Select Committee on Defence Third Report


Military Preparations and Coercive Effect

24. Sir Kevin Tebbit, Permanent Under Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, explained that military preparations were in the first instance undertaken for coercive purposes:

25. As Lieutenant General John Reith, the Chief of Joint Operations (CJO) put it:

    There was a political process running parallel with the military process here. We were producing a capability which was being used at that stage for a coercive effect to try to make a success of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. At the same time, there was a diplomatic process, trying to get us to be allowed to use various bases within the region, and there was a public face to many of the people we dealt with and a private face, and, clearly, in the end, we managed to get the basing we required.[17]

It might be argued that, if the purpose of using the military was as a coercive force during diplomatic phase, there should have been no constraint on the military preparations and deployments undertaken, since the more convincing the coercion the more effective it might be expected to be. The Iraqi regime, however, was not the only audience: other members of the UN Security Council needed to believe that UK and US attempts to find a peaceful solution were sincere, as did the broader international community and domestic US and UK audiences.

The UK and the planning process

26. The bedrock of the UK's involvement in the planning was the close relationship between MoD and the United States Department of Defense (DoD), which had been built up over a number of years. Sir Kevin Tebbit explained the relationship:

The close working relationship between the armed services of the two countries had been reinforced by shared operations most recently in Afghanistan and the no-fly zones in Iraq. Much of the effectiveness of the British military contribution to the planning process derived from the embedding of British staff officers from the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ), in Centcom in Tampa—a development dating from just after 11 September 2001, when some 40 were based there. A similar number has been maintained ever since.[19] According to General Reith, the result of these close working relationships was that the British were able to 'put a degree of sensitivity into the planning… and… General Franks appreciated our contribution.'[20] The embedding of military officers at Centcom gave the British influence over planning; there are, however, parallel dangers of being locked into American policy where that planning leads to military action. We discuss British and American command and control relations in Chapter 4.


27. The UK National Contingent Commander, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, told us that the planning began in June or July 2002, when the British were invited to participate by the US, in advance of other nations such as Australia and Canada.[21] A wider invitation was sent out by the State Department in November to a number of countries inviting their participation.[22] The British were thus able, he maintained, to influence planning from 'the bottom up':[23]

    We began looking at Iraq planning in the summer. We had no timetable, but—it was put to me that if the UK was at any stage likely to participate, then best we at least understand the planning and influence the planning for the better. At no stage did we say 'Here is the end date by which we are going to do this'. What we did have was a couple of windows. We said ideally it makes sense either to do this in the spring of 2003 or autumn of 2003. When we started planning, the US forces were still reconstituting after Afghanistan. That was an issue for them: how quickly would they be ready to do another operation of this size?[24]

28. Sir Kevin Tebbit said that at the military level, there was some exchange of views in 'summer 2002' with serious planning crystallising in the autumn.[25] General Reith, however picked up that the Americans were engaged in planning in May 2002 and confirmed that the British were involved from June onwards:

    It was in about May last year when we picked up that the Americans were doing some, what they call, 'no foreigners' planning, to which we were not allowed access, which was unusual, because normally we have very, very good access on everything. Clearly, there was a decision, I think in June of last year, by the Americans to bring the UK and Australia in on their planning cycle. I then got authority from the Ministry of Defence to get involved in that planning, on the basis of no UK commitment.[26]

The Committee was also told that the use of Urgent Operational Requirements[27] was being discussed by MoD, or 'rather by the military and the suppliers in May 2002.'[28]

29. However, Sir Kevin Tebbit claimed that this military planning did not amount to any 'serious engagement' with the Americans.[29] MoD's Director General, Operational Policy, Mr Ian Lee, characterised it as a free form exercise with little concrete occurring until September, when the detailed planning actually began:

    Planning…dates back to having embedded staff with the Americans, and back to May/June and the first consideration of this in small groups… just…think of this as a continuum, where, at the beginning of the continuum, one is talking about staff discussions, people in a very exploratory way just discussing a subject and then gradually it becoming slightly more defined. One is talking about contingency plans on paper, and that was going on during the summer last year in these very small groups, but…entirely on a 'no commitment' basis, just an exploratory activity. It was not until September…after President Bush had been to the United Nations and made the speech…that we got into a phase which might be more recognisable as planning, in the sense actually of developing options and beginning to think about taking action in respect of training, or whatever, which would have an effect of some sort on the ground, as opposed to entirely paper contingencies.[30]

30. The Secretary of State insisted that planning for 'a specific military operation' did not get under way until after the Prime Minister's statement to the House of Commons on 24 September 2002.[31] But since the specific operation undertaken by British forces was fundamentally redrawn in January 2003, we are not clear how much weight to place on the distinction drawn by the Secretary of State.

31. Surprisingly, Major General Robin Brims, the UK Land Component Commander, only became aware of the planning at the end of September and increasingly involved in October/November. He developed some plans for exercises in December.[32] However, he was not directly involved with Centcom at that stage, although he attended some commanders conferences where he was made aware of their planning.[33] An exercise ('Internal Look') was held at Centcom before Christmas, which was a mission rehearsal for the Americans. The plan was run through and the British made comments on the basis of their own analysis of the plan.[34]

32. The UK Air Component Commander, Air Vice Marshal Glen Torpy, became involved in the planning in the summer:

    we first became involved in planning for the operation really in the summer of last year. That really came about because of our intimate involvement in the southern no-fly zone operations. Inevitably, because of the very close linkage between the RAF and the United States Air Force in the no-fly zone operations, we became aware that the Americans were starting to look at some contingency planning and we became involved in that at a very early stage. That matured over the autumn.[35]

33. Unlike the 1991 Gulf War, which was preceded by a 38 day air campaign, the land campaign in 2003 was not preceded by a discrete air campaign. One scenario had apparently envisaged an air campaign of up to 20 days and it has been alleged that a 2-3 day air assault including 3,000 precision attacks was cancelled at the last minute.[36] Air Vice Marshal Torpy explained how the decision not to have a preparatory air campaign phase was reached:

    When we started doing the initial plan, we constructed it in a similar manner to that seen during the first Gulf war and during Kosovo, with a discrete phase, in which air was going to be used to shape the battle space so that it would set the conditions for the land component and the maritime component as well. As we developed our thinking, gained more intelligence, there was a shortening of that phase and it came down in the early part of this year from approximately 16 days down to a matter of five days…that was driven even closer together, as we got closer to the likelihood of the operation being executed, for three factors really. First of all, there was a growing realisation that we needed to secure the southern oil fields as swiftly as possible to prevent any subsequent damage, because we always realised that the southern oil fields were going to be key to the long-term future of Iraq. There was a nervousness by the American land component and by General Franks over the vulnerability of having a very large land contingent in a fairly small area in Kuwait and the likelihood of a threat from Iraqi forces, possibly an asymmetric threat…General Franks felt that if he had the ability to synchronise the components together as comprehensively and coherently as possible then he would have the highest possible chance of dislocating the regime as swiftly as possible and getting the campaign over and done with as quickly as possible…as our thinking matured and as the plan developed, we believed that we could bring what was commonly known as A and G day closer and closer together.[37]

However, this strategy was not without risks: not least because it placed a good deal of pressure on the coalition air forces to carry out a multitude of tasks at the same time:

    The risk of bringing A and G day together basically left the air component with five simultaneous tasks and there then would have to be a prioritisation on resources… So the air component's nervousness in compressing the campaign, was (a) would he have the resources to carry out those tasks? and (b) would he be able to execute, for instance, gaining air superiority in sufficient time for him to be able to do some of the other tasks?[38]

34. The Maritime Component Commander, Rear Admiral David Snelson, explained the background to the shaping of the maritime commitment:

    The process whereby we arrived at what the maritime contribution should be was basically to look at the effect that we had to produce for the Joint Commander, Air Marshal Burridge, on the ground. One of the early considerations was the opening of the port of Umm Qasr. That was a specified task very early on in the planning, and for that we knew we would need mine counter-measures ships…it quickly became apparent that we would need to occupy elements of Iraqi territory close to the waterway so that the Mine Counter-Measures Vessels could operate safely. It was that which led, in the first instance, to the consideration for an amphibious contribution…this was done with the backdrop of a likely UK land contribution being from the north, so the amphibious element was a limited operation, in the first concept, to support the mine counter-measures forces.

When it was decided the UK land element would be coming from the south, it made a great deal of sense to grow that into a brigade-sized operation to make sure that we had occupied and taken the oil infrastructure on the Al Faw peninsula…as well as contribute to the UK land effort. Precision strike Tomahawk submarines clearly were required for tasking against specific targets, then…we needed a frigate and destroyer force for protection, and we needed the logistics back­up at sea as well.[39]


35. Dr Barry Posen, Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, praised the coalition campaign plan for not over-estimating Iraqi capabilities and for playing to western strengths notably in air power. Mr Paul Beaver, however, believed that the capabilities of the Republican Guard had been overestimated and that the threat from irregular Fedayeen groups and terrorists was underestimated.[40] Air Marshal Burridge explained that one strategy open to Saddam Hussein was:

    to delay us by using irregular forces and that is what he did…We were not surprised that he did it. I was surprised by how much he did it, because the judgement, which was impossible to make, was the extent to which he had front-loaded those southern cities with the Baath militia, with the Al Kud with the Saddam Fedayeen and the extent to which actually they had moved some small groups of Republican Guard down there. He chose to face us with irregular forces using asymmetric methods, fighting in civilian clothes, using human shields extensively, profligate with the lives of their own people, using ambulances as armoured vehicles. He knew that culturally that is quite difficult for us to deal with because it is high risk to the population whose hearts and minds we are trying to secure.[41]

36. In the early stages the planning had envisaged mounting an attack from the north, through Turkey, as well as from the south. Dr Posen questioned whether the plan was adequately resourced once the Turkish option was closed. The US 4th Infantry Division, which was standing off Turkey, was not available when the major combat phase started and Dr Posen argued that it would have been reasonable for another division to have been available to the commanders, or at least for materiel to have been pre-positioned to make it easier to bring another division into theatre.[42] Professor Chris Bellamy of Cranfield University characterised the plan as a high risk one based on intelligence about the will of the Iraqis to fight:

    …there was a reluctance among senior members of the Iraqi military leadership to fight and I am sure that the allied planners had intelligence to that effect which gave them the confidence to put in what, by any normal military criteria, was a high-risk plan.[43]

This was confirmed by the UK National Contingent Commander:

    We were convinced that the regular army would not fight and that was pretty obvious from their dispositions. In many ways the divisions to the north-east of Basra were configured as though they were fighting a war with Iran. In fact most had deserted and those who had not deserted were not going to fight. But we were not talking about a conventional armour to armour piece of manoeuvre warfare. What we had were very long lines of communication with these irregular forces able to apply irritation, but it was only irritation.[44]

The Secretary of State, however, told us that the planning was conducted on a 'worst case scenario, on the assumption that Iraqi forces might fight more rigorously than actually it turned out that they did.'[45]


37. The press reported that there was a vigorous debate within the US military about the plans for Iraq. According to Dr Posen, the plan probably went through a number of iterations. Initially, a group around the Secretary of Defense, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, appeared to have thought that the regime could be easily toppled and hence the talk of very small forces, special forces and air power being able to do the job. The US military apparently pushed back against this idea and General Tommy Franks, the Centcom Commander, proposed what became a rather large force. Under pressure from the Rumsfeld team to have it made smaller, Dr Posen believed that in the end the force may have been lighter than General Franks had wanted. This was demonstrated by the planning which included the US 4th Division, which, in the end, was still at sea when the ground campaign began. Furthermore, the 101st Division did not have most of its equipment available to it when the attack began. [46] The compromise appears to have been to adopt a rolling start—starting the attack with a medium sized force of three Corps ground formations, backed by massive airpower. A further 100,000 troops would be held in reserve until needed.[47] Some reports claimed that the discussions over a larger or smaller force continued in the Pentagon into March.[48]

38. Dr Posen argued that in the event, the key battles were fought by the coalition's heaviest units. There were three heavy brigades in the 3rd Division, two marine brigades which were heavily reinforced, turning them effectively into mechanised brigades, and what he termed the 'heavy unit', the British 7th Armoured Brigade. The 101st Airborne Division (an air cavalry unit) was never used as a division. Instead it provided forces for other units.

39. Air Marshal Burridge however argued that the application of air power had completely changed the way one had to think about the size of forces for such operations and the coalition's force mix had been appropriate:

    The effect of modern air power in post-modern warfare is overwhelming, absolutely overwhelming. Some 700 sorties a day could be used in counter land operations. This is one of the aspects we will study. Von Clausewitz always told us that if you are going to invade somebody's country go at three to one…We did it the other way round but von Clausewitz did not have the understanding of air power. Air power was decisive in the manoeuvre battle.[49]

Dr Posen, although more cautiously, accepted this view:

    it is the massive responsiveness of American air power today which makes a plan that 20 years ago would have looked insanely risky look bold but still well considered and, on the whole, still prudent.[50]

40. Where the force package was weak, Professor Bellamy argued, was in its preparation for phase 3b (the grey area between war and peace) and phase 4 (post combat peace support operations). At which stage another division, perhaps configured for peace support operations would have been very useful.[51] General Reith told the Committee that the size of the land force was set once the task was identified and the only reinforcement held ready was the spearhead battalion.[52] In the event it was not deployed, and it is apparent from its size and configuration that it was held in case it was needed to reinforce troops engaged in combat operations. We discuss the planning for the post-conflict phase below (paragraphs 350-75).

41. In conclusion the coalition plan for the invasion of Iraq went through a number of iterations and was altered up to a very late stage, possibly as late as March, with the initial compression and eventual removal of any preparatory air campaign in advance of the ground assault. This is unsurprising and in part reflected developments in military assessments (for example of the risks from asymmetric attacks that might be faced by forces in Kuwait during a prolonged air campaign). But some changes were driven by political developments and imperatives. We discuss these below.

42. Debate had also continued on the size and structure of the force assigned to General Franks. It seems likely that the force package that was finally arrived at was, in the opinion of a number of senior commanders, on the 'light' side, but it was self-evidently adequate to the task.

43. The British, who had had embedded staff officers at Centcom from September 2001, were the first foreigners to be brought into the American planning process and appear to have been influential in the overall shape of the plan. In this the British-American relationship also drew on more than 10 years of close collaboration between the RAF and USAF in enforcing the northern and southern no-fly zones over Iraq. We are not, however, able to define the areas in which the British made specific contribution to what was essentially an American campaign plan, other than in the consideration of the Northern Option (which we discuss below) and in niche capabilities such as special forces operations.

16   Q 1690 Back

17   Q 890. UN Security Council Resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted on 8 November 2002. It declared Iraq in breach of past UNSCRs and established UNMOVIC to enter Iraq and verify disarmament. Back

18   Q 1698 Back

19   Qq 875, 877 Back

20   Q 877 Back

21   Q 240 Back

22   Q 239 Back

23   Q 222 Back

24   Q 232 Back

25   Q 1689 Back

26   Q 875 Back

27   Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) procedures are used for the rapid purchase of new or additional equipment to support a current or imminent military operation. To qualify as a UOR it must be possible to introduce the equipment in time to make a contribution to the operation. Smart Approvals, (Part 2, Annex B) Edition 8, March 2003. Back

28   Q 163 Back

29   Q 1700 Back

30   Q 881 Back

31   Q 2262 Back

32   Q 537 Back

33   Q 538 Back

34   Q 222 Back

35   Q 1233 Back

36   Anthony H. Cordesman, The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics and Military Lessons (Washington, 2003), p 60. Back

37   Q 1268 Back

38   Q 1269 Back

39   Q 1462 Back

40   Q 104 Back

41   Q 260 Back

42   Q 103 Back

43   Q 106 Back

44   Q 265 Back

45   Q 2273 Back

46   Q 108 Back

47   Tim Ripley, 'Planning for Iraq Freedom', Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 July 2003. Back

48   Cordesman, pp 149-53. Back

49   Qq 268-9 Back

50   Q 108 Back

51   Q 109 Back

52   Q 974. The Spearhead Battalion is a 'high readiness', light infantry battalion drawn from 3 Commando Brigade, 3 (UK) Mechanised Division's ready brigade, or 16 Air Assault Brigade. Back

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