Since one of my readers has a keen interest in concrete (hello, Andrew!), I though this round up on the battlefield uses of concrete would be of interest. And by “interest” I mean “slow Sunday filler.”
One of the first uses for concrete on the battlefield was in response to growing numbers of IEDs. As early as 2004, the major tactical and technical focus in Iraq was oriented at stopping these roadside bombs. One of the primary tactics used to fight the IED threat was to line every major road with twelve-foot-tall concrete T-walls. Soldiers spent days, weeks, and months lining first every major highway and then other, smaller roads with concrete barriers. At over $600 a barrier, the cost of concrete during the eight years of the Iraq War was billions of dollars.
o be sure, concrete walls did not eliminate the IED threat. As with any protective obstacle, they should have been under direct observation, which was not always feasible. Consequently, the enemy adapted by placing IEDs in or on top of barriers. They also used advanced forms of IEDs from foreign sources—explosively formed penetrators, many of which US military officials believe originated in Iran—that could penetrate any concrete wall. This allowed IEDs to be placed on the opposite, non-road side of barriers. But the concrete walls did take away the ease of access for enemy forces to emplace IEDs, degrade the lethality of their homemade devices, and forced them towards specialized materials that could be interdicted at checkpoints—which themselves were most effective when concrete walls were used to canalize traffic to them. They also took away the ability of insurgents to freely transit Baghdad with large, vehicle-borne IEDs, which created mass casualties and threatened the authority of the Iraqi government.
IEDs were not the only major threat to American forces. Shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, US forces also began to come under direct attack by mortars and rockets in their outposts and bases. These attacks became even more dangerous when US forces moved out of large bases and into smaller outposts deep in cities and among the populations, where the ability to maintain safe standoff distances or retaliate to indirect fire was difficult for fear of causing civilian casualties. Again, the solution was concrete. Slabs were placed to form not only the walls of compounds, but also walls around and bunkers between every structure within them. This significantly reduced the effects of any enemy incoming fire.
They also used concrete to besiege Sadr City:
In March 2008, in what would later be called the Battle for Sadr City, coalition forces weaponized concrete. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had ended a standing ceasefire in response to the government of Iraq’s offensive in the southern, mainly Shiite city of Basra, and set in motion large-scale attacks by loyal members of Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), the Sadrists’ armed militia, against coalition and Iraqi forces across Baghdad. Their attacks included overrunning Iraqi security forces’ checkpoints, infesting Baghdad’s roads with IEDs, and launching 107-mm rockets and mortar fire at targets in Baghdad, including the International Zone (aka the Green Zone).
The keys to the enemy’s operation were their resources and support within Sadr City. This Shiite enclave is over thirteen square miles in size and, at the time of the battle, was estimated to have over two million residents. Coalition forces had previously conducted successful raids against JAM leadership in Sadr City. But any element that went into Sadr City had only a few minutes to get in and out before JAM forces were able to swarm like killer bees on the intruders. Finally, after an October 2007 air strike that killed a number of civilians, the Iraqi prime minister placed Sadr City off limits to US forces. This entire sector of Baghdad was a safe haven for enemy forces from which to launch attacks, and a no-go area without express permission from the highest command levels.
In response to the situation, the US forces basically engaged in siege warfare. But atypical to historic examples, instead of attacking to break through fortified wall, they imposed the siege on the enemy by building walls. Reminiscent of a medieval siege engine, each night US forces drove up to the limits off Sadr City with massive cranes and trucks loaded with twelve-foot-tall T-walls. On a good night, soldiers could emplace over 122 barriers. Enemy forces attacked the soldiers putting in the walls and it was not uncommon to be hanging concrete while attack helicopters, tanks, and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles returned fire.
Within thirty days, soldiers emplaced over 3,000 T-wall sections to create a three-mile wall that interconnected with previously emplaced walls and ultimately completed the encirclement of Sadr City. The wall successfully restricted the ability of JAM to move supplies and conduct attacks outside the now-enclosed enclave, took away critical firing points outside the wall from which the International Zone was within range of their rockets and mortars, and created checkpoints were known terrorists could be separated from the population. Iraqi security forces and US soldiers did enter the city to clear major sections, but the wall allowed them to reduce external attacks and conduct operations at their initiative.
Their very effectiveness is the real reason Democrats oppose building the wall along the Mexico border: Walls work.
In other concrete news:
(Hat tip: Ace of Spades HQ.)