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LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq — When Lt. Col. Jeff Vuono took over security responsibilities for this sprawling support base last year, he quickly learned of the place’s interesting reputation.

“They used to refer to this place as Mortaritaville,” said the artillery officer with a laugh.

Now, nearly eight months later, with mortar attacks down about 40 percent, Vuono, commander of 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, part of the Fort Carson, Colo.-based 4th Infantry Division, hopes the Jimmy Buffet-inspired moniker will also diminish.

His battalion’s efforts in ‘The Donut’ — the name soldiers have given to the area around the base, which includes an assortment of salty Sunni-populated towns — include infantrylike strategies such as frequent patrols and interaction with locals, plus traditional artillery counter-fires when attacks happen.

“Our artillery soldiers are now doing tasks that are so far beyond their traditional artillery role,” he said. “It’s so easy to say we’re just going to sit here and do nothing. If all we did was just sit here and shoot back, you’re not talking to the people.”

The results, he said, are not only a decrease in total attacks, but also a decrease in the intensity of each attack.

“We have decreased by half the effectiveness of them,” he said.

The approach also includes a bit of reverse psychology: in February, the base stopped sounding the alarm to alert base personnel to attacks, thus denying validation to insurgents.

“We’ve seen a distinct change in how they do things,” said Capt. Dan Hoeprich, assistant operations officer for the battalion. “They have to shoot video to prove they’ve fired rounds.”

But challenges remain. On patrol, soldiers regularly encounter roadside bombs and resistance from locals and law enforcement officials.

“Your responsibility is to search every damn vehicle that comes through here,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Hillard exasperatedly to a local policeman at a checkpoint outside Albu Hishma village.

The policeman nodded as cars snaked through the unattended checkpoint behind him.

On another patrol, soldiers searched a mortar launch site, fanning out into the field like at an Easter egg hunt, but finding no trace of the insurgents.

But patrol leader Staff Sgt. Jake Finger, 28, a Denver native, said regular patrols have yielded results.

“We’ve arrested 48 people since we came in country,” he said. “We’ve either caught them in the act or arrested them. Our efforts have definitely decreased the attacks on Anaconda.”


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