Select Committee on Defence Third Report


Higher Command Levels

76. Political direction was provided at the highest level by the weekly Cabinet meetings during the months of the emerging crisis and then through almost daily ad hoc meetings from mid-March to late-April of a smaller group of Cabinet Ministers, usually chaired by the Prime Minister (the so-called 'war cabinet').[107] In addition, the Defence Secretary and Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) briefed the Prime Minister on an almost daily basis on the progress of the military campaign. There were regular discussions in Cabinet on the basis of reports from the Defence, Foreign and International Development Secretaries. The Secretary of State had daily meetings in MoD with CDS and others in the chain of command responsible for the operation, as well as the Chiefs of Staff. These meetings usually preceded the daily meetings with the Prime Minister.[108]

77. There were contacts with the field commanders through PJHQ. There were twice daily video link meetings between MoD and PJHQ. The Secretary of State said that his role was not to interfere in a detailed manner in the actual conduct of a conflict. He added that the whole thing worked as a process rather than as a compartmentalised series of teams and at high speed:

    …there was never an occasion on which ministers were sitting back thinking about a decision whilst military commanders were waiting for the answer. If a decision needed to be taken it was taken very quickly.[109]

There was also regular (sometimes daily) contact with the Pentagon.


78. General Reith, explained the thinking behind the establishment of the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) and his role as CJO:

The operational team at PJHQ directly working on Operation Telic was only 12 strong. It acted as the conduit to the various branches of PJHQ staff for support. During the operation some 50 per cent of all PJHQ's staff effort went into Operation Telic, reflecting the fact that other operations were still on-going, including in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Sierra Leone. The basic establishment of PJHQ is 460 staff, but following the attacks on the United States in September 2001, this was raised to 550.[111]


79. The National Contingent Commander in theatre, Air Marshal Burridge, reported to General Reith at PJHQ, although both are 3* officers. General Reith told us:

80. We asked why, given the scale of the operation, CJO himself had not deployed, in effect with a forward PJHQ.[113] PJHQ and the CJO are supposed to be deployable and General Reith's response accepted this point:

    One of the lessons which I have drawn from this operation is that maybe our doctrine is wrong, we have to review it. It may well have been, with modern communication, that actually, as the Joint Commander, I could have been forward and still performed the function that I did for the Chiefs of Staff Committee and ministers in the briefing process during the conflict from Qatar on a video teleconference link.[114]

That said he believed he had made a useful contribution in taking some pressure off the land component commander, General Brims:

    We had the ability in my Headquarters, through the connectivity, to see where the forces were on the ground, using a thing called Blue Force Tracker, so I could see the deployment of our sub-units on the ground. Which meant I was able to keep a lot of pressure off Robin Brims, in particular, because we could give the briefing, and everything, in to the MoD direct without having to ask him to give us the information. So this was very much a step forward, in terms of management of information.[115]

81. Air Marshal Burridge explained his role as follows:

    I had operational control of some 45,000 to 47,000 British personnel involved in the operation… (which)…means that I was responsible for allocating them to agreed tasks, tasks agreed by the Ministry of Defence, for their logistic support and for their alignment with the US plan. To do that in Qatar essentially I could rely on two elements: my own headquarters; then some UK embedded staff, who were members of General Franks' staff; so instead of an American officer doing a particular job, there would be a British officer. That gave us the linkage and connectivity between our two headquarters. Then there was my own headquarters' total of about 350, including the life support of signallers, etcetera, but in terms of staff officers about 180.[116]

While Air Marshal Burridge held 'operational control' of UK forces, CJO had 'operational command' and:

    was able to assign different forces to different missions, that is what operational command actually means. I sat below him and I had operational control, so I was given the tasks and the forces and then I just had to match them into the American plan. Tactical command, in other words executing the individual tasks, was held by the UK 2* officers who were contingent commanders within each environment, air, land, maritime. They handed tactical control to their opposite number who was in all cases a 3* American, who would actually be the person who owned that part of the plan.[117]

Separate arrangements applied to Special Forces.[118]

82. The appointment of a deployed UK National Contingent Commander worked effectively in Operation Telic. Nonetheless, it has been suggested, not least by CJO himself, that consideration should be given to deploying CJO and elements of PJHQ for specific operations. The SDR envisaged that PJHQ should be a deployable headquarters. Since then, however, UK forces have frequently found themselves committed to a number of concurrent operations. We expect MoD to revisit the question of the deployability of PJHQ, raised in the SDR, in the light of recent operations, and we look forward to their conclusions.

Command relations with the Americans

83. The role of the national contingent commander, according to Air Marshal Burridge, revolved around three main tasks: support (logistics); information (to military and political decision-makers in UK); and influence (amongst coalition partners, notably the US).[119] He told us that the UK was regarded as a kind of US conscience:

    because we see things through different eyes, maybe make a different sort of analysis.[120]

Air Marshal Burridge and General Franks had first met in April 2002, when the former was designated the UK deployable 3* commander. Their initial discussions were about Afghanistan. General Franks 'recognised from a strategic political sense the importance of the UK's part in this as a coalition partner and was very keen to make sure that what he did underpinned that'.[121]

84. The American military-political interface was much more direct than the British—going from the President to Secretary of Defense and then straight to General Franks, bypassing to some extent the chiefs of staff. The British chain of command had more components in that Air Marshal Burridge reported to CJO and occasionally the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The Secretary of State's main relationship was with CDS. During the operation he telephoned Air Marshal Burridge only once.[122] Air Marshal Burridge professed himself 'very happy' with the command arrangements, primarily because he was shielded from London. However, if more frequent operations with the Americans are to be expected (as they appear to be in the recent White Paper, Delivering Security in a Changing World), it might be argued that the British system should be able to adapt to deal with the more direct political-military interface practised by the Americans. Air Marshal Burridge's view was that the American system depended significantly on the personalities involved. Changing doctrine in the UK might therefore be a risky business.[123] We recommend that MoD considers whether the highest levels of British command structures might be made more adaptable so as to be able to operate more closely in parallel with their American counterparts, when UK and US forces are operating together.

85. Command and information systems (CIS) is an area in which the UK is significantly behind the US. This constrained co-operation at the command level and was of significant concern to Air Marshal Burridge. We discuss information systems in more detail below (paragraphs 214-18).

The Land Component

86. The individual UK component commanders came under American Corps command, although they were under UK operational control. As General Brims, the British Land Component Commander, explained:

In practice, although he retained a national 'Red Card' (ie the standard authority to exclude British forces from operations of a type which he was not permitted by his UK superiors to conduct), he received his orders through two American Generals: the 3* Coalition Force Land Component Commander (CFLCC), General McKiernan, and his subordinate commander the 3* Commanding General of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), Lieutenant General Conway.[125]

The Maritime Component

87. The naval component commander, Rear Admiral Snelson, explained his role as follows:

The arrangements built on established command relationships with the United States which had already been tested in operations in Afghanistan:

    The Royal Navy had established a headquarters there [in Bahrain] in the wake of 9/11, with the UK Commander acting as the Deputy Coalition Joint Force Maritime Commander for Operation Enduring Freedom, the campaign against al­Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The decision to establish this headquarters was a significant factor in the success of the UK maritime contribution to the Iraq operation.[127]

88. Two thirds of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary were deployed to the Gulf. Lessons for the Future reported that they delivered 'effective, flexible logistics support throughout the operation.'[128] Some limitations were highlighted during the operation, such as their ability to simultaneously re-supply several ships over sustained periods and their limited self-defence capability. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary made a vital contribution to the operation. MoD should ensure that the shortcomings which were highlighted are addressed.


89. During the initial stages of the operation a United States Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU (the equivalent in size to a British Commando unit) was placed under the command of 3 Commando Brigade for the Al Faw peninsula operation. Even before the northern option was closed down and the British focus moved exclusively to the south of Iraq, 3 Commando Brigade had been tasked with this operation. When the main British effort moved south, 3 Commando Brigade became part of General Brims's Division and the Marine Expeditionary Unit with it. After the initial Al Faw operation the MEU rejoined the MEF.[129]

90. General Brims explained how this relationship operated:

    The Commanding Officer of the Marine Expeditionary Unit would report to the 3(UK) Commando Brigade, 3(UK) Commando Brigade reported to me, and I reported to the MEF; although, clearly, the American would report directly to an American on a national basis, in exactly the same way as I was reporting to Air Marshal Burridge, so the fail-safes were there. So if we, the UK, had given 1 MEU, this single American Unit, an order that perhaps they felt was not in the US interests, contrary to US law, they had a fail-safe mechanism, exactly in the same way as we had.[130]

Having the US involvement with 3 Commando Brigade brought with it some useful capabilities that were not organic to the Brigade. Brigadier Dutton explained:

    [The Al Faw peninsula assault] was a combined operation with the US Navy SEALS, who had had the task of seizing the oil infrastructure for some considerable time. In a sense we were in support of them but we had been training with them and planning with them from a very early stage, in fact, they joined 40 Commando in Cyprus and sailed round with them. There was very close liaison in Kuwait. The Centcom NSW Commander co­located his deputy and quite a large headquarters, with a very considerable communications capability, alongside my Brigade Headquarters in Kuwait, just south of Umm Qasr, for the actual assault,…Because this was a combined operation with the Naval Special Warfare Group, they came with Predator UAVs and I was able to watch the Predator picture in my headquarters, where we were co­located, so I could see the landing taking place. Also they came with AC130 and A10s and with JDAMs dropped from F18s in a short, sharp, fire plan just before H-hour, so we had full access to those.[131]

91. Close air support was facilitated by American liaison officers on the ground with the Royal Marines, the ANGLICO teams (US Marine Corps Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Companies teams). These specialist teams, which control air and naval gunfire, and artillery, were embedded at company, commando and brigade level and brought a degree of fire support expertise previously not available to the UK's ground forces. They were also embedded with other parts of the UK division.[132]

The Air Component

92. The Air Component Commander's command and control arrangement were broadly similar to those of the Land Component Commander, although UK air assets were pooled into a coalition force under American command:

He denied that the relationship was one in which he in effect acted as deputy to the US commander (a role filled by a US Navy 2* officer). He pointed out that his deputy, Air Commodore Nickols, was one of three 1* officers who oversaw the day-to-day execution of the plan for the US Air Component Commander. Air Vice Marshal Torpy sat alongside this structure with his own headquarters checking that the UK resources were being used effectively.[134]


93. The Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) was involved in the planning from 'day one' of the strategic planning options. They based their planning on what is known as 'CJO's estimate'.[135] We were told:

    The estimate is very simple and common sense. We talk about the four 'Ds' which is Duration, Distance, Destination and Demand…Having conducted the estimate we then put together a sustainability statement which we work out very carefully with the DLO and with the front line commands looking at the art of the possible. The size and the structure of the force is actually driven by the operational imperative…a decision was taken to send a division structure.[136]

Logistics were provided within theatre by a British Joint Logistic Component, commanded by Brigadier Shaun Cowlam:

    I was Commander of the Joint Forces Logistic Component, which was a Joint Component, primarily, the majority was made up of Army units and a large proportion of that was 102 Logistics Brigade, which I commanded, in peacetime, in Germany. It was an organisation of about 7,500 people, 19 major units, predominantly Army but with some Navy and Air Force elements, a joint staff, with the Headquarters Signal Squadron, and support, about 200 people, about 65% Army, 25% Air Force and about 10% Navy. And our role was to receive, stage and onward move all three components as they came into theatre, then to sustain them and conduct other operations as required…we were very closely allied to the Land Component, we provided the Land Component 3rd Line Logistics piece, and for that we used most of 102 Logistics Brigade.[137]

In chain of command terms, Brigadier Cowlam was a component commander in his own right and responsible for all three services:

    Unlike the Land, the Air and the Maritime components, who were embedded within the coalition components, Logistics was a national responsibility and so I reported directly to Air Marshal Burridge. Quite clearly, at staff level, I was speaking to PJHQ, and indeed to Land, Fleet and Strike, almost daily, but my chain of command was very clear, straight to Qatar and the Air Marshal and his staff…At theatre level, we aligned to 377 Theatre Support Command; tactically, with the Land component, we were aligned to 1 MEF and the Marine Logistic Command, and therefore I had links. And indeed for the early part of the campaign I was co-located with 377 Theatre Support Command, we had embedded staff in their Headquarters although we were not under their command, and so the level of co-operation was very close, and we did help each other out, constantly…a similar arrangement happened with the Marine Logistics Command, further forward.[138]

While 3 Commando Brigade was part of the amphibious Task Group their logistics were part of the Maritime Component; when they came ashore they switched to the joint logistics chain.[139]


94. Targeting was one area in which the British claimed to have specific and important influence. General Reith explained how the British were involved in the targeting process:

The command and control procedures were well developed and included a clear rule that if there was any British involvement (which extended beyond whether the aircraft themselves were British and, for example, also included whether they had launched from a British base) then the British National Contingent Commander could veto the mission:

    If we are attacking a target with a UK platform, aircraft, then I have to approve it. It cannot be attacked unless I or someone to whom I have delegated approve it. If we are attacking a target using an American platform, but from a British facility, Diego Garcia or Fairford, I have to approve it or someone to whom I have delegated. That is quite formal, legalistic, everybody understands that.[141]

Ultimate authority, however, rested with ministers, although, as Sir Kevin Tebbit explained their involvement was kept to a minimum.[142]

    On targeting, for example, a Secretary of State will lay out the parameters of what is acceptable and what is not and in a few cases say 'These sorts of targets I reserve to my own decision at the time', but very few. Though broadly laying out categories of control so that it was clear where the parameters lay, the military men were given maximum flexibility within those parameters to go about their task.[143]

95. We were told that in Operation Telic, the Americans accepted British advice even where no such direct British involvement existed. As Air Marshal Burridge explained:

    Where I believe the interesting bit occurs—and I think this is where we added considerable value—was in saying yes, okay, this is an American target, American platform, no British involvement, but actually let me just say how this might look viewed in Paris, Berlin or wherever.[144]

Indeed MoD claimed that there were no occasions when British advice on targeting was not followed.[145]

96. Air Marshal Burridge explained that the coalition's approach to targeting had to take in four major influences: the laws of armed conflict; proportionality (the use of minimum force); the extent of discernible military advantage; and the need to take 'all feasible precautions in making your judgements'.

    In this operation, we wanted very much to be using minimum force so as to leave the infrastructure of Iraq and also the perception of the people of Iraq intact; so we only did the minimum we needed to.[146]

97. The speed and tempo of decision-making required in the campaign was of a different order compared to the 1991 Gulf War, the Bosnia and Kosovo air campaigns, Operation Desert Fox or the Northern and Southern Watch operations. Given the nature of the plan, which was designed to overwhelm the command and control of the Iraqi regime through high tempo and high manoeuvre, decision-making on targeting needed to move from what had been 'sedate' to 'fast and furious'. This required a greater degree of delegation to Air Marshal Burridge and his targeting board.[147] Air Vice Marshal Torpy explained:

    What was different was that we were given greater delegation on this occasion because we knew the tempo of the operation would demand decisions to be taken quickly and I could not go right the way back through the process, back to the PJHQ and MoD, which we could do when we had the luxury of time for our southern no-fly zone operations.[148]

But Air Vice Marshal Torpy also highlighted the problem of integrating information in a network-centric environment:

    The areas in that process that remain a real challenge are identifying the target, tracking it, if it is a small target, and then the assessment afterwards. We have a vast array of collection platforms and collection capability. Joining that information together remains a challenge.[149]

We discuss the question of battle damage assessment below (paragraphs 105-6).

98. There is clear evidence of UK influence on the air targeting operations of the coalition. Principally this influence seems to have been applied to issues of perception, specifically how attacking particular targets would be received by European allies. The extent to which the UK persuaded the US out of attacking certain targets on grounds of principle is less clear. We asked MoD for specific examples of UK influence but they failed to provide any, even on a classified basis.


99. The air campaign saw a significant change in the nature of the munitions delivered both by the coalition as a whole and by the RAF in particular, with a shift towards precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and away from 'dumb' bombs. The number of PGMs dropped was 85 per cent (679 out of 803),[150] up from less than 10 per cent in the 1991 Gulf War. We were told that some 90 per cent of PGMs hit their target. All British air power was pooled and the British forces were not able to rely on organic air support (that is air assets dedicated to support particular land forces) as Air Marshal Burridge told us:

    All the air power was integrated. Whatever proportion was allocated to close air support, could either be British or American aircraft. There is one distinct difference and that is the US Marine Corps are configured as relatively light forces and they do not have indigenous deep fires, that is, a lot of artillery. They have very little artillery. Their equivalent of artillery is the Marine Air Wing F18s. They live together very intimately and their ability to do close air support, both the ground forces' ability to control it and the air's ability to integrate with it, is very impressive, very impressive indeed.[151]

One of the lessons from operations in Afghanistan was that the UK had to get better at close air support and this was underlined by the experience of working closely with the USMC in Operation Telic:

    In Afghanistan we were finding that we were using close air support for strategic effect and in high manoeuvre, high tempo warfare, the relationship between air and land is now much, much more important.[152]

Air Vice Marshal Torpy accepted these problems, which were also about how well practised the RAF was in close air support:

    There is no doubt that we need to do more air-land integration. It is something that we knew about at least 18 months before we started this operation, and it was work that we had in hand: improving the procedures; looking at our equipment… I still believe there are lots of lessons that we have learned out of this particular campaign in terms of the core skill that air-land integration should form for all of our fast jet aircraft.[153]

100. An innovation for the RAF in Iraq was the use of 'kill-box interdiction and close air support' or KI-CAS, long practised by the United States' air forces (Navy, Marines and USAF). Air Vice Marshal Torpy explained the concept:

    There are two discrete, different bits to this. Close Air Support is when air is used when forces on the ground are in close contact and need air support quickly. Kill box interdiction is a more methodical way of attacking targets in particular areas. A kill box is an area which has been defined. Aircraft are tasked into that area to attack mobile targets—so fielded artillery, tanks and those sort of targetS.[154]

But we have heard that the targeting pods (the sensors that allow the pilot to identify a target) on British aircraft were not sophisticated enough to support the kill-box approach, which requires the aircraft to identify small targets from a medium to high altitude. The Air Component Commander conceded there was a problem:

    One of the lessons that we have learned out of the campaign, [is] that our targeting pods need longer range, better fidelity… positively identifying that a target is a military target.[155]

101. He also accepted that more needed to be done in terms of air-land integration:

    I think we are probably victims of past campaigns in that Operation Desert Storm was a discrete air operation followed by a short land campaign, and very little integrated air-land operation took place. Afghanistan was the first time we saw closer integration between air and land, but on a relatively small scale in terms of the land component. This was the first operation that I have certainly seen for many years where we have seen such close linkage between the air and land components…we have forgotten some of the things that we were quite good at during the Cold War…We have probably neglected the exercising of those over the years.[156]

Worryingly we heard reports that there was a serious lack of air to ground communications capability, with RAF aircraft unable to communicate with the forces on the ground in the vast majority of missions flown. Additionally there was a lack of understanding on the part of land force commanders about the need to have cleared specific targets to be struck from the air through the appropriate channels. We heard reports of some one third of missions being aborted because of problems in the air-land interface. The intention is now to increase the RAF involvement in the BATUS exercises in Canada and to improve the use of targeting pods, extending it to all aircraft that engaged in KI-CAS and to exercise the whole command and control organisation from the Combined Air Operations Centre.[157]

102. During the ground campaign there were also some delays in the provision of air support. This was a matter of concern to some UK land forces. General Brims, however, believed that overall the system had worked well and particularly highlighted the work of the ANGLICOs discussed above:

    Utilising 3rd MAW, the Marine Air Wing, as a tactical air wing; in order to do it, we had to receive…ANGLICO battalions…they come with communications, life support vehicles, and everything else, and you could say to them, 'We need the fire there,' they will call for it, and we had them embedded throughout our chain of command and it worked wonderfully well.[158]

Nonetheless, concerns have been raised that in a coalition, where aircraft may be reassigned when returning from other missions, there may be even less time to make decisions about the appropriateness of the targets from a national perspective.

103. Whether to rely on organic air support or to pool all air assets and allocate those assets from a central coalition air centre is a continuing debate. Air Marshal Burridge told us:

    Some people will say that if you have British forces on the ground then you should have Royal Air Force aircraft providing their close air support…We do have to be sure that if we are in a coalition the right amount of air power is used for the high priority tasks at any one time and that is quite difficult to do.[159]

Air Vice Marshal Torpy argued that it would not be possible to support British troops just using UK air power:

    It is impossible, for instance, to say, 'we are only going to use UK aircraft to support the UK land force' because that would be an inefficient use of air power. Inevitably, we would not have sufficient UK assets to provide cover for instance to a UK land component 24 hours a day. That is why air power has always been used and planned on centralised methodology; and then we decentralise the execution of the operation. It is trying to make the best use of the resources across the battle space and in time.[160]

104. The argument over whether forces should have their own organic air power or not is a debate that will no doubt continue on both sides of the Atlantic. Dedicated air power was attached to the USMC's MEF (which the British came under) and other discrete ground formations operating elsewhere in Iraq, which suggests that the doctrinal basis for the decision to pool the British air assets is not clear cut. Given the nature of the coalition action in the south eastern sector around Basra, using the MEF's organic air assets to support all the forces in the district and centralising the RAF's contribution in a coalition pool seems to have worked well. However, we feel that the shortcomings in the practice and training of close air support by the RAF and land forces which have emerged in recent operations must be urgently addressed. This will require a reassessment of the numbers of and equipment for Forward Air Controllers, both on the ground and in the air, the provision of adequate targeting pods for individual aircraft and significantly greater exercising of these capabilities in a joint environment. Such exercises are likely to have to take place overseas since, as we understand it, no UK based facility exists for such training.


105. Air Vice Marshal Torpy told us that 'one of the main underpinning objectives of the campaign was to make sure that we minimised damage to civilian infrastructure and civilian casualties as well'.[161] We asked how the extent of damage to a particular target was assessed and what use made of such assessments. He told us:

    One of the major parts of the whole execution cycle is to assess the effect that you have had against a particular target, and battle damage assessment is a key element of that, so that you can change the campaign plan when you know that you have created the effect that you want to achieve, and, against a particular target, that you do not have to revisit the target.[162]

106. In terms of the process of assessing battle damage and how effective it was, Air Vice Marshal Torpy told us that MoD had a vast array of 'collection platforms and collection capability'[163], but joining the information together remained a challenge. He did not think the current system was 'perfect by any stretch of the imagination' [164], and it was one of the areas identified where a lot more effort was required. He considered that improvements should flow from employing network centric capabilities as:

    then we will be able to get a better fused product, which would provide to the commander and his staffs the ability to improve both the speed and accuracy of battle damage assessment.[165]

Effective and timely arrangements for assessing battle damage are crucial for continuously informing the campaign plan and for establishing whether the aim of minimising damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure has been achieved. We look to MoD to exploit the latest technological advances to further improve the speed and accuracy of battle damage assessment.

107   The ad hoc meetings were regularly attended by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, the Leader of the House of Commons and President of the Council, John Reid, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, Margrett Beckett, the International Development Secretary, Claire Short, the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon and the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith. The Chief of the Defence Staff also regularly attended. Memo from MoD, May 2003, Ev 385. Back

108   Q 57 Back

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111   Qq 868-9 Back

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128   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), para 4.9. Back

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