When the Marine Corps capstone concept "Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare" appeared in 2001, you might easily have dismissed it as just another service white paper. The course of 2003, however, underscored the meaning of phrases such as strategic agility, operational reach, and tactical flexibility. More than hollow bumper stickers, the pillars of the concept repeatedly proved relevant-and just as critical to tomorrow's uncertain but dangerous security environment.
The inherent advantages of the Corps' approach to organizing, training, and equipping its forces was evident in many small operations and exercises during the past year. Nowhere was the scope and breadth of these unique capabilities-and the dedication of individual Marines-more evident than in the war to liberate Iraq.
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)
This campaign represented the largest deployment of Marine combat power since Operation Desert Storm. Once again, operational responsibility fell to I Marine Expeditionary Force (1 MEF), commanded by lieutenant General James Conway. His command included the 1st Marine Division (nicknamed the Blue Diamond, for its logo), led by Major General James Mattis, whose counterpart in the air-ground team was Major General James Amos, commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW). Theater-level logistics were organized into a Marine Logistics Command, led by Brigadier General Michael Lehnert; direct support was provided by Brigadier General Edward Usher's 1st Force Service Support Group.
The I MEF staff brilliantly orchestrated deployment of nearly 65,000 Marines and sailors. The force was an amalgamation of General Conway's Camp Pendleton-based force, augmented by 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (2d MEB) from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and three separate Marine expeditionary units (special operations capable) (MEUs[SOC]). Reinforced by 21,000 allied personnel, I MEF swelled into a potent force almost twice the size of a notional MEF. Rather than seizing a lodgment from the sea, the Marines would pierce deep into enemy territory, supported by 142 MlAl tanks, 606 amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs), 279 light armored vehicles (LAVs), 105 M198 howitzers, and 7,000 trucks and other vehicles. The 3rd MAWs 454 aircraft were augmented by 62 British jets and helicopters.
The impressive Marine and coalition force faced a daunting task. In its sector were two Iraqi Republican Guard divisions, six army divisions, and assorted militia, special police, and security forces. General Conway's units would have to neutralize the initial border defenses, secure the southern oil fields, take Basra, and quickly advance up the Mesopotamian valley to guard the right flank of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division as it raced north to Baghdad.
Applying the principles of maneuver warfare, the Marine generals and their staffs devised an aggressive concept of operations based on speed and shock action. Incorporating deception, blended with the devastating firepower of their organic air power, they planned to generate an overwhelming operational tempo to keep the Iraqi Army off balance. The MEF aimed to isolate any stronghold in its way while it sliced through the middle of Iraq. General Mattis planned to sidestep Iraqi defensive lines, use an unexpected avenue of approach, and race toward Baghdad to encircle it from the east. By generating chaos among the enemy, speed would prove to be a physical and psychological weapon that the Marines exploited repeatedly.
The 1st Marine Division was task organized into three regimental combat teams (RCTs) that included tank, engineer, and artillery units. Colonel Joseph Dowdy commanded RCT-1, Task Force (TF) Inchon; Colonel Joseph Dunford led RCT-5, TF Grizzly; and Colonel Steve Hummer ran RCT-7, TF Ripper.
H-hour was set for dawn on 21 March. But when Iraqis began to destroy oil wells in the South Rumaylah oil fields, the need to accelerate the attack was clear. In midafternoon on 20 March, General Mattis called Colonel Dunford: "Grizzly 6, this is Chaos. How fast can you be ready to go?" Without hesitation, he replied, "General, we can go now." Quickly modifying the ground scheme of maneuver, RCT-5 crossed the line of departure at 1730 that day and set up a night attack to secure the oil fields.
By 1000 the next morning, RCT-5 had secured the oil fields with the loss of one Marine. While Grizzly engaged the enemy at Rumaylah, RCT-7 attacked in zone at dawn on 21 March to destroy the 51st Mechanized Infantry Division, thus preventing it from falling back to Basra. At the same time, the 1st United Kingdom (U.K.) Armoured Division attacked Umm Qasr on the division's eastern flank, reinforced by the 15th MEU(SOC) under Colonel Thomas Waldhauser. This attack was the "hammer" to the "anvil" established by RCT-5's tanks astride escape routes to the west.
The next day, the 1st U.K. Armoured Division conducted a relief in place with Marines near Basra. The 1st Marine Division moved north on 22 March and took ownership of the Highway 1 bridges across the Euphrates River northwest of An Nasiriyah. The Blue Diamond's combat power then could maintain a highspeed attack, sweeping around the city to the northwest.
Once across the Euphrates, the division raced up Highway 1. General Mattis intended to advance two of his RCTs toward Baghdad on an unfinished four-lane highway. RCT 1 would take Highway 7 from An Nasiriyah and strike north toward Al Kut, site of a famous World War I battle. Although Iraqi forces south of the Euphrates melted under the compelling combination of maneuver and firepower, the paramilitary Saddam Fedeyeen arose to ambush and delay coalition forces. Those fighters had more stomach for combat than Iraq's regular army-a wish the Marines were happy to oblige.
General Mattis aimed to secure the "elbow" at the intersection of Highways 1 and 27 as rapidly as possible. With the enemy disoriented by the rapid pace of the U.S. advance, he planned to exploit their confusion. Once at the elbow, he would feint to his front to give the Iraqis the impression the division would continue north toward the capital. His real plan, however, was to strike out to the northeast along Highway 27, exploit gaps in Iraqi defenses and artillery fans, and close the door on the backside of Baghdad.
RCT-5 led the advance north on Highway 1, with its EAV battalion (called the Wolfpack) as the advance guard. On 23 March, resistance stiffened. Every culvert and berm seemed defended. As night fell, the Wolfpack ran into a battalion-sized Fedeyeen force south of Ad Diwaniyah. Orchestrating its organic firepower with superb air support from the 3rd MAW, the battalion smashed the blocking forces. The Fedeyeen repeatedly advanced into the overwhelming firepower of the LAVs' 25-mm chain guns. At dawn, ten T-55 tanks and numerous armed vehicles were found destroyed. RCT-5 continued attacking north as the division's point of main effort. Each battalion engaged irregular enemy forces during this period in actions marked by the characteristic elan and improvisation expected of Marines.
As darkness fell on 24 March, a smothering dust storm began. It choked the tired Marines, reduced visibility, and brought the division's columns to a snail's pace. With brutal weather conditions picking up, the Marines stopped just southeast of Ad Diwaniyah. While the fierce storm blew around them, RCT-5 continued to probe ahead, its progress further impeded by heavy rain that turned the landscape into orange-tinted mud.
The Battle of An Nasiriyah
While General Mattis raced north, the task of clearing An Nasiriyah fell to Task Force Tarawa, which was built around the Camp Lejeune-based 2d MEB commanded by Brigadier General Richard Natonski. The 1st Battalion, 2d Marines (1/2), commanded by lieutenant Colonel Richard Grabowski, was to clear a four-kilometer-long lane-dubbed Ambush Alley-through the cinder block and adobe town. The squalid city had two key bridges on its eastern side that 1/2's leathernecks were to secure: one lay on the south side, over the Euphrates, and another spanned Saddam Canal to the north. The battalion was to seize the northern bridge and hold it; another battalion would create a corridor for RCT-I's passage. After Colonel Dowdy's force passed through, Task Force Tarawa expected to clear its zone, ensuring a secure supply line to the north.
At 0400, 23 March, 1/2 kicked off the attack. It entered the southern end of town and began drawing fire. Three kilometers before it reached the Euphrates bridge, nine immobilized T-55 tanks blocked the battalion. The Marines dispatched them using tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) and Javelin missiles. Moving forward, the Marines ran into remnants of the U.S. Army's 507th Maintenance Company and recovered 12 wounded soldiers. Then they pressed on to the southern bridge and crossed it despite heavy small-arms fire.
Iraqi defenses stiffened as rabid militia and foreign fighters joined the fight. Task Force Tarawa tried to clear Ambush Alley as RCT-1 began to stack up behind An Nasiriyah. Colonel Grabowski aggressively ran one rifle company through the gauntlet and across the northern bridge. The company took numerous casualties, including two AAVs damaged by rocket-propelled grenades and one destroyed by a "friendly" air strike. The Marines maintained their hold on the vital bridge, but the fray delayed RCT- 1's column for the night. The next day, it pressed around the town and continued the march up Highway 7. Task Force Tarawa paid a high price, losing 18 Marines-the largest loss of life of any Marine unit in the war. Subsequently, TF Tarawa, assisted by Colonel Waldhauser's 15th MEU, cleared An Nasiriyah. Earlier, the 15th MEU had played a key role in the MEF's opening gambit while attached to the Royal Marines' 3 Commando; here, its reputation was embellished.
Further north, RCT-5 continued to press forward. On 27 March, it moved up Highway 1 to attack and seize the Hantush airstrip. Despite resistance, TF Grizzly took the airfield and then was ordered to withdraw. The Marine division wanted to collapse ragged Iraqi resistance, but the commander of land forces issued orders to stabilize the rear area and permit the strained Army logistics chain to catch up. While the Marines were unhappy about giving up ground and losing the initiative, bad weather and a week of hard fighting made a respite necessary.
The MEF used the time to remove threats along its flanks. The Marines found Fedeyeen fighters anxious to test them near Ad Diwaniyah-RCT-5 mounted a number of limited-objective attacks and security patrols to eliminate enemy remnants. RCT-7 also launched attacks in and around the town of Afak. The 3d MAW, which did not have to honor the pause, continued to wreak havoc on any Iraqi forces foolish enough to move. The black hulks of Iraqi tanks that greeted General Mattis's Marines as they proceeded north bore witness to the deadly efficiency of General Amos's aviators.
Once the weather cleared on 31 March, the ground attack restarted. With the Wolf-pack leading, RCT-5 retook the Hantush airstrip, a key forward supply point where the 3rd MAW landed fuel critical to the advance. Transitioning back to the attack, RCT-5 moved along Route 27 to the northeast to secure a bridge over the Saddam Canal. Colonel Dunford planned to seize the bridge, with RCT-7 following close behind as the exploitation force.
At dawn on 2 April, the Tigris River stood before Blue Diamond's main force. RCT-5 maneuvered across it and assumed a blocking position on Highway 6 between Baghdad and Al Kut. RCT-7 seized the airport at An Numaniyah, establishing positions south of the Tigris. RCT-I continued forward from south of Al Kut, keeping the enemy's attention focused on them. By the evening of 2 April, the enemy was trapped in Al Kut and Marines were poised to complete destruction of the town's defenders. On 3 April, RCT-7 drove in from the west, attacking on the north and south banks of the Tigris with overwhelming force. RCT-I conducted a supporting attack against Iraqi forces on the eastern side of Al Kut.
Battle for Eastern Baghdad
RCT-5, which occupied a blocking position north of the Tigris River, received a new mission during the night. RCT-1-by then under the command of Colonel John Toolan-and Colonel Hummer's RCT-7 eliminated what little fight the enemy forces to their front had in them. RCT-5 shifted gears and started northwest toward the Iraqi capital. Like Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville, General Mattis ignored conventional rules about dividing his force and audaciously attacked in separate but synchronized efforts.
The enemy's will and ability to defend Baghdad were collapsing. As the tankers of the 2nd ("Iron Horse") Tank Battalion rode toward Al Aziziyah, however, they were faced with stiff resistance. A reinforced enemy battalion of the Al Nida Division, armed with T-55 and T-62 tanks, elected to give battle. Iron Horse's tanks kept the enemy fixed, while the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, led by lieutenant Colonel Sam Mundy, dismounted and methodically cleared the town on 4 April. The Marines brought the combined arms of the entire Marine air-ground-logistic task force to bear, eliminating resistance after an especially fierce fight.
The Marines advanced, staying alert until they finally reached the steep banks of the Diyala River. Only the Diyala and its defenders stood between the division and its final objectives. The plan called for the two bridges north of the confluence of the Tigris and Diyala Rivers to be used by RCT-7 in a fixing attack; RCT-5 would stay to the right and swing around to attack deeper toward Saddam City, a district of Baghdad.
RCT-1 rejoined the division that day after a punishing 120-mile journey from Al Kut. It was anxious to join the attack. While the division prepared to launch its attack against a defended river crossing, the Iraqis damaged the two bridges that RCT-7 intended to use. This forced the Marines to conduct an amphibious assault across the river and build their own bridges for follow-on forces.
At 0300, 7 April, the division attacked to create bridgeheads over the Diyala. RCT-7 led the attack, with engineers providing bridging under fire. The Marines brushed aside the few defenders who remained. RCT-7 attacked objectives inside the Rasheed military complex and secured it by evening. RCT-I conducted an assault crossing of the Diyala on RCT-7's right flank, using its well-worn AAVs to gain a foothold in the capital and push through the dense urban neighborhoods of eastern Baghdad. RCT-5 followed RCT-I across the Diyala, turning west on the right flank of RCT-1 to complete the cordon around the city.
Having taken charge of a significant portion of eastern Baghdad, the 1st Marine Division focused on finding and eliminating any remaining regime defenders or foreign fighters foolish enough to oppose them. By 10 April, its regiments had established sectors and were slowly strangling remaining enemy cells in the city. In each sector, the Marines set up meetings with civic leaders, established local security patrols, and sought to gain the trust of the neighborhoods.
The exhausted Marines were not through, however. The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (1/5), was tasked to secure a palace in eastern Baghdad and then was retasked to move to a mosque where Saddam Hussein reportedly had been sighted. Passing through a hail of RPG and automatic-weapons fire, 1/5 surrounded the objective. Hundreds of Fedeyeen fighters and Baathist diehards were killed; the area settled down only when the Marines demonstrated their willingness to close with any opposition. One Marine was killed and 60 were wounded in fierce fighting along the city's extremely narrow streets.
In the transition to stabilization operations, the division established a civil-military operations center (CMOC) at Baghdad's Palestine Hotel. Through daily meetings with local leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and former Iraqi government officials, the CMOC coordinated reestablishment of public services and humanitarian efforts. Every day, Marines delivered more stability and support to the city by conducting security operations in eastern Baghdad until relieved by Army units.
Once Baghdad was more or less secure, other major urban areas had to be pacified. The MEF was assigned to secure Tikrit, 94 miles north, a suspected hideout for Saddam Hussein. The Marines organized TF Tripoli, a force built around three LAV battalions, reinforced by artillery and motorized infantry, under Brigadier General John Kelly, the 1st Marine Division's assistant commander. This was a potent but nondoctrinal composite of speed and lethality. With less than 12 hours notice, the force headed for Tikrit. The town fell on 13 April and the Marines quickly established themselves in key sectors, including the main presidential palace.
While the Blue Diamond ate a lot of dust and faced its opponents up close, OIF was much more than a ground war. During the course of 26 days of combat operations, General Amos's 3d MAW flew 9,800 sorties (25,600 flying hours) and dropped 4,500 bombs (3,000 tons of ordnance). General Mattis's Marines raved about the timeliness of the air support they received during the advance to Baghdad, and Task Force Tarawa's beleaguered An Nasiriyah veterans had only the highest praise for the 3d MAW. All hands admired the courage of the Marine medical evacuation crews who pulled out their wounded comrades under intense fire. (See "Naval Aircraft Developments," p. 117, for AV-8B Harrier operations.)
Other Operations and Exercises
The Corps' intensive engagement in Operation Iraqi Freedom reduced many of the routine deployments and exercises that usually are the main features of this review. Nonetheless, Marines made many contributions to the ongoing global war on terrorism and the security cooperation priorities of the combatant commanders. They conducted antiterrorist security and training in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Marine Helicopter Light Attack Squadron 773 provided close air support for ongoing missions in areas where U.S forces continued to combat threats to stability. A Marine detachment traveled to Tiblisi, Georgia, to assist that fledgling republic in training for mountain and antiterrorism operations. And the 4th MEB(Anti-Terrorism) provided security and staff augmentation to the Joint TF at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Of special note, a growing partnership with the special operations community was reflected in the activation of the Marines' Special Operations Detachment in june. The 86 Marines of this new unit will train with the Navy's Special Warfare Command and deploy in the spring of 2004.
Marines and sailors from III MEF in Okinawa, Japan, participated in an interoperability exchange in February 2003. The units, including the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, used a high-speed vessel to reach the Ternate Marine Base in Luzon for a three-week event that stressed air-ground integration and amphibious operations. In September, the Okinawa-based 31st MEU (SOC) deployed to Subie Bay with the Essex (LHD-2) Amphibious Ready Group and conducted exercises with 700 Philippine Marines and soldiers. Another 900 Marines took part in a combined military exercise, Talon Vision, with 800 Filipino troops in November. This exercise included aviation interoperability events and civic actions by Marine engineers.
Other Marines conducted a continuing series of operations and humanitarian missions with Combined Joint Task ForceHorn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), led by Marine Major General John Sattler. The CJTF-HOA is a U.S. antiterrorism organization created to patrol and interact with several small states in the region that require assistance in rooting out terrorist cells. The CJTF maintains a headquarters element on board the Mount Whitney (LCC-20) and additional forces are located at Camp Lemonier in the Republic of Djibouti. The 24th MEU(SOC) exercised at Camp Lemonier early in the year and supported local efforts to improve the region's capacity to resist terrorists.
In the fall, command of CJTF-HOA passed to Marine Brigadier General Mastin Robeson. he received additional support in November, when the 13th MEU(SOC) arrived and conducted training and civic action projects in Djibouti. The 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, conducted small boat, reconnaissance, and antiterrorism training in Yemen.
Going head to head with "enemy" aircraft manned by pilots from various Asian nations was the highlight of Exercise Cope Tiger for Marine Fighter-Attack Squadron (VMFA) 212. The "Lancers" tested their skills and aircraft with Thai and Singaporean air forces in Korat, Thailand. Later in 2003, VMFA(All-Weather)-332 got the same benefit from its participation in Exercise Sumo Tiger 2003, when it flew with the Bangladeshi Air Force.
More than 250 Marines and sailors deployed from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, to Darwin, Australia, to take part in a three-month training evolution named Southern Frontier 2003. This was a superb opportunity for the Japan-based elements of Marine Aircraft Group 12 and the "Bats" of VMFA(AW)-242 to work on combined training with the Australian Defense Force. In September, Marines from Hawaii joined up with Australian allies to conduct combined arms exercise at Shoalwater Bay, Queensland. The 2d Battalion, 3rd Marines-home based in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii-reinforced by reserve elements also took part in force-on-force training as part of Exercise Crocodile 2003 in Australia.
In northern Europe, Marine reservists did their part, participating in BalTops 2003, an annual training exercise. The event occurred in june and put Marines and their Russian counterparts together in an amphibious assault on a beach near Ustka, Poland. Polish and Lithuanian troops also exercised with the Marines.
European-based Marines, reinforced by 26th MEU(SOC), provided security to facilitate the mission of a West African peacekeeping force that distributed aid. From july to October 2003, Marines worked in support of the Commander, U.S. European Command, in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Senegal, on humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks. In August, a small force of Marines from the 26th MEU(SOC), commanded by Colonel Andrew Frick, landed in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, as part of an emergency peace-keeping operation. And a detachment of small boat specialists from the 2d Marine Division went to Gambia, on the west coast of Africa, to participate in a training cruise in November.
Reserve Marines contributed to the nation's ongoing homeland security and counter-drug efforts. They supported JTF-6, Joint Interagency TF East, and Joint Interagency TF West.
While Operation Iraqi Freedom was the Corps' focus of effort in 2003, there were other key events during the year-most prominently, the swearing in of General Michael Hagee as the 33rd Commandant of the Marine Corps at the U.S. Naval Academy on 13 January. General Hagee relieved General James L. Jones, who became the first Marine appointed as Commander, U.S. European Command, and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.
In other areas, the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC), under the leadership of lieutenant General Edward Hanlon Jr., continued its pathfinding work on future expeditionary concepts. The command's success was marked by the acceptance of its Sea Basing concept by senior leaders in the Office of the secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff. The MCCDC also continued to partner with Joint Forces Command and Special Operations Command on future warfighting issues-especially urban warfare.
The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, led by Brigadier General Tom Waldhauser, provided direct training and equipment assistance to I MEF for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The lab also designed an aggressive experimental campaign called Sea Viking, which focuses on overthe-horizon and on-the-move communications challenges for future Marine air-ground task forces. The Marine Corps Systems Command, under the new direction of Brigadier General William Catto, continued to deliver the expeditionary materiel necessary to campaigns such as OIF. It satisfied dozens of urgent requirements for Iraqi-bound Marines, including 5,000 sets of the well-regarded Personal Role Radio.
The highest priority aviation program, the MV-22 Osprey, continued to move forward. The program is conducting a two- and-a-half-year-long flight test schedule that concludes this year. More than 1,150 hours of successful flight time have been logged during this rigorous series of tests. Marine Tilt-rotor Test and Evaluation Squadron 22 stood up in September 2003, at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina.
Year of Challenges
While the Marine Corps' superb combat performance was in keeping with its history, the year was marked by many firsts. The strategic agility of the Corps-moving I MEF thousands of miles with strategic airlift, maritime prepositioning vessels, and amphibious ships-did not escape notice. Nor did the operational reach of General Conway's Marines and sailors, as they pushed aging AAVs and LAVs more than 700 miles into Iraq. The logisticians who made this remarkable reach feasible are the war's unsung heroes. They delivered 70 tons of ground and aviation ammunition, 10 million meals, and 4 million gallons of fuel under extremely difficult conditions. Equally notable, the seamless transition from combat to stability operations against a ruthless and adaptive enemy underscored the tactical flexibility of today's Corps.
The pace of operations was staggering: the speed at which the MEF's 65,000 Marines deployed, the speed at which the campaign unfolded, and the speed at which innumerable Marine leaders at all levels made the countless tactical decisions that led to victory.
The Corps demonstrated that speed can be a potent weapon if commanders are prepared to exploit it. Years from now, the expeditionary tenacity and speed demonstrated at An Nasiriyah, Al Kut, Baghdad, and Tikrit will not be forgotten. A new page has been added to a long and storied heritage.
Colonel Hoffman works for EDO Professional Services in the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at Quantico, Virginia.