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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 8
Combined Arms Operations in Iraq


Counter-IED and Countermortar Operations

For the US Army in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, the most constant threat to American Soldiers was the IED.* The IED was not a new weapon. In the 20th century, guerrilla forces in a number of conflicts had used IEDs against their opponents. Soviet partisans employed IEDs against German trains during World War II and Viet Cong insurgents had used similar devices to attack American vehicles and Soldiers during the Vietnam war. In the last decade, Hezbollah forces have used IEDs against Israeli conventional forces in southern Lebanon, and Chechen rebels similarly targeted Russian army units in Chechnya. In Iraq the most common type of IED consisted of an explosive charge, a detonator, and a variety of trigger mechanisms. In a number of cases, insurgents obtained 155-mm artillery shells and antitank mines from the numerous weapons caches across the country and used them to create a shrapnel-laden explosion; however, any type of explosive could be used. Early in 2003 some IEDs even employed gasoline or diesel fuel as an explosive charge. Iraqi insurgents often placed IEDs along roadsides where they could best attack passing Coalition convoys. To prevent Coalition forces from finding the devices, the insurgents normally hid the IEDs in trash that accumulated along the curbs and medians of the roads, sometimes placing the weapon inside the carcass of a dead animal.

IED attacks increased in the summer and fall of 2003, and in response CJTF-7 and its subordinate units gradually developed tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to counter the threat. Commanders disseminated information about the IEDs, the insurgent’s techniques of emplacing them, and the TTPs to use to defeat the devices throughout their formations. For example, CJTF-7 headquarters began issuing TTPs for countering the IED threat in December 2003 in the form of “Smart Cards” that a Soldier could easily place in his or her pocket. The Smart Cards showed pictures of IEDs and described how to identify their firing mechanisms and how to defeat them or move past them safely.5 Other commands distributed information and TTPs through PowerPoint briefings, which could be easily shared through digital networks.6 Insurgents favored emplacing IEDs on the sides of roads and highways, and because the large percentage of US Soldiers moved by vehicle on a regular basis to conduct all types of operations, all American Soldiers trained on the TTPs and, by necessity, became involved in these operations.

The IED became a daily threat to US Soldiers. Between May 2003 and March 2004, statistics collected by the Department of Defense (DOD) suggested that there were an average of 20 attacks per day on Coalition forces. After April 2004, these attacks had increased to an average of between 40 and 60 incidents per day.7 IEDs accounted for many if not most of these attacks. For the Soldiers of the 1st AD located in Baghdad, a “normal” day consisted of approximately 10 attacks across the division’s AOR, half of which came from IEDs and indirect (mortar and rocket) fire.8 These statistics did not include the IEDs discovered before they could be detonated.

While commanders in Iraq expected every Soldier to be aware of the IED threat during routine operations, the growth of the IED problem in 2003 and 2004 led many US units to adopt overt tactics focused on countering the threat. If units did not develop effective countermeasures, they risked ceding the initiative to the insurgents and the freedom to maneuver in their AOR. The counter-IED tactics and operations were diverse and tailored for the threat in a particular area. However, most involved active measures designed to frustrate the insurgent’s ability to emplace and detonate the IED.

For the 1st AD, the most effective tactic was unit presence on the streets of Baghdad. The division’s official history states that 1st AD Soldiers quickly decided “that only a very aggressive and energetic patrolling effort kept the routes reasonably clear. Repeated experiences taught the Soldiers how to spot unusual and suspicious objects and increasing knowledge of the tactics and techniques of IED employment gradually reduced their effectiveness.”9 Other units stressed changing routes and departure or arrival times to avoid establishing patterns that could be discerned and taken advantage of by insurgent bombers. In 2004 Soldiers in vehicular patrols and convoys would get technological assistance in the form of electronic jammers that rendered IEDs with electronic triggering devices, such as garage door openers, ineffective. Still, insurgents used a variety of firing techniques, not all of which were vulnerable to electronic interference.

Some units developed a broad, combined arms approach to the IED problem. In the 4th ID, unit commanders initially responded to the IED threat with engineer assets that could destroy any detected device in a safe manner. The division’s official after action review (AAR) characterized these early tactics as “simplistic,” and its subordinate units gradually built a more sophisticated set of techniques and procedures designed to eliminate the insurgent infrastructure.10 As the division stated in its AAR, “Wherever there was an IED, there was a bomber, a bomb maker, a cache, and someone funding the operation.”11 Once leaders and staff officers in the division realized this, they began to use a combination of intelligence, combat, and combat support units to defeat the threat. By the spring of 2004 the division had integrated these elements into a broad counter-IED campaign that included the following types of operations: route reconnaissance, route sweeping to include trash removal, information operations (IO), traffic control points, and snipers. Division leaders felt so strongly about this broad approach that they contended, “Commanders must resist technical or functional solutions to tactical situations. The nature of Iraqi Freedom did not and will not lend itself to cookbook solutions. Continual pressure through a multi-BOS [battlefield operating systems] and combined arms approach is the only sure way to success.”12

The evolution of the Army’s response to the mortar threat was similar to its reaction to IEDs. Beginning in mid-2003 insurgents began to attack Coalition static sites with indirect fire using weapons and ammunition left over from Saddam’s army. Quickly, indirect fire became the insurgents’ second most effective form of attack, producing American casualties at a rate second only to the IED.13 Most popular among the insurgents in Iraq were 60-mm, 82-mm, and 120-mm mortar systems for which there was an ample supply of rounds. Higher commands issued broad guidance and developed some TTPs to deal with this threat. The most common of these tactics was counterbattery fire operations—involving the conventional tactic of locating the “shooter” and destroying it with indirect counterfire from US mortars, artillery, and aircraft. Counterbattery fire required target acquisition radar systems such as the Q36 Firefinder and the light countermortar radar (LCMR) to detect the incoming mortar or artillery round. These systems then calculated the round’s point of origin (POO), which became the target for US 120-mm mortars and 155-mm howitzers, often located on forward operating bases (FOBs) with the target acquisition radar systems. In many cases, American units began hitting enemy mortar POOs while the insurgents were loading their second or third rounds.

Some units developed more comprehensive countermortar operations. In the 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 4th ID, for example, brigade positions began to take fire from enemy mortars once its units began operating in Diyala province in mid-2003. The brigade’s commander and staff responded by using the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) process to locate likely enemy mortar sites. The brigade’s maneuver units then established temporary sites from which they could survey these enemy sites, while its own fire support units stood by to provide immediate counterfire. At times, the brigade integrated its tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (TUAV) into the effort and conducted a supporting IO campaign that communicated with sheiks and farmers in the province about the American use of counterfire, its damaging effect on farmland, and the importance of preventing the use of their property by enemy mortar crews.

For some units, particularly those in larger cities, countermortar fire was not the best solution for the situation in their AOR. The 3d Stryker BCT of the 2d Infantry Division (2d ID) began operations in the densely populated urban terrain of the city of Mosul in January 2004. Although the brigade, located on a series of FOBs in the city, became a target of insurgent indirect fire, the brigade commander greatly restricted the use of countermortar fire fearing the likelihood of damage to civilian infrastructure. US counterfire would likely have been effective, but the price in terms of decreased Iraqi support for the unit’s overall campaign would have been too high in the commander’s estimation. The brigade’s joint fires and effects cell (JFEC) determined that the best way to defeat enemy indirect fire was to use imagery intelligence (IMINT), UAVs, human intelligence (HUMINT), and analysis of both target acquisition radar data and actual mortar craters to determine the most likely enemy mortar positions. The analysis was used to build a database that was then disseminated to subordinate units through the brigade-wide digital network.

Once analysis yielded likely POOs within the AOR, the brigade used a variety of maneuver and support units to establish countermortar observation posts and provide immediate reaction to find and destroy insurgent mortar teams. In one action in September 2004, a military police (MP) platoon attached to the brigade occupied an observation post overlooking potential insurgent firing points.14 That platoon observed four insurgents firing a 60-mm mortar from a vehicle, engaged the insurgents with their weapons and, with the help of another platoon that moved to the site, killed one insurgent and wounded the other three. The brigade often made small adjustments to their operations to ensure the insurgents were constantly off balance. However, the JFEC, as well as the brigade commander, came to believe that the best means of defeating insurgent indirect fire in Mosul was not countermortar fire but countermortar maneuver.

Chapter 8. Combined Arms Operations in Iraq

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