Small Wars Journal

A Quick Review of Combat Outposts

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A Quick Review of Combat Outposts

by Captain Timothy Hsia, Small Wars Journal

A Quick Review of Combat Outposts (Full PDF Article)

The construction of Combat Outposts (COPs) by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq has been almost unanimously described in positive terms by defense analysts and military officers as a means through which to carry out its counterinsurgency efforts. Despite the existence of hundreds of COPs on today's battlefields, the term Combat Outpost is not even doctrinally defined in any military field manual. Soldiers in today's battlefields routinely reference COPs as anything from a patrol base to anything smaller then a Forward Operating Base. Doctrine notwithstanding, countless Soldiers and Marines today currently operate out of COPs.

No two COPs are alike. The most significant difference between any two COPs is its relation to an urban center. Urban COPs require much greater security requirements and oftentimes less infrastructure development, whereas COPs established in rural locations often have better natural defensive measures (stand off distance) while requiring more logistical and engineering support in order to sustain forces occupying the COP. COPs do not materialize overnight and this paper seeks to cover several aspects of COP building and establishment.

A Quick Review of Combat Outposts (Full PDF Article)

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Ken White

Thu, 11/27/2008 - 12:24pm

Interesting article. It shows the to me rather frightening degree to which the bureaucracy has gotten its tentacles into combat operations. I applaud all who have to deal with that unnecessary impediment and who are obviously generally successful in doing so.

At the same time, I hope that senior leaders are looking for ways to decrease the impacts of the numerous and onerous details of logistical and housekeeping effort that adversely impact combat flexibility and impede tactical mobility...

Captian Hsia's final paragraph in his excellent article begins:<blockquote>"Ten years ago the term Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts would have been foreign to any Soldier. Todays conflict requires units to operate their formations in a decentralized and nonlinear manner..."</blockquote>I would sincerely hope that ten years ago the terms Forward Operating Base and Combat Oupost would <u>not</u> have been foreign to any soldier -- they are certainly not foreign to me and I retired from the Army over 30 years ago nor are they were not foreign to my son who was serving ten years ago -- and still is.

Hsia further says:<blockquote>"...If the past five years are any indication of the future, then COPs will continue to be constructed as a means to strengthen the US militarys counterinsurgency efforts."</blockquote>That is probably correct. I am sure that the ability to do that should require far less less logistic effort and be less of an impediment to tactical agility than his article implies.

That means that the COP is or should be only only small tool and should not be viewed as an end within itself -- or as the ideal much less the only way to place combat power where it is needed. The factors of METT-TC should be the driver; a COP may or may not be desirable and those factors should determine the location, time, effort, duration and manning of such an outpost.

Which is after all, militarily, merely a temporary placement of an element to avoid surprise to the main body. It should not be construed to be more than that.