The U.S. Army 70th Engineer Battalion, Task Force (TF) Kodiak, from Ft. Riley, Kan., arrived in Afghanistan in March 2007 as the first sapper battalion in the Operation Enduring Freedom theater to be almost entirely focused on route clearance operations. TF Kodiak is currently manning seven route clearance platoons (RCP), one sapper platoon focused on bailey bridging and one area clearance platoon.
During previous rotations, RCPs had been divided among brigade combat team (BCT) engineers and construction battalions, enabling the RCPs to be more closely located to their battalion headquarters. Although this method had its advantages, it did not allow for a higher headquarters to focus the RCPs solely on the counter-improvised explosive device (IED) fight.
Shortly after transfer of authority with the 27th Engineer Battalion, the Kodiak discovered that RCPs could not simply drive main supply routes every day and accomplish the overall mission of reducing the IED threat. Instead, RCPs had to focus on being in the right place at the right time—that is, where the IED threat was highest.
This article will present the targeting process developed by TF Kodiak, and it will further discuss how RCPs are used in conjunction with BCT enablers to achieve the ultimate effect of reducing the IED threat in Afghanistan.
TF Kodiak Campaign Plan
The 70th Engineer Battalion is composed primarily of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans, as the battalion has deployed twice over the past three years for OIF I and OIF III. As a divisional combat engineer battalion with experience primarily in a mechanized environment, operating in Afghanistan, which is very different from Iraq, required the battalion to change the way it fought.
The countries’ differences affect the way a route clearance battalion conducts operations and supports two BCTs simultaneously. Primary differences in Afghanistan include the difficult terrain and unimproved roads, the wide array of units requiring area support of RCPs, from Jalalabad in the north to Kandahar in the south, and the insurgent IED tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Lt. Col. Vernie Reichling, Commander of the 70th Engineer Battalion, was tasked with changing the mindset of the battalion’s soldiers quickly so as to make an impact as soon as possible towards reducing the IED threat. Within 30 days of conducting RCP operations, Col. Reichling developed the following points, which summarize how TF Kodiak was to conduct operations during its 15-month deployment.
- We are the hunter, not the hunted.
- We work closely with coalition forces and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in targeting the right areas to reduce the IED threat.
- Intel drives our targeting process.
- Our goal is to be in the right place at the right time to interdict threats and provide assured mobility for the coalition and populace.
- We are an effects-based organization; our job is to achieve an effect—the reduction of IED attacks against the coalition and ANSF.
Targeting processes differ for different circumstances: maneuver versus mobility, Afghanistan versus Iraq, IED versus direct fire threats. Because of limited targeting experience at the staff level, TF Kodiak conducted a National Training Center (NTC) rotation in December 2006 that turned out to be the first and final training event in which the battalion staff was able to establish its internal targeting process.
Historically, NTC training has been Iraq-centric. In Iraq, an RCP may be able to focus on a 2-km or 3- km section of a road where 10 to 15 IED events have occurred in a 30-day period. In Afghanistan, IED activity is very widespread, with fewer RCPs, and the focus may fall on a 10-km section of a secondary, unimproved road where only two or three IED events have occurred in a 30-day period.
Regardless of these challenges, the decide, detect, deliver, assess (D3A) targeting construct fit the circumstances, and was used by TF Kodiak staff to develop its internal targeting process.
The “decide” step in the targeting process is the most in-depth. This phase of the process requires that TF Kodiak conduct some element of “deciding” where to target every day of the week:
Saturday. The Future Operations Planning Groupmeets with the battalion commander. At this session, the commander issues planning guidance for particular areas of emphasis that the staff must place on route clearance operations during the mission analysis.
Sunday. Staff members conduct mission analysis. The S2 focuses on the IPB with emphasis on updating IED hot spots, or targeted areas of interest (TAI), and the enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP). The S3 Plans section focuses on the trends and patterns of friendly forces (our RCPs and the maneuver units) and RCP effectiveness in terms of the battalion’s established Measures of Effectiveness.
Monday. A targeting meeting is held via Adobe Connect on SIPRNet. The attendees at this meeting are the Kodiak Staff, Engineer Company Commanders or Executive Officers, a representative of TF Paladin, the counter-IED unit at Bagram Air Base, representatives for the Engineer Brigade Headquarters, and both maneuver brigade headquarters currently in theater. At this meeting, Kodiak staff presents the overall IED activity throughout the area of operations during the past 30 days, displaying current and proposed TAIs, as well as recommendations for making a TAI active and inactive. Company Commanders then brief updates on friendly force movement patterns, TTPs their RCPs are using, and enemy TTPs and patterns in their respective areas of operation. The Kodiak Electronic Warfare Officer also discusses current electronic warfare trends in the OEF theater.
Tuesday. All products, including TAIs and target folders, the RCP synchronization matrix, and the operations order, are completed.
Wednesday. Theweekly RCP Operations Order and synchronization matrix are issued to companies. Additionally, the Kodiak S3 sends the synchronization matrix for operations locked in one week out and tentatively scheduled for planning two weeks out to all Brigade and Battalion S3s as well as TF Paladin.
Thursday-Friday. Company Commanders conduct planning with maneuver battalions and provide the bottom-up refinement to TF Kodiak, enabling missions for two weeks out to be locked in for the next targeting cycle and weekly fragmentary order.
Targeted Areas of Interest
The Kodiak S2 spends much of the week gathering data on IED activity from TF Paladin, the combined explosive exploitation cell database, Fusion Net reporting and patrol debriefs submitted by RCPs. These data enable the S2 to analyze the IED hot spots and enemy TTPs and patterns associated with each RCP engineer work zone. Based on this information, the S2 establishes recommended TAIs that are presented at the Kodiak targeting meeting.
The requirements to establish a TAI differ greatly between Iraq and Afghanistan. There is much more activity in Iraq and often it is confined to a concentrated area, making the S2’s job of targeting RCPs in a TAI relatively simple. After much deliberation and discussion, the Kodiaks decided that three or more IED events during a 30-day period along an 8-km to 10-km distance of road were the minimum requirements for establishing a TAI. This allows RCPs to conduct hasty clearance along routes outside the TAIs and shift to a more focused clearance within TAIs.
During targeting meetings, the S2 presents all currently active TAIs as well as proposed TAIs for review based on activity during the previous 30 days. The S2 then briefly discusses insurgent trends or TTPs that are being used in each TAI or overall in that RCP’s engineer work zone. The Company Executive Officer that owns the RCP then briefs trends and TTPs for both friendly and enemy elements in much more detail, further refining the information that the battalion staff analyzes to target the RCP in the right place at the right time to achieve maximum effect.
Ultimately, the outputs of the weekly targeting meeting are the refined TAIs, recommended changes to RCP tactics, techniques, and procedures, and a synchronization matrix that has missions locked in for the coming week and tentatively planned missions two weeks out. The synchronization matrix is very basic, allowing Company Commanders to develop their own plans and conduct analysis with co-located maneuver units.
Detect and Deliver
As the Engineer Companies conduct planning, their first step is to coordinate for detection assets with maneuver units that own them. These include Intelligence, Surveillance and Radar assets, emplacement of unmanned ground systems, and additional maneuver support in the form of Hunter-Killer teams that will maneuver with the RCP. The Kodiak staff also coordinates for these critical enablers directly with maneuver brigade headquarters to gain the visibility necessary for possible use of brigade-level assets. Once the enablers are allocated, the company develops its concept of operations and prepares to execute the “delivery” of effects.
Finally, the day arrives for the RCP to execute its mission. Prior to exiting the forward operating base (FOB), the platoon leader receives the most updated intelligence briefing from the S2 on the route and area in which they will be operating. Ideally, the update will include critical information from ISR collection conducted the previous day and night.
Up until this time, the goal of the targeting process is to put the RCP in the right place at the right time; assessing the unit’s success in accomplishing this goal is based on the results of the RCP’s mission. The RCP uses a multitude of TTPs as they execute clearance missions within the TAI. The mission can include dismounted clearance, night observation posts, engaging of the local populace, and pothole and road repair. The end state of a route clearance mission is a route clear of all IEDs, which enables freedom of movement for coalition and Afghan forces.
Although TF Kodiak may have adequately targeted and employed the right assets to detect insurgent IED activity and deliver maximum effects, the targeting process is far from over. Staff must then begin the process of assessing the effectiveness of its targeting and—more specifically—its RCP operations and TTPs.
First, each RCP platoon leader submits a patrol debrief, a two-page document summarizing road conditions, RCP observations, the effectiveness of any RCP TTPs used, any observed insurgent TTPs and feedback from the local populace. If an IED incident took place in the area during the RCP’s operations, the data and feedback are more useful in measuring the RCP’s effectiveness and targeting for future operations. However, IED activity often ceases when an RCP is in the area, as insurgents realize they cannot achieve their desired effects with an RCP traveling a route prior to other forces or civilians.
Next, effectiveness is gauged by measuring results in three areas:
- How effectively was the RCP targeted on the right place? The objective is to target the RCP in an area where IED activity is most likely to occur, a TAI, where 70 percent of the IED activity occurs in the AO.
- Is an adequate amount of time being spent in the TAI? The goal is to spend 60 percent of the time in TAIs executing deliberate clearance techniques, 25 percent of the RCP’s time supporting other units, and the remaining 15 percent of the time traveling to the TAI and back to the FOB. Often, missions within TAIs do support other units, but there are instances when a softer target is traveling a route that may not have an elevated IED threat, but enough of a threat is present to warrant RCP support. This time is classified as “time supporting other units.”
- Is the RCP in the right place at the right time? The goal in this area is to be involved in 50 percent of IED events within TK Kodiak TAIs, meaning the RCP finds an IED, strikes an IED, or is lead to it by another unit.
The final step in assessing the effectiveness of the targeting process and RCP operations is to conduct pattern analysis. Though there are many tools used to do this in the intelligence community, TF Kodiak developed its own. For each TAI, S3 planners plot mission times for the past 30 days, distinguishing between movement time outside TAIs and time within TAIs. Next, IED events are overlaid by type, helping to identify insurgent trends based on where the RCP was located at the time of each event.
From the various data, TF Kodiak identifies both friendly and enemy trends, and can then adjust its own patterns and TTPs accordingly. Critical questions answered through the pattern analysis include:
- Is TF Kodiak establishing a friendly pattern as it pertains to the time spent in the TAI each day?
- When are insurgents emplacing IEDs?
- Is there a correlation between illumination at night and IED events? Are insurgents emplacing IEDs at night during periods of high illumination?
- Are insurgents emplacing IEDs on certain days of the week?
Ultimately, the analysis drives actions on a weekly basis. It is a continually evolving method of putting the RCPs in the TAIs at the right time of day and week with the right equipment prepared to execute the most effective TTPs.
Targeting IEDs and IED cells in Afghanistan is an evolving process in most every aspect. TF Kodiak has been challenged to implement new standard operating procedures at almost every level since becoming the first functional route clearance battalion in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began. The Kodiak staff and company commanders learn something new about its forces, its targeting process and its enemy every week. TF Kodiak will continue to refine its targeting process and the way in which its RCPs operate during its 15-month deployment in an effort to prepare future route clearance battalions for the difficult fight ahead.