Combat Operation Posts

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 9 months ago

There is much bluster over counterinsurgency operations; what it means, how to do it, what causes these operations to succeed, and what causes them to fail.  There are even washed-up Generals who want the U.S. to jettison the “kill-kill” warrior ethos of the military in favor of a different approach as part of our COIN strategy.  [As an editorial note, there are so many things misrepresented and misconstrued in the "kinder and gentler soldier" article linked above that the real confusion is where to begin with debunking them.  The Generals misrepresent when the warrior ethos was introduced into the military and focus on the history of the Army rather than the Marines, they ignore the more than 300 engagements the USMC has had over its history in which for many of these operations they have successfully executed COIN operations in spite of the washed-up Generals, etc.]

It is simply not helpful to talk counterinsurgency and “winning the hearts and minds of the people,” without giving examples of its execution so that the strategy can be taught and implemented.  Good friend of the Captain’s Journal, Michael Fumento, is blogging from Ramadi, and he is giving us good and instructive COIN discussion material with his post Cop-ing out in Ramadi.

A COP is a combat operation post, and such posts are starting to play a crucial role in pacifying Al Anbar. In the Ramadi area, at least, COPs comprise an undersized company of four companies and about 80 soldiers. (Although Anvil has considerably more than that.) Anvil also has four M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles attached to it, each of which has a .25 caliber fully automatic gun and lesser guns along with an anti-armor capability. Anvil has three American platoons and one Iraqi Army one, but one of the American ones and the IA one are being loaned elsewhere right now. No matter, a COP can operate at half strength for awhile.

COPs are tiny compared to FOBs like Corregidor, which had a full battalion plus numerous support elements or about 800 men in all. In fact, this place comprises just two houses leased from Iraqi civilians. First Armored Division has put in 11 COPs so far, I believe, and is building a 12th. There will probably be many more to come.

In any counterinsurgency effort, a key to pacifying an area is to plop fortifications with interlocking communications into enemy territory and send out patrols. For example, King Edward I of England (the guy who had Braveheart drawn and quartered) used castles to subdue Wales. Nowadays we call this “grab and hold.” Originally we started doing that in Vietnam but gave it up in favor of search and destroy missions from large base camps, which helped contribute to losing the war.

One value of a COP versus the much larger FOBs and the huge camps such as Camp Ramadi is that this is an enemy that inflicts most casualties and damage with IEDS, greatly restricting movement. But missions from COPs are inherently short-range; you’re already almost there. That’s less road to be on and fewer IEDs to worry about.

In Habitually Offensive Operations Against Guerrillas, we discussed the re-deployment of U.S. troops to large, well-gaurded bases and the reduction of patrols allowing the growth of the insurgency, in contrast with the recommendation of the Small Wars Manual.  Michael Fumento is documenting a case in which the Small Wars Manual COIN strategy is working.  Continuing:

Another advantage of a COP is a shorter reaction time for one unit to support another, although that’s rarely necessary because the enemy just doesn’t mass in large units. They don’t have the men to do that like they used to. This inability to mass also makes COPs possible. In Vietnam, the enemy had lots of soldiers and highly-trained and motivated sappers that could cut through concertina wire barriers, throw satchel charges, and wreak havoc while the VC infantry came up behind them. This allowed them to inflict heavy casualties on small units, such as those manning howitzers. On a few occasions, they completely overran those positions. But the chance of a COP being overrun is essentially nil.

The impact of the FOB system was shown to me on a map. The foreigners who come into this area do so along a mini-Ho Chi Minh trail from the west, namely Jordan and Syria. And the foreigners tend to be better trained. Certainly any good sniper will come from that route, because Iraqis are terrible shots and hence crummy snipers.

From this road the terrorists would then literally fan out in the area where the COPs have been inserted. That is, their area of operation was shaped like a fan. But the troops from the COPs have rolled them up in a counter-clockwise pattern such that the only major activity left now is in a slice near the Tigris. Areas that Capt. Sapp would originally only send full platoons into, sometimes even with armor, he will now allow a squad of perhaps 12 men to enter. At some point, the bad guys will be pushed out of this last piece of the fan. Where they’ll go, who knows. The point is that they’ll have been denied their first choice of an operating area. It’s like knocking off the head of a terrorist cell. Yes, he’ll just be replaced. But the man originally chosen for the job is now dead and the cell weakened to that extent.

Any counterinsurgency operation is likely to fail without the right force projection.  We have argued that force size is the critical element to successful pacification.  If we know that the enemy (foreign fighters, most certainly al Qaeda) is coming into Iraq along a “mini-Ho Chi Minh” trail, this information immediately redounds to the question “why can’t we stop this traffic?”

The answer is that we can with the right force projection.  If the means of ingress into Iraq are turned into a shooting gallery where the foreign fighter faces certain death should he attempt to cross the border, then one of two things happens, leading to a consequent.  Either the foreign fighter dies at the border, or if he is smart, he doesn’t attempt to cross.  The consequence is that the existing foreign fighters do not get reinforced.  As U.S. forces share the risk of the people and protect the population, and as the foreign fighters (and Sunni Mujahideen) are killed, the pacification of the region finally ensues, and mothers can trust in the security of their homes and schools.  This, rather than the “kinder and gentler soldier,” is the road to “winning the hearts and minds of the people.”


You are currently reading "Combat Operation Posts", entry #334 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Small Wars,Weapons and Tactics and was published October 13th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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