Counting Holes in Tanks in Tunisia

M4A1 Sherman destroyed in combat in Tunisia, 1943.

[NOTE: This piece was originally posted on 23 August 2016]

A few years ago, I came across a student battle analysis exercise prepared by the U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute on the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia in February 1943. At the time, I noted the diagram below (click for larger version), which showed the locations of U.S. tanks knocked out during a counterattack conducted by Combat Command C (CCC) of the U.S. 1st Armored Division against elements of the German 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions near the village of Sidi Bou Zid on 15 February 1943. Without reconnaissance and in the teeth of enemy air superiority, the inexperienced CCC attacked directly into a classic German tank ambush. CCC’s drive on Sidi Bou Zid was halted by a screen of German anti-tank guns, while elements of the two panzer divisions attacked the Americans on both flanks. By the time CCC withdrew several hours later, it had lost 46 of 52 M4 Sherman medium tanks, along with 15 officers and 298 men killed, captured, or missing.

Sidi Bou Zid00During a recent conversation with my colleague, Chris Lawrence, I recalled the diagram and became curious where it had originated. It identified the location of each destroyed tank, which company it belonged to, and what type of enemy weapon apparently destroyed it; significant battlefield features; and the general locations and movements of the enemy forces. What it revealed was significant. None of CCC’s M4 tanks were disabled or destroyed by a penetration of their frontal armor. Only one was hit by a German 88mm round from either the anti-tank guns or from the handful of available Panzer Mk. VI Tigers. All of the rest were hit with 50mm rounds from Panzer Mk. IIIs, which constituted most of the German force, or by 75mm rounds from Mk. IV’s. The Americans were not defeated by better German tanks. The M4 was superior to the Mk. III and equal to the Mk. IV; the dreaded 88mm anti-tank guns and Tiger tanks played little role in the destruction. The Americans had succumbed to superior German tactics and their own errors.

Counting dead tanks and analyzing their cause of death would have been an undertaking conducted by military operations researchers, at least in the early days of the profession. As Chris pointed out however, the Kasserine battle took place before the inception of operations research in the U.S. Army.

After a bit of digging online, I still have not been able to establish paternity of the diagram, but I think it was created as part of a battlefield survey conducted by the headquarters staff of either the U.S. 1st Armored Division, or one of its subordinate combat commands. The only reference I can find for it is as part of a historical report compiled by Brigadier General Paul Robinett, submitted to support the preparation of Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West by George F. Howe, the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s (CMH) official history volume on U.S. Army operations in North Africa, published in 1956. Robinett was the commander of Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division during the Battle of Kasserine Pass, but did not participate in the engagement at Sidi Bou Zid. His report is excerpted in a set of readings (pp. 103-120) provided as background material for a Kasserine Pass staff ride prepared by CMH. (Curiously, the account of the 15 February engagement at Sidi Bou Zid in Northwest Africa [pp. 419-422] does not reference Robinett’s study.)

Robinett’s report appeared to include an annotated copy of a topographical map labeled “approximate location of destroyed U.S. tanks (as surveyed three weeks later).” This suggests that the battlefield was surveyed in late March 1943, after U.S. forces had defeated the Germans and regained control of the area.

Sidi Bou Zid02The report also included a version of the schematic diagram later reproduced by CMH. The notes on the map seem to indicate that the survey was the work of staff officers, perhaps at Robinett’s direction, possibly as part of an after-action report.

Sidi Bou Zid03If anyone knows more about the origins of this bit of battlefield archaeology, I would love to know more about it. As far as I know, this assessment was unique, at least in the U.S. Army in World War II.

Dupuy’s Verities: Combat Power =/= Firepower

A U.S. 11th Marines 75mm pack howitzer and crew on Guadalcanal, September or October, 1942. The lean condition of the crewmembers indicate that they haven’t been getting enough nutrition during this period. [Wikipedia]

The ninth of Trevor Dupuy’s Timeless Verities of Combat is:

Superior Combat Power Always Wins.

From Understanding War (1987):

Military history demonstrates that whenever an outnumbered force was successful, its combat power was greater than that of the loser. All other things being equal, God has always been on the side of the heaviest battalions and always will be.

In recent years two or three surveys of modern historical experience have led to the finding that relative strength is not a conclusive factor in battle outcome. As we have seen, a superficial analysis of historical combat could support this conclusion. There are a number of examples of battles won by the side with inferior numbers. In many battles, outnumbered attackers were successful.

These examples are not meaningful, however, until the comparison includes the circumstances of the battles and opposing forces. If one take into consideration surprise (when present), relative combat effectiveness of the opponents, terrain features, and the advantage of defensive posture, the result may be different. When all of the circumstances are quantified and applied to the numbers of troops and weapons, the side with the greater combat power on the battlefield is always seen to prevail.

The concept of combat power is foundational to Dupuy’s theory of combat. He did not originate it; the notion that battle encompasses something more than just “physics-based” aspects likely originated with British theorist J.F.C. Fuller during World War I and migrated into U.S. Army thinking via post-war doctrinal revision. Dupuy refined and sharpened the Army’s vague conceptualization of it in the first iterations of his Quantified Judgement Model (QJM) developed in the 1970s.

Dupuy initially defined his idea of combat power in formal terms, as an equation in the QJM:

P = (S x V x CEV)


P = Combat Power
S = Force Strength
V = Environmental and Operational Variable Factors
CEV = Combat Effectiveness Value

Essentially, combat power is the product of:

  • force strength as measured in his models through the Theoretical/Operational Lethality Index (TLI/OLI), a firepower scoring method for comparing the lethality of weapons relative to each other;
  • the intangible environmental and operational variables that affect each circumstance of combat; and
  • the intangible human behavioral (or moral) factors that determine the fighting quality of a combat force.

Dupuy’s theory of combat power and its functional realization in his models have two virtues. First, unlike most existing combat models, it incorporates the effects of those intangible factors unique to each engagement or battle that influence combat outcomes, but are not readily measured in physical terms. As Dupuy argued, combat consists of more than duels between weapons systems. A list of those factors can be found below.

Second, the analytical research in real-world combat data done by him and his colleagues allowed him to begin establishing the specific nature combat processes and their interaction that are only abstracted in other combat theories and models. Those factors and processes for which he had developed a quantification hypothesis are denoted by an asterisk below.

Dupuy’s Verities: The Inefficiency of Combat

The “Mud March” of the Union Army of the Potomac, January 1863.

The twelfth of Trevor Dupuy’s Timeless Verities of Combat is:

Combat activities are always slower, less productive, and less efficient than anticipated.

From Understanding War (1987):

This is the phenomenon that Clausewitz called “friction in war.” Friction is largely due to the disruptive, suppressive, and dispersal effects of firepower upon an aggregation of people. This pace of actual combat operations will be much slower than the progress of field tests and training exercises, even highly realistic ones. Tests and exercises are not truly realistic portrayals of combat, because they lack the element of fear in a lethal environment, present only in real combat. Allowances must be made in planning and execution for the effects of friction, including mistakes, breakdowns, and confusion.

While Clausewitz asserted that the effects of friction on the battlefield could not be measured because they were largely due to chance, Dupuy believed that its influence could, in fact, be gauged and quantified. He identified at least two distinct combat phenomena he thought reflected measurable effects of friction: the differences in casualty rates between large and small sized forces, and diminishing returns from adding extra combat power beyond a certain point in battle. He also believed much more research would be necessary to fully understand and account for this.

Dupuy was skeptical of the accuracy of combat models that failed to account for this interaction between operational and human factors on the battlefield. He was particularly doubtful about approaches that started by calculating the outcomes of combat between individual small-sized units or weapons platforms based on the Lanchester equations or “physics-based” estimates, then used these as inputs for brigade and division-level-battles, the results of which in turn were used as the basis for determining the consequences of theater-level campaigns. He thought that such models, known as “bottom up,” hierarchical, or aggregated concepts (and the prevailing approach to campaign combat modeling in the U.S.), would be incapable of accurately capturing and simulating the effects of friction.

Dupuy’s Verities: The Effects of Firepower in Combat

A German artillery barrage falling on Allied trenches, probably during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, during the First World War. [Wikimedia]

The eleventh of Trevor Dupuy’s Timeless Verities of Combat is:

Firepower kills, disrupts, suppresses, and causes dispersion.

From Understanding War (1987):

It is doubtful if any of the people who are today writing on the effect of technology on warfare would consciously disagree with this statement. Yet, many of them tend to ignore the impact of firepower on dispersion, and as a consequence they have come to believe that the more lethal the firepower, the more deaths, disruption, and suppression it will cause. In fact, as weapons have become more lethal intrinsically, their casualty-causing capability has either declined or remained about the same because of greater dispersion of targets. Personnel and tank loss rates of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, for example, were quite similar to those of intensive battles of World War II and the casualty rates in both of these wars were less than in World War I. (p. 7)

Research and analysis of real-world historical combat data by Dupuy and TDI has identified at least four distinct combat effects of firepower: infliction of casualties (lethality), disruption, suppression, and dispersion. All of them were found to be heavily influenced—if not determined—by moral (human) factors.

Again, I have written extensively on this blog about Dupuy’s theory about the historical relationship between weapon lethality, dispersion on the battlefield, and historical decline in average daily combat casualty rates. TDI President Chris Lawrence has done further work on the subject as well.

TDI Friday Read: Lethality, Dispersion, And Mass On Future Battlefields

Human Factors In Warfare: Dispersion

Human Factors In Warfare: Suppression

There appears to be a fundamental difference in interpretation of the combat effects of firepower between Dupuy’s emphasis on the primacy of human factors and Defense Department models that account only for the “physics-based” casualty-inflicting capabilities of weapons systems. While U.S. Army combat doctrine accounts for the interaction of firepower and human behavior on the battlefield, it has no clear method for assessing or even fully identifying the effects of such factors on combat outcomes.

Dupuy’s Verities: The Requirements For Successful Defense

A Sherman tank of the U.S. Army 9th Armored Division heads into action against the advancing Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. {Warfare History Network]

The eighth of Trevor Dupuy’s Timeless Verities of Combat is:

Successful defense requires depth and reserves.

From Understanding War (1987):

Successful defense requires depth and reserves. It has been asserted that outnumbered military forces cannot afford to withhold valuable firepower from ongoing defensive operations and keep it idle in reserve posture. History demonstrates that this is specious logic, and that linear defense is disastrously vulnerable. Napoleon’s crossing of the Po in his first campaign in 1796 is perhaps the classic demonstration of the fallacy of linear (or cordon) defense.

The defender may have all of his firepower committed to the anticipated operational area, but the attacker’s advantage in having the initiative can always render much of that defensive firepower useless. Anyone who suggests that modern technology will facilitate the shifting of engaged firepower in battle overlooks three considerations: (a) the attacker can inhibit or prevent such movement by both direct and indirect means, (b) a defender engaged in a fruitless firefight against limited attacks by numerically inferior attackers is neither physically nor psychologically attuned to making lateral movements even if the enemy does not prevent or inhibit it, and (c) withdrawal of forces from the line (even if possible) provides an alert attacker with an opportunity for shifting the thrust of his offensive to the newly created gap in the defenses.

Napoleon recognized that hard-fought combat is usually won by the side committing the last reserves. Marengo, Borodino, and Ligny are typical examples of Napoleonic victories that demonstrated the importance of having resources available to tip the scales. His two greatest defeats, Leipzig and Waterloo, were suffered because his enemies still had reserves after his were all committed. The importance of committing the last reserves was demonstrated with particular poignancy at Antietam in the American Civil War. In World War II there is no better example than that of Kursk. [pp. 5-6]

Dupuy’s observations about the need for depth and reserves for a successful defense take on even greater current salience in light of the probably character of the near-future battlefield. Terrain lost by an unsuccessful defense may be extremely difficult to regain under prevailing circumstances.

The interaction of increasing weapon lethality and the operational and human circumstantial variables of combat continue to drive the long-term trend in dispersion of combat forces in frontage and depth.

Long-range precision firepower, ubiquitous battlefield reconnaissance and surveillance, and the effectiveness of cyber and information operations will make massing of forces and operational maneuver risky affairs.

As during the Cold War, the stability of alliances may depend on a willingness to defend forward in the teeth of effective anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) regimes that will make the strategic and operational deployment of reserves risky as well. The successful suppression of A2/AD networks might court a nuclear response, however.

Finding an effective solution for enabling a successful defense-in-depth in the future will be a task of great difficulty.

Toward An American Approach To Proxy Warfare

U.S.-supported Philippine guerilla fighters led the resistance against the Japanese occupation of Luzon during World War II. [Warfare History Network]

U.S. Army Major Amos Fox has recently published the first two of a set of three articles examining nature of proxy warfare in the early 21st century and suggests some ideas for how the U.S. might better conduct it.

In “In Pursuit of a General Theory of Proxy Warfare,” published in February 2019 by the The Institute of Land Warfare at the Association of the U.S. Army, and “Time, Power, and Principal-Agent Problems: Why the U.S. Army is Ill-Suited for Proxy Warfare Hotspots,” published in the March-April 2019 edition of Military Review, Fox argues,

Proxy environments dominate modern war… It is not just a Russian, Iranian or American approach to war, but one in which many nations and polities engage. However, the U.S. Army lacks a paradigm for proxy warfare, which disrupts its ability to understand the environment or develop useful tactics, operations and strategies for those environments.

His examination of the basic elements of proxy warfare leads him to conclude that “it is dominated by a principal actor dynamic, power relationships and the tyranny of time.” From this premise, Fox outlines two basic models of proxy warfare: exploitative and transactional.

The exploitative model…is characterized by a proxy force being completely dependent on its principal for survival… [It] is usually the result of a stronger actor looking for a tool—a proxy force—to pursue an objective. As a result, the proxy is only as useful to the principal as its ability to make progress toward the principal’s ends. Once the principal’s ends have been achieved or the proxy is unable to maintain momentum toward the principal’s ends, then the principal discontinues the relationship or distances itself from the proxy.

The transactional model is…more often like a business deal. An exchange of services and goods that benefits all parties—defeat of a mutual threat, training of the agent’s force, foreign military sales and finance—is at the heart of the transactional model. However, this model is a paradox because the proxy is the powerbroker in the relationship. In many cases, the proxy government is independent but looking for assistance in defeating an adversary; it is not interested in political or military subjugation by the principal. Moreover, the proxy possesses the power in the relationship because its association with the principal is wholly transactional…the clock starts ticking on the duration of the bond as soon as the first combined shot is fired. As a result, as the common goal is gradually achieved, the agent’s interest in the principal recedes at a comparable rate.

With this concept in hand, Fox makes that case that

[T]he U.S. Army is ill-suited for warfare in the proxy environment because it mismanages the fixed time and the finite power it possesses over a proxy force in pursuit of waning mutual interests. Fundamentally, the salient features of proxy environments—available time, power over a proxy force, and mutual interests—are fleeting due to the fact that proxy relationships are transactional in nature; they are marriages of convenience in which a given force works through another in pursuit of provisionally aligned political or military ends… In order to better position itself to succeed in the proxy environment, the U.S. Army must clearly understand the background and components of proxy warfare.

These two articles provide an excellent basis for a wider discussion for thinking about and shaping not just a more coherent U.S. Army doctrine, but a common policy/strategic/operational framework for understanding and successfully operating in the proxy warfare environments that will only loom larger in 21st century international affairs. It will be interesting to see how Fox’s third article rounds out his discussion.

Some Useful Resources for Post-World War II U.S. Army Doctrine Development

This list originated in response to a Twitter query discussing the history of post-World War II U.S. Army doctrine development. It is hardly exhaustive but it does include titles and resources that may not be widely known.

The first two are books:

Benjamin Jensen, Forging the Sword: Doctrinal Change in the U.S. Army (Stanford University Press, 2016)

Jensen focused on the institutional processes shaping the Army’s continual post-war World War II efforts to reform its doctrine in response to changes in the character of modern warfare.

Shimon Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory (Routledge, 1997)

In an excellent overview of the evolution of operational thought through the 20th century, Naveh devoted two chapters to the Army’s transition to Active Defense in the 70s and then to AirLand Battle in the 80s.

There are several interesting monographs that are available online:

Andrew J. Bacevich, The Pentomic Era: The U.S. Army Between Korea and Vietnam (NDU Press, 1986)

Paul Herbert, Deciding What Has to Be Done: General William E. DePuy and the 1976 Edition of FM 100-5, Operations (Combat Studies Institute, 1988)

John Romjue, From Active Defense to AirLand Battle: the Development of Army Doctrine 1973-1982 (TRADOC, 1984)

John Romjue, The Army of Excellence: The Development of the 1980s Army (TRADOC, 1997)

John Romjue, American Army Doctrine for the Post-Cold War (TRADOC, 1997)

A really useful place to browse is the Army Command and General Staff College’s online Skelton Combined Arms Research Library (CARL). It is loaded with old manuals and student papers and theses addressing a wide variety of topics related to the nuts and bolts of doctrine.

Another good place to browse is the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), which is a huge digital library of government sponsored research. I recommend searches on publications by the Army’s defunct operations research organizations: Operations Research Office (ORO), Research Analysis Corporation (RAC), and the Special Operations Research Office (SORO). The Combat Operations Research Group (CORG), particularly a series of studies of Army force structure from squads to theater HQ’s by Virgil Ney. There is much more to find in DTIC.

Two other excellent places to browse for material on doctrine are the Combat Studies Institute Press publications on CARL and the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s publications.

Some journals with useful research include the Journal of Cold War Studies and the Journal of Strategic Studies.

If anyone else has suggestions, let me know.

Has The Army Given Up On Counterinsurgency Research, Again?


[In light of the U.S. Army’s recent publication of a history of it’s involvement in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, it may be relevant to re-post this piece from from 29 June 2016.]

As Chris Lawrence mentioned yesterday, retired Brigadier General John Hanley’s review of America’s Modern Wars in the current edition of Military Review concluded by pointing out the importance of a solid empirical basis for staff planning support for reliable military decision-making. This notion seems so obvious as to be a truism, but in reality, the U.S. Army has demonstrated no serious interest in remedying the weaknesses or gaps in the base of knowledge underpinning its basic concepts and doctrine.

In 2012, Major James A. Zanella published a monograph for the School of Advanced Military Studies of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (graduates of which are known informally as “Jedi Knights”), which examined problems the Army has had with estimating force requirements, particularly in recent stability and counterinsurgency efforts.

Historically, the United States military has had difficulty articulating and justifying force requirements to civilian decision makers. Since at least 1975, governmental officials and civilian analysts have consistently criticized the military for inadequate planning and execution. Most recently, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq reinvigorated the debate over the proper identification of force requirements…Because Army planners have failed numerous times to provide force estimates acceptable to the President, the question arises, why are the planning methods inadequate and why have they not been improved?[1]

Zanella surveyed the various available Army planning tools and methodologies for determining force requirements, but found them all either inappropriate or only marginally applicable, or unsupported by any real-world data. He concluded

Considering the limitations of Army force planning methods, it is fair to conclude that Army force estimates have failed to persuade civilian decision-makers because the advice is not supported by a consistent valid method for estimating the force requirements… What is clear is that the current methods have utility when dealing with military situations that mirror the conditions represented by each model. In the contemporary military operating environment, the doctrinal models no longer fit.[2]

Zanella did identify the existence of recent, relevant empirical studies on manpower and counterinsurgency. He noted that “the existing doctrine on force requirements does not benefit from recent research” but suggested optimistically that it could provide “the Army with new tools to reinvigorate the discussion of troops-to-task calculations.”[3] Even before Zanella published his monograph, however, the Defense Department began removing any detailed reference or discussion about force requirements in counterinsurgency from Army and Joint doctrinal publications.

As Zanella discussed, there is a body of recent empirical research on manpower and counterinsurgency that contains a variety of valid and useful insights, but as I recently discussed, it does not yet offer definitive conclusions. Much more research and analysis is needed before the conclusions can be counted on as a valid and justifiably reliable basis for life and death decision-making. Yet, the last of these government sponsored studies was completed in 2010. Neither the Army nor any other organization in the U.S. government has funded any follow-on work on this subject and none appears forthcoming. This boom-or-bust pattern is nothing new, but the failure to do anything about it is becoming less and less understandable.


[1] Major James A. Zanella, “Combat Power Analysis is Combat Power Density” (Ft. Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2012), pp. 1-2.

[2] Ibid, 50.

[3] Ibid, 47.

Historians and the Early Era of U.S. Army Operations Research

While perusing Charles Shrader’s fascinating history of the U.S. Army’s experience with operations research (OR), I came across several references to the part played by historians and historical analysis in early era of that effort.

The ground forces were the last branch of the Army to incorporate OR into their efforts during World War II, lagging behind the Army Air Forces, the technical services, and the Navy. Where the Army was a step ahead, however, was in creating a robust wartime historical field history documentation program. (After the war, this enabled the publication of the U.S. Army in World War II series, known as the “Green Books,” which set a new standard for government sponsored military histories.)

As Shrader related, the first OR personnel the Army deployed forward in 1944-45 often crossed paths with War Department General Staff Historical Branch field historian detachments. They both engaged in similar activities: collecting data on real-world combat operations, which was then analyzed and used for studies and reports written for the use of the commands to which they were assigned. The only significant difference was in their respective methodologies, with the historians using historical methods and the OR analysts using mathematical and scientific tools.

History and OR after World War II

The usefulness of historical approaches to collecting operational data did not go unnoticed by the OR practitioners, according to Shrader. When the Army established the Operations Research Office (ORO) in 1948, it hired a contingent of historians specifically for the purpose of facilitating research and analysis using WWII Army records, “the most likely source for data on operational matters.”

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, ORO sent eight multi-disciplinary teams, including the historians, to collect operational data and provide analytical support for U.S. By 1953, half of ORO’s personnel had spent time in combat zones. Throughout the 1950s, about 40-43% of ORO’s staff was comprised of specialists in the social sciences, history, business, literature, and law. Shrader quoted one leading ORO analyst as noting that, “there is reason to believe that the lawyer, social scientist or historian is better equipped professionally to evaluate evidence which is derived from the mind and experience of the human species.”

Among the notable historians who worked at or with ORO was Dr. Hugh M. Cole, an Army officer who had served as a staff historian for General George Patton during World War II. Cole rose to become a senior manager at ORO and later served as vice-president and president of ORO’s successor, the Research Analysis Corporation (RAC). Cole brought in WWII colleague Forrest C. Pogue (best known as the biographer of General George C. Marshall) and Charles B. MacDonald. ORO also employed another WWII field historian, the controversial S. L. A. Marshall, as a consultant during the Korean War. Dorothy Kneeland Clark did pioneering historical analysis on combat phenomena while at ORO.

The Demise of ORO…and Historical Combat Analysis?

By the late 1950s, considerable institutional friction had developed between ORO, the Johns Hopkins University (JHU)—ORO’s institutional owner—and the Army. According to Shrader,

Continued distrust of operations analysts by Army personnel, questions about the timeliness and focus of ORO studies, the ever-expanding scope of ORO interests, and, above all, [ORO director] Ellis Johnson’s irascible personality caused tensions that led in August 1961 to the cancellation of the Army’s contract with JHU and the replacement of ORO with a new, independent research organization, the Research Analysis Corporation [RAC].

RAC inherited ORO’s research agenda and most of its personnel, but changing events and circumstances led Army OR to shift its priorities away from field collection and empirical research on operational combat data in favor of the use of modeling and wargaming in its analyses. As Chris Lawrence described in his history of federally-funded Defense Department “think tanks,” the rise and fall of scientific management in DOD, the Vietnam War, social and congressional criticism, and an unhappiness by the military services with the analysis led to retrenchment in military OR by the end of the 60s. The Army sold RAC and created its own in-house Concepts Analysis Agency (CAA; now known as the Center for Army Analysis).

By the early 1970s, analysts, such as RAND’s Martin Shubik and Gary Brewer, and John Stockfisch, began to note that the relationships and processes being modeled in the Army’s combat simulations were not based on real-world data and that empirical research on combat phenomena by the Army OR community had languished. In 1991, Paul Davis and Donald Blumenthal gave this problem a name: the “Base of Sand.”

U.S. Army Releases New Iraq War History

On Thursday, the U.S. Army released a long-awaited history of its operational combat experience in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. The study, titled The U.S. Army in the Iraq War – Volume 1: Invasion – Insurgency – Civil War, 2003-2006 and The U.S. Army in the Iraq War – Volume 2: Surge and Withdrawal, 2007-2011, was published under the auspices of the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.

This reflects its unconventional origins. Under normal circumstances, such work would be undertaken by either the U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute (CSI), which is charged with writing quick-turnaround “instant histories,” or the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH), which writes more deeply researched “official history,” years or decades after the fact.[1] Instead, these volumes were directly commissioned by then-Chief of the Staff of the Army, General Raymond Odierno, who created an Iraq Study Group in 2013 to research and write them. According to Odierno, his intent was “to capture key lessons, insights, and innovations from our more than 8 years of conflict in that country.[I]t was time to conduct an initial examination of the Army’s experiences in the post-9/11 wars, to determine their implications for our future operations, strategy, doctrine, force structure, and institutions.”

CSI had already started writing contemporary histories of the conflict, publishing On Point: The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (2004) and On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign (2008), which covered the period from 2003 to January 2005. A projected third volume was advertised, but never published.

Although the Iraq Study Group completed its work in June 2016 and the first volume of the history was scheduled for publication that October, its release was delayed due to concerns within the Army historical community regarding the its perspective and controversial conclusions. After external reviewers deemed the study fair and recommended its publication, claims were lodged after its existence was made public last autumn that the Army was suppressing it to avoid embarrassment. Making clear that the study was not an official history publication, current Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley added his own forward to Odierno’s, and publicly released the two volumes yesterday.


[1] For a discussion of the roles and mission of CSI and CMH with regard to history, see W. Shane Story, “Transformation or Troop Strength? Early Accounts of the Invasion of IraqArmy History, Winter 2006; Richard W. Stewart, “‘Instant’ History and History: A Hierarchy of NeedsArmy History, Winter 2006; Jeffrey J. Clarke, “The Care and Feeding of Contemporary History,” Army History, Winter 2006; and Gregory Fontenot, “The U.S. Army and Contemporary Military History,” Army History, Spring 2008.