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Protecting Civilian Logisticians on the Battlefield

Now more than ever before in history, the support of U.S. military forces is inherently tied to the success of contractors on the battlefield.

The kidnappings, murders, and attacks directed against civilians supporting the rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to demonstrate the importance of force protection for noncombatants. Now, more than at any other time in our Nation’s history, the success of our strategic mission in war is closely linked to the success of our contractors on the battlefield. It is imperative that support commanders have a clear understanding of the tactical planning and effort required to protect the contractors and contracted logistics convoys that enter the theater.

Three years before the initiation of hostilities in Iraq, the grim spectacle of the videotaped murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl became the horrifying prologue to the killing of four American contractors in Fallujah on 3 March 2004. These crimes were an even darker prelude to other high-profile abductions and videotaped murders of contractors.

Logistics Support in Theater

Logistics is the lifeblood of any successful Army. General Omar Bradley is quoted as saying, “Amateurs talk about strategy; professionals talk about logistics.” History has supported that premise. It is clear that, without the right mix of supplies routinely provided to the force to ensure its effectiveness, the mission will fail. The majority of logistics support in theater is provided by Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) III contract. This competitively awarded contract is an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity cost-plus-award-fee contract. LOGCAP uses multiple task orders throughout the theater to provide flexible, responsive support to the ground combatant commanders at multiple operating bases and camps. KBR performed worldwide contingency contracting in the Balkans and established a dependable reputation for delivering a full range of support.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait, KBR has taken over most of the delivery and sustainment of all classes of supply, and it is fully responsible for managing and distributing many of them throughout the theater. The unimpeded flow of these supplies is critical to successful operations and is directly tied to the Army’s combat capability. Most of these supplies are moved in, out, and within the theater by convoys of commercial trucks operated by civilian contractors. Combatant commanders and the contractors themselves must provide adequate resources and techniques to protect these essential convoys.

Protecting the Civilian Force

The responsibility for protecting contractors falls directly on the combatant commander. Field Manual 3–100.21, Contractors on the Battlefield, states—

. . . the Army’s policy has become that when contractors are deployed in support of Army operations/weapon systems, they will be provided force protection commensurate with that provided to DAC [Department of the Army civilian] personnel. Commanders must understand that contractors are subject to the same threat as Soldiers and must plan accordingly. Contractors, when placed in a position of risk, must be protected, or the support they provide may be degraded. . . .

Protecting contractors and their employees on the battlefield is the commander’s responsibility. When contractors perform in potentially hostile or hazardous areas, the supported military forces must assure the protection of their operations and employees. The responsibility for assuring that contractors receive adequate force protection starts with the combatant commander, extends downward, and includes the contractor.

The contractor’s civilian leaders also are responsible for force protection and must do everything they reasonably can to safeguard their personnel and Government-furnished equipment from battlefield threats.

Although security still remains fragile in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of contractors on the battlefield has grown since the initiation of hostilities. During Operation Desert Storm, 9,200 contractors deployed to support military operations—a ratio of approximately 1 contractor to 50 Soldiers. During the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, the ratio increased to 1 to 10. This statistic was derived from figures compiled as the mission matured and troop strengths were drawn down toward the end of the 1990s. The current contractor-to-Soldier ratio in the Iraqi theater is hard to determine because the number of contractors in theater at any specific time is not known. However, the estimates are comparable to the Bosnia numbers.

The increased number of contractors in theater has brought a concurrent increase in the number of contractor casualties. Although exact casualty figures are not known, approximately 275 contractors have been killed in the Iraqi theater since the beginning of hostilities. This figure alone eclipses the total number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan by 30 at the time this article was written. Although contractors are successfully filling many logistics roles traditionally performed by military personnel, they lack the ability to protect themselves as well as the Soldiers they replaced could. This fact adds an unforeseen security consideration to the battlespace that most combatant commanders did not anticipate when operations began. Commanders have adjusted rapidly to meet this requirement. However, the resources needed for this mission and the vast number and size of the supply routes and contractor convoys have taxed the sometimes tenuous mobile security forces that are often composed of support troops.

To Arm or Not to Arm

Based on international agreements, contractors are considered to be “civilians accompanying the force.” They are in a unique category—they are considered neither combatants nor noncombatants. Though some security firms arm their employees, most do not. The reason for this is twofold. First, if contractors on the battlefield are permitted by the combatant commander to carry weapons for self-protection, their protected status as civilians could be jeopardized because they could be perceived as legitimate combatants by opposing forces or insurgents. Second, a force of armed logistics contractors mistakenly could be perceived as mercenaries.

Traditionally, contractors may be armed for self-protection only if all of the following conditions exist—

• The issue of weapons is authorized by the
combatant commander.
• Contractor policy permits carrying weapons.
• Individual employees and the overarching
theater contractor agree that the contractors should be armed.
• Side arms are Government-issued.

Currently, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, these conditions have not been met for the LOGCAP contractors on the battlefield. Only a small group of contracted personnel, such as Blackwater USA, is armed in theater. (Blackwater USA is a professional law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm.) Most of the contractors who provide life support to our forces on the battlefield and support reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq remain unarmed.

Securing Main Supply Routes

Perhaps the greatest convoy protection challenge facing the forces in the Iraqi theater is the inability to secure fully the main supply routes (MSRs). Several MSRs are used for moving supplies from Kuwait into and throughout Iraq. With the expanded use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are relatively effective against convoys traveling along vast stretches of unguarded roads, innovative use of combined arms force-protection measures is mandated.

Army doctrine calls for the use of both passive and active measures to secure the force. Field Manual 3–07, Stability Operations and Support Operations, defines antiterrorism as “defensive measures used to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and property to terrorist acts, to include limited response and containment by local military forces.” These defensive measures can help to reduce the likelihood of attack or reduce the effectiveness of an attack if one occurs.

Passive Force-Protection Measures

Examples of effective passive force-protection measures used by civilian drivers and commanders include maintaining adequate intervals between vehicles when traveling; traveling during daylight hours; wearing individual protective gear; using up-armored protection on the local commercial vehicles if feasible; deterring remote detonation of IEDs with jamming devices; vigilance; nation building; and varying the time, route, and manner of travel.

Military drivers are taught that maintaining adequate intervals during convoy operations will limit the number of vehicles that will be affected in the event of attacks and ambushes and thereby reduce the number of casualties and the amount of cargo and vehicles lost. Civilian contractors and their convoy commanders must enforce this same discipline with contracted drivers. Military units designated to accompany convoys must ensure that the routes used are known by all vehicle operators and that there is adequate communication throughout the convoy. Everyone must be briefed on what actions to take on contact with the enemy. These actions should be standardized, trained, and briefed routinely as part of the convoy preparation process.

Contractor convoys do not travel at night because visibility along unimproved roads in the area of operations is reduced and the threat of attack is increased. Few, if any, contractors on the battlefield provide night vision devices for their drivers, many of whom are local nationals or third-country nationals. This fact further supports their decision to execute daytime convoys only.

The chances of surviving attacks are markedly increased by the use of ballistic helmets and vests. This practice, which is mandatory for KBR employees, should be required of all contracted civilian drivers, regardless of nationality.

Conversely, most ground shipments in Afghanistan are transported by local drivers who do not wear protective gear. The decision to forego the gear is actually a passive force-protection measure developed as a result of the tactical situation and threat. Local commercial drivers operate vehicles called “jingle trucks” (because of the sound made by the wide array of decorative colored tassels on the vehicles). They operate independently in most parts of Afghanistan without the benefit of military escorts because wearing helmets and vests along the austere supply routes through mountain passes and remote villages could bring unwanted attention and make them more vulnerable to attack.

The use of up-armored vehicles can passively deter the enemy and defend the convoy. However, armoring civilian trucks has proved challenging. Adding armor and ballistic glass significantly increases vehicle weight, sometimes causing instability that results in rollovers and catastrophic suspension failures when traveling on unimproved roads. However, any protection that can be added safely to vehicle cabs, such as sandbags or Kevlar floor mats, should be funded and exploited.

Jamming devices that prevent wireless detonation of explosives also have been used successfully in theater. The use of these devices should be incorporated into force-protection measures wherever possible. Of course, their use implies the need to filter radio frequencies used for normal communication to prevent interference.

The enemy has demonstrated an ability to react and change his tactical approach to counter our threat-mitigation actions. IEDs have proven to be the convoy’s greatest threat and are responsible for most of the fatalities in theater among contractors, Soldiers, and Marines. Keen vigilance is crucial to observe objects that look out of place on or along the road. Civilian drivers and their military escorts must be trained, and they should receive refresher briefings on how to identify IEDs or recognize the threat of a developing ambush. After-action reports and joint civilian and military debriefings should be scheduled to share information so that dangerous mistakes can be avoided.

Alternating convoy routes and avoiding chokepoints are also passive measures that are taught to military personnel and should be used by contractors as the situation allows. Although varying routes and departure times will necessitate more detailed planning and coordination, military convoy security forces and contractors must make a conscious effort to do it. Routine encourages complacency and increases convoy vulnerability.

Nation-building efforts, such as assistance by civil affairs teams to improve the standard of living in areas traveled by convoys, can significantly reduce attacks from criminals and reduce insurgent operations. However, the number of civil affairs missions has increased significantly, and limited resources restrict the assistance they can provide. Nevertheless, continued efforts to improve utilities and services throughout Afghanistan and Iraq will have positive effects and ultimately reduce criminal and enemy threats to contracted convoys.

Active Force-Protection Measures

Regardless of how well passive defensive measures are implemented, operational commanders must be prepared to protect and respond to direct attacks on contractor convoys. In the event of a direct assault by terrorists, insurgents, or common criminals who want to steal supplies, a convoy must have adequate firepower and an adequate number of trained Soldiers or Marines dispersed throughout the convoy to react to and defeat any threat. No set number of troops and vehicles or specific approach will ensure success, but most contractors require a certain amount of protection before their employees are allowed to travel into a hostile area. This requirement must be considered when assigning limited resources and personnel to secure convoys and MSRs.

Some factors that help the commander to decide how convoy security should be accomplished are the size of the convoy, the troops available, the route and distance of the convoy, and the risk of attack. A repetitive approach would be an invitation to insurgents, terrorists, or other criminals who reconnoiter convoys to identify patterns that can be exploited easily. For example, a convoy that routinely inserted one up-armored high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicle after every 20 commercial vehicles would be an invitation to a synchronized attack.

Major-General Carl von Clausewitz, a renowned Prussian military theorist, advocated an active economy of force effort wherein the right assembly of men and equipment in time and space were most important for success. He knew that the critical use of pursuit and maneuver was important when applying force against the enemy. Thus, it is imperative to have dispersed throughout a convoy a trained force that is capable of flexible and rapid movement and can bring a great deal of force to bear on an enemy at a certain time and place.

Convoy Tactics

Although it is prudent to understand the importance of the deliberate planning methodology used in troop-leading procedures and the military decision-making process, some general, common-sense factors should be considered also to help ensure the security of a contractor convoy. Tactical commanders who have practical, firsthand experience will determine the tactics to use when forced to engage in direct small-arms fire with enemy combatants who may attack the convoy. However, several planning factors are important, and the commander must be aware of these.

Establish a force-protection ratio in the convoys.
Unlike a tactical transportation unit that would self-protect during convoys and have weapons on every vehicle, a contractor convoy relies solely on the military to provide for its security. A workable ratio of up-armored security vehicles to contractor trucks must be established. Although the amount of force protection used is arguably the decision of the combatant commander, a contractor typically requires a standard ratio of security vehicles and personnel for safe ground operations. Planners must be aware of this requirement. Contractors may refuse to execute their mission if this ratio is too low or the right types of up-armored vehicles and weapons are not used. This has caused many commanders to feel that their operations have become vulnerable to the demands and rules of corporate executives. Because their military mission is so closely linked to and dependent on contractors, however, commanders cannot afford an impasse.

Some commanders may view convoy security as a drain on security personnel who are needed for other missions in theater. However, contractor force requirements thus far in the current hostilities have been reasonable, and many commanders have opted for increased protection based on the threat to and criticality of the convoyed supplies.

Maintain good communications. Maintaining good communications is essential when providing security during a direct-fire engagement in a civilian convoy of 20 to 100 vehicles that may be strung out for miles. Contractors may use commercial radios to communicate with their drivers throughout the convoy. Nevertheless, security commanders also must be able to communicate with the convoy drivers and should ask the contractor to provide the means to maintain communications with them. For operational security, the use of code words or radio silence should be exercised along the route when using unsecured voice communications and during any direct engagement. Communications links with higher headquarters and fire support assets should be established, tested, and maintained for the duration of the convoy. If any IED detonation-jamming devices are used in the convoy, it is important to identify their communications frequencies to avoid voice communication interference.

Train and enforce battle drills for actions on enemy contact. The value of battle drills can never be underestimated. Clausewitz stated, “Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.” He called this phenomenon the “friction of war,” wherein unforeseen circumstances frequently arise and routine tasks or expectations often become extremely difficult. Battle drills can help limit this friction. Soldiers and civilians alike should be drilled on actions to take on enemy contact. These actions should be explained thoroughly in preconvoy briefs and during force-protection training and awareness indoctrination. Soldiers charged with security must know how to react and maneuver rapidly to provide supporting fire to other elements engaged in fire during convoy operations. Seconds often mean the difference between life and death in combat operations.

Reduce security handoffs during the convoy. A convoy that stops or slows down is much more vulnerable to attack. Vehicles must enter and exit the secured areas quickly at handoff locations to avoid compromising security. Any security handover between different units must be planned, coordinated, and rehearsed, at least on a sand table. This rehearsal should be coordinated and precise to minimize delays and vulnerability to direct attack. Ideally, security handoffs should take place at a safe location. If possible, the same security forces should work with the same contracted convoy commanders along the same routes to minimize handoffs. This approach allows the security forces to become familiar with the route and sensitized to changes along the route. This awareness increases the likelihood for recognition of IEDs and possible ambushes.

Train all security personnel on how to call for fire, and establish fixed reference points along the route.
Fire support is a critical component of contractor convoy security. All military personnel on the convoy security force should know how to call for and adjust fire as required. This is a perishable skill, so refresher training should be conducted frequently to maintain proficiency.

When available, attack helicopters provide the best fire support. They can provide direct fire and increased visibility and surveillance for the convoy and help to identify changes or threats along the route. Helicopters also can disrupt enemy activities before they become a direct threat to the convoy. Although the routine use of helicopters is not always feasible, security commanders should include these resources in their plans, and combatant commanders should allocate these attack assets when available for use in convoy security. Fire support plans for close air-support and artillery also are needed. Precision munitions make the use of close air support more feasible in populated areas and add increased lethality to security forces if they encounter an enemy strong point.

Fixed reference points should be developed and shared with all security elements. These reference points assist security forces in calling for fire support when the friction of a direct engagement may make the simplest task, such as reading a map, extremely difficult.

Know what to look for, and think asymmetric.
The ability of security forces, commanders, and contractors to think “out of the box” is important. Insurgents and terrorists have been ingenious in using natural surroundings and other methods of camouflage to hide snipers, ambush positions, IEDs, and other threats to a convoy. Traditional ways to damage and disrupt convoys are rarely used. Security and contractors alike should maintain a high level of vigilance and look for anything that may appear odd or out of place. IEDs have been discovered hidden in animal corpses, potholes, guardrails, and many other unlikely places. The appearance of wires, evidence that digging has occurred, or dead animals or garbage may all be telltale signs of an IED emplacement. The approach of suspicious vehicles should be deterred through visual and audio signals. If those actions fail, the vehicles should be engaged with small-arms fire at the farthest distance practicable to prohibit the possibility of a suicide attack and the subsequent collateral damage that such an attack could cause.

Another nontraditional security method that may prove effective is having military troops ride shotgun with contractors in civilian trucks throughout the convoy. This method should be used sparingly and with the consent of the contractors, because it may have the unwanted effect of drawing increased enemy fire toward the contractors. Convoy security personnel must watch for vehicles or individuals who detour rapidly off the MSR as the convoy approaches. These may be observers whose job is to identify the approach of a convoy. This dilemma has no easy solution, but security personnel should remain flexible, share all lessons learned, and try new approaches that may make sense based on the situation.

Know the operational contingencies.
Contingency plans, rally points, and recovery plans for damaged vehicles are all critical. A policy for recovery or destruction of damaged or broken-down vehicles must be known and enforced. Millions of dollars worth of commercial vehicles have been lost on MSRs because of the inability to execute recovery plans rapidly and successfully. Security forces accompanying the convoys must determine if a broken-down vehicle has been carrying some critical repair components or sensitive items and quickly execute a plan to recover the equipment or destroy it in place based on approved guidance and the security requirements of the convoy.

Other contingencies that must be planned include actions to take on enemy contact, if the route is blocked, or if elements of the convoy become separated from each other. A standard list of contingencies should be drafted and briefed as part of the preconvoy briefing. Participants in this briefing should be military security personnel, all contracted drivers, and the contractor’s civilian convoy commander. Contingencies are not limited to those with standard boilerplate solutions; the list should be flexible and updated frequently based on the latest intelligence.

The ideas presented in this article are intended to serve only as a template for forming an active plan of force protection for contractor convoys. The fact that this discussion does not focus on intelligence does not diminish its importance. Intelligence updates should be incorporated into all security plans and convoy briefings. Mobility, countermobility, and survivability also play important roles in the security of the MSR.

The use of contractor logisticians has increased significantly in the last decade. Theater commanders have adapted rapidly and have provided sustained force protection to the many contractor convoys operating in the theaters. However, because of the limitations of unarmed contracted civilians, the adaptive techniques of terrorists and insurgents, and a limited number of trained military police and other combat and support units available for convoy security missions, contractor convoy force protection remains a challenge in theater. Now more than ever before in our history, the support of our military forces is inherently tied to the success of these contractors, so their efforts must not be disrupted by insurgents or terrorists. It is imperative that we secure our contractor supply efforts since the accomplishment of our overall mission is intrinsically tied to their success on the battlefield.

Major Richard J. Hornstein is the Team Leader for the Army Surface-Launched Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor Systems at the Defense Contract Management Agency in Andover, Massachusetts. He has deployed twice in the last 3 years in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Rhode Island and a master's degree in acquisition and contract management from the Florida Institute of Technology. he is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College.