AFA Policy Forum
"The First 600 Days of Combat"
Dr. Rebecca Grant
President, IRIS Independent Research
Air & Space Conference 2004—Washington, DC
September 14, 2004
[Click here for printer-friendly version].
Dr. Grant: I'm here to talk to you this afternoon about “The First 600 Days of Combat.” I have to
explain first of all where this title comes from and what it refers to. I was privileged to be able to write,
on behalf of the Air Force, an official unclassified report on the first 600 days of the war on terrorism
focusing, of course, on Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. So my
presentation today is based on what you'll find in that report.
The reason that we wanted to talk about the 600 days all together was because although we look at three
separate large campaigns within that timeframe, it's really part of one ongoing war. The research that went
into this book was based on the work of a task force that was initiated by General Jumper. It's currently part
of the Headquarters Air Force Staff under Air Force XOL, for those of you who are familiar with those acronyms.
It was a team both of military officers and of civilian contractors, of which I was one.
You will find if you have access to U.S. classified material that there are some additional reports that are
available through the task force's website, through the Lessons Learned at that point.
That's the details about what this document represented, but the theme of it really was this—assessing air and
space power at the operational level of war. And it is at the operational level of war that the main lessons
from the first 600 days have emerged and I want to recap some of those lessons for you here this afternoon.
To me, the right starting point for looking at the 600 days of combat came well before September 11, 2001.
It's really impossible to think about what happened in those first 600 days without looking back at what I think
today we would call a decade of transformation that took place in the Air Force between the first Gulf War of
1991 and the early part of the 21st century. There is not really much similar about those two air forces. If
you think just about some of the sweeping major changes that have taken place in that time, we know that
precision munitions were used for the first time on a wide scale in Operation Desert Storm, although they had
been used to some extent in Vietnam, but precision really became a way of life in the 1990s. A major
transformation there, along with something that probably many of you participated in—the transition to becoming
a truly expeditionary force.
The command structure of the Air Force is entirely different from what it was in 1991. The old baronies of
the Cold War were condensed into two other commands that were set up specifically to better serve the needs of
the warfighter, without any sense of what those needs might be in the long run, but with a sense that this was a
transition the Air Force needed to make.
The maturation of space within air and space power was equally profound over that decade as were the
improvements in battlespace awareness. I think you can see by the time of the last conflict of the 20th
century—Operation Allied Force, the Kosovo crisis—that there had been a tremendous transformation going on
within the Air Force.
Some say that victory is a poor teacher and what was learned in Desert Storm might have taken another type of
organization in a different or perhaps a more complacent direction, but we didn't see that at all here. We saw
a tremendous transformation that made possible a lot of what occurred in the first 600 days.
Even so, I would say looking back on it that there were two challenges that remained somewhat untested,
somewhat in question. These were, first of all, the ability of the joint components to perform together at a
high level. If you look at the conflicts of the 1990s, because of their nature there had not been another
similar test like Operation Desert Storm with the scale of the cooperation of the Joint Forces. And as those of
you who are historians or perhaps who were there would know, there were things about Desert Storm that were left
wanting in terms of a level of joint cooperation. The second, of course, was whether we would have the ability
to do persistent power projection.
One of the most frequent cautions that came out of Desert Storm was to remember that we'd never have several
months to prepare and all those big bases to fall in on again. So these were questions that really remained as
much as the Air Force had changed its capabilities over the 1990s.
Of course, perhaps the one change that we saw and yet didn't see clearly enough was the evolution of the
terror weapon. This became very clear for the Air Force when Khobar Towers happened in 1996. After Khobar
Towers, force protection became at least as important a part of the mission as any other.
As we look back at it now we see that there was a change evolving in the threat to U.S. military forces
overseas. Now we know that there were probably elements of al-Qaeda along with Iranian assistance involved in
Khobar Towers, and it begins to look like a pattern that became even more vivid in 1998 with the African Embassy
bombings and of course with the attack on the USS Cole at her refueling point in Yemen in 2000.
Even for those who saw a bit of a pattern here, even though we made force protection a priority, we of course
did not see the major event that was coming.
9/11. Three years later, I find it hard not to look back on this day and think about it, especially in the
month of September. Not so much on a day like today, but a day like we had last week that had the same clear
and perfect weather.
In that three year period we have come to a point where the war on terror is now very much a fact of life.
Think how different it was then. We were essentially attacked from behind the lines, from within our own
country. NORAD was well postured to meet a threat coming from outside U.S. airspace, but not as well set up
overall to deal with what happened in the interior of the country. Nonetheless and here's where the 600 days
begins, on this very morning of September 11th, a tremendous rapid response.
An air controller in Boston knows that something's wrong, knows that there's a jet or two missing. Calls out
to the Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod because he knows folks out there and tells them about this. This is
one of the first indications that they get.
Those jets are airborne immediately; two F-15s, and they reach New York just after the attacks have been
Something rather similar happens with the jets from the North Dakota Air National Guard, who were manning the
detachment at Langley Air Force Base that morning. They had heard of a crisis going on and they had two alert
jets, and they had another fellow who was ready to fly training missions. They decided they could quickly get
these three jets in the air. They were launched by NORAD on the suspicion of a jet that might have been lost
out towards the west, wandering around with an uncertain track. Those F-16s arrived over the Pentagon shortly
after the attack, and of course what they saw was horrific.
General Jumper has made this point and I think it's an important one to make, that as unexpected as this was,
the Air Force's response on this day was tremendous. Even the initial response, let's just take the three F-16s
from Langley. The first thing they did was to set up a cap using National Airport and the approach control
radars as the center point. That meant that these three jets were in position had it been necessary to intercept
United Airlines Flight 93. That's the flight that ultimately crashed in Pennsylvania after a struggle initiated
by its passengers.
So for a scenario that none of us could have predicted, for what I think will for all of us who lived through
it remain the biggest surprise of our lives, the Air Force was there and able to respond.
By September 12 there was an air campaign underway, a very unusual one. An air campaign in which no bombs
were dropped, no missiles were fired, but in which airmen began the defense of our country in a way that it had
not been defended in decades, perhaps one could even say in over a century.
In the first year alone, Operation Noble Eagle accounted for over 23,000 sorties flown by airmen. This
includes fighters on patrol like the one we see here from the Vermont Air National Guard. It includes the
tankers that kept them flying. It includes the AWACS that formed the first bridge of communications and
preliminary enhanced radar coverage over key sectors. It later included NATO AWACS deployed to defend the
United States of America under the articles of the treaty.
There were some tremendous challenges with Operation Noble Eagle and I hope that we will see in the future a
bit more research that brings out exactly the contributions that were made. But as you know, one of the most
important things was to increase the interior radar coverage of the country.
On that morning, September 11th, the military did not have the ability to track an aircraft all the way
across the United States. It was the FAA radar picture that was essential to maintaining that. As flights were
grounded, what we found was that there was a need to expand NORAD's capabilities within the interior of the
United States. Through a number of very innovative measures, this was done rapidly and done as a fix-it measure,
and then expanded again through the upgrades of the NORAD contingency suite.
Through that fall, as the sorties were flown, caps over many, many different cities, there was also a need to
try to determine a strategy for this most unusual of air campaigns.
We found in our research with the task force that quite a lot of the strategy was in fact often directly
driven from the White House. We had a very interesting account of how the Southeast Air Defense Sector would
see a fax come in from the White House and say, “we need to have aircraft here at this point in time. We need
to cover a particular event or presidential travel and movement.” Just tremendous changes. The ability of the
Air Force to react to this, to cope with this, and to provide air power here in the United States where it was
needed was a tremendous contribution.
So Operation Noble Eagle, which goes on to this day, is the first part, the first of these major campaigns of
the first 600 days.
You all know what I'm going to call the second campaign, Operation Enduring Freedom. We're pretty familiar
with how that was made a success, but let me just take you back a moment to the day it began, October 7, 2001.
This is barely a few weeks after September 11th and after the attacks, and this, if you had been perhaps at
CENTCOM at the time, was sort of a strategic challenge that was confronting you. The operational problem, a
very non-linear fight. The goal, to try to take back control of Afghanistan and end the Taliban's rule there,
ensure that it would not be a safe harbor for terrorists, and to do it with a degree of discretion and
discrimination and care taken about the type of attack that we perhaps had really never seen before in modern
The other strategic problem was to do this fast. It was already autumn. There was a need to respond to what
had happened on September 11th, but also a need to try to engage with the Northern Alliance before conditions
set in for the winter time. And there were a lot of people that didn't think it could be done.
This is how it was done, with very persistent and precise air power. We found in putting together this
report that it's really true to say that only air power had the ability to start this campaign off so quickly.
The abilities of the Air Force and other joint airmen to bring immediate reach to this very distant, very
difficult battlespace, enabled this to go forward quickly. Elements from CENTAF had deployed forward and were
ready to go, in fact probably even a week before the start of the campaign on October 7th.
The key tactic of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 was to link persistent and precise air power with very
distributed ground forces and with a good ISR picture that would help to focus this tremendous firepower. I
think those of you who participated in it realize that it took a lot of convincing.
The Northern Alliance and the other affiliated Afghani allies and those acting in this conflict didn't
necessarily know what it was that the U.S. Air Force and joint airmen could provide. It took something to make
them believers in this ability to deliver rapid, precise and persistent firepower. Essentially these people were
able, with the help of U.S. controllers, to harness what was going on in the skies and this is what made that
strategy of a very few specialized U.S. (and some coalition) forces combining with the Northern Alliance so
As those who appreciate air power, we also have to recognize another tremendous change that happened in
Afghanistan within the Joint Air Component itself, and this was the role of naval air power in Operation
Enduring Freedom. The aircraft carriers Vinson and the Enterprise both participated. In practice, they operated
not that far apart. Obviously, several miles—15-20 miles, a bit further apart than that—but what they did is
really symbolized nicely in this picture. One carrier would take roughly the nights, the other roughly the days,
and through this they were able to do power projection to distances that these naval aviators had simply never
contemplated flying before. They were able to fly deep into Afghanistan transiting through Pakistan airspace and
to provide a lot of the on-call firepower, particularly for the prosecution of time-sensitive targets.
Some of these Navy pilots say they had practically never seen a big wing tanker, as they like to call it.
They were used to refueling from their S3s and things that are a little more friendly to them, but they saw lots
of big wing tankers—U.S. and coalition—as they did the multiple refueling necessary to sustain these very long
As you know, the Air Force did this as well, flying from tremendously long distances from in-theater bases,
and also with the bombers that were based out of Diego Garcia or, in some cases, operating from the U.S..
If you put the statistics together, they look something like this. Air Force, about 70 percent of the
tonnage. That's what happens when you have a B-1 and a B-52 available over the battlespace. Navy, about 70
percent of the sorties. A tremendous change in the evolution of this part of the joint air component.
Put it together and those results were tremendous. Beginning in November, a turning tide of victory within
the primary objectives of Operation Enduring Freedom.
This was proof of the ability of air power, working with distributed ground forces, to dominate a non-linear
battlefield, to do what General Franks talked about as “simultaneous operations,” and to do this precisely. To
not go out and bomb indiscriminately. To not hit roads or bridges if those were off the list. To track
time-sensitive targets with a fine degree of control that due to the requirements of this campaign extended all
the way back to the U.S., to Tampa, perhaps even to Washington itself. The ability of airmen to do this stands
out as something unique; something that other elements of the joint force can contribute to but something that
very much depends on this air power strategy.
I think you could really call it something of a new framework for victory and I want to talk about this a
little bit as we move in this period sort of in the middle, the first year of the 600 days.
Being able to do these simultaneous operations opens up tremendous change in what I pointed out at the
beginning—the operational level of war. It gives you a lot more options about how you combine the components.
It doesn't always have to look like World War II or Desert Storm, where you have air power doing its thing first
for two years if it's World War II, or for six weeks if it's Desert Storm. It gives you the ability to go in
and operate in a much more compressed timeframe and that's a hallmark of what we've seen so far in 21st century
Is it easy? It certainly isn't. We see also an equally important reliance on what expeditionary air power
brings in terms of its combat support role. You've heard it said many times … Nothing went into Afghanistan in
this time period that didn't come by air, whether that was fuel, people, ammunition, supplies, it all came in by
air. The ability to do this shows you the full reach of air power and how it sets up this framework for victory.
Let's not think that it was a perfect framework, because it wasn't. The thing that I pointed out at the
beginning became an issue during this part of the first 600 days. That was the ability of the joint components
to work together to the level of performance that we wanted it to have.
The real lesson that pointed out we had a little ways to go here was Operation Anaconda, which took place in
a later phase of Operation Enduring Freedom in March of 2002.
I want to talk a little bit about Anaconda because it's important in two ways. One, as a step in the
maturation of joint warfare; and secondly, because of what it shows you about the intensity of the application
of air power.
I think you probably remember the basic strategic set-up. As al-Qaeda and Taliban left the major cities in
Afghanistan, a number of them flowed into this area which was south of Kabul and very near the Pakistan border.
CENTCOM began tracking, among others, a concentration in the Shalikat Valley. It's hard to estimate how many
Al-Qaeda and Taliban were there. Estimates prior to the operation pegged the number anywhere from about 200 to
several thousand, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff mentioned later on.
The idea for this was to combine the land and air and SOF components in a way that hadn't been done. You
remember the land component was set up in Operation Enduring Freedom only in November of 2001. The main forces
that engaged in Anaconda had been based at Karshi Khanabad in Uzbekistan. So while the new style of warfare
with SOF and coalition forces and airmen had been off to a pretty good start and very effective in the fall,
what we had yet to see was how the components would work together.
This operation was planned with the thought of there being just a few hundred people in the Shalikat Valley.
They planned to go in and use a combination of Afghan forces, blocking forces and another force as part of the
hammer and anvil strategy. On top of this there would be about 1,400 U.S. forces brought into the area. Their
hope was to secure the area of the Shalikat Valley and to capture any Al-Qaeda and Taliban.
It should’ve been a simple operation, but it turned out not to be. One of the reasons, due to a number of
causes—intelligence estimates, difficulties in component coordination—was that there was very late notification
to the air component about what was required for the operation. And it was a particularly challenging, very
small battle area at high altitude.
The plan called for about a 72-hour operation. The U.S. forces that would come in, the SOF forces, would
already be in place in some locations along with coalition forces. Then there would be a number of landing
zones where U.S. forces came in by helicopter in order to hold parts of the ridge and prevent Al-Qaeda from
escaping from the area.
What really happened was that immediately when these forces landed, most of them came under intense fire.
Although some were able to occupy some of the northern blocking positions, they were not able to take the
southern blocking positions. I think you all have read the stories of people pinned down during the day, and
the exfiltrations that occurred at night and some repositioning, but the basic fact remains that instead of it
being a 72-hour operation it was not until day ten that all of the objectives were taken and about a week after
that that the operation was declared over.
The forces that went in on the ground for Anaconda were very light forces and so for firepower they depended
on the air. As I said before, they had to work in a very small battlespace. Let me tell you just how small
this battlespace was because it's important to the story of Anaconda.
During Operation Desert Storm, the “kill box” concept was pioneered. It's one we still use today. A kill
box is what, 30x30 nautical miles. In Operation Desert Storm, it was not uncommon to divide those up in to
quadrants. As you know, now they're divided up in a different way, into keypads. But nonetheless, you had a
fairly large area in which to work.
By comparison, the Anaconda battle area was only about 8x8 nautical miles. Packed into that area of 8x8
nautical miles, an unknown number of Al-Qaeda, including Arabs and other nationalities; 1,400 U.S. ground forces,
including several hundred special forces and over 30 air controllers; and a lot of very difficult, mountainous
The air component did a darn good job in Operation Anaconda. In order to support this rather light ground
force, the air component managed an average of about 293 bombs per day. You can just imagine what this meant in
terms of the difficulties of deconfliction.
Talk to anyone who flew in Operation Anaconda and they'll have a story about flying along in an F-18 and
seeing a JDAM from a B-1 come right in front of them. They'll have a story about near misses with an AC-130.
Mostly, these stories occur from the beginning of the Anaconda battle period, but they're things that were just
impossible to forget.
But what was going on was a tremendous application of the intensity of the firepower. It meant that this
tremendous reaction by the air component delivered a level of firepower sufficient to make this operation work.
Complementing that were some very smart tactical decisions made on the ground. Decisions about which blocking
points to keep, which to evacuate and reinforce, and how to conduct the operation on the ground.
Finally, as I said before, about nine or ten days into it, it was possible after a very heavy onslaught of
air power to go ahead and take the final blocking positions.
You look back over some of the statistics of what occurred in this conflict and a number of things stand out.
The responsiveness of the firepower day and night, the variety of munitions used. General Moseley has commented,
and I think it's in the report, that the MK-82 was particularly useful for air-bursting Al-Qaeda into their next
But, as General Jumper pointed out, Anaconda, although a success in the end, was a sobering moment because of
what it meant about our ability to perform as a joint force. And he said we absolutely, positively must have the
right interfaces at the operational level of war.
Command, coordination, these things are just as important to success in the end as what you can do with a
GBU-12 or a MK-82 or a JDAM. That was the stark lesson of Anaconda that component coordination had to come to a
higher level than what it had been.
The other lessons … One, as I said, is about the operational level of warfare and the other was about the
level of intensity that can be inflicted by joint and coalition air power. I want to use the Desert Storm
example to illustrate this. Think of that kill box again. The busiest kill box in all of Desert Storm was kill
box AE6 on the 25th of February, 1991. It contained a Republican Guard armor division, the Tawacana, and part of
another Iraqi division, the 12th Armored Division. That kill box, according to Air Force statistics, took about
140 strikes that day. If you assume each delivered six bombs, you're looking at about 840 bombs or an average of
just under one per square mile.
In contrast, in Anaconda you see four times the amount of firepower poured into an area. This is a stark
demonstration of a tremendous weapon that is available to the joint force commander—the ability to deliver this
level of persistence and level of firepower gives you tremendous options at the operational level of war.
I believe the lessons of Operation Anaconda were taken very much to heart in the year that followed prior to
the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. For those of you who have been there or worked with this organization,
you'll recognize the CAOC at PSAB, where it was at the time. What followed from March of 2002 to March of 2003
were two things. One, keeping a very close eye on Iraq and watching as the diplomacy unfolded. CENTCOM didn't
really know if they would go to war or not. It's not easy to plan under that type of pressure. The second thing
that happened was a deliberate effort to enhance the coordination between the components and to take that
incredible intensity of air-delivered firepower and the other incredible intensities that the other components
can deliver and put them together into a different style of warfare. It meant, in a way, that General Franks had
an ability that you can really only call a luxury and that was the ability to try many different combinations,
many different scenarios to, as he said, “what if?”, to plan and plan and plan, and to see how this operation
might unfold so that when Operation Iraqi Freedom began, if it did begin, it could take advantage of any tactical
surprise, any tactical quick start.
What that demonstrates, looking back at it, is a very high degree of sophistication and coordination at the
operational level—exactly that level that Anaconda pointed to as something that has to be carefully worked. At
exactly that level that had remained somewhat untested in the 1990s.
The final and capping event of the first 600 days was of course Operation Iraqi Freedom. You can't really
date the start of this campaign because so much work was done by the air component before the war. Beginning
from about June of 2002 with efforts to go after valuable targets in the southern no-fly zones, particularly SAMs,
and to, within the rules of engagement, do as much as possible to unravel the air defenses.
The experience of Afghanistan, the firepower displayed in Anaconda, the increased attention to joint component
coordination, really made it possible to plan for an unprecedented simultaneous operation. Not a sequential
campaign, though this was considered—when you would start with air power and then go to ground power—but the
ability to shuffle at the last minute the use of Special Operations Forces, ground forces, and air forces.
That's what air dominance does for you.
For the air component it was, as General Moseley has said, five air wars. I'll talk about them each a little
bit. What of course is important is the impact of how they came together. Again here you see the level of
transformation in battlespace awareness and precision in the 1990s, bearing fruit in this tremendous flexibility
for the execution at the operational level.
Strategic attack is an important thing that air power does uniquely and yet, in this case, very differently.
This was not a classic strategic campaign where you blew up factories and bridges and oil production and all
those things that make a state function. Things you might have studied and read about, things that were
important in previous conflicts. This was very much tailored to minimize collateral damage and to maximize
impact on Iraq's combat power. To decapitate Republican Guard leadership as much as possible. To achieve effects
on the C2 infrastructure, and to do it all without much impact on the Iraqi civilian population.
If any of you were in the previous forum, you heard Congressman Jim Marshall talk about a recent trip to Iraq
and as he flew over the country it was tremendous to him what little damage you could see. He compared it to the
huge pockmarks and bomb blasts that he'd seen in Vietnam and how it was completely different in Iraq.
The west fight was a tremendously interesting thing both from a doctrinal aspect and from a creative, amazing
application of air power. This, of course, was where the air component, supported by SOF forces—many, many teams
inserted on the ground—retained control of a tremendous territory within western Iraq. Controlling that
territory went directly to some of the most important goals of Operation Iraqi Freedom—making sure there were no
scud launches, searching for suspected WMD sites, and controlling other strategic sites as well. This was done,
unusually I would say, with dedicated aircraft, fighters, and some bombers becoming an Air Force over top of the
SOF forces on the ground. It was done with tremendous impact. Very different from 1991, where Special
Operations Forces played a more constrained role. What you see here is a SOF-supported, air-led dominance of a
huge amount of territory.
The north fight was one of the most uncertain of all because of the many issues that went into this. Issues
about basing, about overflight access, about what would really go on in the north. I think perhaps one of the
key moments of it was the air drop. Preparations took place at Aviano, the air top into Bashur. This was an
important step in initiating this northern front, which continued to put pressure on Republican Guard Divisions
that had at the beginning of the war been stationed north of Baghdad and also allowed a movement forward through
the key regions of the north.
This was a case where air support meant many things. It meant the mobility to get these Army troopers into a
box canyon at Bashur. It meant the ability to work with controllers, SOF controllers, coalition SOF controllers,
Army controllers, controllers who knew what they were doing, controllers who weren't as experienced, and to be
able to do anything that was required.
You hear a lot of stories about strafing taking place. A bomb placed here, a vehicle destroyed at an
intersection, and strafing until a fighter is out of bullets. Tremendous support that goes on in the north, and
often in pretty bad weather.
But the two premier sections, in a way, of the five air wars were the south fights—the support to the eland
component, both 5th Corps and 1st MEF.
I think it's important to emphasize, too, and we really found this in the research, how important it was that
you had the air dominance that enabled this campaign to be launched quickly. It's important to remember, too,
how serious were the concerns about the potential use by the Iraqis of weapons of mass destruction. Some of the
first ground units that crossed the border from Kuwait found abandoned Iraqi guard posts with new sets of chem
gear in them.
This is something that all of you who were there know very well. It was taken very, very seriously. And for
all that we discuss and debate about weapons of mass destruction—what was there, what we knew, what we didn't
know, how it justifies or does not justify the war—there's one thing that doesn't change, one fact that remains
inviable, and that is that CENTCOM took this threat to U.S. and coalition forces very seriously indeed. That was
part of the reason, in fact, for quickly launching this ground drive, to get these ground forces out of their
concomitant areas in Kuwait and on the move into Iraq.
The focus of the south fight was support to the land component commander and the focus of the land component
commander was the destruction of the Republican Guards outside of Baghdad. The worst possible scenario was that
Republican Guards fall back into prepared positions, form a strong defensive line in Baghdad and make it a
Stalingrad of urban combat.
So the job for the air component was to make absolutely sure that this would not happen.
Attacks on Republican Guards began right away, but, in fact, they increased in intensity over the period of
about the first week to ten days of the campaign. As you know, after about a week of the campaign, a big
sandstorm came along. This was an unprecedented meteorological event—Iraq has a lot of sandstorms, but this one
was really in a class by itself. And I think you see quite a bit of testimony by those who were on the ground as
to how effective the air component was at this time. The air component really picked up the lead, and in a
statistical analysis you can see that there's no dropping off during the sandstorm. There's a steady climb up to
a peak level of intensity that happens after the sandstorm, but nothing interrupts it. Air crews simply changed
some of their tactics.
One of them referred to it as a “JDAM fest.” If you didn't have clear enough weather for LGBs and GBU-12s,
JDAM became a weapon of choice. And as the Marine general said, “while we were stationary, we were in fact
attacking with our air.”
It was not long after this that you began to see the impact of air power on the Republican Guards.
The battle for Baghdad, in a sense, was really fought largely from the air and outside of Baghdad in
preparation for 5th Corps' feint up the middle towards Medina and swing to the left around and through Karbala as
1st MEF came up the right. General Moseley put it quite well speaking on the 5th of April, 2003, when he said
that it looked to him like the Republican Guards Divisions outside of Baghdad were basically dead.
What we see is some attempt to maneuver on their part, some attempt to abandon vehicles and to try to fall in
on other defensive positions; individual soldiers trying to move down from Baghdad into these areas, not unlike
what Rommel's Panzers had to do after allied air power blasted them during the Normandy invasion. What we see
really is a decisive level of support by the air component to the land component.
This is what enabled General Franks' number one strategic commandment to be met and that was get to Baghdad
fast. It's both what went on the ground and what went on in the air. And what we see here is a clear case of
the deep interdiction by the air component against the Republican Guards, clearing the way for this event.
Inside Baghdad itself a tremendously complex and effective plan was worked out to provide all the close air
support that any U.S. marine or soldier in Iraq might ever need. This highly detailed system stacked aircraft at
different marshaling points 24 hours a day to be on-call in a way that earlier generations of airmen would have
General Moseley said he didn't care if this was an efficient system. He wanted this to be an effective system,
and that meant a mix of aircraft. It meant a mix of munitions available to the controllers. So when a GBU-12
was the right weapon there needed to be an aircraft in that CAS deck with the ability to execute that. There
needed to be aircraft in the CAS decks with the right precision targeting pods to hit in a case where a
controller could only pass a certain level of information. There needed to be aircraft there that were ready to
work just with JDAM.
The efficiency, the effectiveness of this air power product of the 21st century, this constant airborne
support, reaches a tremendous level. When you think that it's all done with an eye towards minimizing collateral
damage, with very tight rules of engagement, with air crews briefed to bring back their bombs and not worry about
it rather than put a bomb in the wrong place, it's a tremendous achievement. It's a system that was not stressed,
but it was ready to take a stress had that occurred, and it provided an amazing edge in what had been probably
the most fearful part of this scenario, urban combat.
This report ends with the time period of May. As you know, President Bush declared on May 1, 2003 that
decisive combat ops had come to an end. Those words are so important, because you know how all this is planned,
you have shaping and preparation, you have a decisive combat ops phase, and then of course you have phase four,
stability operations. A key challenge then, a key challenge now in its different form. But what we see in the
first 600 days is the ability of joint air and land and sea power in a coalition fight to meet that test that had
been an uncertain question through the '90s. An exceptional level of joint component performance.
The doubts from Anaconda had been overcome and there was a tremendous success of joint warfare due to this
level of smooth cooperation between the components. Without it, it doesn't matter how good each component is
and how powerful the nation is, how strong your allies are. If you don't have this level of cooperation, you
don't have success at the operational level of war. So the first 600 days shows an achievement at the
operational level of war as one of its primary lessons.
This achievement owes a great deal to air dominance and what the air supremacy over Iraq allowed the
components to do, both in rapid, last minute decisions about the execution, the start of the conflict, and in
the way that the conflict was waged.
The main purpose of this report is really to put down some of the stories and to delineate the three
campaigns in the first 600 days, but the last couple of pages take a moment to draw some lessons and these are
the six lessons that are drawn.
Obviously, the importance of joint warfare, which I've already discussed.
And how much that depends on air and space superiority, which is something that you, especially those of you
in blue uniforms, should never forget. You can say that this country functions to a great deal on an airman
strategy. What our air power and space power are able to do defines what our joint military operations are able
The third lesson is the importance of mastering expeditionary operations. We did a pretty good job with this
in many ways, and yet a long list of lessons learned. Those who participated in the planning, I think, will
never forget some of the difficulties of assuring base access at the last minute, of working with allies who
wanted to contribute, but didn't always want to be in the headlines. And of trying to plan for the flow of fuel
and supplies and everything necessary to wage war on the basis of these expeditionary operations.
The next two lessons I think should be obvious from any look at the first 600 days. The importance of
precision and persistence. Persistence, whether that's in Operation Noble Eagle, flying caps over American
cities day after day, or that which makes modern air power what it is, mobility. The importance of airlift to
bring what needs to be there to the place it needs to be. And the importance of air refueling, without which we
simply would not have any of this discussion, any of this briefing.
And finally, people. You are the ones who did this. We have a tremendous, highly skilled, all volunteer
professional force and I've been pleased to see the extent to which two things have occurred. One, your
leadership has stressed the value of people; and secondly, I think the American people—for all that we debate
and dissent about what we want our country to do and whether we like the President today or not and what we
think of Iraq—there is no question about how proud and grateful we are to our men and women in uniform. So
people has to stand as the number one lesson of the 600 days.
I think when you look back at the 600 days, there are two things that really stand out to me. One was
something that Rumsfeld said quoting, of course, Winston Churchill, when he said, “this is not the end, it is not
even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”
I think as time goes by, we're now more than a year out from the end of decisive combat ops, the end of the
first 600 days, we will look back at the first 600 days and these three unique and different campaigns as
defining what 21st century warfare looks like, as having made tremendous strides in the global war on terrorism.
Elections are coming up in Afghanistan. Elections are coming up one day in Iraq. Afghanistan is no longer a
safe harbor. Iraq is no longer a doomsday question mark. The U.S. is much better defended in its skies and in
its ports than ever before. This is definitely the end of the beginning.
I think the next lesson really belongs to what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, and that is
simply the ability to have commanders think in a more integrated way about how they employ force. About how to
get those components to function at optimum levels at the operational level of war, because that's always where
you're judged. Your nation has a strategy, the military has capabilities, but it is at the operational level of
war that they come together into campaigns and plans to execute these strategic priorities.
The first 600 days says that we had tremendous abilities to do that. We learned from things that didn't go
so well; and in 600 days we demonstrated a new type of warfare and a new ability to coordinate, something that
will last us for a long time.
Return to AFA Air & Space Conference