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OIF veterans discuss lessons



7/31/2003 - NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFPN)  -- Even though the air campaign for Operation Iraqi Freedom was successful in bringing down the Iraqi regime in 21 days, leaders met here recently to discuss ways to improve upon that effort.

Among the issues they covered was the responses to increased surface-to-air threats to coalition forces operating in Iraq's southern no-fly zone months before what is now known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The joint task force’s mission was to patrol the southern Iraqi no-fly zone and protect the civilian minority population living there, according to Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces commander.

In supporting the U.N. Security Council resolutions, American and coalition aircraft bore the brunt of more numerous and more aggressive attacks by Iraqi air defenses that significantly increased in the summer of 2002 and continued, unabated, until the spring of 2003, Moseley said.

In direct response to more numerous and more threatening attacks on aircraft operating within the no-fly zone and these specific threats to coalition pilots and aircrews, U.S. Central Command approved a wider set of air-defense-related targets in southern Iraq, the air campaign commander said.

The general made the comments while addressing about 300 campaign veterans who came together for the lessons-learned conference.

The rules of engagement and concept of operations for enforcing the southern no-fly zone allowed the task force to directly respond in self-defense against approved Iraqi military targets under limited conditions, he said.

All responses resulted from acts of Iraqi aggression against coalition forces, Iraqi actions that placed coalition forces in imminent danger or when Iraqi forces significantly enhanced their air defense force in the zone.

"If the Iraqi forces had stopped threatening or actually shooting at the aircraft … we would not have had to use force against any of the military targets," Moseley said.

"Joint Task Force Southwest Asia was never an offensive military organization and never expanded attacks beyond what (were) necessary, proportional and authorized by the (commander in chief) in self-defense," he said.

"Rather, it focused authorized defensive responses in a manner which lessened the threat to the forces patrolling the skies over southern Iraq. And, in each of these responses … every weapon employed by coalition forces (was) vetted by the (CENTCOM) staff to insure full compliance with existing rules of engagement as well as proportional effect."

Known within CENTCOM and CENTAF as “Southern Focus,” coalition air forces dropped 606 bombs, responding to 651 attacks from June 2002 until OIF began March 19.

The Iraqi attacks peaked with more than a dozen missiles and rockets per day being fired at coalition forces. On one day, Iraqi air-defense forces fired 15 surface-to-air missiles.

"Southern Focus" operations actually helped in the rapid air supremacy during OIF, according to Col. William Rew, the 9th Air Force and CENTAF director of operations.

The responses were specifically aimed at anti-aircraft artillery sites, surface-to-air missile sites, early warning radar sites and command-and-control facilities. The attacks on Iraqi command and control also included precision attacks on the Iraqi fiber-optic cable network, which the Iraqis used to keep southern Iraq in communication with Baghdad, he said.

"Their cable repeaters were about the size of a manhole cover," Moseley said, "and therefore required incredibly accurate attacks … using precision weapons."

During the early stages of OIF, there was a lot of talk about the United States "shaping the battlefield," but in reality, Moseley said, an increase in no-fly zone violations warranted the increase in coalition activity in the no-fly zone and had been going on since the summer of 2002.

"We were shot at on almost a daily basis during Southern Focus," said Col. Tom Jones, the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

Once OIF began, Rew said objectives were to neutralize the regime's ability to command forces and govern their state, gain and maintain air and space supremacy, suppress the Iraqi tactical ballistic missile threat, support coalition special operations forces and support coalition land component forces.

Although the air-war plan was thoroughly planned, practiced and scrubbed before OIF began, the old dogma that flexibility is the key to air power proved to be true, Moseley said.

In the first couple days of the war, Moseley decided to change from a suppression-of-enemy-air-defense mission to a destruction-of-enemy-air-defense mission.

"A huge success story of this campaign was (in) the change," said Rew.

Two of the key lessons-learned discussed at the conference were increasing communications capability and working more closely with ground forces on close-air support definitions.

Communications flow from the combined air operations center to the warfighter was not as fast and current as it could have been, simply because the system could not handle all the information.

"We could have hit targets more quickly with better communications pipes," Rew said.

Another area Moseley and his staff said they believe could be improved upon was in the "counter-land" mission area. It includes support of special operations forces and unconventional warfare, close-air support and interdiction.

Even though OIF demonstrated a marked enhancement in overall air and ground coordination and is the contemporary example of employing lessons learned from ongoing joint and composite force training, an analysis of combat operations during Operation Enduring Freedom and a variety of pre-OIF "rehearsals," there are still areas to improve, officials said.

"We're better at this than we've ever been; we've partnered closer than ever before with the land commanders; we understand each other's operational imperatives and timelines and strengths and limitations,” Moseley said. “We practiced, and we rehearsed, and we're better prepared for the rapid operational tempo required to support the CINC's vision.

“But there are many ways to streamline and improve the communications, the prioritization and the deconfliction and orchestration of weapons to address the CINC's priorities as well as the land and air component commander's efforts.

"Of all the sorties flown by the air component … 78 percent were flown in direct support of (special operations forces), Army and Marine ground troops,” he said. “That's a huge commitment of air support to the land commander, and it showed with the most rapid march to a capital city in modern history."

"Another area for improvement is to clarify the different interpretations of close-air support so all players have the same base line. Joint (publications) should be written (clearly) enough so there is no confusion on (close-air support) definitions," Rew said.

The plan to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime was decisive and dynamic, but it was the people carrying out the plan that made it work, Moseley said.

"At the end of the day, we have the best job in the world -- everybody who wears this uniform," he said.