tire during a convoy, enabling the convoy to press on, almost like a NASCAR pit stop.
Trucks of the 6th Transportation Battalion line up at Camp Arifjan,
I cannot highlight all the logistics units involved in this running start. I would like to introduce you to the 6th Transportation Battalion (Motor).
The 6th was tasked to function as a truck battalion. It planned to go to the theater by ship, but in January 2003 the order came down to move out by air. The 89th Medium Truck Co. left by air out of Langley AFB, Virginia on January 6, 2003. So far so good. However, its C-5 transport aircraft went down for parts in Moron, Spain, and the 6th sat there for five days waiting for aircraft parts, diplomatic clearance, runway space and, of all things, USAF C-5 flight crews. The troops waited in the hanger. The 89th arrived in Kuwait City on January 13, and within three days began convoy operations. So that's its start in this war!
It spent its first month in theater as the only line-haul company and moved the majority of the theater containers, Army and Marines, and delivered ammunition to the storage points. A line-haul company is one that moves cargo usually between major cities or ports, especially those more than 1,000 miles apart. In any event, the 89th was then tasked to be the Port Support Activity (PSA) and drive everything off the arriving vessels. Most of the combatants arrived by air, and the 89th had to get them and their equipment into their positions, the Brits included.
About a week before the combat force crossed the line, the 6th started preparing itself to cross as well. It went across on the morning of March 22, 2003, three days after the combat force left. Its task was to take control of Forward Support Base (FSB) or Logistics Supply Area (LSA) CEDAR from the 3rd Corps Support Command (COSCOM) and set up Logistics Supply Area (LSA) ADDER, both of which were near Tallil Airport. It went to LSA CEDAR, close to Tallil, in part because it took a bit longer than expected to clear and secure LS ADDER.
The LSAs were a centerpiece for doing this. Once the first tanks breached the border, the logistics forces with their fuel tankers, water trucks and other support began their continuous chase back and forth to keep the front line supplied.
They and other logistics activities set up the LSAs by following behind the combat force — the combat force secured the area enough for the logistics people to roll in and set up an LSA. I'll talk a bit about LSAs CEDAR and BUSHMASTER a little later.
They set up these forward LSAs about every 50 miles, stocked with some supplies and able to do some maintenance. On occasion, they were setting up the LSA while combat forces were still fighting on its outskirts to secure it completely. This photo shows a LSA during the first Iraq War, Desert Shield, but you get the idea.
Tom Bowman and Robert Little, reporting for The Baltimore Sun, said Pentagon officials knew the "re-supply operation taking place behind the troops advancing toward Baghdad was one of the most complicated and critical components of the invasion."
One Pentagon planner was quoted by Little saying:
"This isn't just a refueling operation, it's a massive re-supply chain … We're talking about thousands of tanker trucks, container trucks filled with ammunition and supplies, medical equipment, spare parts, water, food - we're still trying to give them one or two hot meals a day."
Let's return to the 6th Transportation Battalion. Once its forces crossed the Berm, its convoy followed along Alternate Supply Route (ASR) ASPEN. This was single lane through the desert, something like this shown in the photo. Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Hemlock commanded the 6th. His greatest worry was that the convoy would stop. Some two hours after crossing into Iraq there was incoming artillery and the Military Police (MP) stopped the convoy. The MPs told him this was their standard operating procedure: stop until the artillery stops. Hemlock got a bit angry and told the MPs to move off the road and he restarted the convoy. He did not want to stop for anything.
Camp NAVISTAR, Kuwait
Once the convoy reached Route 1, a six-lane highway, the convoy found all lanes were crammed with traffic belonging to the combat units. The convoy reached its objective but had to close together after being being separated. The convoy drivers pulled guard duty. The 6th began running convoys out of LSA CEDAR, shown on an earlier map. Their trucks went to the border area with Kuwait, a place known as Convoy Support Center NAVISTAR, picked up their loads, and took them to LSA Bushmaster. As an aside, Steve Liewer, writing for Stars & Stripes, described Camp NAVISTAR this way:
"A dusty, fly-ridden truck stop of a camp two miles south of the Iraq border."
On the light side, the 6th loaned a platoon of the 96th Heavy Equipment Transportation Co. to haul heavy engineering equipment belonging to the 101st Abn. The platoon did such a good job that the 101st held on to it and denied it had it on loan. Then the 6th Battalion reported the platoon missing in action, and the 101st had to admit the platoon was with it. It was returned to the 6th.
The 106th Transportation Battalion also arrived in Kuwait in January 2003. Once forces crossed the Berm the 106th conducted port clearance out of the Ports of Kuwait and delivered cargo to LSA CEDAR once it was set up. CEDAR I believe was on Tallil Air Base. Then the 6th Battalion delivered the cargo to the 3 ID force ahead. The photo shows a 106th convoy through the desert.
I regret jumping around here. I need to spend a moment on Tallil AB, because you will see me highlight it several more times. It is located on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah, and is about halfway to Baghdad from Kuwait, a great location for USAF aircraft in these initial days. The US needed this base in a hurry. The Army wanted it to be LSA CEDAR. Once taken, the 106th could move supplies from Kuwait to CEDAR, and then the 6th could move it up to the combat forces. Furthermore, the Army and Air Force wanted the airfield to bring in supplies by air and launch air attacks closer to the fighting.
It first had to be captured and repaired. It was in desperate shape because the Allies had bombed it to smithereens during the first Iraq War and, frankly, it was a wasteland. Wasteland or not, capturing Tallil was a high priority as was As Samaweh which I'll talk about later.
The Global Security organization described Tallil AB this way:
"Everything that does not move is covered in a grayish-brown, powdery dust. The heat is oppressive -- more than 120 degrees in the shade. Open fields and roads bear craters large enough to swallow small trucks. In March 2003, the area around Tallil Air Base looked more like the surface of the moon … After the base fell to coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the landscape was desolate, except for a few abandoned buildings, many of which still had extensive damage remaining from the first Gulf War.
"The task of transforming this uninhabitable stretch of desert brushland into an operational air base fell on the 407th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron."
The 1-30th Infantry of the 1st Brigade (1 Bde) 3 Infantry Division (3 ID) was among the first units to cross the line. It fought its first battle of the war at Tallil and captured it on March 22, 2003. I must say this was a full 3 Bde 3 ID operation, employing three task forces in a series of maneuvers, the 2-69 Armor, 1-30 and 1-5 Infantries. All were in the fight for Tallil but it appears the 1-30 was the main element to go into the base and clear it. Because of some smart planning, an air mobility liaison officer was embedded with the 3 Bde.
The air base is only about 180 miles southwest of Baghdad. This was a huge tactical advantage as the 322nd Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) was using Ahmed Al Jaber AB in Kuwait. Tallil is also on the Main Supply Route (MSR) from Kuwait, and isolated from major city populations. Tallil AB is served by two main runways and could support two fighter squadrons with support units. There were hardened aircraft shelters as well, and a weapons storage area about three miles to the east.
The Iraqis had not maintained the runways, taxiways and ramps. As a result of poor Iraqi oversight and the fact that the place was demolished in Desert Storm, the place was a mess. It took some 48 hours to clear the obstacles from the runway.
Jim Gammon, reported for Air Force News, said:
"Tallil, the former Iraqi air force field, was a wreck. The Iraqis had built berms across the runways to stop U.S. airmen from using the facility. The buildings all were missing windows; there was no tank farm to refuel aircraft. In short, there was nothing that U.S. airmen could salvage to use … Fuel, ammunition, maintenance facilities, security forces, medical facilities -- they all had to be brought in to the field."
With the base captured on March 22, and an air mobility liaison officer now on scene amidst the combat, a special tactics team (STT) and tanker airlift control element (TALCE) arrived one day later, on March 23.
A STT, a special operations force, usually consists of USAF pararescue, combat controllers, combat weather, and tactical air control parties. The photo shows a few from a STT in Afghanistan.
A TALCE is a compact USAF mobility wing, with a core that provides command and control, deployed maintenance and aerial port functions. The photo shows a TALCE from the 821st TALCE waiting to board a C-130 to be taken to another location during OIF.
Lt. Colonel Dave Kennedy, commander of the Michigan Air National Guard's (ANG) 110th Operations Group was sent toTallil as soon as reports came in that it was captured. Forces were still fighting at the gate to the airfield.
Nonetheless, C-130s started using the base shortly after it was captured. The first C-130 landed at Tallil on March 27. I found a record that illustrates how C-130s had to approach the airfield at the outset. On March 29, 2003, a C-130 flying into the base came in at 300-340 knots and low level, with loadmaster trigger fingers ready to launch flares at any sign of an imminent threat. Flying low and fast reduced the effectiveness of any serious ground threat. There was no air threat. This aircraft carried 14 tons of rolling stock. The photo shows a C-130H from the Nevada Air National Guard (ANG) landing at Tallil. Land convoys and C-130 Hercules aircraft got equipment and materials to the base. Army, Marine and British engineers helped the airmen build revetments for aircraft and for refueling points.
The first A-10 Warthog air-to-ground fighter flew in on or about March 26 or 27 to refuel. One source said A-10s began operating from the field on or about March 31- April 1, while another said April 4, 2003. Whatever the case, this was a huge advantage as the A-10s would be able to support the run against Baghdad directly from Tallil. This all went on while fighting continued at An Nasiriyah about 10 miles away.
Keep Tallil in mind as you'll hear a lot about it.
All hands understood the logistics tail was going to be long, and that it would get longer the farther north the combat forces moved. Furthermore, the Army had planned to use only one main supply line, figuring that the geography favored the advance force as they could avoid towns and cities. In turn, this allowed the supply line to run through the desert areas to the west of the Euphrates. On the down-side, commanders took everything they could with them, which lengthened the convoy tails traveling with the combat force. Quite often the roads would get choked. Most of the time MPs were not with the forward forces and therefore were unavailable to clear up the choke points.
The 3 ID, V Corp's principle combat force tasked to run up to Baghdad, crossed the line of departure with only five days supply of food and water in all units, with an additional two days in the support battalions. I have read, however, that since the order to cross the line came one day early, the 3 ID left with only three days supplies.
The overall logistics system was set up with what were known as Theater General Support Packages. Items could be stored in the US for shipment directly to the appropriate Supply Support Activity (SSA), or it could be prepositioned forward. The 3 ID chose this latter option in order to accelerate its deployment.
What this meant was each of the 3 ID's three Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) drew on prepositioned brigade sets, known as Authorized Stockage Lists (ASLs). The ASLs were for the most part built as the result of lessons learned during exercises. Only one ASL among the three brigades was the result of rotational training exercises. It turned out that the ASLs designed for deployments did not match well with the ASLs that were prepositioned. One issue that developed was the ASL at home in Ft. Stewart was based on actual unit demands while the prepositioned ASLs were based on projected demands.
Projecting a unit's demands in battle is a far different challenge than projecting a unit's demands at home. Interestingly, the units that deployed from the US with their home staton ASLs fared the best, because their demand in OIF mirrored what they demanded at home.
The bottom line here was the forces, combat and support, would have to make a great many adjustments on the run. And adjust they did. A major strength of the US Armed Forces throughout their history has been their ability to innovate on the run, and most certainly all involved in OIF did just that.
This matter of "battlefield dynamism" is an interesting one when considering logistics support. Events on the battlefield never go exactly as expected; sometimes they don’t even go as remotely expected. As a result, once combat operations get underway, units were shifted around to meet battlefield needs, which affected how they would be supported. The 3 ID was to move with lightening speed to Baghdad. The rest of the Army units were to follow in trail formation or leap frog as required to cut off enemy trying to slow the 3 ID, provide support, and if required protect its flanks and rear. I'll refer to this issue several times.
On March 25, the 82nd Abn units were ordered to go to As Samaweh and clear it. The 82 Abn originally was to be paradropped into Baghdad International Airport and was to seize it. Gomez was well aware of that. He complained at the outset that he and his unit had been trained to parachute into an urban environment. He said, “We trained to parachute into Baghdad airport commando-style.” But as you will see, his mission was changed. He would fight in As Samaweh and get there by truck.
A moment on An Samaweh’s location.
It is on the west side of the Euphrates River, northwest of Nasiriyah, southeast of Najaf and most important, southeast of the Karbala Gap. The 3 ID would have to go through the Karbala Gap to get to Baghdad and expected fierce resistance there from the Iraqi Revolutionary Guard, thought to be the most capable fighting force in the Iraqi military. But there was As Samaweh, close to the 3 ID's intended route toward the Karbala Gap.
Starting on March 22, 2003 and running through March 25, the 3 ID contacted enemy forces, in the As Samaweh area. Iraqi forces attacked it, and the 3 ID with the help of air and artillery destroyed that force. The 3 ID lost no forces and kept on trucking, bypassing the town, though it had been temporarily delayed by this fight.
The 2 Bde 82nd Abn was sitting in Kuwait when the order came through to get up to As Samaweh. That was because enemy forces were still in the city and posed a threat to the 3 ID's rear and o the supply line.
On March 28, the brigade boarded C-130s. Gomez was angry he was not wearing a parachute. The commanders told the men they would land at a captured airfield. It was Tallil airfield. They were wearing chemical gear which they would later discard as there was no perceived chemical threat by the time they kicked into action. Upon landing, they downloaded and took defensive positions at the airfield. So the C-130s flew the brigade from Kuwait to Tallil AB. Gomez was infantry, but he expected to be paradropped into an airport and simply seize the airport. No such luck here.
On March 29, while at Tallil, the men were told to board a group of trucks which had arrived a little earlier. Gomez said they were “old Army trucks that I had never seen before.” He said they were utility trucks, uncovered, not combat vehicles. And apparently the men of the brigade would have to drive the trucks themselves in what was sarcastically called a "Ground Assault Convoy," an outrage for airborne forces trained to conduct airborne assaults!
The target was As Samaweh.
Gomez commented while sitting in the old truck:
“As we crept towards the exit of the (Tallil) airfield (on the trucks headed for As Samaweh), I looked out at an endless sea of military equipment. There were trucks, tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, and steel containers for as far as I could see … The enormity of what we were doing started to hit me. We were only days into the war, and all of this equipment was here, ready to be switched to kill.”
You can get a sense for enormity and speed here. The airfield was only captured on March 22. Logistics convoys from the south apparently arrived shortly thereafter, unloading equipment and supplies, and C-130 started coming in on March 27, a day before Gomez arrived, and already there was "an endless sea of military equipment" at the field.
As events turned out, the 82nd Abn had been held in Kuwait for just this kind of mission. The Iraqis knew the 3 ID was coming and to where it was headed, so they embedded multiple militia including the Fedayeen Saddam paramilitary inside the city of As Samaweh. Some Fedayeen on parade are shown here to give you an idea of their cloth. Iraq also assembled regular forces there to attack the 3 ID to slow it down. It would be especially useful to the enemy to lure the 3 ID force into the city for an urban fight, but that did not happen.
As I said earlier, Iraqi regulars did attack the 3 ID as it was passing by, and units of the 3 ID did have to stop and fight. But they did not go into the city, and instead rapidly destroyed the Iraqi regulars, allowing the 3 ID to continue north. However, Saddam Fedayeen such as shown in the photo were in the city. The Fedayeen inside the town were tasked to attack the 3 ID’s rear should it get by and also attack any logistics forces in trail formation along this major supply route. So the Fedayeen had to be dealt with at As Samawah to keep the US combat forces and logistics train moving.
The 82nd Abn troops were tasked to secure bridges over the Euphrates and destroy any Iraqi force that might execute the attacks I have just described.
As Samaweh, Iraq
Lt. Gomez said:
“We didn’t get a very good mission brief, other than we were going to walk into As Samawah and try to start a fight. The plan was to just walk, one behind the other, straight into the city until something happens. We were confused and pissed. This was the exact opposite of what we had trained. We expected to attack deliberate targets, moving in tactical formations under the cover of darkness, using our night vision devices to our advantage, utilizing principles of fire and maneuver to maximize our combat power. Our complaints were heard, noted, and discarded. We slid our armor over our shoulders, hoisted up our bags of explosives, and moved out towards As Samawah. One foot in front of the other.”
They were trucked from Tallil to As Samaweh and all hands were there by March 28.
Gomez said his back pack was stuffed to the brim with equipment, in his case explosives. Then a truck in the middle of their formation exploded, hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG).
Gomez could hear a lot of gunfire and explosions throughout much of this time. At one point, one of their gun trucks fired its MK19 into an objective supported by another truck with a .50 cal. Gomez said, “Then the platoon opened up with their machine guns. Then everyone started shooting. Gunfire and explosions everywhere.”
His platoon kept moving forward.
Gomez anticipated getting little sleep. Prior to deploying to Iraq, he went to the local CVS and bought caffeine pills, which he needed, in part because he fell asleep once while on guard duty in As Samawah.
After popping one of his caffeine pills, the word spread through the unit that a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (BIFV) from the 3 ID was on its way to provide support. Gomez commented, “Ten minutes … 30 minutes … an hour … four hours.” The caffeine pill wore off, it was night, he fell asleep along with the others, and was woken up the next morning by the Bradley as it rolled into his area. He then said, “The plan changed, but we didn’t know what it changed to.”
Again, the dynamism of the battlefield. Yes, a Bradley was coming, but we do not know what the force with the Bradleys might have encountered and what they had to go through to get the Bradley over to the 82nd’s force. They might have also been needed first for some other job. And note Gomez commented the plan changed. Time constraints must have been such that he and his men did not know what the new plan was. When they get the order to move out, they moved out and they engaged.
Later an enemy force started approaching his position. So he and the others opened fire. Again referring to use of the ammunition, he said, “Once we started shooting, everyone started shooting. A volley of death into nothing. We fired for a minute or so, a tiny explosion of hate and fear in the middle of Iraq.”
Fortunately for him and his colleagues, they maneuvered into a house, and an Iraqi lady was baking bread, “lots of it … Pieces of bread were passed around. They were fresh and warm. The exterior was either soft or crusty, but the inside was always doughy. There was more than enough. The women kept cooking until we stopped eating. Soldiers held giant pieces of circular bread and pulled off small pieces, filling their cheeks.” Later on, the family brought them tea and sweets.
Obviously this group bumped into a kind family. This underscores why the American rules of engagement can get so stringent when it comes to civilians.
The 82nd's force focused in on a cement factory and ended up in some serious firefights: small arms, mortar, RPGs, and snipers. OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, Navy F/A Hornet jet fighters, A-10 Warthogs, AC-130 gunships and 105 mm howitzers all came raining down on the enemy, along with return fire from the men on the ground. It took forces from the 2nd Bde 82nd, the 1-41st Infantry, and the 2-70th Armor of the 1st Armored Division to win the day, but it also took until April 4 to get that done. The photo shows a Bradley fighting vehicle from 1-41st Infantry Mechanized breaching a wall. Troops in the foreground are from 2-325th, part of the 2nd Bde 82nd. The 1-325th was also in this fight and led the attack against the cement factory.
While this took time, this is why the 82nd and others received the tasking they received — let the 3 ID keep running up to Baghdad. If there has to be a fight to its rear, then the 82nd will fight, and enable the 3 ID to keep moving north and by all means keep the supply lines open. Please keep in mind what all must have done to the logistics system meant to support them.
The 3 ID wanted to get up to Objective RAMS and set up LSA BUSHMASTER south of An Najaf. Objective RAMS was a desert area southwest of Najaf and was designated the 3 ID's main logistical base for the final drive to Baghdad. This LSA, and the one set up to its north and north of the Karbala Gap known as LSA DOGWOOD, were to provide combat units with robust supplies so they could advance on Baghdad.
The 2 Bde of the 3 ID had the job of getting to and securing RAMS. The 2nd Bde encountered a pretty tough fight in the Najaf area, tough enough that it remained at RAMS for a while in a defensive position. In the mean time the other two 3 ID brigades either swept to the west or to the east of RAMS to take other objectives a bit farther north.
There was no time for fooling around. Once Objective RAMS was reached and secured, the buildup of LSA BUSHMASTER had to get underway. The support, supply and engineering battalions coming up the 3 ID's rear had to do that, and move in the tons of supplies to be stored there. They did this in a few days.
This is a photo of the front gate for the 212th MASH at LSA BUSHMASTER.
The troops "requisitioned" bulldozers and dump trucks from a nearby cement factory, dug and transported clay to a location where the 94th Engineering Battalion was constructing an airstrip, then the troops from the 535th Combat Support Co. mixed the clay and the quick drying composite, laid it down in a 3,500 ft. runway, and stood ready to accept C-130 transports in and out.
So, we now have LSAs CEDAR and BUSHMASTER set up and operating, receiving equipment and supplies by air and ground every day. The 3 ID kept moving north.
Its next stops were Najaf and Karbala to the north. In each case, the 3 ID intended to by-pass the cities, and make a run through the Karbala Gap, shown by the arrow, toward Baghdad. An Najaf stood astride important highways leading to Karbala and Baghdad. This was a crucial point in the war, as the 3 ID expected to encounter Saddam's Medina Division and Revolutionary Guard, supposedly his best fighters, in the area of the Karbala Gap.
While the 3 ID wanted to by-pass the cities, as at As Samaweh, enemy kept coming out of the cities in search of a fight. What the enemy really wanted to do was draw the US forces into the cities for some protracted urban warfare. US forces, when attacked, had to counter-attack, again to secure the logistics lines but also to destroy these enemy so US forces could press ahead without repeated attacks. The entire battle plan, and I would add the logistics support plan that went with it, had to be adjusted, nearly constantly.
In this case, the 3 ID adjusted and instead of rushing by, decided to isolate the city so it could not be used to stage attacks against American supply lines. As the division's forces began to surround the city, they ran low on ammunition and fuel. However, some 230 fuel tankers established refuel points and filled tanks that were almost empty. In one fight, the 7th Cav ran out of ammunition, they could not receive ammunition during such an intense firefight, so they began using captured AK-47s and ammunition to continue on.
Then came a huge challenge. A hellacious sandstorm, known as the shamal, or to the troops, the "mother of all storms," blew through Iraq from March 24-27, 2003. It affected the progress of much of invasion force. Everything slowly turned a yellowish-orange color, decreasing visibility, dropping to 10 meters. Carl Drews wrote:
"Ochre dust and grit worked its way into every crevice of every weapon, garment, and vehicle."
In an interview with PBS Frontline, he commented this way:
"The weather really sucked. It's hard to describe. ... You could literally not see more than about 30 or 40 feet with your naked eye. The whole area was engulfed by this orangish, reddish haze -- it looks like one of these old science fiction movies of folks walking around the surface of Mars. I mean, there's just red haze, and then it started raining. And because of all the particles suspended in the air, as the rain hit the ground it was actually a drop of mud, and it began to cake on the vehicles. ...
"… The sandstorm hit at the same time the logistics base was needing to be built, and the sandstorm ... slowed down our convoys. ... I remember vividly a supply convoy from the Corps Support Command that had two days of supply of water and food for the 3rd Infantry Division, but it took them four days to get there. ... So the sandstorm was a low point in that it slowed us down; it slowed down our momentum and it slowed down our ability to build our logistics."
In another forum, he said the 3 ID crossed the line of departure with only five days of supplies in terms of water, food and ammunition. The dust storm hit on the fifth day and lasted for three days. Wallace said, "During that storm, our convoys took three to four days to reach our forward forces, and they were carrying two days of supplies.”
General Wallace’s major concern was that all this was going to slow down the advance and as a result they could not move forward with their planning for the remainder of the operation. Complicating this was that many of the forces, those at As Samawah included, were in some fierce fights and eating up their stocks. However, Wallace also knew it was a time the advancing forces could refit and resupply. After all, V Corps had moved some 10,000 vehicles over 350 miles and fought three different battles in a bit over three weeks.
As an aside, I'll mention that relative to the forward units, follow-on units had been advancing briskly. That caused traffic jams and congestion.
General Wallace objected to the media reports that the force was in a “pause.” While the dust storm did slow down force movements, he argued the troops were still in a high operational tempo, involved in a multitude of fights. He agrees they were not gaining ground. But he said that had to be accepted, because they had to secure those logistics lines in order for the full assault on Baghdad to be successful.
Wallace acknowledged “the texture of the desert terrain” was a surprise, saying “the dust problem in those areas were orders of magnitude worse than any of our terrain analysts had predicted.” He said the dust slowed the convoys and shut down the air. He said, “Anything that moved out there, it kicked up a dust cloud. It was like driving through talcum powder.”
"The big sandstorm was even worse than predicted. Reddish brown dust formed a high dome in the western desert and rolled over southern Iraq - and over 170,000 coalition troops. Visibility dropped to 10 meters or less. Rain pounded down through the red dust, turning the air to mud.
"Our long logistics convoys crawled ahead, however, eventually linking up with the armor and infantry units that were managing to creep forward during lulls in the sandstorm. And, as the troopers inched on, scouts and special forces reconnaissance teams infiltrated more Iraqi positions, identifying the precise GPS co-ordinates of enemy armor and artillery."
"The Republican Guard units were hunkered down, and they were being destroyed piece by piece."
Cordesman wrote a bit about Najaf as well. He said the 101st Abn Division was supposed to be backing up the 3 ID with a heavily mobile secondary force. But the 101 Abn had lost part of its mobility capabilities because all the trucks had not yet arrived in country. Nonetheless, elements of the division made their way through the sandstorm and difficult terrain and did attack and seize the airport at Najaf, I believe on or about March 30.
I should talk a bit about the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment (Mech) (3-7 Cav). It was part of the 2nd Brigade 3 ID and was to be the spearhead and screening force for the main elements of the 3 ID as it moved forward. It became known as the “Eyes and Ears” of the 3 ID. Indeed it led the up-country fight as point for the 3 ID.
The 3-7 Cav was tasked to clear and secure Najaf and deny enemy access to supply routes. It was in a very tough fight on March 25, 2003. The fight was such that the brass sent in forces from the north to help seal off the city. The forces experienced a high rate of fire and ran low for small arms. Needed ammunition was loaded aboard CH-47s but the sandstorm prevented them from flying. The 1-64 Armor also ran low on small arms near An Najaf. While the troops felt they had enough, they knew they would be launching off toward Baghdad and wanted to be sure they had enough for that. Again the sandstorm prevented emergency resupply to them. Then, when the storm lifted, the CH-47s were no longer available. As a result, their supporting Forward Support Battalion (FSB) delivered the ammunition to an objective near Najaf but the unit advances had already begun.
Again we see the dynamics of the battlefield affecting the logistics flow. We also learn that not all the logistics materiel had yet arrived and the combat force had days earlier crossed the line of departure. But now we’ve also learned about weather, in this case a most difficult sandstorm.
We've talked a lot about the 3rd ID. Let's switch over to the 4th ID.
You will recall Turkey forbade the 4th ID and 1st Armored Cavalry Division from invading from Turkey into Iraq from the north. These two units were to form III Corps. Turkey's parliament voted not to allow the US to launch a campaign against Iraq from Turkey on March 1, 2003, eighteen days before the V Corps and I MEF crossed the line of departure from the south. Turkey would also not allow any combat forces to fly through Turkish airspace into Iraq. Turkey did allow logistics flights to transit its airspace and use ground routes through Turkey.
These were hard blows to the invasion plan and the logistics that would support it. The 4th ID and 1st Armored Cav Division invasions from Turkey into northern Iraq were thought to be mission essential. Nearly 40 ships had arrived into the eastern Mediterranean Sea loaded with tanks, aircraft and supplies. They sat at sea awaiting permission to discharge their loads. The photo shows the MV Victory riding out a storm in the eastern Mediterranean in early March, jam packed with equipment.
I'll interject here that Cordesman has suggested that General Franks used the Turkey refusals to his advantage, keeping the ships waiting outside Turkish ports, keeping the 4 ID troops at the ready back home, knowing full well that even if Turkey allowed the 4th ID to invade from its soil, the 4th ID could not be ready in time. Cordesman said Franks "created a deception plan that helped pin down most of the 13 divisions that had deployed north of Baghdad."
Nonetheless, this was a huge challenge to US war planning. The 4th ID had the most technologically advanced mechanized equipment and was to charge southward into Iraq from Turkey, expected to be the first Army division to enter Baghdad. Instead of scrubbing the overall invasion, General Franks ordered the 4th ID, the men still in the US, and its loads at sea in the Mediterranean Sea to go to Kuwait. The 1st Air Cav was held back until 2004, though the 9th Regiment did go in September 2003.
The US had wanted a two front invasion, one from the north, one from the south. So now came a change in plan — a small invasion in the north, a major invasion from the south.
Planning always had included the SOF for the initial stage of the war. Those units identified were brought back to the US to prepare. They were to immediately get into western Iraq to assure no ballistic or cruise missiles were launched by the Iraqis. They would also go to the littoral areas to clear mines and obstacles form the waterways such that rapid resupply of invasion forces could occur without delay. Some would go to southern Iraq to conduct deep reconnaissance and other tasks. They were to support the III Corps drive to Baghdad, assist the Kurdish and Peshmerga populations to organize their militia and fight and protect the oil fields. Finally, they would go into Baghdad and assist as needed.
The SOF conducted all these missions, but the fight in the north took on an whole new perspective. The dominant theme in the north now was to protect the Kurdish and Peshmerga populations, assist and fight with the Kurdish-Peshmerga militias, protect the oil production facilities from Iraq's 11 divisions located north of Tikrit, and tie down those 11 divisions so they could not move to defend Baghdad.
The 173rd Abn Brigade was added in as well. This photo shows members of the 173rd preparing to load aboard C-17s for the flight to northern Iraq, March 25, 2003.
SOF forces, I believe the 3-3rd Special Force Group (SFG) were flown in by MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft. They were not allowed to overfly Turkey so they had to fly through a dense Iraqi air defense system. They landed at Bashur airfield on March 25, 2003, reconnoitered the area, and proclaimed the area ready for a paradrop of US forces, though the weather was not good. Once there, they joined with Kurdish forces.
Fifteen C-17s from the 7th Airlift Squadron of the 62nd flew in formation dropping the soldiers into the nighttime skies. Some 963 paratroopers from the 173rd and some USAF support people were air dropped into northern Iraq on March 26, 2003. They jumped out in 58 seconds. This was the 173rd’s first combat jump from C-17s. The photo shows C-17s on the ramp, noses-to-tails, uploading 173rd Bde forces for the flight to Iraq.
A paradrop was used for the 173rd because it was faster than landing and unloading. The runway ramp space also would have become overloaded if the C-17s were landing, and then downloading and taking off, causing further delays. Five C-17s dropped 10 heavy platforms of vehicles and equipment. This photo shows some of the 173rd's men inside a C-17 as they headed to the drop zone.
Forces from the 173rd prepared the runway and in the days following the jump 12 C-17s were coming in and out every day. They brought in another 1,200 troops and heavy equipment such as armored personnel carriers (APCs), M1 Abrams tanks, and BIFV. It is my understanding the tanks were drawn from the 1st Infantry Division stationed in Germany and were to be used by the 1-63 Armor of the 173rd Bde. This photo shows a M1A1 Abrams tank being offloaded at Bashur airfield on April 9, 2003.
The C-17s flew a total of 62 round-robin Vicenza-Bashur-Vicenza sorties. It took another 27 sorties to bring in the 1-63 Armor. The 173rd was prepared to conduct combat operations by March 29. I should mention here, it is incredible that the C-17s could be made available on such short notice to conduct these flights. These aircraft are in high demand worldwide. The Bashur Airfield took a beating from so many heavy flights in and out. Some 2,000 ft. of runway had to be closed because it was cracking under the strain. But they still had 5,000 ft. left, plenty for the C-17 and C-130.
Now, with the combat forces on the ground, equipped and ready to push off, the support mechanisms had to belly up to the challenges of providing these forces way up north with logistics support. The 173rd combined with the 1-63 Armor needed a lot of logistics support, continuously. This is a photo of a 173rd convoy in northern Iraq. Supporting them solely by air was not feasible. US forces in Europe combined to convince the Turks to allow them to contract with Turkish companies to bring in fuel. The combat force required 10,000 gallons per day. Spare parts were flown in from Ramstein AB, Germany using 1st ID sustainment stocks positioned there ahead of time. The net result was the team of 173rd, 1-64 Armor, SOF and Kurd fighters presented a formidable force, moved into Kirkuk on April 1 and captured it from Iraqi forces. They were now in business.
I need to briefly mention the enormous logistics challenge presented by diverting the 4th ID from its planned entry from Turkey to redeploying it to Kuwait. The 4th ID was the Army’s most highly mechanized infantry division with some 20,000 soldiers and a massive amount of equipment.
The 4th ID received its deployment order on January 18, 2003. The division, augmented by artillery, engineer, and support troops from active duty, National Guard, and Army reserve units loaded their equipment onto 37 ships bound for Turkey. The ships left and arrived in Turkish waters but as I said, Turkey would not permit the force to move into northern Iraq through Turkey. So the equipment was there, but the troops were still in the US, three brigades worth, some 17,000. I'll remark as an aside that maintaining morale among the 4 ID troops while they sat at home was a challenge.
The troops flew by air from the US to Kuwait City International Airport from March 31 - April 16. This photo shows some of the first 5,000 to arrive.
Their equipment, sitting on 37 cargo ships offshore Turkey, were ordered to go to the Ash Shu’ayjah port in southeast Kuwait. These ships had to sail through the eastern Mediterranean Sea, though the Suez Canal for the length of the Red Sea, out the Gulf of Aden and into the Arabian Sea, then through the Gulf of Oman and the length of the Persian Gulf. The photo shows 4 ID equipment moving by ship through the Suez Canal on March 25, 2003. There were security concerns with this route. The Suez Canal is fairly narrow, and has an even more narrow navigable channel. There was little room for error, and the ships were large targets if struck from land. The ships had security force protection teams on board.
Once the 4 ID arrived with equipment, the V Corps commander ordered it into the battle right away. It was known as Task Force Ironhorse. The task force was some 450 miles away from its marshaling area to the tactical assembly area (TAA), and it would have to travel with its heavy equipment transporters (HETs) such as shown here.
The 180th Transportation Battalion "King of the Road" received the warning order to move the task force. It deployed to Kuwait in March 2003. Such a HET move of this magnitude had never been done before. Approximately 1,500 tracked combat equipment vehicles and other outsized engineer equipment in the task force had to be moved. The 180th had two days to come up with a plan —- dynamics on the battlefield beyond imagination! Iraq’s rail infrastructure could not handle the job, so everything would have to move by vehicle.
18th Transportation Bn preparing equipment for HETs-only convoy
Lt. Colonel David G. Cotter, USA, the commander of the 180th, wrote this in his article, “The Iron Horse Express,” which I commend to you:
“The 2d, 11th, 287th, and 377th Transportation Companies (HET) were attached to the 180th for the HET move. The 96th and 233d Transportation Companies (HET) were placed under the operational control of the battalion. The 217th and 253d Transportation Companies and a platoon of Army HETs, operated by civilian contractors, augmented the battalion throughout the operation. These units were spread out across the corps area, and it took up to 48 hours for some of them to rally at the marshaling areas at Camp New York, Kuwait.”
Once a HET was uploaded, it was put into the flow without regard for unit integrity. The vehicles first went through a maintenance “pit stop" to be checked out, were given fuel, and off they went, starting on a multi-lane highway, and then going down to a single lane road. Each HET has 40 tires, and tires became the biggest challenge, with more than 100 tires being needed each day. It was still early in the war, so the flow of spare parts into the theater had not achieved maturity.
Extra drivers were put in the HETs to cover fatigue. Once combat vehicles were put on to the HETs, the vehicle crews went with them, stayed inside them, and manned their weapons. More than 375 HETs were assigned to the 180th for the job. Most of the 1st and 3rd Brigades plus the division headquarters made it to the TAA in Baghdad in nine days. Incredibly, the V Corps commander had to move the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) into western Iraq to face an enemy force, so the HETs had to stop moving the 4th ID and start moving the 3 ACR. Nonetheless, all of the 4th ID was in place at its TAA by May 6, about 3 weeks or 21 days to move the 4th ID and the 3 ACR from Kuwait.
I'm going to switch gears a few times from here through the end of this report to highlight some other things which I think reflect the enormity of the logistics challenges faced during OIF.
First, let's talk about sealift. The mind-numbing fact is that 90 percent of the military cargo to support OIF was delivered by Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships. This photo shows Oshkosh M-977 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTT) loaded aboard a MSC ship.
MSC is the leading provider of ocean transportation for the Navy and the rest of the Department of Defense (DoD). This command operates the ships which sustain warfighting forces and delivers specialized maritime services in support of national security objectives in peace and war. The Navy has responsibility for MSC, which manages all US military sealift capability, including the Army’s prepositioned ships.
USNS Watson Large Medium Speed Roll-on Roll-off ships (LMSR)
Just a moment on this prepositioned ship topic. It is my understanding there is one Army Prepositioned Set (APS), known as APS-3, that is sea-based. It is based in Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean. In his paper, "Sea Basing: A Way to Project Land Combat Power," Major Stuart A. Hatfield, USA, wrote this:
"The Army has a total of five reinforced Brigade Combat Team (BCT) equipment sets prepositioned around the world, but only the Army Prepositioned Set 3 (APS-3) is sea based. Based in Diego Garcia, it consists of thirteen ships: eight Large Medium Speed Roll-on Roll-off ships (LMSR) (such as shown in the photo), four container ships, and an auxiliary crane ship. The four LMSRs with the BCT set contain the equipment for two armor, two mechanized infantry, one engineer, one field artillery, and one combat service support battalions.10 The BCT set is further reinforced with multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), military police, air defense, reconnaissance, and military intelligence support beyond that normally associated with the BCT.
"The remainder of the ships within APS-3 contain the theater and corps logistics base, including a theater opening force module (TOFM), port operations unit, a transportations unit with line haul capability, a combat surgical hospital, and water purification equipment. APS-3 maintains fifteen days of sustainment for the BCT and thirty days of sustainment for the expected follow-on corps until the sea lines of communication are operational. Significantly, the ammunition ships contain three full combat loads for the entire corps."
APS-3 was downloaded in 2003 in its entirety to support OIF. Three APS brigades and supporting equipment consisting of 218 unit sets were issued to the Army's 3 ID.
"We had to take care of ships that had been sitting in Charleston. Ships that had been sitting there for years without smoke coming out of them, and all of a sudden now all the ships are starting to move from pier to pier. Things were happening."
Look at the list of ports employed: Charleston, South Carolina; Beaumont, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Corpus Christi, Texas. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Norfolk, Virginia also supported some traffic. Here you see loading military cargo aboard the USNS Pililaau at Beaumont. On the receiving end, naval and contract people offload the arriving ships 24/7. They found that often there was not enough transportation resources available to move the stuff off the piers, and security requirements were stringent.
The Kuwaiti port at Ash Shuaibah, shown here with MSC ships docked in March 2004, was the main port used. It could handle only six ships at a time. Nonetheless, people at the port offloaded more than 150 MSC ships there by April 2003. In this photo, note the second ship from the bottom, with the ramp out the rear down to the dock. Vehicles would exit from the hull, down that steep ramp, and have to make a very quick U-Turn or flop into the water! So you see how crammed the port was on this day.
Global Security has reported:
"Under the Guardian Mariner program, more than 1,300 Army reservists were activated to provide force protection and security aboard MSC ships sailing to and from Southwest Asia. The soldiers, from the Puerto Rico National Guard Unit 92nd Separate Infantry Brigade, were organized into 110, 12-person teams. They began reporting aboard MSC ships 19 March 2003. In all, around 70 fleet force protection teams and 75 Guardian Mariner teams were used aboard MSC ships during OIF. "
This photo shows a Guardian Mariner team from the 92nd aboard a MSC ship.
Now switch gears again. Most will agree that the provision of fuel was the top priority in war planning and execution.
You will recall my reporting that in September 2002 seven (I have also seen reports of only five) reserve component fuel truck companies arrived in Kuwait between January and March 2003 and that prepositioned stocks were moved from Qatar to Kuwait. ell of course that was not going to be enough.
Complicating the fuel issue was the fact that there was a shortage of fuel trucks. As a result, the Army, once the race to Baghdad was on, decided to distribute bulk fuel using a tactical pipeline known as the Inland Petroleum Distribution System (IPDS). The manner in which the Army did this, to me, is incredible.
As you can imagine, there was no such pipeline inside Iraq to support the invasion. The Army had to build one, and it did so in phases following right behind the combat force moving north.
This map provides an overview of the system. Overall, the objective was to build the pipeline from Camp Virginia through Camp Udairi to Breach Point West on the Iraq border, all in Kuwait, and then to CEDAR II at Tallil AB, Iraq. Then the fuel could be moved elsewhere by truck. The Mina Abdullah refinery in Kuwait already had a pipeline from there to Camp Virginia, so that part was easy. The work started on the rest before the war started.
The 62nd Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Heavy) constructed it. The 62nd deployed to Kuwait on January 14, 2003 and was the first combat engineer company in country. It was mandatory that US forces take Tallil early on to, among other things, enable building the IPDS from Kuwait to Tallil. The 62nd had about 750 soldiers to do the entire job building the pipeline from Camp Virginia to Tallil.
Once the war started, two squads from the 808th crossed the Berm, attached to the USMC's 6th Engineer Support Battalion, and started digging and laying pipe while the combat forces moved ahead. Then on March 22 the rest of the 808th crossed and secured their base camps in Iraq. They built from Breach Point West to LSA VIPER (58 miles), and completed this section by April 14. Initial planning had to be adjusted as maneuver units had to secure the destination points first. With LSA VIPER completed, work began to extend to LSA CEDAR I, about 30 miles. A and B/226th continued building the pipeline while the 808th built the TPTs. They completed this by April 20.
The original plan was to go to LSA ADDER near Tallil, but that was changed to LSA CEDAR II, a bit north of ADDER. The 34 mile link from LSA CEDAR to the terminus at LSA CEDAR II at Tallil AB was completed on May 13. There was fighting all around the effort and trucks carrying pipes had to weave through all that to get to where they were needed. There were all kinds of fill and tests that had to be conducted thereafter but I won't go into those, other than to say everything passed muster.
The force used more than 90 million gallons of fuel in the first three months of OIF, 60 million gallons of which were transported via IPDS. Drawing from The Baltimore Sun article, tank divisions needed to refuel every four to six hours; the M1 Abrams tank ran at about two miles per gallon. Tallil, specifically CEDAR II, would become a fuel center in the early days of the war.
I have found some who say fuel supplies were robust. I have also found some analysts who have said planning figures were far too conservative, that 24-hour operations consumed more fuel than even the most robust estimates. I don't know who is right.
In addition to the IPDS, the "Fuel Masters" of Corps Support Command filled large bags of JP8 fuel, some as large as 210,000 gallons, and cradled them in sand berms, lining them up side by side for more than a football field. The fuel bladders shown in the example photo hold 50,000 gallons.
Fuel farms were set up in northern Kuwait and prepositioned stocks were moved from Qatar to Kuwait. Once the force launched off the mark these kinds of fuel farms were quickly placed in Iraq at those LSAs I introduced earlier.
I should also say that Forward Area Refueling Points (FARP) were set up as the force moved north through Iraq. These were mostly for helicopters. They were often set up as stand alone entities, without any protection. Indeed the long fuel supply lines often went without protection.
A most glaring problem encountered at the outset for sure was the forces lacked truck capacity. For example, the 377th Theater Sustainment Company (TSC) had a requirement for 930 medium trucks, but had only 298 on hand. Furthermore, host nation and contractor truck support was inadequate. The COSCOM said it had only 20 percent of its truck requirement when combat operations kicked off. This made life rough. Remember, it was about 300 miles from launch points to Baghdad.
A decision was also made to use bottled water instead of relying on bulk water production. That caused a major increase in truck demand, not to mention the breakage experienced along the way.
In addition to the bottled water, the "Water Dogs" of the 226th Quartermaster Water Purification Co. began pumping nearly 6,000 gallons per day of portable water from three "reverse osmosis" purification pumps, and began providing water to combat forces coming through on their way north. This example shows a Marine Corps reverse-osmosis water purification system in Iraq, drawing water from a nearby river.
Anthony Cordesman, whom I mentioned earlier, noted a most revealing point regarding the rapidly changing situation on the battlefield. He wrote that quite often the logistics units did not really know what was going on operationally —- they lacked “situational awareness.” So the logistics units could easily find themselves in a situation where they were not exactly sure where the maneuver unit was they needed to support. In addition, the dynamics of the battlefield required units to move to locations that were not in the plan, which demanded trucks to move them about, and as I have mentioned trucks were in short supply. Furthermore, the truck transportation units themselves were in need of a capacity to defend themselves, but they were not properly organized or equipped to do that.
BGen. Stultz commented on this issue of situational awareness for the logistics people:
"It was not so much being able to supply them, but to locate where they were moving to. That tended to be a challenge for us as we moved out convoys across the desert.”
Let me use this moment as a chance to talk about the Main Supply Routes (MSRs). MSRs were planned based on photo reconnaissance. But the roads did not turn out to be what the interpreters thought they saw in the photos. The edges of the roads were falling apart, making two lane roads one lane roads. The troops also encountered more dirt roads than expected. Many of the shoulders of the roads could not handle the weight of force movements. And then battlefield problems such as those encountered at As Samawah forced units to use alternate routes that were not paved. So overall movement slowed.
The tension revolved fundamentally around the size of the force employed for this invasion. This had been a hotly debated question throughout all the mission planning prior to the invasion.
Wallace felt he did not have enough. Major news outlets in the US quoted Wallace saying, “The enemy we're fighting against is different from the one we'd war-gamed against.” He was rebuked by his superiors for saying this.
There was also criticism from others that Wallace’s force was getting bogged down in fighting an enemy more resilient than thought, too wit, the overall force was too small.
Rumsfeld worked hard during the planning stages to hold the force levels down, and took public issue with Wallace, as did his chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), General Richard Myers, USAF. General Franks reportedly chewed out Wallace for his remarks. But Wallace was not alone.
General Wallace was interviewed by PBS Frontline, I believe after he left Iraq in June 2003. I commend this interview to you to hear his view first hand. It is most illuminating.
I have not found evidence that Wallace was fired, but the invasion began in March 2003 and he left in June 2003, replaced by Franks. Franks decided to set up a new headquarters led by newly promoted Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, over the objections of the vice chief of staff, Army, General Jack Keane. That said, Wallace did receive his fourth star.
Speaking broadly, food, water and ammunition had the priorities. The general experience was that everything I’ve touched on thus far resulted in replenishment of food and water coming three days late. Supply units pushed as hard as they could to make this up, but remember these units too were exposed to battlefield demands and firefights.
I'll stop here.
I said I wanted to focus you on the enormity of the logistics challenges with this type of "need for speed" invasion. Frankly it is hard to imagine how everything was synchronized as well as it was, especially in light of rapidly changing requirements combined with the fact that combat began before the logistics base was fully set. The hard work that had been put in logistically paid huge dividends after Baghdad fell.
"An armored move of this scale and scope placed an almost overwhelming logistics burden on theater and corps logistics units supporting V Corps and the MEF … Truckers and logistics soldiers drove themselves to the point of exhaustion. They kept on driving and fighting to get supplies forward … For the American logistics and combat troops alike, were was no time-out. From their
perspective, the pace slowed from outrageous to merely brutal … Logistically, OIF tested the Army. The size of the theater, tempo of operations, complexity, distribution of forces, nature of the threat, terrain, strategic constraints, paucity of logistics forces, and requirements to support other services proved daunting. Despite these difficulties, Army (logistics) troops turned in a heroic performance by providing 'just enough' to sustain the fight.
"There are some good news logistics stories. Under incredibly difficult conditions, logistics troops made sure that food, fuel, and ammunition got forward. Logistics troops and their leaders literally fought their way forward to get the vital supplies in the hands of the combat soldiers. The scope and scale of their effort are hard to grasp, but it was truly monumental. Joint logistics functioned across 8,000 miles and met the theater’s needs without a long buildup of stocks. As one logistician put it, there were still some 'iron hills,' but there were no 'iron mountains.'
"General Dave McKiernan offered the best testimony to the logistics troops when he noted on 1 May 2003, 'the truth of the matter is we did not stop operational tempo because of any class of supply, and what was accomplished was never impeded by logistics, and I think that is a remarkable story.'"
Someone else called it "Herculean." I agree.