Select Committee on Defence Third Report


185. The opportunity attacks by US forces attempting to kill Saddam Hussein on the night of 19-20 March did not pre-empt British plans according to the Secretary of State, but rather 'accelerated certain decisions that were in any event going to be implemented very shortly'.[270] However, the British were only told of the planned attacks 'a few hours prior to the air strikes taking place'.[271] It has since been suggested that the opportunity strikes not only missed Saddam Hussein, which they self-evidently did, but that there were no bunkers in the buildings that were destroyed. Asked whether the 'de-capitation' strikes brought the Royal Marines' attack on the Al Faw peninsula forward the Secretary of State replied:

    there was no difficulty. Those forces were poised and ready to do the important job on the Al Faw peninsular and begin the move north…there was some acceleration in the timescales but essentially we are talking hours rather than days.[272]

186. Mr Paul Beaver told us that he thought that the campaign had started two to three weeks ahead of schedule.[273] Air Marshal Burridge said that he was not surprised by the attacks on the leadership targets that started the war.[274] The execution of the plan went according to expectations, he went on, claiming that the only surprise was the 'inelegant' way in which Baghdad fell.[275] General Brims admitted that the attacks had brought forward 'D-Day' by 24 hours and then another 24 hours (ie 48 hours in all) and that the British had been 'bounced' into going early, although they were ready to go:

    D-day and H Hour did get pulled forward, first by 24 hours and then by another 24 hours. That was partly because, as I understand it, there were some opportunity targets for deep air to do, but I think that we had always decided that we wanted to get the land campaign launched early so that we could try to capture the oil infrastructure intact, and, in the final analysis, as I understand it, there were thoughts that the oil infrastructure was in danger of being trashed; and therefore, the decision, because we were bounced to go early, we did.[276]

The Coalition Force Land Component Commander, US Lieutenant General McKiernan has since stated that he brought forward his plan to launch the land attack after receiving reports of a number of oil wells having been set alight following the attacks on the leadership targets. As the security of the southern oilfields was regarded as a vital objective for both military and environmental reasons, he judged that if the troops were ready, they might as well go.[277] The question of readiness matters because of the suggestion that operations may have begun too soon for elements of the British force and that that may have been a contributing factor in the later equipment and distribution problems which the Committee has repeatedly heard about.

187. General Reith told us that although the British came 'perilously close'[278] to not being ready at the start date, they actually were ready and that troops would not have been committed if they had not been operationally ready:

    I would not have allowed our people to go into peril, and the plan was flexible enough that if those two battlegroups, and we knew it was going to be tight-run with those two battlegroups, had not been operationally ready they would have been held back and then committed later in the operation, and that was within the plan. We used the words 'perilously close' but I can promise that I would not have allowed them to commit to the operation if the operational commander had not been satisfied that they were operationally ready.[279]

188. The Royal Marines who arrived in late January and early February, were explicitly aiming to be ready by 15 February which was the date by which General Franks had indicated he wanted troops ready. Brigadier Jim Dutton explained that:

    42 Commando and the Brigade Combat Service Support Units that deployed with me by air arrived by, roughly speaking, the end of January, so there was adequate time for familiarisation, acclimatisation and in-theatre training. The 40 Commando group that deployed amphibiously, in the Amphibious Task Group, arrived in the middle of February, of course having acclimatised coming through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, round into the Gulf, and they had exercised already in Cyprus, as you have heard, but then latterly in the UAE, so that was important to them. 15 MEU, who sailed from the west coast of the United States, from San Diego, on 6 January, arrived on or about 12 February and deployed ashore almost immediately to do familiarisation training with the other units of my Brigade, and indeed acclimatisation training, and so on. I am content that certainly there was adequate time, bearing in mind, of course, at the time, we did not know that 20 March was going to be D-Day. We were always aiming for 15 February…which we could have met just—just—but we used the time available for more training in theatre.[280]

If a date was set for the amphibious force to be ready by, it is strange that there was no date by which time the ground forces were supposed to be ready.

189. The point about how close run things were was underlined by Brigadier Kerr, Assistant Chief of Staff, PJHQ who admitted:

    We did come perilously close. There was a debate all along when we were going to actually desertise the armour. I can remember the discussion going back a couple of months before that as to whether or not 7th Armoured Brigade—which those tanks came from—was going to have the opportunity to desertise before we sailed the tanks out to the Middle East. The decision was to allow some training to take place. We knew when it came down to it that it would be all about that set date; we thought it was going to be the end of March but we never knew quite when it as going to be…General Robin Brims…and General John [Reith] discussed it with the Americans and the view at that time was that we came perilously close but we were ready to cross the line of departure.[281]

The Chief of Defence Logistics described it as 'the optimum way to use the whole of the strategic base in order to achieve the operational commander's decision cycle; and it worked'.[282] General Brims argued that the division was 'ready' even though certain units were not ready:

    from my perspective, we were ready; if you work from their perspective, certain of the units would say they were not ready, because, the last Brigade, we came in Brigade by Brigade, so the first one ready was 3 Commando Brigade, then 16 Air Assault Brigade and then 7 Armoured Brigade, and we defined readiness, the readiness to be able to conduct the plan that we had agreed, would be where we had two battlegroups of 7 Armoured Brigade ready, and that was the definition of readiness. Now, if you went and saw the two battlegroups of 7 Armoured Brigade that were not the two that were declared the first ready, they would tell you that they were not ready, but the Division was; if that is a reasonable explanation. And the two battlegroups, the last two battlegroups in were the Scots Dragoon Guards and 2 RTR, but, I may say, they did do the catch-up and they caught up remarkably quickly, and, with all their professionalism, skill and determination, they made light of that; but, from their perspective, they would be entirely accurate to say that they were not ready at that stage.[283]

190. However, 16 AAB told us that they were at the bottom of the priority list in terms of their deployment to Kuwait with the order being 3 Commando Brigade, 7 Armoured Brigade and then 16 AAB. That is because 16 AAB was given the role of securing the oil fields and of supporting the other two brigades and of acting as reserve for the Division. General Reith explained 16 AAB was there for 'exploitation':

    The principal task of 16 Brigade had been to get in and keep the oilfields secure and then they were to be used for exploitation; they were used for exploitation. Once we went beyond Basra, we went up into the north east, up into Maysan Province. Now, of course, that did not get much publicity, because by that stage the embedded journalists had left them, and I do not think it even hit the UK media.[284]

191. Thus, whereas General Brims was no doubt correct in saying that 16 AAB had achieved readiness ahead of elements of 7 Armoured Brigade, it should be noted that their role was separate from that of the main front line elements of General Brims' force at the start of operations. As it was, the two main heavy armoured battlegroups of the division were not ready. These battlegroups included the majority of the Challenger 2 tanks deployed. General Brims therefore took a command decision to state that his division's readiness was acceptable even though the majority of its main battle tanks were not ready. If the battle plan called for four battlegroups, it may have been that the decision that two were enough to start the campaign was based on an assessment of the strength and willingness to fight of the enemy. It may also be a somewhat vivid example of what was called the 'rolling start'. General Brims' view was that it was a reasonable judgement:

    Sometimes, you have to be positive, and you are dealt a hand of cards and you have to play the hand of cards you have got to the very best of your ability to deliver the mission; you cannot turn round, on some sort of scientific basis, and say, 'I'm not going to do it.' (You would like to have 52 cards in the deck, when you do play them?) But, in this case, we had actually declared readiness in that scenario with 46 cards; that was the state of readiness, because two of the battlegroups were not, to go back to the earlier question.[285]

192. Brigadier Graham Binns, Commander of 7 Armoured Brigade, told a television documentary programme that:

    I felt that we were carrying a lot of risk. The mood was one that we were not ready for this that the soldiers at a personnel level were not properly equipped. That we had problems with clothing. we had problems sourcing ammunition. We knew it was in theatre, but we couldn't find it.[286]

Sir Kevin Tebbit emphasised that a statement of readiness had been sent out before operations began:

    …commanders…have…four things to monitor…Equipment, people, sustainability and command and control and these are monitored by them on a colour code system, red, amber and green. This is information fed up through the subordinate commands, to the National Contingent Commander and through him to the Chiefs of Staff Committee. When all of those indicators go green the Commander knows and the Commanders know and the Chiefs of Staff know that they have full operational capability, that is to say they are signalling they are ready in all areas to discharge the military task, they therefore say, 'when you want to take a policy decision that is up to you but we are ready to go'. What I can tell you is that all of that process was completed, that a week before 20 March the National Contingent Commander signalled to the Chief of Staff, I sit on that Committee so I know, that he expected to be ready, he was waiting for one element and that was for the up­armouring of the Challenger 2 tanks. He expected that to be completed but until that was done his colour was amber for equipment. Once that was done it went green.[287]

193. Mr Lee argued that it was a close run thing, because it was a close run thing, and the British were ready when they were ready which was by design when they had to go:

    I just want to say that the background to all this, of course, is that throughout this process of preparing the UORs, which takes some months from the very first discussions with industry, and so on, during that period we did not know what the date would be on which the conflict would start and there was great uncertainty about that right the way through. In a sense, the date when the conflict started was when the forces were ready for it to start, and being ready included having the various UORs fitted. So, by definition, deliberately it was going to be a close-run thing, because that was when it started, when we were ready for it to start, it was a conflict which started at a time of our choosing.[288]

The logic of this is, to say the least, somewhat obscure. It also sidesteps the question of the American timetable and how far the British were part of their calculations. It would have been politically (and militarily for that matter) highly embarrassing for the ground campaign to have begun without the British component. While the initial Royal Marine assault on the Al Faw peninsula may have been well within the readiness parameters of the British force, it is not clear that this was the case for the heavy armour of 1st (UK) Armoured Division. The signalling of full operational capability represented commanders' decisions that the forces were ready to begin operations, notwithstanding, or in spite of, continuing equipment shortages and logistic problems. It did not mean that risks were not being taken; rather it may have indicated commanders' assessments that these risks could be taken confident that the mission was still achievable. In the end the decision to go to war before full preparations had been completed was a political one, since from the military perspective there were other windows, including the autumn of 2003, as Air Marshal Burridge told us.

From planning to operations—what was found

194. 3 Commando Brigade's mission to secure the oil fields and associated infrastructure of the Al Faw peninsula was crucial to the coalition's operational plan. It was also designed to protect the mine counter measures group as it cleared the Khawr Abd Allah waterway.[289] Despite losing the Brigade Reconnaissance Force when a US CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed (which led to the grounding of the US helicopter force that 42 Commando was about to be delivered by) the operations went ahead (albeit 6 hours late in the case of 42 Commando) to great success. As noted in paragraph 90, the US Navy Special Warfare group brought with it assets which the Brigade commander would not normally expect to have co-located with his headquarters, including Predator UAVs, AC130 gunships and A10 tank buster aircraft.[290]

195. The port of Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep water port, was opened on 28 March, when the RFA Sir Galahad brought in the first shipment of humanitarian relief for the local population. An intensive mine-clearing operation had been undertaken in the Khawr Abd Allah waterway by the Royal Navy's Mine Counter Measures Vessels and the Fleet Diving Group, in the days following 20 March when the town of Umm Qasr had been taken. Though world leaders in this field, the Royal Navy's experience and equipment was geared to deep water operations, not shallow waters and rivers as found in the waterway to Umm Qasr.[291] The solution was to acquire two systems through the UOR process, SWIMS and OSMDS, which filled this gap in shallow water capabilities.[292] The operation represented 'one of the most advanced and tactically challenging' mine clearances ever undertaken.[293] The Committee congratulates the Royal Navy for the success of this complex and demanding operation and urges the MoD to review, as a matter of urgency, the capability of the Royal Navy to undertake mine clearance operations in shallow and very shallow waters, given the likely need for increasing amphibious operations in the littoral.

196. A critical element in any operation is understanding of and information on the enemy. Air Marshal Burridge's major concern was about the combat power of the Iraqi armoured divisions and on this, he said, the intelligence was fairly good.[294]

197. The Republican Guard had been of considerable interest to the coalition and a great deal of effort went into degrading their capability through air power. Their presence around Basra was relatively small and their role appears principally to have been to bolster and re-motivate the regular army:

    they held their families hostage and invited the regular army from 51 Division, which was the Basra division, to get back into their equipment and face the enemy, that is us. Ill disposed for doing that and you may remember an action south of Basra where a column of tanks came out, not configured to fight an all-arms battle, but came out into the face of our fire power. That is the way we saw the Republican Guard being used.[295]

198. The Air Component Commander, however, was surprised that the Iraqi air force did not fly at all:

    We had a very robust air defence plan in anticipation that they may fly. We also had a very robust plan to keep closed those air fields from which we knew they were likely to operate as well. They had also obviously been watching the way we had been operating in the no-fly zones for 12 years, so they had a good knowledge of our capability and they inevitably also knew what we had brought into theatre as well.[296]

But once it was clear that they were not going to fight as an air force, risks remained that they might use aircraft in asymmetric attacks.[297]

199. The decision not to precede the ground campaign with an air campaign worked well for the coalition, General Brims argued, because it took the Iraqi forces by surprise and allowed the coalition to get inside their decision-making cycle:

    I think that the first key stage, the fact that there was not a long air campaign in front of ground movement,… was the case, I think that was rather crucial, because I think it took everyone by surprise, and I think that worked very well for us. I think that and a number of other things really got inside their decision-making cycle. It had some downsides, because one then had to catch up with some of the things that normally, with your air campaign preceding your ground campaign, you would deny to your opponents, and I am thinking particularly of communications and the length of time that that was open, and that became quite a frustration to us at a tactical level, although on another sphere doing it that way round had big pay-offs.[298]

Overall whereas he had expected the Iraqi regular forces to put up more of fight he was surprised by the numbers and commitment of the irregulars:

    I would say that his army, which was principally what I was up against, fought less than it might have. I thought his irregulars fought more venomously, and actually voluminously in southern parts, than we had anticipated; take the two together, not far off what I hoped would be the case, rather than what, let us say, I anticipated.[299]

It appears from the available evidence that the coalition's tactical intelligence picture of Iraq was not as robust as might have been expected. Lack of access, in particular to human intelligence, has been frequently mentioned to us.

The Approach to Basra

200. A number of press reports claimed that the patient approach to taking Basra adopted by British forces frustrated American commanders. Others suggested that the town would have been ripe for an uprising if the British had moved in quickly. General Brims told us, however, that he was prevented from entering Basra until the American Land Component Commander allowed him to do so:

201. General McKiernan told General Brims that he did not want to take Basra until the regime had been isolated and that entering Basra with its attendant risks could have undermined the broader mission of avoiding any action which might have pushed people into the arms of the Saddam regime and away from the coalition.[301] This illustrates the effects-based approach of the plan, but also the potential tension between tactical and strategic objectives. As it turned out, in this campaign, the broader aims fitted in with the approach that General Brims and his brigade commander Brigadier Binns independently arrived at, as General Brims explained:

    we were holding the bridges on the western outskirts of Basra, we were coming under fire from its Armed Forces and counter-attacks, and that situation lasted for about two weeks. Around al Zubayr, with a population of about 100,000, we were coming under attack from irregulars, who were operating in and from al Zubayr, and we had taken some casualties…we had to reconfigure ourselves to protect our softer targets, to minimise the number of targets, and 7 Armoured Brigade, whose area this was, did that very quickly…I talked to the Brigade Commander…about four or five days into the thing…and he said, 'I'm going to work out how we're going to take al Zubayr,' and I said, 'Good, I'll go away and consider Basra.' And he said, 'I've got the most powerful Armoured Brigade the British Army's ever put in the field, and I'll back-brief you on my bit, of al Zubayr, tomorrow morning.' I arranged to see him first thing… and he asked me to come aside of him for a short time, and he said to me, 'I've worked out, we can't go into al Zubayr using the most powerful force at my disposal, because that's what the regime want; we'll inflict undue casualties, we'll take undue casualties, we will hurt the civilians, we'll wreck the infrastructure, and that's what he's after. We've got to do it in a more cunning way.'…I said to him, 'Well, that's funny, because I've worked out precisely the same thing for Basra.' .[302]

202. The policy adopted was to approach the towns carefully, build up an intelligence picture and use the population to provide information before moving on the regime elements within the towns:

    the way we did it was to build up an intelligence picture, focussed raids, ground raids, air raids, mind raids…what we were trying to do was destroy the regime and drive a wedge between the regime and the ordinary people, bearing in mind that the people in that southern part of Iraq…were Shia people, who had actually been the victims of the regime for 20 years, or more...Basra had never changed hands but Al Faw had, and they suffered under the 1991 war, then they had their uprising in 1991, which was brutally put down, and they were abused, and I was aware of them continuing to be abused during the war…essentially, they were ripe for being liberated, and part of the intelligence success, done very much bottom-up, because these were people who wanted us to come in, they wanted to be freed but they could not do it themselves, they needed our support, and therefore actually we had them helping us, and they were feeding us intelligence, and accurate intelligence, worthy targets, and the system trusted us and we were able to conduct these raids, and they had a very significant effect.[303]

In the event Basra was taken with very few casualties in a deliberate operation which drew on superior UK firepower and the 'UK troops' resourceful determination.'[304] Intense fighting was limited to a few areas where Baathist irregulars fought with 'venom and fanaticism'. The operation was a significant military achievement. One measure of its success—and in the context of an effects-based operation an important one—was that just one week later there were joint UK/Iraqi patrols.

270   Q 64 Back

271   Ev 393 Back

272   Q 65 Back

273   Q 104 Back

274   Q 257 Back

275   Q 259 Back

276   Q 553 Back

277   Interview with Lt Gen McKiernan, Channel Four, Invading Iraq: How Britain and America Got It Wrong, 31 January 2004. Back

278   Q 949 Back

279   Q 949 Back

280   Q 1531 Back

281   Q 987 Back

282   Q 988 Back

283   Q 554 Back

284   Q 900 Back

285   Qq 561-2 Back

286   Interview with Brigadier Graham Binns, Channel Four, Invading Iraq: How Britain and America Got It Wrong, 31 January 2004. Back

287   Committee of Public Accounts, Evidence Session 21 January 2004, Ministry of Defence: Operation Telic-United Kingdom Military Operations in Iraq, Q 141 Back

288   Q 950 Back

289   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), p 11. Back

290   Q 1519 Back

291   Q1553 Back

292   See also para 178 Back

293   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), pp 19-20. Back

294   Q 308 Back

295   Q 307 Back

296   Q 1270 Back

297   Q 299 Back

298   Q 621 Back

299   Q 623 Back

300   Q 629 Back

301   Q 637 Back

302   Q 635 Back

303   Q 635 Back

304   Ministry of Defence, Operations in Iraq-Lessons for the Future (December 2003), p 26. Back

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