A Disaster Waiting…


""There’s two threats to the combat outpost . . . a huge truck bomb, and indirect fire," Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who handles day-to-day military operations in Iraq, said in an interview at his Baghdad headquarters last week. In response, he said, U.S. troops are building more walls to shield themselves from mortars and rockets, while trying to track down insurgents firing on them.

To counter truck bombs, military engineers are gauging the structural soundness of the outposts and making sure they are well removed from traffic, Odierno said. Antitank weapons such as the bazooka-like AT-4 are also now required for soldiers on guard.

"They are now armoring these trucks, so whereas before we could shoot them and kill them, now we have to use some antitank capability against them and we’re going to do that," Odierno said.""  Tyson


Aside from the issue of his lamentable inability to make verbs and nouns agree in number, Odierno has missed the possibility of the greatest threat of all to his outposts and to the continuation of the American presence in Iraq. Yes, the insurgents will continue to pound these posts with mortars, rockets, RPGs fired ballistically, etc.  Yes.  The threat of a massive truck bombing is always present.

Nevertheless, the biggest threat is that of a complex attack involving the use of one or more vehicle bombs employed as a substitute for artillery in a "breaching" role against the walls or a gate, followed by a ground assault taking advantage of confusion and under conditions of limited visibility (night, smoke, sand, etc.).  An attack such as that would likely be supplemented with ambushes of the routes that reinforcements (QRF) would take on the ground or in the air.

All of the elements of such an attack have been "tried out" by the insurgents thus far.  Somewhere out there in "Insurgestan" a clever man is working out the details on how to "put it together."

The photograph above evidently shows an outpost of the 82nd Airborne Division.  The wall of the compound has been reinforced with an outer wall and filler between the two barriers.  So far, so good, but what lies just outside the outer wall is a mosque almost at the same level of height as the highest level of the post.  Not good, folks, not good.  If you are going to defend a place like this you have to have clear "fields of fire" around it.  Bad choice of ground.

A successful attack on a position like this will have a devastating effect on the political situation in the United States.  The command in Baghdad should give the security of these posts even more attention.  pl


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20 Responses to A Disaster Waiting…

  1. Fred says:

    Speaking of a ‘cleaver man’, isn’t Izzat Ibrahim Al-Duri still at large (amongst others of the ‘deck or cards’ fame)?

  2. Michael says:

    Col Lang,
    Even with no military training I can see your point with regards to the vulnerability of the post in the picture. Is this a case of soldiers making do with what they have in a challenging area, or is it simply a case of carelessness? Who is responsible for this kind of oversight?

  3. Ronald says:

    “A successful attack on a position like this will have a devastating effect on the political situation in the United States. ”
    Col. Lang, this is point cannot be made loudly enough. After such an attack, the antiwar crowd will howl louder, and those on the fence or with their fingers to the wind may withdraw their support. However, it would have no effect on Cheney/Bush types, who would cling even more tightly to their need to look tough for the terrorists (and thus not ‘retreat’ in the face of such an attack). It might be a sort of Iraqi version of Tet, politically, no? Different in some ways, but too familiar in others.
    It is unconscionable that the administration has not prepared the public for this risk to outposts or for the increase in US casualties that is likely to accompany the surge. They are setting us up for a true political crisis.

  4. JfM says:

    Your observations on the greater vulnerability of these numerous emerging fortified outposts are on target as usual. I cannot help but contrast this current concept of lightly manned outposts peppered throughout Iraq to the Special Force’s A Camps in South Vietnam employed almost four decades ago. While each type share similarities, there is, for me, a profound difference between the two.
    The greatest difference is that the remote SF camp then had a high number of locals living in the camp and, where possible, working the fields outside the wire around the camp. The dozen or so US personnel assigned to the SF camp had the intelligence advange of good sources within and surrounding the camp. These ‘sources’ were the families of the indigenous troops assigned to the camp and, to be sure, had a vested interest in maintaining the security and safety behind the wire. By my experience, very seldom was an SF camp attacked without indications and warning of an impending assault. From what I understand, the former advantage of organic intelligence living within the wire but well outside the wire each day has not been included in today’s model of the Alamo. That was the key then, knowing what was afoot a couple clicks around the camp in almost real time each day. The families leaving the wire at sunrise to herd their buffalo and work the arable fields also served to deny that area which may have served as an assembly area for an attacking force later that evening. I well remember being told a day or so before by the young son of one of our Yard troops of a forthcoming probe by main force VC. His suspicion coupled with other indicators allowed us to largely thwart what may have been disastrous. Today’s platoon in their impressive up-fortified, multi-defense outpost may have a couple local interpreters, but are at a marked disadvantage in divining ground truth within a couple clicks around their perimeter.

  5. b says:

    What is the point of having such massivly fortifiet bases in a counterinsurgency tactic?
    If you want to make friends with the neighborhood this is not the way to go.
    Evicting people from their houses, closing roads and massive self protection is simply not helpful.
    Yes, you might lose more people if you really mix with the population in normal houses, but that is also the only way to succeed in COIN. (North Ireland: 1000 UK troops killed, 800 civilians, 300 IRA – successful COIN)
    The way these bases are designed they are contaminant in their areas.
    The U.S. military has obviously no intend to get serious about this and just wants to stay save until someone in Washington will pull them out.
    Good luck with that. GW will not do so and Hilary will neither.
    The biggest danger to these bases is of course from the inside. The cohosted Iraqi troops are just waiting for the order to start some slaughter. Let the routine set in, wait for a sandstorm to keep the helos away and then give it a coordinated try in serveral bases.

  6. VietnamVet says:

    The Iraqi mini forts are America’s monuments to self delusion that the Iraqis are not resisting the occupation of a foreign overlord.
    Foreign troops in forts that can only patrol at night stomping and stealing in their homes will assure a resistance that will live as long as there are Iraqis.
    Counter insurgency assumes the troops are fighting a minority of a population that can be isolated and imprisoned. In Iraq it is the occupier who is imprisoned.
    Suicide attack is a means of force conservation since any large gathering of males will be bombed by air. The mini forts will be periodically attacked until abandoned.
    Note: the French built lots of mini-forts throughout Vietnam that were in the end abandoned, too. Their best depiction is the 2002 movie The Quiet American.

  7. Mike says:

    And even if there are no “kinetic” attacks, I have to wonder about the rate of PTSD that we’ll see among the guys who are stationed in these combat outposts. I think I can see what Petraeus hopes to achieve, but the cost will be high, to say the least.

  8. Charles says:

    “To counter truck bombs, military engineers are . . . making sure they are well removed from traffic, Odierno said.”
    ‘If you are going to defend a place like this you have to have clear “fields of fire” around it. Bad choice of ground.” says Pat.
    Well yes, bad all around, but wasn’t the point of the surge and quadrillage to provide enduring local force presence and security to defend THE LOCALS from whoever? So much for the out in amongst the people providing neighbourhood security part of the plan. These are starting to sound an awfully lot like little fortified compounds/targets, albeit justified for force protection, now being defensively configured for antitank fire.
    So now each “secured” area can anticipate pitched battles against these heavily defended, if poorly situated outposts, requiring clear fields of fire all around.
    I can see the hearts and minds now – spattered round the neighbourhood. God help them all.

  9. The Wanderer says:

    I think the current Administration wants exactly that – an attack on a joint security station or similar outpost that delivers a devastating political effect back home. It will be used as a casus for sending the 35,000 troops that have been ordered readied for deployment this Fall.
    At least, that’s my take on it. This plan is merely a way to get your command slaughtered by detail.

  10. Michael D. Adams says:

    it? it came from outer space? Iraqis don’t even rate a them?
    “If you want to protect the population, you’ve got to live with _it_,”
    –Army Gen. David H. Petraeus

  11. jamzo says:

    condi appeared on the charlie rose show last night
    over the past several weeks bushies have been using charlie rose as a message platform
    at one point charlie asked condi to respond to the claim that the administration would like to have permanent bases in iraq
    she replied in the manner that i recall her replying before
    she deflected the question and talked about the mission to help the iraqis become a self-sustaining democracy, etc
    then she confided to charlie that iraqis, saudis, jordanians, lebanese, and the like all ask if the us would leave iraq and tell her that the us cannot leave – that the us is needed to maintain the status quo, – to keep worse from happening
    “we will be helping iraq for a long time charlie!”
    we might call the “bagdad neighborhood” outpost” stategy – “stuck in the middle with you”
    “Well I don’t know why I came here tonight,
    I got the feeling that something ain’t right,
    I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
    And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs,
    Clowns to the left of me,
    Jokers to the right, here I am,
    Stuck in the middle with you.
    Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you,
    And I’m wondering what it is I should do,
    It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face,
    Losing control, yeah, I’m all over the place,
    Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
    Here I am, stuck in the middle with you
    Trying to make some sense of it all,
    But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
    Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
    ‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore
    Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
    Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”
    the strategy may signify the administration’s wishes more than it is acknowledged

  12. Dick Durata says:

    Apart from the vulnerability, isn’t walling the troops off in small bases just a variant of the large bases strategy?
    Unless the US can provide security to the Iraqis, I can’t see what will have changed. And what security can you provide when you’re hunkered down behind blast walls?

  13. Cloned Poster says:

    While we witness “peace” in Northern Ireland, it should be remembered that at the height of the troubles there the UK had 40,000 combat troops keeping a flawed peace there………. In irag that would translate to hmmmmmmm 2,000,000 troops. Best of surge luck.

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I don’t think that is the problem. You can go out and “mingle” during the daytime and run patrols at night. No. The issue is SURVIVAL. pl

  15. W. Patrick Lang says:

    The COIN campaign in Ireland never presented a serious threat of an “overrun” of a British Army base. This does.
    I don’t think you will find US commanders trusting Iraqis inside their bases very much. pl

  16. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You are right. The SF A camps had good force protection informant networks around them. The Intel sgt. in the team saw to that.
    Another difference was that most A camps were little fortresses that looked so tough to capture that the NVA/VC usually left them alone no matter how exposed they were.
    Bu Dop was a typical fort. Just a couple of Km. from Cambodia, it sat alongside its own airfield and was made up of two heavily bunkered perimeters, one inside the other. The outer one was occupied by the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) troops (VN, Montagnards, Chinese, etc.) who were the main garrison, and the reason for its existence. These were usually several hundred in number. There were trenches and bunkers in that perimeter. In the inner perimeters were the US and Vietnamese Special Forces troops (normally 14 of each). This was also heavily bunkered with the US fighting positions, underground command post, medical facility and living quarters all connected by tunnels. The SF men (US and VN) all manned crew served weapons. Bu Dop had many 7.62 M-60 and .50 cal M2 machine guns in the bunkers, as well as a 4.2 inch mortar and two 81 mm. mortars. The mortars were set in concrete “cup cakes” set in the ground with the base plate set in concrete in the center. The mill scale was painted on the “lip” of the “cup cake” with each gun pre-registered for nummerous concentrations and final protective fires. Each mortar position had a “magazine” for its ammunition connected to it by tunnel and all fighting positions were connected to the CP by armored, buried cable. Bu Dop also had a 105 mm. howitzer in a similar position. Many of thse weapons had been “scrounged” from the the USAF, and other REMFs, in exchamge for souvenirs, (flags, etc.) Another camp had a 7.62 mm. electrically fired Gatling gun (minigun) mounted on a miniature rail set-up in a cross pattern. The team would push it up to one of the bermed up walls during an attack and give the visitors a “squirt” with a thousand rounds in it.
    Outside the outer perimetere were row after row of double apron barbed wire with concertina piled up in between. This was often razor wire. In the wire were emplaced mines, claymores, fougasse, and aviation flares set up to shine 25 million candle power outward when lit electrically.
    These forts were patrol bases, secure positions from which large operations were run along the border usually.
    First rule of warfare. SURVIVE! pl

  17. walrus says:

    Col. Lang, I thought we discussed this when the “surge” was first mooted? As usual you are correct. What concerns me is not so much the attack on the base, but the interlocking ambushes on the quick reaction force.

  18. jon says:

    Col. Lang,
    I’m in agreement with Charles on this one. The more I think about it, the more these neighborhood outposts are starting to look like big foxholes. Patrols will be exposed to fire immediately on leaving the gates. They will require air cover in order to move.
    That means that these bases will attract the mobile heavy machine gun technicals, because now you know where the helicopters will be, low and slow.
    As you said, the approach routes will be prime interdiction and ambush corridors.
    However, I think the greatest risk does not arise from inability to outflank incoming fire.
    The greatest risk will follow troops returning fire – into the mosque, down the street, into nearby houses, markets and shops. This fire is always excessive and indiscriminate – and understandably so.
    But return fire will inevitably take casualties among noncombatants – women, children, innocents, along with attackers. No community can accept that level of casualty on a continuing basis. They will rise up and demand departure. If the local base won’t be evacuated, then the locals will become hostile and swell the ranks of the attackers.
    This could be Hue every day.
    The only reason these bases have been able to go into Sadr City is because the Mahdi Army is laying low and permitting it. They have been taking car bomb casualties for months now, without large scale retaliation on the Sunnis.
    The Sunnis might provoke reaction by sending a suicide bomb to the gates of the local base. Or maybe some of Sadr’s boys will just let loose, tired of having their toes stepped on.
    Won’t take much. Just a few photos of a father carrying his shot up child down the street ought to do it. Then those poor SOBs in the fire bases will fondly remember when they could get some sleep.
    What was needed was some community policing to build rapport. But that moment passed a long time ago. You can’t make friends, secure the neighborhood and root out opponents when you’re doing most of the shooting and kicking down doors on grandmothers.
    Our guys have to survive. There is no situation where they won’t have a firepower and mobility advantage. But their tactical success may hasten strategic failure. They’re in a hell of a bind, not of their making.
    The solution will ultimately come on a political and social level, with force used to cement it. With Shia being 60% of the nation and 90-something percent of Sadr City they had best be building those bridges fast.
    Sadr’s guys could secure the neighborhood just fine, but they’ve been turned into the bogey. They needed help repulsing Sunni bombings. Sunnis didn’t like being taken away in the night to be tortured and murdered. There was a deal in there somewhere.
    Don’t really see how the toothpaste is going to get back into the tube.

  19. Tim G says:

    “If you want to protect the population, you’ve got to live with _it_,”
    –Army Gen. David H. Petraeus
    Michael Adams–
    The IT is the risk associated with living among THEM.

  20. searp says:

    The multiple VBIED tactic seems to be devastating – I recall an attack in Tarmiya that resulted in 27 US casualties.
    COL Lang is right – followup attacks would make it worse.
    As to relief – one way not used much in Iraq would be air assault. Armored columns are slow, best case, even though we use them. I had at least one infantry officer wonder aloud to me about that…

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