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CALL Newsletter 04-13
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)
CAAT II Initial Impressions Report (IIR)

Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)
CAAT II Initial Impressions Report (IIR)

Chapter 3: Engineer
Topic B: Combat Engineer Operations

Observation Synopsis

Roles and missions for the combat engineer in the area of responsibility (AOR) have been much diversified. Training for these roles has fallen into the category of on-the-job training. The combat engineer has had to function as an engineering operations division (EOD) specialist, cordon and search expert, and aviation coordination point of contact. Engineers have had to adapt to an ever-changing battlefield and meet requirements normally not associated with the engineer mission. Because the engineer has shown his ability to be flexible and capable of thinking outside the box, the demands of civil affairs (CA), CSS, and of becoming the infantry war-fighter needed to sustain combat operations have all been handled successfully.

Future operational environments will place a greater premium on versatile organizations capable of adapting to changing threats and missions. Engineer organizations at the BCT level must sustain force mobility (track & wheel) on various types of terrain, to include urban. Assured mobility depends on reconnaissance. There are no dedicated engineer reconnnaissance resources in sapper battalions. Sapper battalons also lack vertical, horizontal and utility capabilities.

Habitual support is vital due to importance of teamwork/integration at the BCT level and below. Distributed operations over large areas often require sapper battalions to operate pure or as a battalion task force. Sapper battalions lack key CSS assets that limit their ability for independent operations.

Divisions normally require a divisional engineer headquarters (HQ) and engineer group HQ to support engineer command and control (C2) requirements. A brigade (BDE) HQ and combat group HQ lack construction design and management sections which reduces ability to C2 the construction effort. In addition, it also lacks an S5 section to leverage local resources and integrate engineer effort with CA efforts and other humanitarian efforts. Because of the austere admin/log (S1,S4,BMT) section within the HQ, its ability to provide effective, responsive support to supported elements is inhibited.

Primary utility of the engineer group (EN GRP) HQs is the ability to C2 construction and sustainment engineering operations. Because of the organization and war trace, training tends to be focused in one area, either combat focus or construction focus.

To reinforce the BCT, Reserve and National Guard units are attached to supply the CS and CSS not organic to the brigade. Mobilized reserve component units spent too much time at mobilization stations revalidating their training level. The required validation should be completed at home station prior to mobilization. This would reduce the required time to integrate the unit into the brigade. Current doctrine does not offer TTPs for integration of eschelon above divisions (EAD) units into a division. This process requires deliberate planning and execution.

Replacement operations do not exist for reserve component units. When personnel are rotated out of the theater for specific personnel actions, backfills are not provided. Over the course of a few months, the reserve unit strength may decrease by as much as 25 per cent. Personnel recruited at home station during the period of mobilization are not rotated forward when their initial training is completed. They can only move forward upon a susequent mobilization.

A reserve component (RC) unit's low supply readiness (MTOE, preliminary load list [PLL], allowable supply list [ASL]) degrades its ability to integrate into operations. The system to provide them with repair parts and PLL supplies often lags their arrival in theater by months. This causes the supporting brigade to provide for these shortages until the system catches up.

Engineer recon platoons are not incorporated in the line companies of the combat engineer battalion because of the belief that line squads can be called upon to do this task. In most cases this philosophy will not provide the value added capability of a well-trained and equipped recon element. Many battalions form their own highly mobile, specialized engineer reconnaissance force by using scrounged equipment and Soldiers reassigned from within the battalion. Engineer battalion commanders in Iraq have had to complete missions for which they had not trained, acquire assets in the AO to achieve these missions, and deal with a counterinsurgency operation that required combat multipliers that reconnaissance could only provide.

The missions the engineer reconnaissance platoon (ERP) was called on to conduct fell into four broad caegories. The first two are missions for which the ERP had trained. The last two were required out of tactical necessity. The tasks are:

    1. Technical reconnaissance
    2. Tactical reconnaissance
    3. Force protection missions
    4. Raids and cordon operations

The tasks of route classification and river gap reconnaissance were both practiced often. Manuever units were forced to be expedient in moving to and setting up check points, getting equipment from A to B as quickly as possible, and crossing rivers to aleviate long road marches to get to designated locations.

The most important addition the ERP brought to the battalion was that of operating independently while completing intelligence missions to support cordon and search operation, locating and identifiying captured enemy ammunition and unexploded ordnance, and providing security for convoy movements.

The traditional combat engineer battalion missions of mobility, counter mobility, and survivability battlefield operating systems (M/CM/S BOS) are being replaced by a light infantry mission. The task force accomplishes this mission with a blend of branches that brings important resources to the urban fight. HMMWV mounted engineer reconnaissance elements and armored personnel carriers are ideal for quickly dismounting ground forces in the tight, constricited streets of most Iraqi villages and cities. The sappers of the EN battalion (BN) conduct demolitions removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and IED with the help of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) detachments, conduct mounted and dismounted combat reconnaissance patrols, establish ambushes and flash checkpoints, and conduct raids to detain high value target (HVT) individuals and weapons caches.

The assigned task force HMMWV-based military police (MP) company assisted in Iraqi police restoration, establishing a detention system for criminals, conducting convoy escorts, and conducting raids with their special reaction team. The establishment of an undercover detective force was instrumental in developing intelligence for the conduct of raids as well as sting operations. The engineer battalion and the MP company had complimentary skill sets suited for the urban battlefield and enabled the task force to become the quick, responsive, and precise force needed in the city.

Lessons Learned

  • Infantry training needs to be incorporated into combat engineer training, i.e., squad tactics, cordon and search operations, and communication with air assets during patrolling operations.
  • The stability operations, support operations (SASO) mission requires units that are flexible to meet mission requirements. In many cases, the skill sets necessary to meet these requirements, because of doctrine, are not organic to units in the AOR.
  • CSS requirements for sapper battalions operating outside their doctrinal mission puts a gigantic strain on organic support systems and personnel.
  • Infrastructure rebuilding is not a mission normally assigned to a sapper battalion. Skilled personnel to meet mission requirements are part of the MTOE.
  • Construction design and management sections are non-existent in the EN BDE or EN GRP HQs.
  • Local resources are difficult to resource because admin/log sections of a BDE HQ do not have the personnel to administer the support.
  • Many times task organization leaves a shortfall in either the construction of combat mission capability due to unit alignment or MTOE.
  • Reserve units could be pushed through the mobilization process if the revalidation process was more efficient.
  • Replacements for reservists leaving the AOR need to be backfilled much like the process used with active duty units.
  • Push-packs of essential supply items need to accompany reserve units into the AOR.
  • An independent recon platoon in a combat engineer battalion provides the battalion CDR with flexibility in how he accomplishes intricate non-engineer missions.
  • Equipment and resources need to be designated in the MTOE to support this reconassisasnc mission.
  • Waiting for reconnaisance assistance will waste unecessary time for mission accomplishment.
  • Combat power must be preserved when operating in a large urban area of operations. Using a combat engineer battalion with various supporting National Guard and Reserve companies can extend a BCT's combat capability.
  • Reserve and National Guard companies bring special talents to the field that may be over and above their mission requirements.
  • Urban combat requires a mix of vehicles and personnel capable of operating in confined spaces. This same unit must be mobile and fast to meet the requirements defined by terrain and counterinsurgents.

DOTMLPF Implications

Training and Doctrine: Increase infantry training for the combat engineer with an emphasis on fighting in an urban environment.

Organization and Force Design: Develop and resource the addition of a reconnaissance platoon in the combat engineer battalion.

Organization and Force Design: Enhance the CSS capability within the sapper battalion to provide support for missions outside their doctrinal mission.

Material: Provide push-packs of essential supply items (PLL and repair parts) to accompany reserve units during their initial move into theater.

Training and Doctrine: Build in construction design and management sections in the EN BDE/GRP HQ.

Table of Supporting Observations


Observation Title CALLCOMS
File Number
Sapper Battalion versatility 10001-59544
Brigade/Group HQ too austere for full scale C2 10001-01640
Reserve mobilization 10000-50600
Engineer recon platoon in combat 10000-93473
Maneuver task force 10000-25256
Difficulty in receiving repair parts 10000-46818
Vehicle service requirements 10001-49573

Table of Contents
Chapter 3-Topic A: Mobility, Counter-Mobility, and Survivability
Chapter 3-Topic C: EOD, UXO, Captured Enemy Ammunition Mission




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