November 22, 2016

Phases of War and the Iraq Experience

Applying the phasing construct to a quarter-century of U.S. military involvement in Iraq

By Kevin Shi and Paul Scharre

The difficulties of applying the U.S. military’s phasing construct to the realities of conflict are rarely more evident than when examining the American experience in Iraq. Though U.S. involvement in Iraq has traditionally been divided into two distinct periods of conflict, the 1990–1991 Gulf War and the 2003–2011 Iraq War, the reality is that the U.S. military has been nearly continuously engaged in Iraq for the past 26 years. The United States has conducted special operations raids into, launched cruise missiles at, imposed no-fly zones over, and outright invaded Iraq. The United States also provided humanitarian aid, financially supported local actors, and even governed the country. The six-phase planning construct does a poor job of accurately representing the range of activities over a quarter-century of U.S. foreign policy and military strategy in Iraq.

The phasing construct is optimized for traditional conflict, and the continuous conflict in Iraq has been anything but. Operation Desert Storm is straightforward: Phase II (Seize Initiative) closely followed by Phase III (Dominate). The same was the case for the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, when the United States toppled Saddam’s regime in just 21 days. Unsurprisingly, a phasing construct conceptually designed for sharp periods of conventional state-on-state conflict easily mapped onto those scenarios. It is much more difficult, however, to categorize other periods of the Iraq experience.

Read the full article at War on the Rocks

  • Podcast
    • January 28, 2020
    Building the World’s Biggest Budget

    What do the Pentagon's decisions about military spending say about our priorities as a nation? What goes into the DoD's $700 billion budget each year? Former Pentagon official...

    By Ilan Goldenberg & Susanna V. Blume

  • Reports
    • January 28, 2020
    Rising to the China Challenge

    An independent assessment for Congress as mandated by the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act....

    By Ely Ratner, Daniel Kliman, Susanna V. Blume, ​Rush Doshi, Chris Dougherty, Richard Fontaine, Peter Harrell, Martijn Rasser, Elizabeth Rosenberg, Eric Sayers, Daleep Singh, Paul Scharre, Loren DeJonge Schulman, ​Neil Bhatiya, Ashley Feng, Joshua Fitt, Megan Lamberth, Kristine Lee & Ainikki Riikonen

  • Podcast
    • January 24, 2020
    Armed services continuously make procurement reforms

    There has been years of continuous procurement reform for the Defense Department. Tinkering by Congress has rendered procurement into a sort of laboratory. And each of the arm...

    By Susanna V. Blume

  • Video
    • January 23, 2020
    Winning the Next War

    Chinese and Russian capabilities to exploit vulnerabilities in America's current way of war have grown. Without major changes to how it fights its wars, does the United States...

    By Robert O. Work & Chris Dougherty

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia