(W)Archives: Operation Iraqi Freedom: Just One Damn Thing after Another

March 21, 2014

On 19 March, 2003—11 years ago this week—American F-117s carrying EGBU-27 bombs flattened Dora Farms in an effort to kill Saddam Hussein whom time sensitive intelligence indicated was at that location. This reversed the plan of starting Operation Iraqi Freedom with ground forces and only then launching air campaign.  Sadly, Saddam was not at Dora Farms and the only real result of the strike was a day of confusion over whether Saddam was still alive. He was.

This was the second major event which had not gone right in the execution of the 1003V war plan for Operation IRAQI Freedom.  The first had been the Turkish parliament’s refusal to allow the U.S. 4th Infantry Division to transit through that country in order to attack northern Iraq.

The National Security Archive has an interesting set of once-classified PowerPoint slides from U.S. Central Command summarizing the plan as it stood on approximately 15 August 2002.  A look at these slides brings home the many ways in which reality and expectations did not conform beyond simply the Dora Farms and Turkish deviations.  From Phase I to Phase IV, numerous things went off-plan.  The result was a war which lasted years longer than expected and was at most a merely qualified success for the United States.

We can never expect plans to conform to reality in something as messy and uncertain as war, but Operation Iraqi Freedom was exceptional.  Hopefully, we, as a national security community, will continue learning from this experience.


Mark Stout is a Senior Editor at War on the Rocks.


Image: USAF, Bobbi Zapka