Talking Proud --- Military

“Thunder Runs” and the drive from Kuwait into the center of Baghdad

“Conventional military wisdom has long held that tanks and urban combat or a bad mix”... Not so here

July 21, 2014


I recall watching the US-led invasion of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the second Iraq War. It began on March 19, 2003 as US bombers pounded Baghdad and US and British forces crossed the line of departure in Kuwait. The US ground forces would drive all the way to downtown Baghdad. The image I retain in my mind is how quickly and seemingly easily US and British forces did the job bringing down the Saddam regime.

I quickly learned how the planning effort was fraught with politics and new ideas for fighting war. I learned how complex an operation this turned out to be. This was no cake walk, and it was not easy. The entire operation ranks as among the first major joint and combined integrated combat endeavors involving all the US armed forces and forces of other nations. The choreography is something to behold, both planned and unplanned.


During my research I was introduced to what are known as “Thunder Runs” by US forces through Baghdad as part of this war. This photo is a video grab taken from a 1-64 (1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment) Armor M1A1 Abrams Tank on the first Thunder Run of April 5, 2003. There was one more on April 7. They were both conducted mostly by 1-64 Armor and 15th Infantry of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (3 ID)(Mechanized), or the 2 Bde.

As a result, I decided to focus on the 3 ID, specifically its 2 Bde, from the time it prepared to leave Kuwait to the time it executed its two Thunder Runs into Baghdad. I did this to keep the story manageable. One must certainly become informed of the efforts of the 1st Marine Division which raced to Baghdad just about as fast as the 3 ID, and the British forces who handled Basra in the south.

I further decided to take a look at the planning behind the overall Operation Iraqi Freedom invasion, and then the force movements and activities that led the 3 ID to positions outside Baghdad. I will then address the 2 Bde’s Thunder Runs into Baghdad

Operation Desert Storm Aftermath --- a military view


This was the first Iraq War for the US. Iraq had invaded Kuwait and the US invaded Iraq and crossed into Kuwait to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The US employed about 500,000 troops for this invasion. There was a desire by some to go to Baghdad afterwards, but President George H.W. Bush said no, mission complete.


A ceasefire was signed on March 3, 1991. Saddam remained in power. Coalition forces began to leave on March 10, 1991. It took a while to get out.

It is important to the follow-on Operation Iraqi Freedom invasion to understand that all the boys did not come home after Desert Storm. Furthermore, the US rotated battalion size forces plus or minus in and out of Kuwait from 1992 through 2001, nine years. They were to keep their desert war fighting skills sharp, develop and try new tactics, train the Kuwaitis, and be sure Iraq understood it had better not be foolish again.

But Saddam did not respect the message. He conducted many military operations and executed many force buildups near the Kuwait border during this time, even with US forces close by. Furthermore, shortly after Desert Storm ended, Saddam faced two important uprisings within Iraq. Shi’ite uprisings grew in southern Iraq. Saddam took a number of actions to suppress these. The Kurds rose up in the north and took over most of northern Iraq employing a complicated coalition. Saddam challenged these and regained control by April 5, 1991.


One result of these uprisings was the creation of large numbers of refugees. This photo shows Kurdish refugees in Turkey in 1991. Many either died from the environment or at the hands of Saddam’s forces.

As a consequence, the US and some Gulf War allies established a no-fly zone over northern Iraq (north of the 36th parallel), ultimately called Northern Watch. On April 17, 1991 US forces took control of areas more than 60 miles into Iraq to build refugee camps for the Kurds. Those forces left on July 15, 1991. But Northern Watch continued, with fighter and support aircraft staging mostly out of Turkey.


Saddam then launched a large scale offensive against the people of southern Iraq in March-April 1992. As a result, President G.H.W. Bush established a second no fly zone in southern Iraq (south of the 33rd parallel), known as Southern Watch. Fighter and support aircraft staged mostly out of Saudi Arabia.

As an aside, US policy during these years, was to maintain Saddam in power as an offset to Iran. Slowly US policy moved away from supporting any rebel activity in Iraq. President Bush urged Iraqis to depose Saddam, but the US wanted no part of helping that happen through rebel activity.

That said, military prudence prevailed and the US, starting in 1992, only one year after the end of Desert Storm, and extending through 2001, conducted a series of military operations in Kuwait involving the 1st Cavalry Division, 3 ID, 4 ID, Special Operations Forces (SOF), and the 1st Armored Division. Some operations were nicknamed Intrinsic Action, Iris Gold and Desert Spring.

Army units rotated in and out of Kuwait, usually at the battalion level, to train with the Kuwaitis out of Camp Doha 20 miles north of Kuwait City.

These operations were listed as exercises, which they were. But they also were intended to maintain a continuous US military ground force presence in Kuwait, and build up the necessary logistics to support them.


These exercises were fairly benign in the beginning, but grew more serious and more aggressive each year. One result would be that Camp Doha became a massive logistics center of pre-positioned Army War Reserves 5 (AWR-5) with a working population of over 2,000, military and civilian people, US and Kuwaiti. AWR-5, now called Army Pre-Positioned Stocks (APS) 5. The digit “5” identifies the area as Southwest Asia. The stocks include prepositioned sets, operational project stocks, sustainment stocks, ammunition and watercraft.

Through the series of exercises, US military forces, many already battle hardened from the first Gulf War, sharpened their combat capabilities. In effect, the more time passed the more time spent on preparing for actual war.

For purposes of this report, the 3 ID was mightily involved in these exercises. Of particular note, its 2 Bde was in place training in 2002 just prior to the 2003 Iraqi Freedom invasion. The 3 ID’s 3 Bde was there just before the 2 Bde.

I want to briefly describe the kind of training the 2 Bde experienced in 2002. Without a doubt, it was training for war. The same was true in the latter years for many of the units that preceded it. Indeed they were training to invade Iraq. The troops knew it, even though not told so, and even though no one would publicly admit it. It is crucial that we understand this to be the situation by 2002. When I get to the political part of all this, which is next, you’ll see minds in Washington were thinking about invasion long before 2002.

I have come across two splendid descriptions of the days in Kuwait before the invasion for the 2 Bde. One is the book, Heavy Metal, by Jason Conroy (shown here) with Ron Martz. Part of it is on line. This is a story about "Cobra" Charlie Company, 1-64 Armor (C/1-64 Armor) but it talks to a wide range of 2 Bde events. The second is an interview with Major Bill Brodany, USA who served as the fire support officer for the third battalion, 15 Infantry Regiment (3-15 Infantry), which was the infantry unit assigned to the 2 Bde. You’ll see they were training to invade. Again, the troops could only speculate on that, which they did.

Let’s start with Capt. Jason Conroy and his experiences in Operation Desert Spring 2002, which was the final such exercise prior to the war.


Conroy was with C/1-64 Armor 2 Bde (This is a photo of A/1-64 Armor “Wild Bunch” on the second day of the war, just to give you a visual feel).

I mentioned earlier that these exercises and the others ramped up in their intensity each year as problems with Iraq grew more and more serious. I want to give you a sense for the kind of training Conroy and his men went through.

He arrived at Camp Doha, Kuwait in September 2002, where the men drew their equipment, tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs), Humvees and a 5-ton truck. They quickly moved out into the desert near the border with Iraq. His encampment, a flat desert compound surrounded by sand berms (kabals), was a few miles to the west of Camp York, the HQ 2 Bde. There were four more encampments nearby just like his.

I will itemize the kind of training they experienced. While the men had not been told they were going to invade Iraq, they pretty well knew that was the deal. I was a bit surprised with how new much of this was for the men so close to war’s start:

  • Gunnery training firing all weapons from handguns to the main tank guns; just prior to the war, they were given live service rounds that would be used in war; many soldiers had not been trained with these.
  • As they expected armor-to-armor combat, they conducted “cage matches” which were “like boxing matches between tanks ... a street fight.” Maneuvering, speed, and trigger deadlines were all evaluated. Tank crews were new to this.
  • Drives around the desert, including at night “lights out.” Problems with GPS systems forced a lot of dead reckoning, which for some ended up in a lot of “wandering around the desert.” Crews found maneuvering at night to be hard.
  • Engaging berms. Several tanks would go up and then simply back down, others “went almost perpendicular.” This too was new.
  • Training picked up and escalated to force-on-force engagements, taking the fight to the enemy, including long-range firing, shooting tanks on the run.
  • Driving through obstacles meant to simulate swamps, narrow escarpments, rivers and river crossings, trenches; they wore their protective chemical and biological equipment while fighting.
  • Dealing with POWs. This, along with all their other training, convinced the troops they were not practicing defensive operations, but rather offensive operations without a firm idea of what the mission would be.
  • Night live-fire missions while attacking, with tank formations packed tightly such as would happen on a 3 km front. This required a significant amount of maneuvering while moving an entire brigade across a postulated narrow battlefield.
  • Live-fire massing fires against simulated towns while staying outside the town. These Abrams tanks were designed for wide open warfare out in the field, not urban warfare.
  • Breaking through breaches.
  • Training became aggressive, mistakes were dealt with promptly and with “motivation” (I think “motivation” can be much like an ass chewing!

Let me pause quickly here. Note they were preparing for armor-to-armor battle. I must take this moment to stress two most important points:
Iraqi Freedom would be largely an armored campaign. Second, they trained to hold their armor outside of the towns. That had historically been the tactic. You will see they had to go into the urban centers with their armor during Iraqi Freedom.

By January 2003, this level of training was over and the equipment went in for maintenance and repairs. Mechanics were overwhelmed as the result of the hard work the equipment was put through in Desert Spring 2002. Crew members weighed in to help, wanting to be sure their equipment was tip-top.

Much of January and February was a difficult time for maintaining troop morale and discipline, as many felt they were just sitting there in Kuwait waiting and waiting. Officers and senior NCOs put the men through more and more training to keep them occupied and get them ready, but the troops grew restless. Very few men were Gulf War veterans. This was going to be a first. Discussions were held about what war was like, receiving fire, losing colleagues and commanders. Interestingly, there was no discussion of urban warfare.


But the 3-15 Infantry troops began training in mock villages. The armor leadership seemed convinced the tanks would not have to go into the cities. However, company commanders grew more and more apprehensive, and started preparing themselves and their men for the possibility they would have to go in. Almost no one had urban warfare experience. Briefings started on the subject. Tankers realized they would have to adjust their load plans and plan for what might be most effective in an urban setting. This photo shows men from the A/15 Infantry in an urban warfare exercises in the Kuwaiti desert in January 2003.

Regrettably, some of the type ordnance they would need was in short supply. New supplies flowed in.

Then, on February 28, 2003, the 1-64 Armor “Desert Rogues” moved out of camps into a featureless desert assembly area named “Rogue Zero.”

I’ll stop Conroy’s report here. It is fascinating to read and digest. You will walk away from reading it with the clear impression that as this war began, it began with many unanswered questions, it was fought by men many of whom had never done this before, the unthinkable urban armor battle was now on the forefront of everyone’s minds, the logistics support to a force told to race to Baghdad was going to be very challenging, the desert terrain on any given day was going to be unpredictable, the desert was trackless and GPS systems did not work well, and against the will of many, journalists were embedded to add to the stress. With all that, the men were as ready as ready could be.

This is a good time to switch over to the 3-15 Infantry and an interview done on September 15, 2008 with Major Bill Brodany, then the fire support officer (FSO) for the 3-15 Infantry.


He started by saying they had been hearing rumors in the spring of 2002 they were going to the Mideast, and those rumors became official in June 2002. The 3-15 had already been through “pretty extensive training” at the National Training Center (NTC), Ft. Irwin, California. The NTC training actually seemed to mirror what one might encounter in Iraq, so the men started to form their views of what was in store. This photo shows members of the 1-12 Cav, 1st Cavalry Division at the NTC in 2013.


The 3-15 Infantry deployed to Kuwait in October 2002. Within a week, Brodany’s Fire Support Center (FSC) went to an observation post since one of the artillery battalions had deployed with them. This allowed them to get in some live firing. The open desert offered good training experience. This photo shows D/3-15 Infantry troops at their desert firing range

The artillery battalion had glitches with its computers getting the firing data so they had a chance to work those out. At the same time, the other troops could go through berm drills with their Bradley APCs and maneuver between firing missions. They then went to battalion force-on-force training, moving to make contact, offense and defense. They then went to a battalion live-fire-total combined arms, to wit everyone was involved..

Brodany said:

“We had Bradleys, tanks, engineers with mine clearing line charges, artillery shooting live rounds, mortars shooting live rounds. The live-fire played the offensive role with the defense having antitank berms and ditches, infantry strong points, tanks in defense. They would then go through the entire planning process to integrate all the war fighting objectives.”

A few weeks later, they did a brigade-level live-fire using the same terrain, but the objectives were more spread out so the whole brigade could get involved.

Brodany felt Kuwait was the only place he had ever been as a fire supporter where he could “integrate artillery, close air support (CAS), multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and mortars all in one live-fire all at one time.” He commented that the training area was wide open.

I want to underscore this idea of integrated training. As I mentioned earlier, this idea was central to a successful invasion, but executing it, for the first time for many, was complex.

Being a FSO, Brodany placed a lot of emphasis on vehicles and even the drivers. If a driver couldn’t handle the Bradley, they went hunting for one who could. Brodany had what he called a 577 vehicle which was his own vehicle outfitted in the US and shipped as is. As an FSO, he had special equipment for the Advance Field Artillery Targeting and Direction System (AFATADS). The men drew basic issue items for their vehicles such as antennas, combat vehicle crewman helmets and hand mikes. Many sensed the logistics tail once the invasion started might not get such items to them, so “having the extras came in very handy.”

It was interesting when he talked about how “a lot of personal gear was not given to us by the Army. Some soldiers bought it themselves beforehand. We had the new flak vest and the load bearing equipment really didn’t fit with it.” Indeed they used the battalion credit card to order things from civilian companies to ship to Kuwait and then they issued it to the soldiers, like 80 shotguns which the infantrymen liked for breaching operations in the urban environment. Their 556 semi-automatic rifle did not work as well in shooting off door locks.

Two months before the invasion, they received some whiz-bang equipment being used by the high tech 4 ID known as the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2). This equipment, supplied to each company, enabled each to know where their companies were. I’ll interject here that for a long time one of the big problems for US forces has been knowing where their own forces were. There was plenty of intelligence available to figure out where the enemy was, but not always so good for knowing where your own people were.

Like Conroy and the C/1-64 Armor, Brodany and his men were evicted from their training locations and moved into the desert, about two weeks before the invasion. They did their final rehearsals out there. They had 1:5 satellite imagery maps of their win objectives, laid that out on the desert and “did a big walk-through rehearsal with that.” Then they did a full mounted rehearsal. Brodany said his battalion commander was a big fan of rehearsals. “He had the engineer company from our battalion go out into the desert and build a berm, and some tank revetments. We trained breaching operations into Iraq and what we thought was going to be our main objective inside Iraq just south of Baghdad.” Brodany said this training was “very accurate.”

They went through what they called the military decision-making process (MDMP) “so many times that MDMP was probably coming out of our ears.”

The Air University’s Air War College describes MDMP this way:

“Decision making is knowing if to decide, then when and what to decide. It includes the consequences of decisions...Decision making is both a science and an art. Many aspects of military operations --- movement rates, fuel consumption, weapons effects --- are quantifiable and, therefore, part of the science of war. Other aspects --- the impact of leadership, complexity of operations, and uncertainty regarding enemy intentions --- belong to the art of war. The MDMP is a single, established, and proven analytical process ... (to) help the commander sand his staff examine a battlefield situation and reach logical decisions.”

So those were some of the training experiences as described by Capt. Jason Conroy, C/1-64 Armor and Major Bill Brodany, 3-15 Infantry.

Pre-war Planning --- the politics and the military

I will only be able to touch on pre-war planning, the politics and the military. The book
Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation if Iraq, by Michel R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor provides many key insights. This is a must read if you want to track the politics and the war in detail. It is a real eye-opener.

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 (I assume 10 years before the invasion) it has been updated continuously.” He wrote that part of the planning involved pre-positioning massive amounts of equipment in the region, which was done at Doha, Kuwait.

President George W. Bush, “Bush #2,” saw Iraq as a priority, though he did little about that priority through his first six months. SecDef Rumsfeld came to office in January 2001 and led the effort to go after the Taliban and more importantly Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan following 9-11.

But Rumsfeld wanted to do more, he wanted to show the world how serious he was over fighting terrorism, so he chose Iraq as the means to bring this point home.

Then National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice chaired a top level meeting in June 2001 to discuss what to do about Iraq, given all the problems I have thus far highlighted with Saddam.

The group developed four options, one of which was to invade.

SecState Powell was not enamored by an invasion plan.

Paul Wolfwitz became the Deputy SecDef and at the least he wanted to arm and train Iraqi insurgents, apparently because Saddam was draining the southern marshes to deprive Shi’ite militias from a sanctuary. Remember that Saddam and the Sunnis were in charge, and the Sunnis were a minority.

Shortly after 9-11, Rumsfeld convened a meeting where Lt. General Newbold, USMC, then the J-3 (Operations) for the JCS, had already been tasked to come up with a plan to invade Iraq. It was OPLAN 1003-98 developed by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) for the SecDef. The plan called for 500,000 troops, too many in Rumsfeld’s mind.

General Tommy Franks, USA, commander CENTCOM, was told to go back to the drawing board. Rumsfeld at the time was pushing for an aggressive but “lean and mean” transformation of the US military, so he was also trying to impress the military with how it must change, even to fight a war such as this.

So the move to attack Iraq began shortly after 9-11. But remember, the US retaliated for 9-11 by attacking Afghanistan’s Taliban government and the al Qaeda terrorists there on October 7, 2001. So, the US had begun a war in Afghanistan at roughly the same it was planning to invade Iraq at a future date.

To the regret of many, following 9-11 the focus was more on an impending war with Iraq than an ongoing war in Afghanistan. The view was Iraq was more of a threat.

PowellColin SheltonHugh

However, SecState Powell (left) and outgoing CJCS General Shelton, USA, (right) felt the focus had to be on Afghanistan, and the latter said Iraq could wait. Bush agreed, but at the same time wanted his people to draw up Iraq contingency plans.

Then entered Richard Perlman as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. On September 19, 2001, just days after 9-11, he convened a meeting that focused on Iraq. The idea emerged that Saddam acted like an occupying power and Iraq needed to be liberated. A great deal of emphasis was placed on southern Iraq. Rumsfeld came to the meeting late and argued that Afghanistan needed to be taken care of rapidly so the US could deal with some other adversarial nation in the region. The impetus was to demonstrate US power.


Shortly thereafter, on September 13, 2001, the US 3rd Army, Lt. General Paul Mikolashek, was instructed to sketch a plan to invade Iraq’s southern oilfields and hold them. The plan was to seize everything from Umm Qasr and Basra to Nasiriyah on the Euphrates River. The planning was assigned to V Corps in Heidelberg, Germany, V Corps started planning in November 2001, and its planning continued for over a year. V Corps determined that planning required a security zone north of the Euphrates so Iraq could not attack forces in Kuwait. And, interestingly, moving north of the Euphrates would also open the possibility of attacking Baghdad. Getting north of the Euprates was a huge objective for the 3 ID during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Throughout these early planning phases, the view was that Saddam was losing power, had lost control of the north to the Kurds, and would now lose control of the south to the US. It is my understanding there was no serious high level talk about capturing Baghdad at this point.

However, in late November, 2001, CENTCOM was ordered to develop a new estimate for invading Iraq and removing Saddam from power. Rumsfeld then took over top-level planning. Rumsfeld told Franks he wanted surprise, speed, shock and an early decapitation of the Iraq regime. He wanted special forces in northern Iraq to work with the Kurds, help them set up a provisional government and protect it, seize the western desert and cut off Baghdad. For starters, Rumsfeld wanted a concept of operation and not a finished product.

A great deal of planning ensued, and it took many forms. I can’t go into all the forms. Rumsfeld and Franks were not bosom buddies and each had his own concepts for how the war in Iraq ought to be fought. Franks started at 385,000 troops to be in country for 120 days, then he dropped to 300,000, and then to 145,000 as an initial invasion force to stay for 90 days. Reinforcements would arrive that would ramp up the number to 275,000. For this, Franks needed 45 days to conduct the major attack and another 90 days to completely destroy the Saddam regime. Then the US would revert to reconstruction.

Recall that in his role at CENTCOM, Franks was also responsible for Afghanistan, and in December 2001 he did not like the way that was going.

Rumsfeld was not happy with the 275,000 figure, and Powell was worried that such a level was not enough. Planning continued.

Now enters Colonel Douglas MacGregor, USA, who impressed Rumsfeld with a book he had written, Breaking the Phalanx. House Speaker Newt Gingrich was also in the mix, favoring invasion of Iraq. Gingrich and MacGregor met frequently and did some planning on their own. MacGregor favored using a heavy armor force of 342 tanks and 400 Bradleys, in three groups of 5,500 troops, no artillery. Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, in their book Cobra II mentioned earlier, wrote:

“The force would rush to Baghdad, avoiding contact as much as possible with Iraqi forces ... After the capital was taken, 15,000 light infantry soldiers and additional reinforcements would be flown in to maintain order.”

Rumsfeld liked the concept and sent MacGregor to meet with General Franks. They met in Tampa on January 12, 2002. Franks was polite but unconvinced.

It’s worth noting that in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush proclaimed Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “axis of evil.” He raised publicly the prospect that WMD in the hands of the wrong states presented great dangers. This is when the WMD idea took hold in the body politic, even though as I have discussed, motivations went way beyond WMD.

Franks went back to see Rumsfeld, said he needed 30 days notice and 60 days to deploy an air and ground force. He would employ 275,000 troops in nearly six divisions, the Marines would enter from the east and grab up the oilfields, the bridges at Nasiriyah, and control the corridor up to Kut along the Iranian border The Army would move to Baghdad from the west. Special Operations Forces would work with the Kurds in the north.

Rumsfeld still felt this was too much, and wanted the deployment phase moved from 60 to 30 days, knowing that such would mean fewer troops. Rumsfeld in early March then suggested CENTCOM attack in spring 2002. Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor wrote, “Rumsfeld seemed to think the Afghan and Iraq wars might be a one-two punch in the war on terror.”


The planning evolution and tugging and pulling and politics went on and on. I’m going to stop here. You can get the sense that this invasion was to be an armored “blitzkrieg” targeted at Baghdad and the oilfields for the purpose of deposing Saddam. And, as planning evolved, it became clear armor was going into the cities.

Franks ended up with 148,000 Americans. The British contributed 45,000, Australia 2,000 and Poland about 200. One hundred thousand US troops were assembled in Kuwait by February 18, 2003. President Bush said the mission was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people." No mention of deposing Saddam or capturing Baghdad. And remember this --- there was little or no thought given to what happens after the Saddam regime falls, no thought to occupation.


On March 6, 2003 President Bush announced that time was running out for Saddam to accept the UN inspections process for WMD. He delivered his final ultimatum on March 17 (shown in photo), saying:

“Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to go will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing."

Linwood B. Carter wrote about the Order of Battle in 2005. He indicated that, as of 30 April 2003, there were a total of “466,985 U.S. personnel deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom. This included USAF, 54,955; USAF Reserve, 2,084; Air National Guard, 7,207; USMC, 74,405; USMC Reserve, 9,501; USN, 61,296 (681 are members of the U.S. Coast Guard); USN Reserve, 2,056; and US Army, 233,342; US Army Reserve, 10,683; and Army National Guard, 8,866.”

Depending on how you look at it, Rumsfeld did not get exactly a lean force. That said, all together about 200,000 ground troops were ready, about half of what was used in the first Gulf War.

The drive to Baghdad - Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)


There is an outstanding paper presented by Global Security, “On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Chapter Five, Isolation of the Regime” that describes the drive to Baghdad from Kuwait in wonderful detail with supporting maps. I commend it to you.

This is a difficult drive to describe because this invasion was complex and its parts were very interdependent. The invasion required interoperability and integration among all the services. That did not work perfectly, but it worked pretty well and stands as a hallmark to integrated joint military operations, and indeed integrated joint combined military operations. I also commend the book,
Heavy Metal, by Jason Conroy with Ron Martz to get some good detail.

I fear my description below, while shorter, is nowhere as good as those presented by the two references I cited above.

Let’s take a look at the plan. There is an old saying in the military that once the war starts, you throw the plan in the garbage. Unexpected exigencies and unforeseen problems with the plan often make that happen. At a top level, though, the invasion forces followed the broad plan overview I will describe.

A case study was done on V Corps and 3 ID during this war, entitled
“Network Centric Warfare Case Study, US V Corps sand 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) during Operation Iraqi Freedom Combat Operations (Mar-Apr 2003).” It’s a pretty lengthy document. There are a few things I would like to draw to your attention.

It emphasizes this war was different than the First Iraq War, Desert Storm:

“OIF was an offensive operation focused on removing the Saddam Hussein regime from power. The land forces required for completing the operation were not in theater at the start of hostilities and were significantly smaller than those employed during Desert Storm. The campaign did not follow separate phasing of operations as did Desert Storm; rather, OIF conducted simultaneous operations.”

The authors wrote:

“The operations were enabled by an enhanced information environment with a shared common operational picture and a highly synchronized joint team ... During OIF new levels of information availability led to widespread situational awareness and understanding resulting in greater synchronization of the joint force and increased combat effectiveness. As a result, land forces fought continuous engagements with greater tactical dispersion than at any time in the past, fighting both doctrinal Iraqi forces and non-doctrinal, asymmetrical, forces.”

By “Network Centric Warfare” (NCW) they meant:

“NCW hypothesis that ‘a robustly networked force improves information sharing; collaboration; quality of information; and shared situational awareness resulting in dramatically increased mission effectiveness.’ ”

So, when I said earlier this was a complex war, this is part of the reason I said so.

I want to present two maps start, many more coming later.

Pasted Graphic\

For purposes of this report, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) divided Iraq south of Baghdad into two main parts, east and west, divided by the Euphrates River. V Corps attacked on the west side of the Euphrates, while the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) with the 1st Marine Division (1 MARDIV) and British forces assigned attacked on the east side, closer to Iran through a route that contained more cities than did the western route. To get to Baghdad, the V Corps elements had to cross the Euphrates and the IMEF had to cross the Tigris.


Arguably one of the greatest worries was the long logistics tail that would have to tag along with these forces to Baghdad, and that tail was even longer for those who went to the north of Baghdad. This proved to be a major challenge and a great many adjustments had to be made on the run. This photo shows only a small part of that tail, a convoy of trucks and armored vehicles lined up and ready to cross into Iraq on March 21, 2003.

Pasted Graphic 1 Pasted Graphic 2


V Corps was commanded by Lt. General Scott Wallace, USA, left. I MEF was commanded by Lt. General James Conway, USMC, right. The British 1st Armoured Division, Major General Peter Wall (lower center) in command, was assigned to I MEF for the invasion.

There was some debate as to whether the 3 ID would be subordinate to the I MEF or to the V Corps. The decision was that it would be subordinate to V Corps. This was a challenging decision as the V Corps belonged to the US European Command (USEUCOM) and was headquartered at Heidelberg, Germany, a forward-based tactical Army headquarters. But now it would be subordinate to US Central Command (USCENTCOM) and would become a deployed tactical Army headquarters. And, it would be in charge of units, some from Germany with which it was familiar, and some from the US with which it was not familiar. This in turn presented command and control communications and data planning-execution software issues.

Pasted Graphic 3

This diagram presents a top-level look at the plan, and as I indicated, generally reflects what happened once executed.

V Corps forces included the 3 ID, the 101st Airborne Division, and the 2nd Brigade 82nd Airborne Division. I MEF forces included the 1st Marine Division (1 MARDIV) and the British 1st Armoured Division. As I indicated, I am giving you only a very top level view of the invasion.

Pasted Graphic
The 3 ID, the “Rock of Marne,” whose 2 Bde “Spartans” are a focus of this report, was commanded by Major General Buford Blount, USA. It was considered at the time to be the Army’s desert warfare division. The 3 ID employed three armored brigades, the 1, 2 and 3 Bdes. 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. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

The 1 MARDIV stayed on the east side of the Euphrates (light blue arrow) and crossed the Tigris near Al Kut. The British 1st Armored Division swung to the east to Basra (small light blue arrow). Prior to that, I MEF forces took the Umm Qasr port and as many oilfields as they could that were not burning.

Broadly speaking, the 101st Airborne was to secure the lines of communication up through An Najaf while the 2 Bde 82nd Airborne did the same up through An Samawah to the east (both the white arrows

The pink triangle shows the Sunni Triangle, hosting the critical cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and of course, Baghdad.

The green marks Iraqi Kurdistan, the tan lands claimed by Kurdistan, and the black oval with a gold spear tip in it reflects the general area of operation of Special Operations Forces in the north. It is important to be aware that many special forces were involved in supporting the Kuwait-to-Baghdad run.

Estimates varied about how long it would take to get into Baghdad, from three weeks or less to 100 days or more. The concerns were not so much centered on defeating Iraqi forces as they were on logistics, getting it to keep up with the rapidly moving combat forces, and fuel, where it would be placed and when. It is fascinating to study how fuel was placed along the way.

The 3 ID was officially notified of its mission in January 2003. The troops were told in January 2003 that they would be going to the Mideast. The entire division was deployed to Kuwait within a few weeks.

The 2 Bde was already in Kuwait during the latter part of 2002 participating in the last of the exercises there prior to the 2003 invasion. Having been relieved by the 2 Bde in Kuwait, the 3 Bde returned to the US in September 2002, completing the departure in October. It then returned to Kuwait in January 2003. The 1st Bde arrived in January 2003 as well. So, during the winter of 2003, we have the entire 3 ID in place in Kuwait, ready to go.

While talking about deployment times, I do want to highlight how the 2 Bde deployed. The 2 Bde is the center of my focus for this report because it would conduct the Thunder Runs through Baghdad.

Pasted Graphic 1
First, the combat composition of the 2 Bde, Colonel David Perkins, USA, in command. It had the 3rd Squadron 7th Cavalry (3-7 Cav), about battalion size; the 1st Battalion (Bn) 41st Field Artillery Regiment with 155 mm Self-Propelled Artillery; the 3rd Bn 15th Infantry Regiment (3-15 Inf); and the 1st and 4th battalions 64th Armor Regiment (1-64 and 4-64 Armor). The men refer to the latter two battalions as the “maneuver battalions.”

The brigade headquarters, the artillery battalion, the logistics battalion, and one of the maneuver battalions deployed to Kuwait in September 2002. The infantry battalion deployed in October. The last maneuver battalion deployed in November.

Figuring out when a war actually started can be tricky. For example, CIA Special Activities Division (SAD) Paramilitary forces entered Iraq in July 2002 to prepare for the later arrival of US military forces, once again underlining that the plan all along was to invade. They then combined with the US Army 10th Special Force Group (SFG) to get with the Kurds and get ready for operations in northern Iraq. Together they also conducted reconnaissance to target leadership figures and conducted strikes against some military leadership.


The 5th SFG would enter Iraq from the south. This is a photo of 5th SFG mobility vehicles preparing to move into Iraq for Iraqi Freedom.

Added to all this, the US and British had been attacking Iraqi air defenses since the 1991 Gulf War to enforce the no fly zones. In mid-2002 the US focused more on Iraq’s military command structure. Sizable attacks occurred in September 2002 prior to congressional authorization for the invasion.

The no-fly zone issue is worth a moment, since these days people glibly suggest setting up no-fly zones when crises develop, such as in Syria today. To set up a no-fly zone means you have to have air superiority; you have to own the skies. That means you have to attack all land-based air defense systems such as anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and you have to destroy the fighter force. That usually also means, as it did for the two no-fly zones in Iraq, you have to destroy the command and control structure. Fail to do this and you might not own the skies.

I’d like to return to the accounts of Capt. Jason Conroy (C/1-64 Armor) and Major Bill Brodany (1-15 Infantry) to give you a sense for how their units moved as war approached.

I reported earlier that much of January and February was a difficult time for maintaining troop morale and discipline, as many felt they were just sitting there in Kuwait waiting and waiting, but that on February 28, 2003, the 1-64 Armor “Desert Rogues” moved out of camps into a featureless desert assembly area named Rogue Zero, the closest of the camps to Kuwait City. The 1-15 Infantry went to a similar environment. They conducted their final rehearsals out there.


Very rough sketch of 3 ID Plan to start out, just to show locations

The plan, I think the final plan for the 2 Bde was as follows, as conveyed by Jason Conroy in his book,
Heavy Metal:


“The 1 Bde would drive north from its tactical assembly area in northwest Kuwait and take the airfield at Jalibah (shown here).


“The 3 Bde would bypass Jalibah en route to Tallil AB (shown here) and the Euphrates.

“The 2 Bde would make a wide sweep into the southern desert of Iraq and come up behind the Medina Division. The 1st Bde, an infantry heavy brigade, would support the 2 Bde’s fight against the Medina Division.”

Apparently these airfields were located right along the boundary of the 3 ID and 1 MARDIV boundary, so Marine and Army forces crossed paths, with their forces often criss-crossing each other. Both the 3 ID and Marines were involved with securing these airfields.


It’s worth saying at this point that as Allied forces moved beyond the line of departure into Iraq, there was an enormous amount of vehicles of one kind of another on the move. One Marine’s account I read said that the area was very congested with Allied traffic. Unless you were there, it is probably hard to imagine the scope of vehicles that shot off the line into Iraq. The photo shows some of the vehicles from just the 5th Special Forces Group waiting to launch from Kuwait to give you some sense of the enormity of the attack equipment.

Regarding the 2 Bde, and the swing through the desert, the thinking was that the Iraqis would find it difficult to track anything in the western desert, in large part because the Special Operations Forces and air attacks destroyed their listening and observation posts. The plan was that there would be no frontal assault on the Medina Division, but instead an “enveloping maneuver.” The Iraqis had more forces, but the Americans had more firepower.

Broadly speaking, the three brigades would meet up near the Karbala Gap and cross the Euphrates not far from there, with the 2 Bde staying out in the desert on its run to the north while the other two brigades stayed closer to the Euphrates. Elements of each would help out the other along the way. All of them tried to avoid cities as best they could.


Just a short pause to talk about Iraq’s Medina Division. It was located in and around Karbala about 50 miles south of Baghdad. Just briefly, the Medina Division had about 10,000 troops there. Most experts agreed that it was the best, or at least among the very best of Iraq’s fighting forces, part of what was known as the Republican Guard. It was known as the 2nd Al Medina Armored Division, subordinate to the 1st Republican Guard (Southern) Corps, which commanded it. All Republican Guard units were subordinate not to the Ministry of Defense, but to the “Special Security Apparatus of the State,” in other words Hussein himself. All together they were 50-60,000 strong. The photo shows Republican Guard soldiers digging in on the outskirts of Baghdad waiting to defend it.

As indicated, the 2 Bde would launch off from its position in southwestern Kuwait, separated from the other brigades. The 2 Bde split up into two sections. One consisted of all the brigade’s armor while the other contained the rest of the wheeled vehicles that would try to stick to more easily traveled areas. That was especially true for the logistics tail, which tried to stay on paved roads. They would then link up. All together, the 2 Bde struck with more than 2,000 vehicles crossing the border. They would have to travel through 300 miles of desert.

The official plan for Iraqi Freedom was that it would commence on March 21, 2003. However, the initial thinking was that air attacks against specific Iraqi leadership targets might decapitate the Iraqi government and cause it to fall more quickly. On or about March 19, the CIA said it had information on Saddam’s location. As a result, President Bush surprised the hell out of General Franks and told him to start on March 19. It might not seem like a big thing, but it was as plans had to be quickly changed and forces had to be alerted to the changes.


Incredibly, General Franks reportedly already had two F-117 Stealth fighters in the air with bunker buster bombs. These aircraft waited until almost the last minute to get the execute order. Cruise missile attacks began and the F-117s were given the “Go” order. The F-117s’ target was on the outskirts of Baghdad, but the bombs missed their target and Saddam was not there anyway. That aside, the above photo shows the start of the bombing campaign over Baghdad, March 21, 2003

Nonetheless, the war had begun two days early, on March 19, 2003. Ground forces began moving out of their final assembly areas toward the border.

On March 19, British, US Marine, and Polish forces attacked the southern port city of Um Qasr. They met heavy resistance, but the Allied force managed to secure the oil fields in southern Iraq, though the retreating Iraqis did set fire to some 44 oil wells on their way out. The Allies capped them and put them out. Fighting in the south would continue. Most eyes were at that moment focused on this fighting in the south.

During the evening of March 19, 2003, preparatory artillery fire began over the Iraqi border mainly directed at Iraqi outposts. As far as I can tell, the 3 ID began crossing on March 20 and 21 with the armor maneuver battalions in the lead, followed by the Tactical Operations Centers (TOCs) and logistics vehicles in the rear. It is my understanding from interviews that the armored maneuver formations would look something like this: One company from the 15 Infantry in the lead kind of in wedge, with a tank company to the left and another to the right, and slightly back from the infantry. The TOC was in the middle a few kilometers to the rear.


The first task was to penetrate what were known as the berms, a 10-km-deep defensive linear obstacle complex along the Iraq-Kuwait border. It consisted of a combination of tank ditches, concertina wire, electrified fencing and observation posts with Iraqi forces deployed. The 3-15 Infantry had the job of breaking through the sand berms on the border at gaps designated lanes 10A and 11. The 3-7 Cav then went through followed by the rest of the 2 Bde. This photo shows Sgt. Derek Pellitier, B/11 Engineers Bn, waving thousands of combat vehicles through the berm separating Iraq from Kuwait on March 21, 2003.

The general approach of the 3 ID for this invasion was to move north as fast as possible, avoiding cities where possible so as not to get wrapped around the axle in urban warfare. Each of the three brigades kind of “leapfrogged” each other on the drive north, moving forward to seize a position while another brigade stopped, refueled, rearmed and rested as best it could. The two maneuver battalions, the 1-64 and 4-64 Armor led the way most of the time along with the 3-7 Cav. The 3-15 Infantry or the most part played a “support” role --- the idea was to keep it in tact in order for it to play a lead role once they got across the Euphrates.

Again speaking broadly, the division’s flanks were wide open and undefended. Defense of the 3 ID’s flanks was the job of airpower, fixed wing and rotary. Often aircraft spotted formations of enemy coming toward the flanks and segments of the 3 ID would go to meet them and defeat them.

The motto was speed and power. The 3 ID was tasked to move as fast as possible to the Karbala Gap. That would allow the 3 ID to cross the Euphrates River and support the 1 MARDIV’s run to the north. The challenge was the Medina Division of the Republican Guard, which most planners thought would stand in the way in the Karbala area.

During the course of the movement to Baghdad, the 3 ID left a trail of broken down vehicles, including tanks. Most often, they had to keep moving and did not have time to repair them, though you could quite often see mechanics ripping off parts from the dead-in-the-water vehicles to use for later repairs on their vehicles.

There was contact along the way and forces were lost, but the 3 I ID kept moving. On March 26, elements of the 2 Bde, namely the 1-64 Armor Desert Rogues and I believe some 1-15 Infantry faced their first serious combat in An Najaf. The 1-64 Armor destroyed most of the enemy there.


Interestingly, this occurred while the 3 ID encountered its first major obstacle to moving northward, a blinding dust storm on March 25 to March 27. The account recorded by Major Brodany of the 1-15 Infantry is that they were stopped dead in their tracks for five days. The ground forces essentially were brought to a near standstill. This photo shows A/1-64 Armor waiting out the sandstorm. Lt. General Wallace, commander V Corps, said in an interview:

“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.”


Dennis Steele, a staff writer with the magazine
Army, described it this way for the August 2003 edition:

“On March 25, we paused partly because a gigantic sandstorm was moving toward us and partly because we needed to stop to rest and perform maintenance. The sandstorm hit us that day and built to a crescendo during the next day. Wind whipped in a constant sandblast. At midday, the light turned blood red and remained that way for several hours. The color flickered into flame orange before the storm suddenly threw an eerie black blanket over us. It was still daytime, but it got so dark that from the back seat of the Humvee I could not see even a faint outline of Capt. Lawrence sitting in the front seat less than two feet away. ‘I don’t know what this is a sign of, but it sure is a sign of something,’ he said amid the blackness. All we could do was sit it out.”

General Wallace said the sandstorm ended on April 1. It is important to recognize that the sandstorm was terrible, and there was a ground “pause,” but combat activity remained intense raging sandstorm or not.


General Wallace intimated that the sandstorm did cause them to rethink how they were going to get to Baghdad. Logistics and building a supply base were the major challenges. This was crucial because he and his commanders expected that as soon as they made their way through the Karbala Gap, they were going to encounter fierce resistance. They knew they would have to move through this --- they called it the enemy’s “Red Zone” --- quickly without stopping.

He said they knew the Medina Division of the Republican Guard was in the Karbala area, but did not have a good feel for its strength. Major General Blount, the 3 ID commander, wanted to move elements of the 7th Cav into the Karbala Gap, then follow it with the 1st and 3rd Bdes of the 3 ID to positions where they could move through the Gap. He wanted to move the 2 Bde to a place called “Objective Murray,” a bridge crossing over the Euphrates. The 3 ID already controlled the bridge but the next job was to move the heavy armor across the bridge to the eastern side. That plan was approved.

Planners had believed the Medina Division would be in the Gap to defend it, but once the invasion got rolling, the 3 ID’s intelligence people said the Medina was not there in any great force.

General Wallace went on to say:

“(As we got) closer to Baghdad, we expected a tougher fight. We expected the Republican Guard to be the formation that we were going to have to deal with, and we expected it to be a much more difficult and much more resolute defense. What it turned out to be was a few organizations that fought very small engagements, albeit somewhat violent. But in terms of a coherent defense, in terms of an entire enemy division ... which was coming from the west, it just didn't appear to us.

“And what we found when we got up there was a large number of abandoned vehicles, a large number of vehicles that had apparently been struck by either coalition [forces], or coalition air power, or army aviation, or our own direct fire systems, or our own indirect fire systems that appeared to have been abandoned when they were struck. It seemed to me that the will of the enemy to fight seemed to decay rather rapidly, which is something we didn't anticipate nor should we have anticipated.”

Commanders soon realized that the Iraqis were not defending the gap with any great strength. Dr. Leopold Scholz of Stellenbosch University, in his paper “Iraq 2003 (Part 2): The road to Baghdad,” said:

“It was clear that Saddam had no serious plans to try and stop the invading forces as far away form the capital as possible, his most useless troops being placed out on the limb. It seems as if he wanted the Americans to come to Baghdad, where he could decimate then un urban warfare.”

Scholz also said US intelligence had reported that 14 Iraqi divisions were positioned north of Baghdad, perhaps fearing the 4th ID which was to come in from the north, or fearing what the Turkish military might do, or both.

All that said, Iraqi ground forces did head south out of Baghdad to reinforce the Medina Division. While those forces moved south, USAF B-1 and B-2 bombers along with the Joint Stars ground moving target indicator intelligence collector beat up these forces. General John Jumper, then the chief of Staff USAF, said they “pounded the heck out of them.”

In any event, the terrain through the Gap was a bit of a problem, lots of marshes, but the 3 ID’s forces moved through rapidly. Once done, the 3 ID was north of the enemy, behind the Republican Guard that was there, which was bad news for the enemy.

The invasion plan and execution had a series of objectives, many of which are shown below. There were also Phase Lines which are not shown.


The 2 Bde attacked Objectives Spartan and Murray on March 31, 2003. Murray was the town of Al Hindiyah. You can see its location east of Karbala and the Karbala Gap, at the bottom of the map.


The 4-64 Armor attacked the bridge at Objective Murray, which forced the enemy to commit from the north and east, and in turn enabled the 1st and 3rd Bdes to push through the Karbala Gap. Objective Spartan was secured by the 2 Bde on April 1. The 2 Bde split up into four battalions and moved to the Karbala Gap, fought for two days, and moved through the Gap as well.


There was another bridge to the north of Objective Murray, known as Objective Peach. The 1st Bde began its attack on April 2 while the 3rd Bde held off any potential opposition from the gap. There was fighting, and Iraqis managed to blow a large hole in one lane of the northern section of the bridge, but all in all, the 3 ID took the bridge largely in tact. Since part of it was damaged, the engineers placed a ribbon (pontoon) bridge across the Euphrates to supplement the crossing capacity. The 2 Bde moved across with all its armor and infantry, and was followed by the 1st and 3rd Bdes over time, the next several days.


Objective Lions, the airport, was next. The 1st BCT moved against it. It took the airport by April 4, though it took a few more days to clear it completely. Note on the map at Objective Peach how the 2 Bde broke off to the northeast headed to Objective Saints while the rest of the division moved toward Objectives Lions and Montgomery.

The 2 Bde secured its positions to the southeast of the airport, almost due south of Baghdad. The 3 Bde was tasked to take a position roughly six miles north of Baghdad, close to the Baghdad military installation at Taji. To accomplish this, on April 6 it began to sweep around the west side of Baghdad to a position just outside the northern reaches of the city. Here again, the force was to move swiftly, not get bogged down fighting against any particular enemy unit or group, and seal off the northern part of the city.

By this time, Gregor Fontenot, E.J. Degen and David John, in their book
On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said “Saddam had turned Baghdad into an ‘armed camp.’ Iraqi troops fought the brigade at every bend or corner in the road...” That said, the end of April 6 marked major success in isolating Baghdad, with the 1 Bde sitting within the limits of northwest Baghdad. On April 8 elements of the 1 MARDIV entered Baghdad from the east and on April 9 linked up with Army forces in downtown Baghdad.

I think I will stop here. The actions of V Corps and 1 MARDIV forces throughout the march from Kuwait to Baghdad are absolutely remarkable. While my summarizing at a top level might have made the march sound easy, which at a top level it was, at the level of the individual units and Soldiers-Marines it was tense and an on-again-off-again fight all the way. From a commander’s viewpoint, many tough decisions had to be made, many risks were taken, but the force with its speed, high technologies, equipment and the valor of its war fighters moved and got the job done. Baghdad was virtually surrounded not even two weeks into the invasion.

My personal impression from the research is that the vaunted Republican Guard was not as great a threat as that posed by the Fedayeen, a paramilitary organization known as Saddam’s “Men of sacrifice.” They numbered anywhere from 18,000 to 40,000, mostly young soldiers recruited from regions loyal to Saddam, and reporting directly to the presidential palace.

“Thunder Runs” --- armored assault through Baghdad’s center and out


David Zucchino and Mark Bowden wrote a book describing the details of the
Thunder Runs through Baghdad: Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad. Furthermore, I commend an outstanding paper presented by Global Security, “On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Chapter Six, Regime Collapse.” that describes both Thunder Runs into Baghdad all the way form Kuwait in wonderful detail with supporting maps.

You will recall from early in our report that Iraqi Freedom was an armored invasion, the objective was to capture Baghdad, and armored units had historically not fought in urban areas, but instead from outside them. You will also recall that as they came closer and closer to the actual invasion, 3 ID troopers had figured out they would likely be taking their armor into Baghdad to conduct urban warfare nonetheless. They were right.

It should be noted that the term “Thunder Run,” we believe, was first used as jargon by US forces in Vietnam, where it meant that a column of armored vehicles would move along a trail and fire left and right. The generals called these raids armed reconnaissance. In Iraqi Freedom, the more famous Thunder Runs were conducted to capture Baghdad. However, thunder runs were also conducted in this war in Najaf. On April 1, 2003, the 1 BCT of the 101 Airborne Division sent a platoon of tanks on a Thunder Run through the main streets of Najaf. On April 2, the 1 BCT sent HMMWVs to do the same thing.

I will address the two Thunder Runs into Baghdad executed by the 3 ID.


April 5, 2003 Thunder Run

The 2 Bde Spartans of the 3 ID, Col. David Perkins in command, got the task on April 4, 2003, I believe during the evening. They were located at Objective Saints, south of the city. The 2 Bde made its first Thunder Run through the city on April 5. The 2 Bde’s 1-64 Armor “Rogues,” Lt. Colonel Eric “Rick” Schwartz in command, got the job. Col. Perkins went with them.

The impetus for the first Thunder Run was to conduct an armed reconnaissance inside Baghdad, an attempt to learn how the Iraqis would defend the city. The leadership continued to feel it had to move fast before Saddam could build up his defenses. Col. Perkins wanted to create as much confusion as his force could create.


The Rogues launched off from Objective Saints at about 0600 on April 5. A/1-64 Armor “Wild Bunch” led the way, along with a platoon of engineers. C/1-64 “Rock” followed, and then C/1-64 “Cobra” in trail. The plan was to move out from Objective Saints in staggered columns along Route 8 through the southwestern sector of the city and hook to the west to Objective Lions, the Baghdad Airport, meeting up with the 1 Bde, Col Grimsley in command, which had already taken the airport. The 1-64 Armor had only been at war for two weeks.

Rogue left behind its wheeled vehicles and fuel trucks because they lacked armor. The 1-64 went in with 25 Abrams tanks and 12 Bradleys Armore Personnel Cariers (APCs). I have also seen descriptions saying it went with several hundred soldiers aboard 29 tanks, 14 Bradleys, and some other combat vehicles. The intent was a show of force and US freedom of action. While the Rogues were new to this war, they had already conducted a few small Thunder Runs while advancing on Baghdad.


The force had to pass through three major intersections on the way to the airport, Objectives Curley, Larry and Moe, named after the Three Stooges. Each was a cloverleaf where east-west roads intersected Hwy 8.

The distance from Objective Saints to Objective Curley was about 7.5 miles. The one way trip to the airport was about 12 miles.

I have seen reports that the first Thunder Run encountered “very little opposition.” But this phrase might reflect relative opposition as compared to what had been encountered through the run-up to Baghdad. Rogue took fire shortly out of the gate, and the intensity increased. Civilians were using the highway along with Rogue, and they were either warned by gunfire to stay out of the way or assessments were made “friend or foe.” Civilians were attacked.

Fighting continued and at least one tank was disabled with its crew wounded. This proved to be a problem and caused the column to stop, which made it vulnerable to more attacks, but after about 20 minutes Rogue prevailed. An hour into the mission, a tank commander was killed and a Bradley was hit and disabled.

As they approached the airport, they ran into two-foot thick barriers standing three feet high. A US tank rammed the barrier and the rest passed through. The 1-64 tended to their wounded and equipment, rested for about four hours. and then headed back to Objective Saints. My count is one KIA.

Colonel Schwartz commented in an interview:

"I was emotionally spent. One of my tank commanders had been killed. I had a soldier shot in the eye, shot in the forehead, shot in the shoulder, shot in the back, shot in the face.... I just needed time for myself, and one of the other battalion commanders from 1st Brigade came over and didn't say a single word. He asked me, ‘Are you okay?’ And I said, ‘I don't know.’ He looked at me and then turned around and walked away, and that was the best thing he could have done.

"We regrouped after about 4 hours and left the airfield and went back to business. I was okay; everyone was okay. Let me take that back--we were better, but we weren't okay. We were never okay. I talked to the company commanders; I talked with the [doctors]...I had to be with everyone I could be with for my own personal well being and for theirs, to let them know what they did was right and it was justifiable and everything I asked them to do.... We regrouped and refocused and attacked two days later into Baghdad.”

April 7, 2003 Thunder Run


Once completed, Col. Perkins decided, privately to himself I think, that he wanted to conduct a second run and go right into downtown Baghdad, and stay. Perkins said, “(The purpose was) to make sure, in no uncertain terms, that people knew the city had fallen and we were in charge of it.” Little did he realize the full extent of the meaning of “we are in charge of it.” He opposed the idea of taking territory and then leaving it. His idea was to get into the center, remain, and push out.

General Wallace’s idea was different. He wanted the second run to go in, remain at the airport for a few hours, and come out. His concept was to set up five forward operating bases (FOBs) around the city and run raids in and out. So Wallace stood firm on his plan.

Throughout the dominant worry was how to resupply Perkins’ force once he got in and how to get casualties out. For the second run, the final plan was to take the armor into the city, set up shop at the major intersections and bridges, and form a kind of armored corridor. There was no intent to do any street-to-street or house-to-house fighting, but instead roll right through with lethal power.

The second run was conducted by the 1-64 Armor first, Lt. Colonel Eric Schwartz in command, followed by the 4-64 Armor, Lt. Colonel Phillip DeCamp (shown here) in command, followed by mechanized 3-15 infantry, Lt. Col Stephen Twitty in command, to secure the supply route. Artillery, under the command of Lt. Colonel Kenneth Gnatt, was synchronized with the run to hit main highway overpasses just before the armor reached them. High explosive, variable-type rounds were used. They exploded in air bursts, designed to kill enemy but leave the bridges and highways in tact. The plan was to place an armored platoon at each intersection, which meant four tanks facing four different directions. Then the 3-15 Infantry would come in and hold the Moe, Larry and Curley intersections. The Tactical Operations Center (TOC) remained outside the city, Lt. Colonel Eric Wesley, the 2 Bde’s exec officer, in charge, and it would coordinate the attack along with air power and artillery.

Having learned from the first Thunder Run, the force was told not to slow the momentum and risk individual vehicles stopping and being surrounded and defeated.

During the second run, the 2 Bde’ force got to the second intersection, and Perkins discovered that his forces were able to handle the Iraqis. So, on his own, taking advantage of his situation and having thought through his concept for this run, his force hooked a turn to there east, and went downtown to the presidential palace. Did he disobey orders? Apparently the conclusion reached by the generals was “no,” he took advantage of the tactical situation.

So now a decision had to be made --- should the force stay or leave? General Blount and Col. Perkins decided they could remain, and General Wallace went along with them and approved.


As a result, by April 7 US forces were in downtown Baghdad to stay. The regime had collapsed, everyone went home or into hiding, and the net result was a bit of a surprise --- no one was there to run the city. By April 9, 2003, the realization that the Saddam regime had fallen was hardening into concrete. As indicated earlier, however, even though the city fell to US forces, much fighting continued on the outskirts and, of course, later throughout the country.

There was heavy fighting with the US confronted by Fedayeen, Special Republic Guards, and Syrian volunteers. They came down on the vehicles swarming like flies and almost overran an infantry company. But the enemy force was disorganized and there did not appear to be any semblance of a responsible command and control system. The result was a lack of coordination and cohesion for the Iraqis. Indeed it appeared to surprise the Iraqis that the US would stop in downtown Baghdad and set up. The Iraqis did not know how to deal with that.

In both instances, the 3 ID’s emphasis was on combat rather than trying to quell disturbances or criminality such as looting. That would come later.

John Pike of called these runs a “coup d’etat.” The regime was in effect decapitated. There was no need for house to house fighting. The Iraqi government simply vanished.

If you are interested in greater detail, I commend the readings I ave highlighted, and there are many more. This was one helluva operation, start to finish.