At the time of writing, I had intermittent responsibility for the most mortared area in Iraq for seven months, so take all my comments with a grain of salt.

Countermortar operations begin with intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). The dense vegetation, twisting Tigris River, multiple zigzag canals, small villages, and different access routes to Logistics Support Area Anaconda make it the ideal target for enemy mortars and rockets. With over 15,000 soldiers and airmen stationed at the LSA (most living in tin-can huts and not wearing proper gear), the insurgents have a huge, juicy target that many travel for miles to try to hit. The enemy's accuracy is not a condition for success; he simply needs to get rounds in the air. Breaking down the potential firing points for mortars numerically demonstrates the daunting task of preventing them from firing. Mathematically speaking, an 82-mm. mortarman has 84.9 square kilometers to set up within. A 120-mm. mortarman has 200.96 square kilometers. You cannot cover this huge swath of land, so your MCOO (modified combined obstacle overlay) and spider-web battle drills must be right on. In this paper I will examine the offensive approach to the mortar battle, the defensive approach, and our TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures) progression in this fight over time. The mortar battle is very specific to the target you are attempting to protect, and the LSA has physical and emotional dynamics that set it apart.

The countermortar fight starts with where you live and works its way out. If you live in mortar-proof bunkers and wear all your gear, you make a very poor target; the enemy knows and understands this. With the number of people and flow of personnel on the LSA, most soldiers live in tents or beer-can-thin trailers. Couple this with the thousands of local nationals that roam the LSA, and you have a great soft target replete with on-site reconnaissance. To mitigate these conditions, you must establish a battle drill to react to mortars and rockets. You must have a battle plan for accountability and a place to go when the mortars start falling. You must gain accountability and rapidly move to your assigned blocking positions and the point of origin (POO) from multiple directions. We developed several TTP for the firing from the farm fields, but the harder problem you

Journal of a Company Commander

face is the enemy's ability to fire from the farm field and walk over to the local coffee shop, melting back into the society.

The enemy's greatest threat is identification. If we identify him firing, we kill him. If a local identifies him and reports him, we cart him off in a nighttime raid. He works and learns as we do. Although I still believe the tribe outside the LSA is the dumbest in all Iraq, they have learned to use mortars and rockets to their advantage. The dumb insurgents are all gone, deselected according the rules laid forth by Darwin with the assistance of 120-mm. and attack aviation. The people attacking are trained and very patient. They use mortars and rockets to avoid detection, and they fire when they won't be seen. If you lay out the time period for the vast majority of the attacks, they occur when the farmers are not in the fields, namely early morning, early evening, or just prior to a storm.


Knowing the primary time for firing enables you to saturate the areas they fire from with active patrolling and infantry squads in ambush locations. They never fired when we had a large presence in the surrounding villages. The active patrolling (with mine detectors) enables you to discover caches and mortar tubes that proved finite despite what we thought during the 140-degree dog days of August. Active patrolling during peak mortar-firing times enabled us to find countless caches and effectively shut down the insurgents' ability to use their established firing points. We had immense success with this technique and captured the vast majority of their mortar systems. We integrated helicopters into the search, which proved a huge deterrent to the mortarmen. The insurgents fired once that I know of while we had helicopters in the air, and that was that group's last action.

During the month of September we moved into a more aerial approach. We had two UH-60s with a rifle platoon stationed at our FOB ready to interdict the firers on call. The attack helicopters served as an aerial platform for observation and destruction if they could identify the target in the thick orchards. The AH-64s would also pass on grids for helicopter landing zones for the infantry near the POO. The infantry would move in and clear the orchard area for BDA (battle damage assessment), mortars, and insurgents. This proved the fastest means for getting infantry to the POO, but we never executed this particular TTP at an actual firing point. We did conduct numerous rehearsals with Bradleys reinforcing, and it was

Battleground IRAQ

our most effective means of getting to the firing point. Unfortunately, we lost the helicopters to other missions; but if the asset is available, it works. Most of the enemy firing points in our area were along dirt trails that we could not effectively isolate before they ran into a town unless we had aerial coverage. We could shut down the MSRs (main supply routes), which works for the drive-by mortar but not the trail networks. If you don't have the aerial platform, you must counterfire. You should counterfire regardless.

It took us a long time to figure out the whole counterfire issue. We seemed to take it in bite-size pieces as our frustration grew with our inability to cover the entire 84.9 square kilometers and the lack of cooperation we received from the populace. They feared and respected the mortarmen more than us. We grew wise to this dilemma and started firing demonstration illumination artillery after curfew. We eventually started firing HE. I can remember sitting on top of the Yethrib water tower at 0100 in the pitch black trying to adjust fire on the riverbank three kilometers north of anything in order to intimidate the mortarmen. I don't think the action intimidated anybody, and I tore a muscle in my shoulder climbing down with all the gear.

Over the next few weeks we nominated counterfire targets in response to Q36 hits. We had a series of ten targets in the area, and we would fire at the closest ones if they shot at us. We would also fire some harassing and interdicting illumination at the POO; I am not sure how illumination harasses and interdicts, but it provided a great opportunity to train specialists in calling for fire. It also demonstrated our ability to reach out and touch them, but we could never close with them with infantry. If you don't witness the mortar fire, you have lost the contest. The insurgents move out way too fast. Counterfire represents your most likely option of destroying the enemy, distantly followed by aircraft, still more distantly followed by infantry. Egress options are just too great. It took us a long time and several Purple Hearts to start firing back at the POO. A good technique is to let the unit getting shot at return fire because they will be quite pissed off-that's what you need.

You have to fire back at the POO with a massive amount of rounds for two reasons. One, it denies the enemy the ability to use that point and you might destroy him. The second is purely psychological. If you explain to the sheiks the reason behind the counterfire, they agree with it and that serves as a huge deterrent within the community. It causes the locals to respect your firepower and proves to the insurgents the dangers of the bravado attacks

Journal of a Company Commander

on the Americans. This increases the locals' cooperation and enables you to police up many of the bad actors in nighttime raids. Using white phosphorus and other incendiaries to destroy the field or orchard that the firers used also makes a huge statement to the insurgents and the populace-there are consequences. If they fire mortars or rockets at you and you don't return fire, just chalk that one up in the loss column. You have to shoot back every time; don't allow yourself to get sucker punched. Otherwise, your loss column will grow, and the populace will view you as the big loser wearing the jersey complete with giant "L." We were all raised with Western-style Judeo-Christian values. Shooting at unknown targets sucks and is sometimes cruel, but it definitely works. It is war, and more Americans will suffer and die if we fail to act.


The defensive approach works. It is not my personally preferred technique, and it violates several of the rules I advocate; but it works to maintain the status quo on the LSA. The basic concept of LSA defense is to man observation points 24/7. The time coverage is comforting, and you can prevent the insurgents from firing within the vicinity of the OPs. It also intimidates would-be firers and makes the locals believe you are everywhere. However, the 24-hour shift work shuts off your interaction with the populace and limits your flexibility and ability to actively patrol and cover ground. A good mortar-firing point requires a five-foot square of generally flat ground, so choosing the proper OP is quite difficult. You won't see them fire, but you can scare them from firing on the LSA.

As any graduate of any counterterrorism class will tell you, you must vary your routine. We found it very difficult to vary our routine when on the defense. There are only so many access roads on the canals and good observation points for a named area of interest. The first time we went defensive, we shut down all firing on Anaconda, namely because we became the targets. They fired 60-mm. and 82-mm. mortars at our OPs and started mining all the access trails. We also experienced direct-fire RPG ambushes as our varied routine became better known. The whole survivability move only goes so far. We tried to vary it as much as possible, but you can be only so creative in the defense. It limits your ability to conduct raids. Leaders must constantly fight complacency, especially after about two weeks of the twelve-hour shift inside the same square kilometer. It's brutal on both the men and the machines.

Battleground IRAQ

The defense does provide a continuous unadulterated presence that seems to break the enemy's ability to fight Anaconda. You just have to react to the new target-you. The Iraqi Army teaches its soldiers that "nothing is impossible," so they will continue to improvise asymmetric means to fight you, including homemade rockets and time-delayed initiation systems. The attackers evolved as we did. We are dealing with trained ex-artillerymen who continually upgrade their tactics. They are using 107-mm. rockets hooked to alarm clocks to fire long after they have left the area. They are incredibly difficult to capture, but the rockets are incredibly inaccurate. The only real way to fight the rockets is to cover as much firing ground as possible.


Our actions in the beginning seem quite "Junior Varsity," after looking back through the kaleidoscope of violence in Samarra and comparing our actions in Samarra with our actions around the LSA in July. We didn't have a functioning Q36 at the LSA early on, and all the firing points we got were four-digit grids based on crater analysis, which proved completely inaccurate despite what the crater analysis "experts" would tell you. We would sit out on the bluffs until 0300 in soft-skin Humvees overlooking Abu Hishma just waiting for them to fire. When we finally got the Q36 up and running, we were able to find the mortar points and, after countless searches, the tubes and ammunition. After six hours of beating brush in 130-degree heat, we would rejoice at finding the firing tube . . not knowing we still had thirty-nine more to go based on intelligence we found later. We moved into a daily routine of patrols during the daylight and counterambushes at night. We experienced relative success with this technique by eliminating the tubes when they fired and by denying them peak times to fire.

Success in this area enabled us to go up to Samarra-to the real gun show. When we returned, our TTP proved much more aggressive. We immediately responded to a Q36-confirmed firing with 155-mm. If the 155 couldn't shoot, we fired the battalion mortars; and, if they couldn't range, we fired M203 before we searched the POO. I believe this technique works well. The company has not been here for a mortar attack on the LSA since early September-nearly five months. They have fired on the LSA, but it was most likely due to a decreased American presence in the area because of operations elsewhere. The most effective means to fight the mortar fight is through counterfire, an aerial Quick Reaction Force, and attack aviation.

Journal of a Company Commander

Short of those TTP, we could buy the land around the area, relocate the populace, and shut off their ability to fire at the LSA (they would represent the first refugees from this war). It is not a really feasible operation, but they have done it before in America.