VFW Magazine — March 2018
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The Iraq War
Janie Dyhouse

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which heralded the eight-year- long Iraq War. Here’s a brief rundown of American troops involved in the invasion and the objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

While U.S. troops were deeply embroiled in the war on terror in Afghanistan in 2003, another war loomed. President George W. Bush’s administration believed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, posing a threat to the United States. Furthermore, Bush and his advisers thought that Hussein had direct ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization founded by Osama Bin Laden.

Under the code name Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. forces invaded Iraq at 5:34 a.m. on March 20, 2003. Led by U.S. Army General Tommy Franks, the invasion had eight objectives:

• End the regime of Saddam Hussein.

• Identify, isolate and eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

• Search for, capture and drive out terrorists from that country.

• Collect intelligence related to terrorist networks.

• Gather intelligence related to a global network of weapons of mass destruction.

• End sanctions and deliver humanitarian support to the displaced, needy Iraqi citizens.

• Secure Iraq’s oil fields and resources, which belong to the Iraqi people.

• Help the Iraqi people create conditions for a transition to a representative selfgovernment.

Accomplishing these objectives took the service of men and women from many military components. Approximately 148,000 U.S. soldiers from the U.S., 45,000 British soldiers, 2,000 Australian soldiers and 194 Polish special operations soldiers were sent to Kuwait for the initial invasion.

By the end of the initial push into Iraq on April 30, 2003, there were 466,985 U.S. troops deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to a U.S. Central Command, Combined Forces Air Component Commander report.

This included:

Army, 233,342;

Marines, 74,405;

Navy, 61,296 (681 were members of the U.S. Coast Guard);

Air Force, 54,955;

Army Reserve, 10,683;

Marine Reserve, 9,501;

Army National Guard, 8,866;

Air National Guard, 7,207;

Air Force Reserve, 2,084; and

Navy Reserve, 2,056.

U.S. military units involved in the invasion included the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, 1st Marine Division, 101st Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

The immediate goal of the initial invasion was to swiftly take the capital city of Baghdad. The first American troops to reach Iraq’s capital on March 30 were members of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.

Coming out of Kuwait, the division had set a western course for Baghdad, moving rapidly through the desert to avoid populated areas.

Troops from the “Rock of the Marne” division faced their first major conflict in their advance into Baghdad near Karbala, about 60 miles southwest of Baghdad. Elements of the division assaulted the airport on April 3, while others patrolled the outskirts of the city.

The airport fell easily to Army control, and the first American plane, an Air Force C-130, landed there on April 7, opening it to use as an U.S. airfield.

Unlike the Army’s 3rd Division, the Marines’ 1st Division used more lightly armored vehicles.

Its trip to Baghdad was perilous, as Iraqi paramilitary units continually harassed them as they drove through cities such as Nasiriyah and Kut. (Be sure to watch for the April issue of VFW magazine for an article on the Battle of Nasiriyah.)

The 7th Marine Regiment encountered isolated firefights as it progressed slowly into the capital from the southeast.

By the morning of April 9, it was clear that Hussein’s rule was over. U.S. tanks drove down city streets, encountering only Iraqi civilians, many smiling and cheering.

Though the Pentagon declared on April 14 that all major combat had ended, the war in Iraq would continue for more than eight years, officially ending on Dec. 18, 2011.

EMAIL jdyhouse@vfw.org