The United States has several specialized military units that conduct on-the-ground intelligence reconnaissance for the purpose of targeting. Many of these units are contained under the Special Operationsumbrella and other conventional formations. However, at the tactical level, battalion and under, most of these strategic assets are generally unavailable.
An intelligence reconnaissanceoperation our Tactical HUMINT Teamengaged in perfectly demonstrates the capabilities of a Tactical Human Intelligence Team in empowering a combat arms unit at the battalion level to accurately and surgically target terrorists.
*This story has been highly sanitized for the purposes of operational security.
Our small base in rural Iraq had been attacked several times by Jaysh al Mahdi(JAM) via indirect fire, which included both Katyusha rocketsand mortar systems. JAM special groups members also regularly attacked and killed US Military forces and Iraqi Security Forces using special improvised explosive devices supplied by the Iranians (see previous article).
During the course of our 16 month deployment, the battalion my team was attached to had sustained several casualties from indirect fire weapons. Because of the skill of this particular mortar team, and the fear in which their terrorist group was held by the local population, tracking them down individually was proving difficult.
Our battalion had already determined the general large area from which the JAM mortar team had launched mortars at our base, using damage assessment techniques. Our team had carefully recruited a couple of informants who were familiar with the rural farmland of the area identified. Because the area was riddled with terrorist sympathizers and/or a populace that was intimidated into submission, we weren’t able to overtly bring our sources into the area in order to help us narrow down the area from which we were being attacked.
We knew that there had to be a very specific, small area from which we were being attacked because the terrorists wouldn’t have been able to carry all the mortar rounds and mortar system components quickly in and out of the area and had to have had them cached close to their firing point of origin.
Through a process of embedding ourselves in normal patrols through the area with our sources, from different directions we were able to triangulate a general firing point of origin down to a few square kilometers.
Now that we had a starting point, the unit came up with an operation which consisted of two parts. The first part was to conduct a large cordon and search operation a few kilometers away from our area of interest, in order to draw attention of the local populace and the terrorists themselves.
The second part involved the insertion of a 4 man element into the area of interest to conduct a search for the firing point of origin. It was possible to do this covertly because the large rural farmland in the area was filled with huge irrigation canals built by Saddam Hussein, which resulted in high, 15 foot dirt berms interspersed within the area. This blocked a lot of line-of-sight vision capability, which the terrorists had used to their benefit in the past.
The four man team consisted of our battalion Sergeant Major, whose philosophy of leadership disallowed him from sending men under his supervision on a mission in enemy territory unless he was leading from the front. The risk existed because we were being dropped off with no support in an area that the terrorists operated in with impunity. Also, because of the complicated irrigation canal system, backup in the form of our unit’s Quick Reaction Force(QRF) would take some time to reach us in the event of our being discovered.
Other factors included the 130 degree heat, no vehicular support (therefore no heavy weapons), and having to carry enough water for a possibly daylong effort.
The other three individuals involved were the HUMINT team’s Category 2 interpreter (an armed, American citizen of Iraqi extraction, who had a Secret security clearance), a battalion squad designated marksman, and myself.
After we were dropped off and our vehicles departed, we proceeded over many hours to section the area we had identified as the firing point of origin. Working our way through the brush, walking through irrigation ditches, and taking occasional breaks as we could, we finally found the impression in the ground made by the baseplate of the mortar system when the blast pressure of the roundgoing off pushed the plate into the ground. In the immediate area we also found a small dirt berm with burn marks, from which Katyusha rockets had recently been fired.
Knowing we had the information we needed, we took the ten digit grid coordinates of the location and called for extraction by our unit.
Now that the unit had the exact coordinates of the firing point of origin, it was able to conduct surveillance of the location during the time periods of previous attacks. While being manually monitored, the surveillance was also captured on digital video.
Soon enough, one night four military aged males were seen infiltrating the area late at night during the time period of historical attacks. They headed to the firing point of origin under surveillance. The battalion had already “dialed in” the grid coordinates to our own indirect fire systems.
As the terrorists approached their firing point of origin, they were suddenly surrounded by massive explosions from our unit’s indirect fire. As they started running from the area, our real time video surveillance showed the explosions from our own indirect fire accurately following as they attempted to escape. We soon lost track of the men.
Our follow on mission to assess the damage took place the following day.
As our battalion deployed to the area they were looking for blood trails, bodies or body parts. The opportunity to exploit the contentsof the pockets on dead terrorists could lead to further leads. Identification cards, cell phones, and pictures were all a treasure trove to a Tactical HUMINT Team and could lead to further operations.
The unit ended up recovering one body. Our team learned who the dead terrorist was, and actually found that he had a nephew who had infiltrated our base as an interpreter. We also learned that we had blown off the arm of another terrorist, and that a car had picked him up on the road. We learned who he was and the hospital at which he was treated.
This was a successful HUMINT driven operation. It started with identifying informants who had knowledgeability of the area of interest. It ended with a dead/maimed terrorists, a degraded ability (and strong disincentive) to attack our unit, and a lot of information of intelligence value that we found useful and followed up on in later operations.
As 2019 continues, Human Intelligence collection teams and much more specialized reconnaissance elements are working around the world to build target packages for follow on action by the door kickers. Although much ink and film has been dedicated to the exploits of the door kickers, and deservedly so, let us not forget the work that goes into giving the door kickers the ability to kick the right door, at the right time.
Originally posted at Deangelis and Associates