Operation Iraqi Freedom

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Operation Iraqi Freedom Emblem

The 2003 invasion of Iraq lasted from 20 March to 1 May 2003 and signaled the start of the Iraq War, which the United States dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom (prior to 19 March, the mission in Iraq was called "Operation Enduring Freedom", a carry-over from the War in Afghanistan). The invasion consisted of 21 days of major combat operations, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and deposed the Ba'athist government of Saddam Hussein. The invasion phase consisted primarily of a conventionally-fought war which included the capture of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad by American forces with the implicit assistance of the United Kingdom, alongside Australia and Poland.

Background of the conflict

According to U.S. President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the coalition aimed "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people." Others place a much greater emphasis on the impact of the September 11 attacks, on the role this played in changing U.S. strategic calculations, and the rise of the freedom agenda. According to Blair, the trigger was Iraq's failure to take a "final opportunity" to disarm itself of alleged nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that U.S. and British officials called an immediate and intolerable threat to world peace.

Combat operations

Fighting during the Battle of Nasiriyah

The invasion was preceded by an airstrike on the Presidential Palace in Baghdad on 20 March 2003. The following day, coalition forces launched an incursion into Basra Province from their massing point close to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border.

While special forces launched an amphibious assault from the Persian Gulf to secure Basra and the surrounding petroleum fields, the main invasion army moved into southern Iraq, occupying the region and engaging in the Battle of Nasiriyah on 23 March. Massive air strikes across the country and against Iraqi command-and-control threw the defending army into chaos and prevented an effective resistance. On 26 March, the 173rd Airborne Brigade was airdropped near the northern city of Kirkuk, where they joined forces with Kurdish rebels and fought several actions against the Iraqi Army to secure the northern part of the country.

The main body of coalition forces continued their drive into the heart of Iraq and met with little resistance. Most of the Iraqi military was quickly defeated and the coalition occupied Baghdad on 9 April. Other operations occurred against pockets of the Iraqi army, including the capture and occupation of Kirkuk on 10 April, and the attack on and capture of Tikrit on 15 April. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the central leadership went into hiding as the coalition forces completed the occupation of the country. On 1 May President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations: this ended the invasion period and began the period of military occupation.

Participation of Grand Duke Travis

Amphibious Task Force East

Pre-invasion activities

At the time of the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Grand Duke Travis was the head of state of the Achaean Territory of Antarctica, the predecessor state to Westarctica, and he was also serving in the United States Navy as an Intelligence Specialist. In this capacity, he deployed to the Persian Gulf onboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge. The Kearsarge was one of seven ships that formed Amphibious Task Force (ATF) East, a group nicknamed "The Magnificent Seven."

Prior to the invasion, the Grand Duke participated in operational planning for 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade's invasion of an-Nasiriyah, a major city in southern Iraq. In addition to providing general order of battle assessments, Travis also created a 3-D animation using classified satellite imagery that allowed the Marine commander to visualize the path his Marines would take through the streets of Iraq. The resulting Battle of Nasiriyah was one of the costliest battles of the invasion in terms of American lives lost.

As the battle group approached the Iraqi coastal waters, Travis implemented a color-coded system for tracking the readiness of Iraq's coastal defense cruise missiles and artillery that he called "Coastal Defense Condition" (CDCON for short).

Activities during ground combat

Travis reporting on a merchant vessel during Operation Iraqi Freedom

The Grand Duke did not deploy to the ground in Iraq during combat operations. After the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade was offloaded in Kuwait, Travis was assigned to lead the Combined Task Force 151.5 Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection cell. During this time, his cell was responsible for tracking and reporting on suspected terrorist surveillance and preventing terrorist attacks against the seven ships in his battle group. In the four months the cell was active, there were no terrorist attacks against U.S. assets in the Persian Gulf.

In recognition of his actions during and after the conflict, Travis received the following awards:

  • Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal
  • Global War on Terrorism - Expeditionary Medal
  • Letter of commendation from Rear Admiral Michael Nowakowski

Post-invasion activities

Following the successful invasion of Iraq, the USS Kearsarge was deployed in support of Operation Shining Express to support the rescue of U.S. embassy personnel and American citizens during the Second Liberian Civil War. Travis created threat assessments on the warring factions in Liberia and briefed the commanding officer of Task Force Tarawa, Brigadier General Richard Natonski, on the feasibility of performing an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia.