March 16, 2020 | Defense News

Attacks in Iraq underscore need for indirect fire protection capability

March 16, 2020 | Defense News

Attacks in Iraq underscore need for indirect fire protection capability

U.S. troops in Iraq were once again in the line of fire last week without sufficient capability to defend themselves. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, confirmed on Friday that U.S. troops at Camp Taji, Iraq, did not have a necessary system to intercept rockets during the March 11 attack by an Iran-backed militia that killed three coalition service members.

This fact highlights the clear vulnerability of deployed U.S. troops in Iraq to indirect fire. It also underscores the need to both deploy, without delay, existing defense capabilities and to expeditiously develop the next generation of indirect fire protection capability, or IFPC.

According to Gen. McKenzie, Kata’ib Hezbollah — an Iran-backed Shiite militia also known as KH that operates in both Iraq and Syria — attempted to launch 33 rockets at U.S. troops at Camp Taji last week. After three misfired, 30 were launched with roughly a third to half of them landing in Camp Taji — killing an American soldier and airman, as well as a British medic. McKenzie called the attack by the Iranian proxy a “large strike” with the “intent to produce a lot of casualties.”

To deter future attacks, the next day the U.S. struck five KH locations that McKenzie called “advanced conventional weapons storage units.” CENTCOM believes the facilities and any weapons they contained were “effectively destroyed.”

KH was placed on the U.S. State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list in 2009, making it the first Iran-backed Shiite militia in Iraq to be designated as an FTO. Both the organization and its leader are subject to U.S. terrorism sanctions.

During Friday’s press conference, McKenzie acknowledged that there was no counter-rocket, artillery, mortar system in place at Camp Taji to protect U.S. troops. McKenzie noted that the C-RAM system often focuses on protecting Patriot missile defense batteries from close-in threats, but acknowledged that C-RAM systems can also protect personnel from the kind of 107mm rockets used by KH.

Due to an insufficient supply of such systems, however, U.S. troops are deployed around the world in dangerous locations without such protection. In these instances, U.S. military personnel rely on advance warning of incoming fire to scramble to bunkers or other protective shelters. The fact that the demand for such systems exceeds supply requires the Pentagon and combatant commands to deploy them to the areas in most need of protection.

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Issues:

Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran Sanctions Iran-backed Terrorism Military and Political Power Sanctions and Illicit Finance U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy