Force Protection Lessons from Iraq
Referring to the war on terror, President George
W. Bush has stated, "America is taking the offensive-denying
terrorists refuge; identifying, blocking, and seizing their finances;
and holding terrorists and their sponsors to
account."1 Operations Enduring
Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom in Iraq are campaigns in
this war, each with its own purpose and --character. The United
States and its coalition partners invaded Afghanistan because it
was a haven for terrorists. Iraq was invaded for a multitude of
reasons, including its sponsorship of international terrorism, possible
development of weapons of mass destruction, and violation of United
Nations resolutions. American leaders found these invasions necessary
to national security.
With the declared end of major combat operations
in Iraq, coalition forces transitioned into what joint doctrine
identifies as operations other than war, and Army doctrine identifies
as stability and support operations. Even though these monikers
sound less dangerous than major combat, the United States has had
more casualties since the end of major combat operations in Iraq
than during them, most inflicted by ambushes and improvised explosive
These alarming statistics have highlighted
a need for improved force protection. Coalition commanders are taking
strong measures, using current doctrine and available resources
to address the threat. The most visible means to enhance force protection
is to improve armor on vehicles and personnel protective armor.
While these methods mirror overall Department
of Defense (DOD) strategic guidance, which pursues a capabilities-based
force rather than a threat-based force, commanders at operational
and tactical levels must critically consider the enemies and threats
facing them. Carl von Clausewitz observed that "War...is not
the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass (total nonresistance
would be no war at all) but always the collision of two living forces."2
Commanders must assess more than material solutions that render
specific enemy capabilities ineffective. To improve force protection,
they must determine and address not only how an enemy inflicts casualties,
but also why the enemy attacks coalition soldiers.
Understanding the nature of the challenge
should inform decisions about how best to achieve a lasting solution.
Commanders must decide whether the problem confronting them is criminal
violence (such as murder, robbery, revenge, looting), terrorism,
insurgency using guerrilla tactics, or a combination, as in Iraq.
Measures a commander would normally adopt for force protection and
antiterrorism may not work against an insurgency, where a lasting
solution requires prevailing against adaptable enemies whose goals
often oppose those of the United States.
This distinction between criminal violence,
terrorism, and guerrilla tactics is not always obvious because when
a central authority no longer controls an area, a period of looting
and general violence often follows. Reasons for loss of control
vary. In some cases it is due to natural disaster and is temporary.
The reasons for violence also vary. It may result from frustrations,
groups seeking a share of scarce resources, or criminals taking
advantage of chaos to enrich themselves.
When central authority is lacking, the violence
is focused against anyone or anything that prevents the perpetrator
from realizing an immediate need. Restoring basic services and ensuring
that property is protected will generally quell such violence. In
this scenario, the perpetrators actually have goals that coincide
with the units trying to restore services and order. These perpetrators
use violence as a temporary expedient. When their needs are consistently
met by the resumption of controlling authority that can maintain
order and provide services, they can stop resorting to violence.
In this case, the violence is not directed specifically and repeatedly
at soldiers. Implementing personal protection measures, as indicated
in Joint Publication 3-07.2, JTTP [Joint Tactics, Techniques, and
Procedures] for Antiterrorism, should reduce the risk. Providing
personal protective gear or directing soldiers to avoid dangerous
zones or not go out during certain hours will likely prove effective.
In an essentially random process, passive measures that reduce the
probability of attacks and provide personal protection should remain
Terrorism and insurgency using guerrilla tactics
differ from criminal violence in that they are organized and conducted
to achieve a political purpose. Victims of either terror or insurgent
guerrilla attacks will not find much to distinguish between them.
Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military
and Associated Terms, defines terrorism as "the calculated
use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate
fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies
in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious,
or ideological." Insurgency is "an organized movement
aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of
subversion and armed conflict." These definitions suggest a
stark contrast between the two violent activities, but since insurgency
uses armed conflict to overthrow a constituted government, it is
Terrorism is an organized violent activity
as well. In the main, it aims at creating fear in large segments
of a population to erode confidence in the government. In general,
the goal is to change government policy or gain some concession.
To have an effect, terrorism relies on government concern for the
well-being of the populace. It is most effective and is employed
most often against Western-style governments.
An insurgency targets governments, government
symbols, and government supporters while simultaneously relying
on significant segments of the population for its own support. Most
insurgencies actually aim at overthrow of the current regime, so
insurgents attack the government directly, using the devices and
tactics of unconventional warfare. The Department of Defense Dictionary
of Military and Associated Terms defines unconventional warfare
<quote> a broad spectrum of military
and paramilitary operations, normally of long duration, predominantly
conducted by indigenous or surrogate forces who are organized, trained,
equipped, supported, and directed in varying degrees by an external
source. It includes guerrilla warfare and other direct offensive,
low visibility, covert, or clandestine operations, as well as the
indirect activities of subversion, sabotage, intelligence activities,
and evasion and escape.
Targets for insurgency might be government
civilian workers, military or police personnel, or government buildings.
Although insurgents may attack civilians, they must discriminate
between their own supporters and government supporters or risk eroding
their local power base.
Nevertheless, the tactics used by each group
of perpetrators look much the same to the soldier. Hence there is
a natural tendency to simplify the problem and try to create an
acceptable solution that can be quickly implemented. Each form of
violence has distinct constraints and advantages for the perpetrators
that are useful for planning force protection measures.
Defeating terrorism encompasses counterterrorism
and antiterrorism. These two concepts form what joint doctrine calls
combating terrorism. Counterterrorism is the domain of highly trained,
specialized forces working in concert with other U.S. agencies.
In contrast, antiterrorism is the responsibility of every commander
and encompasses operations security, personal security, physical
security, and awareness and training designed to deter terrorist
incidents against U.S. military personnel, their families, and facilities.
Antiterrorism tactics rely on maintaining a
low profile and avoiding risky scenarios for personnel protection.
Physical security measures include intrusion detection, barriers,
structural hardening, access control, and response forces designed
to delay the threat until security forces arrive --to eliminate
it. Army Field Manual 3-07, Stability and Support Operations, defines
antiterrorism as "defensive measures used to reduce the vulnerability
of individuals and property to terrorist attacks, to include limited
response and containment by local military forces." The goal
is to make installations and personnel such difficult targets that
terrorists look elsewhere. The prevailing philosophy is that terrorists
seek easy targets, so if the military has defensive shields in place
or avoids dangerous situations, the force will be protected. However,
when soldiers are the objects of directed and systematic attack,
as they may be during an insurgency, strictly passive measures will
fail to protect them.
To determine what the threat to soldiers actually
is and implement counters, commanders must understand the enemy's
intent. For example, with Saddam's regime toppled, the U.S. military
has destroyed the Iraqi state, not in the sense of the material
infrastructure, but in the sense that the social norms of order
have been removed. However tyrannical, the regime was one that Iraqi
society understood and that had long governed the populace. Despite
the fact that coalition forces were instrumental in preserving power,
water, communications, and transportation systems during major combat,
the political infrastructure was destroyed. While some citizens
were exploited under the old regime, others benefited. The only
thing Iraqis can count on now, despite American promises, is that
their society will work differently.
Those who were exploited might find promise
in a new social structure, but they are a minority within larger
Iraq, and without adequate guarantees for their safety and property
they have reason to oppose the American vision for their country.
On the other hand, those who benefited by their association with
the regime might fear for their positions under the new order. Former
regime loyalists, Ba'th party members, and assorted others continue
to oppose American interests. Either group has reason to be uneasy
about social change.
When coalition forces toppled the Saddam government,
only the highest levels were effectively removed. Many leaders in
lower positions, some closely affiliated with the regime and others
associated only by convenience, went into hiding. They have lost
control of most of the state's assets but have never surrendered
to coalition forces. Given their weakness compared to coalition
military strength, they have adopted guerrilla tactics. Their presumed
strategic goal is to cause losses to the coalition, in particular
the United States, at a rate the American public will not sustain.
The costs to Washington will outweigh the political benefits, causing
U.S. forces to leave and giving the insurgents a freer hand to exert
influence in the new Iraq. Even though the enemy tactics are scarcely
distinguishable from terrorism where individual soldiers are concerned,
the enemy might best be considered combatants or insurgents. Hence
the coalition response should be different from standard antiterrorism.
As has been noted, this distinction is not
always obvious because when a central authority has lost the ability
to control an area, a period of looting and general violence often
follows. The reasons for loss of control vary. In some cases it
is due to natural disaster and is only temporary. Or violence may
result from frustrations, from groups trying to get a share of scarce
resources, or from individuals taking advantage of a chaotic situation
to enrich themselves. Under such conditions, the violence is focused
against anything preventing perpetrators from fulfilling immediate
needs. Restoring basic services and providing reassurance that individual
property is protected will generally quell the violence. Under these
circumstances, the perpetrators have goals that actually coincide
with the units trying to restore services and order, although their
methods differ. These perpetrators use violence as a temporary expedient
to meet needs and deal with uncertainty. When their needs are consistently
met with the resumption of controlling authority that can maintain
order and provide services, they stop resorting to violence. Since
the hostility is not directed specifically and repeatedly at soldiers,
implementing passive protection measures should reduce the risk.
Providing soldiers with personal protective gear or directing them
to avoid dangerous zones and going out during certain hours will
most likely prove effective.
However, when soldiers are the objects of directed
and systematic attack-as they may be if an insurgency begins-adopting
strictly passive measures will ultimately fail to provide adequate
protection. Clausewitz explains, "The defensive form of war
is not a simple shield, but a shield made up of well-directed blows."3
Counters to insurgent attacks cannot rely solely on protective armor
for individuals and vehicles. This mechanical form of resistance
is only a shield and is completely passive. The problem it presents
to an adaptive enemy is purely technical. The enemy only has to
solve a simple engineering problem to produce a counter, such as
building a bigger bomb or changing its placement. To really reduce
the threat to soldiers, the defense must add "well-directed
blows." Soldiers must direct their blows against those perpetrating
ambushes, emplacing IEDs, building bombs, recruiting perpetrators,
and planning operations. Of these, the most important to individual
soldiers are those perpetrators conducting ambushes and emplacing
IEDs. Commanders must implement measures that give offensive capabilities
to all individual soldiers and groups.
Improvised Explosive Devices
Understanding the challenge should inform decisions
about how to achieve a lasting solution. Commanders must decide
whether the problem is best approached by succeeding in a scenario,
such as providing relief until services are restored, or by prevailing
over an adapting enemy whose goals differ from and often oppose
their own. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan highlight the issue with
the repeated use of IEDs against coalition forces, particularly
U.S. Army convoys. Early in the occupation of Iraq, much of the
violence was directed not just at U.S. forces, but also at other
factions. As one leader who conducted patrols in the Samara area
put it, "With 21 large tribes, the locals are fighting one
another as much as they are fighting you."4
Who is committing the violence in Iraq, against
whom, and why? Over time, the ferocity and size of bombs used have
grown. U.S. forces are struggling to protect convoys while carrying
out the daily business of stability operations. The area most affected
by IEDs is the Sunni triangle, incorporating the area in the northwest
part of Baghdad, west to Ar Ramadi, and north to Tikrit. The correlation
of these attacks to a specific area populated by the Sunni Muslims,
and to targets made up most often of U.S. Army convoys, suggests
that much of the violence is an insurgency against U.S forces. The
rest is more difficult to account for, and other regions of Iraq
differ significantly in the level and type of violence. Some of
the hostility may be designed to create and prolong general chaos
to create havens for terrorist organizations to take root, or it
may be posturing by local tribes and sects to assert control. Some
may be simple revenge. Presented with a range of violent perpetrators
with different motives, a commander must be cautious in committing
to a course of action. The point is that there is no monolithic
they in Iraq, nor is there a single type of violence, nor is there
one tactic for protecting soldiers.
Military leaders are currently working to improve
armor protection for vehicles used in Iraq and provide soldiers
with personal protective armor. While important, increasing armor
protection will not in and of itself reduce violence to U.S. and
coalition soldiers. When the violence is generally of the criminal
variety, restoration of services, not armor protection, is what
will curb the hostility. In this case, restoring essential services
becomes a well-directed blow-an active measure that addresses the
motives of the perpetrators. An information campaign that informs
the population of coalition intentions, provides instructions on
how to obtain services, and presents a hope for the future is another
active measure that must be incorporated alongside restoring services.
Force protection is enhanced when additional measures are adopted
in conjunction with armor protection.
A study conducted at the U.S. Army Command
and General Staff College found in wargames that, from the friendly
perspective, the methodology for convoy operations was based on
a purely linear progression of events. However, from the enemy perspective,
the timeframe for emplacing and initiating an IED was longer than
the friendly timeframes for organizing and conducting a convoy.
If this is true, insurgents using IEDs are not targeting any specific
convoy, but convoys in general. Once a device is emplaced, the chain
of events to initiate the attack is in place. It is difficult after
this to prevent an attack. The study also showed:
In many situations the enemy may decide to
not initiate the IED but wait for another day or opportunity to
ambush a convoy. The number of variables for the enemy determination
to initiate an IED was difficult to discern-the enemy may see
a change in friendly patterns and may simply decide to wait and
see if the new patterns continue.5
What the wargaming points out is that the enemy
is not suicidal. He waits for the best opportunity to inflict casualties
while avoiding them himself. In vignettes written by company-grade
officers coming from tours in Iraq, a pattern emerges: convoys that
look complacent or ill-prepared to engage the enemy are the convoys
most likely to be attacked. Those the perpetrators skip are those
that appear best able to inflict casualties, not those that appear
For example, it seems that most of the convoys
being hit by IEDs could have avoided the attacks by following the
standard operating procedures currently in place in theater. The
data for the convoys that have been hit is difficult to pull together,
but some patterns emerge-again, convoys that had an "aggressive
and professional" appearance were less likely to be selected.
Convoys that are well organized with soldiers alert and professional
are simply more dangerous; the enemy would rather wait for a less
alert, more vulnerable target.6
Analysis shows that route surveillance and
persistence of reconnaissance would generally make it more difficult
for perpetrators to emplace IEDs. However, the manpower required
for patrolling routes is an issue. Since friendly forces are not
able to secure specific routes and close some routes based on unit
manning, perpetrators have a haven within which to prepare and emplace
IEDs. As the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College study showed,
"IED attacks tend to occur at certain times of day when friendly
convoys are on the road; those times of day when convoys and patrols
are not on the road are the critical times when the IEDs are emplaced."7
Perpetrators are most vulnerable when they
can be distinguished from civilians. There are specific times that
this occurs prior to, during, and immediately after an IED attack.
When a perpetrator is sighted emplacing an IED, the soldier must
engage him. During the actual ambush soldiers must return effective
fire, inflicting casualties on the perpetrators. These actions increase
risk to the perpetrators, which the wargames and vignettes indicate
is the surest method of reducing the risk of attack on convoys.
Additionally, human intelligence increases significantly after engagements
where U.S. Soldiers show strength and prevail.
Forcing the Enemy to Engage
The foregoing analysis leads to some general
conclusions. Aggressive and persistent patrolling will increase
risk to the perpetrators and present the best opportunity to distinguish
them from civilians. In an ideal campaign, the most effective strategy
would be to have constant surveillance on all routes, protect all
convoys with combat troops, and provide additional armor on vehicles
and personal body armor. Soldiers would also actively engage the
populace, collecting intelligence on perpetrators while following
up with raids. They would remove the unexpended ordnance used for
most of the IEDs. In these ways, perpetrators have smaller havens
of time to place IEDs, fewer materials to make devices, more likelihood
of being informed upon, and less likelihood of surviving even a
successful attack. The cumulative effects would eventually force
perpetrators to build smaller bombs that could be more easily transported
and emplaced in a short time. This would make personal armor and
up-armored vehicles more effective at protecting forces.
But the increased safety follows improvements
in offensive capability. The advantages of the defense flow from
the ability to deliver well-directed blows from a position of relative
safety, not from an impervious shield. Soldiers effectively engaging
perpetrators at every opportunity would eventually drive them into
more remote areas that are patrolled less frequently but are also
inhabited by a populace other than their supporters. Ultimately,
the enemy may shift to different tactics or a different target set
The enemy's shift to a different target set
would indicate the overall success of the defensive strategy. The
coalition should expect and prepare for this. The enemy prefers
ambush with IEDs to actually engaging soldiers in a firefight. Using
the former tactic, the enemy inflicts casualties and receives none.
Using the latter, he consistently loses because the United States
has better Soldiers. When forced to engage, the enemy must therefore
shift tactics or targets.
As long as the enemy remains committed to not
permitting a democratic Iraq, he will continue to fight. However,
unless the enemy is able to cause the coalition to back down, the
plan to build a democratic Iraq will proceed. At the point where
Iraqi citizens become involved in stability and security as trained
policemen, attacks on U.S. Soldiers will no longer be able to prevent
the drive toward a democratic Iraq. The enemy must cause the Iraqis
to fail in standing up a working police force to drive responsibility
for security back to U.S. Soldiers. This will require attacks against
Iraqi police stations, recruitment centers, and training centers.
If that fails as well, the enemy will have to attack the elections
If the enemy is not winning using current tactics,
he must either escalate the war or quit. If the enemy perceives
he is winning, he can maintain the status quo. Another of Clausewitz's
themes is the idea of escalation: "If the enemy is to be coerced,
you must put him in a situation that is even more unpleasant than
the sacrifice you call on him to make."8
This is what the enemy must accomplish. While the coalition has
not been overthrown or forced to quit, the enemy must always fear
that he himself may still be over-thrown. The enemy must be made
to fear this outcome. He must not believe that the coalition will
adjust to his continued presence and interruptions. The enemy must
be forced to bring more power to bear or quit. The coalition cannot
allow the status quo.
Having argued that the enemy has only two choices
if the coalition really presses him, it seems likely he will attempt
to bring more power to bear. This is what coalition forces must
be operationally and tactically prepared to prevent. Aggressive
patrolling must preclude enemy attempts to train more perpetrators.
Every soldier must have the ability to communicate positions and
aggressively engage the enemy. Soldiers must deny the enemy havens
for rest, planning, and training and force him to engage in firefights.
This is where the enemy is least prepared. Reports from Iraq and
Afghanistan indicate that the enemy has little proficiency in aiming
his weapon. In short, in a gunfight the enemy consistently loses.
He must not be allowed to change this dynamic by being granted a
haven to train.
Knowing what to do and being able to do it
are different matters. In a resource-constrained environment, commanders
must make the difficult choices of where to accept risk. If constraints
do not allow for enough trained infantry or the technology to conduct
patrols for continuous surveillance everywhere it is needed, local
commanders must choose where they can do it. Every soldier should
be capable of such duty. One of a convoy's missions should be to
seek out and engage the enemy. Resupply is coincidental to this.
When the enemy begins to see convoys as proffered bait, the right
kind of progress is being made. If a soldier cannot be a proficient
marksman with an operational weapon, have personal protective armor,
ride in an up-armored vehicle, and have a radio, then he must be
given what will make him able to close and engage the enemy. A soldier
with a radio who is proficient with a rifle is more of a threat
than one in an up-armored vehicle. It is the threat that will force
the enemy to give up his objectives.
Once a commander finds a tactic that is working,
he must also abandon the idea that "if it isn't broken, don't
fix it." The first indication that a tactic no longer works
will be a successful enemy attack. Commanders must change routinely
to keep the enemy guessing. Since the enemy chooses to remain formless,
U.S. Soldiers are much more likely to capture good lessons and tactics
that can be shared across units than the enemy is. For the enemy
to remain hidden, he must also remain isolated. This precludes the
free and easy exchange of information that will allow mastery of
certain weapons and procedures. This ability to train and learn
is an advantage the coalition has and should deny the enemy.
Since the enemy in Iraq has elected to continue
to fight rather than lay down his weapons, we must conclude that
he currently views the situation unfavorably. Coalition commanders
using defensive measures with nationbuilding and offensive capabilities
wisely can keep the enemy off balance, remove havens for rest and
training, and force the enemy into more risky encounters. By forcing
the war to escalate to conditions the enemy cannot match, the coalition
will cause the enemy to engage and be destroyed or to capitulate.
This is not a lesson just for U.S. Soldiers.
Force protection is for everyone, regardless of rank, service, agency,
or nation. Passive measures promoted by antiterrorism doctrine alone
are not sufficient to protect the force or America. Objective evidence
from Afghanistan and Iraq, theory espoused by Clausewitz, and national
security strategy all support this. Nor should commanders rely on
specialized forces conducting counterterrorism to protect their
forces. All commanders must include active and offensive measures
to reduce violence directed toward their forces. The active measures
and offensive capabilities that forces exert against an adapting
adversary are enablers that make passive measures more effective
in the short term and are the only measures that will produce lasting
1. George W. Bush, State of
the Union Address, January 20, 2004.
2. Carl von Clausewitz,
On War, ed. and trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1976), 77.
3. Ibid., 357.
4. Anonymous company
commander, "Experiences of B/1-8 from September 28 to October
14, 2003" (unpublished paper).
5. Jackie David Kem,
"Annex H; Team Leader Paper," ILE Team 7 IED Study Group
Final Report (Fort Leavenworth: U.S. Army Command and General Staff
College, February 3, 2004), H-7.
6. Ibid., H-9.
7. Ibid., H-7.
8. Clausewitz, On War,
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