Sensational video feeds and embedded journalist accounts shaped public perception of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S.-led military campaign to topple Saddam Hussein. Accounts by embedded journalists added color but did little to illuminate broader strategy and planning. On Point, the official U.S. Army history of the campaign, is therefore a welcome addition to those accounts. It is a masterful compendium of the planning and operations that ultimately led to the U.S. capture of Baghdad. In addition to chronicling each units' drive forward, the authors add needed perspective.
They contextualize the Iraq mission within the history of U.S. military campaigns: with concurrent operations in Afghanistan, the Iraq campaign marked the first time since World War II that U.S. armed forces conducted major campaigns simultaneously in different areas of operation. Not since the Korean war had a combined and joint land component directed all ground operations. The authors place special emphasis on new developments in information-based warfare. Digital linkages and new technology enabled unprecedented air-ground coordination.
The authors also describe what lessons influenced military planners. They describe changes in military doctrine in the twelve years between the liberation of Kuwait and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and include summaries of lessons learned from U.S. operations in Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Urban combat preoccupied the war planners. On Point describes various seminars, discussions, and exercises to prepare the U.S. Army to fight in Baghdad. Numerous photos, maps, and charts bring the descriptions to life. The authors offer considerable detail, not only of planning—training exercises in Germany, for example—but also describe how the U.S. military managed with very little public note to ready ports, airfields, and other infrastructure in the Middle East needed for its campaign.
Subsequent chapters describe the drive north from Kuwait. Various battles are diagrammed and explained. A chapter on the fall of Baghdad gives behind-the-scenes detail on "thunder runs" probing the city, the much-photographed toppling of Saddam's statue in Firdos Square, and the final fighting within the city. On Point stops its narrative with the end of major combat. There is only the briefest discussion of the transition and no discussion of the start of civilian administration and the continuing insurgency.
Some fleeting allusions beg more detail. While the authors mention that "the total number of FIF [Free Iraqi Forces, Iraqis trained in Tazsar, Hungary, before the war] was small, their strategic, operational, and tactical impact was significant," but do not elaborate on how or why. It is unfortunate that air force and navy operations remain outside the purview of examination, as some discussion of these would have illustrated force integration and given a better idea of the challenges and operations of modern warfare.
While Operation Iraqi Freedom is generally a "good news" story—the authors identify areas for improvement: they argue that, in terms of combat service support and logistics, the army should not emphasize efficiency over effectiveness (when lives are at stake, duplication is sometimes necessary to ensure that missions succeed). Another lesson learned is that every unit should have the ability to fight and win; no longer are support units confined to the rear, out of danger. The capture of Jessica Lynch after the ambush of her 507th Maintenance Company convoy highlighted how speed and mobility precluded rear security. While Central Command headquarters in Qatar enjoyed the latest intelligence, the authors conclude that access to tactical intelligence among commanders in the field was too limited. Brigade leaders often did not have adequate information about the enemy in their immediate vicinity. Lastly, the authors suggest that the operations highlighted difficulties in the mix of active duty and reserve components.
On Point provides a major source for military history buffs, strategists, and general readers. Although technical, it should be required reading for every journalist, analyst, and academic who opines on the U.S. military in Iraq.