4 years, 10 months ago
In our Analysis of the Battle of Wanat we pointed out that the protracted time to negotiate the presence of a combat outpost at Wanat (or rather, a Vehicle Patrol Base) in part led to the costliness of the battle.
The meetings with tribal and governmental officials to procure territory for VPB Wanat went on for about one year, and one elder privately said to U.S. Army officers that given the inherent appearance of tribal agreement with the outpost, it would be best if the Army simply constructed the base without interaction with the tribes. As it turns out, the protracted negotiations allowed AAF (anti-Afghan forces, in this case an acronym for Taliban, including some Tehrik-i-Taliban) to plan and stage a complex attack well in advance of turning the first shovel full of sand to fill HESCO barriers.
A contrasting picture is drawn for us in the Farah Province by the U.S. Marines.
Marines with 2nd Platoon, Motor Transportation Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 3, conducted multiple combat logistics patrols in support of Operation Gateway III in Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Dec. 28, 2008, through Jan. 25, 2009.
The logistics combat element Marines, part of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, endured more than two weeks behind their steering wheels and gun turrets in improvised explosive device-laden terrain during the initial phases of the operation. Military planners with SPMAGTF-A designed Operation Gateway III as a deliberate plan to clear southern Afghanistan’s Route 515 of any existing IED and insurgent threats on the important east-west route.
The combat logisticians directly supported 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of SPMAGTF-A, with the essential supplies and construction support necessary to erect three combat outposts at strategic locations along Route 515. In a limited amount of time, the three locations were successfully developed from barren land into safe havens for the 3/8 Marines occupying the area.
“Ultimately I was surprised,” said Staff Sgt. Chris O. Ross, platoon sergeant. “The COPs were built quickly, and the Marines were working overtime to do it.”
Ross also said the timing and coordination required to conduct the operation came together well.
Second Lt. Juliann C. Naughton, 2nd Platoon’s convoy commander, explained it’s shocking for the locals to wake up the next morning to see that a military outpost has appeared from nowhere during the course of the night.
“The logistical support was a success, and we delivered the materials in a timely manner,” Naughton said. “We’ve also been interacting with the villagers and letting them know why we’re here.”
Fortifications including concertina wire, a parapet several feet tall and dirt-filled protective barriers ensured the Marines on the interior of the COPs were shielded from outside threats. Multiple observation posts and several heavy and medium machine guns provided security and over-watch for the combat logisticians as they performed their craft.
The interior of the COPs offer living quarters, hygiene facilities, combat operations centers and more to accommodate its current and future residents.
The posts were strategically placed along the route to show an alliance presence, as well as enable safe travel.
Here at The Captain’s Journal we have a thing for logistics, and this example shows the greatness of great logistics and logisticians. But ultimately what we want to draw out of this example is not just about logistics, or interservice rivalries and how the Marines might teach the Army a thing or two. That really isn’t the point.
In the example of Wanat, the VPB wasn’t hopscotched into the Wanat valley in relatively close proximity to other outposts, and force protection seemed to be a secondary or even tertiary issue. Rather, the construction of the VPB was started only after one year of negotiations with tribal elders, negotiations that the elders didn’t really want.
In the more recent example cited above, the population was engaged after construction of the COP. The population doesn’t get to decide if counterinsurgency is going to be practiced in their area, or if a COP is going to be constructed near their home. They only get to decide if they are going to participate with the Marines in securing the area. Finally, they don’t get to hear about it for one year before it happens. In fact, they don’t get to hear about it at all.
Two perspectives, two different theories on how to open a combat outpost for business. The Captain’s Journal disagrees with the former example and concurs with the later.