Coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime in less than three weeks with relatively few casualties, but a recent RAND study advises policymakers and military leaders to exercise caution in assuming what lessons can be drawn from the experience.
RAND's Stephen Hosmer particularly warns against adopting a perspective that high-tech weaponry and communications will inevitably enable smaller ground forces to achieve a decisive victory against larger, but less high-tech, enemy forces.
“The extraordinary battlefield advantages that coalition forces enjoyed in Iraq during March and April 2003 may not be replicated in future conflicts,” writes Hosmer.
Based on information derived mostly from interviews with, and interrogations of, senior Iraqi military and civilian officials, the study identifies a series of factors that explain why Iraqi resistance to the coalition invasion was so weak.
Poorly-managed and executed battlefield operations, inferior equipment, low morale in the regular Iraqi Army and Republican Guard, and Saddam's strategic miscalculation about the seriousness of the invasion threat made the official resistance to the invasion crumble in the face of superior US firepower and warfighting capabilities.
Despite speculation to the contrary, Hussein did not plan for a protracted guerrilla war after an Iraqi defeat in the conventional war, the study points out. Nonetheless, Iraqi actions before and during OIF helped facilitate and shape the insurgency that followed.
“The desertion of Iraqi military and governmental structures in April 2003 released into the countryside numerous persons with the skills, resources, and potential motivation to mount a resistance and deprived coalition commanders of the indigenous military forces they had counted on to help stabilize Iraq,” explains Hosmer.
The key lesson for future U.S. war planners seems clear: When taking down an enemy government or otherwise invading a foreign land, U.S. forces must be both appropriately configured for stability operations and sufficiently numerous and strong to establish firm and prompt control over the areas occupied, to guard national borders, and to secure enemy arms depots and other sensitive sites.
Hosmer further warns that OIF could inform the behavior of future U.S. adversaries beyond Iraq. Enemies might seek to counter threats from superior U.S. military forces by acquiring nuclear weapons, by trying to deny U.S. forces air supremacy (or to reduce the effects of that supremacy), or by adopting strategies that emphasize urban and guerrilla warfare.
“In dealing with a future guerrilla-type response, the United States will need forces that are organized, trained, equipped, and culturally sensitized for counterinsurgency warfare,” Hosmer argues. “Unfortunately, such attributes and capabilities were lacking in many of the U.S. units that first confronted the insurgent resistance in Iraq.”
Hosmer's full monograph "Why the Iraqi Resistance to the Coalition Invasion Was So Weak" is available for free download from RAND's website.