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COP-ing Out in Ramadi

By Michael Fumento

COP Anvil, Ramadi

Okay, first my bad. I'm not with 1/6 Marines. I'm with 1/6 2nd Brigade, First Armored Division. It's not my fault they put two units with the same name in the same city. In the event, I don't think being with 1/6 Marines would be fun time right now.

They did find the missing man from the IED explosion. He had not been captured. Rather the force of the blast apparently tore him apart and tossed the pieces so far as to make it difficult to locate them in the night. This is gruesome, to be sure, but far better than being tortured to death and clearly the Marine never knew what hit him. The IED was a 160 millimeter Soviet-block artillery shell, which is extremely large. The largest howitzers we have in theater are 155.

As to the Delta company soldier who stepped on the IED, it looks like he might be able to hold onto his foot. Too early to say. In any case, he was certainly lucky it was such a small IED.

Photo by Michael Fumento
An M2 Bradley protects the COP from suicide vehicles
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 millimeter automatic cannon 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 leases 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 sending 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.

Photo by Michael Fumento
An excellent clear-kill zone surrounds the COP
At Anvil basically all the missions are on foot and off the trails. It's almost impossible to hit such patrols with an IED. You can place pressure plate IEDs anywhere you want, but with those you risk injuring or killing civilians and driving them into the arms of the coalition forces. To secure the roads, Anvil CO Capt. Sapp puts his Bradleys along them. He's got an observation post atop one of his two buildings that keeps the entire area under surveillance and he's cut back a huge kill zone so it's virtually impossible for anybody to sneak up within firing range of an RPG.

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.

Photo by Michael Fumento
The mascot Juggernaut leads the way for the squad from COP Anvil.
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.

I'll be writing more about COPs when I get back.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, hotels in Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.

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October 11, 2006 04:47 PM  ·  Iraq