Marines, Taliban and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 6 months ago

This generation’s Ernie Pyle, Michael Yon, has posted a very important Powerpoint presentation.  His post is entitled The Eagle Went Over the Mountain.  Michael has posted some very important prose on the campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  But sometimes all a good journalist has to do to be good is find and send on the important things he finds.  The trick is in knowing what’s important.  Every unit planning a deployment to Afghanistan, and even those who are not, should spend time studying this presentation for its worth in the fundamentals of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP).  The Powerpoint presentation is linked just below.

the_eagle_went_over_the_mountain3

Here is one excerpt on a common tactic.

The bait and ambush attack is one of the most common ambush techniques used by the enemy.  The enemy is very observant and has noticed how aggressive Marines are compared to other coalition forces.  They have use this to their advantage on several occasions and have drawn Marines into complex ambushes with catastrophic results.

In this scenario a platoon minus was patrolling the town when they were engaged with sporadic small arms fire from a distance.  They returned fire and were moving further into the town when they were engaged by a single enemy fighter who fired on the platoon and broke contact.  The platoon chased the fighter through the town when they suddenly found themselves in a dead end.

The enemy attacked the platoon from the rear and pushed them further into the dead end.  The enemy had driven the platoon into a fire sack and they ambushed the platoon from the roof tops.  This continued until aviation assets came over head and broke the ambush.

Here is a visual depiction of the tactic.

This is only the beginning of the discussion concerning logistics ambushes, fire and maneuver tactics, development of enfilade fire, and even the thickness of the mud walls of the Afghan homes (18″ thick, resistant even to 20 mm Vulcan).  As few of the summary points of the presentation follow:

Fire Control: Enemy forces have demonstrated a high level of fire control in numerous engagements.  They have shifted and focused their fires on what they perceived to be the greatest threat.  Ambushes have generally been initiated with bursts of machinegun fire followed by volleys of RPGs.  The beaten zone of the RPGs have been within six inches to a foot.  This shows a very developed system of fire control and points to a section leader controlling these fires.  The complexity and size of some of these ambushes point to a platoon and company level command structure.

Interlocking fields of fire: The enemy did an excellent job of placing fighting positions in locations where they could mutually support each other.  As elements of the platoon attacked one position, they would be engaged from multiple firing positions.  Several times during the engagement elements of the platoon would be pinned down from accurate fire coming from several directions until other elements could maneuver to destroy those positions.

RPG Volley Fire: Almost every time the enemy attacked the armored vehicles, the enemy attacked with volleys of 2-3 RPGs.  This demonstrated a high amount of coordination and discipline.  Often times these attacks came from multiple firing positions.

Combined arms:  The enemy demonstrated an advanced understanding of combined arms.  Most of their attacks on the platoon combined machine gun fire with RPGs, rockets and mortars.  Enemy forces used their PK machine guns to suppress turret gunners while several RPG gunners would engage vehicles with volleys of RPGs. They also attempted to fix the vehicles using RPGs and machinegun fire for attacks with rockets and mortars.

Fire and Maneuver: The enemy proved to be very adept at fire and maneuver. The enemy would fix Marines with RPG and machine gun fire and attempt to maneuver to the flanks.  This happened with every engagement.  If elements of the platoon were attacked from one direction, they could expect further attacks to come from the flanks.  This occurred both with mounted and dismounted elements of the platoon.

Anti-Armor Tactics: The enemy did not attempt to penetrate the crew compartment of the vehicles they engaged.  They fired volleys of RPGs to the front end of the HMMWVs in order to disable them and start a vehicle fire.  Once the crew evacuated, they would engage them with crew served weapons.  This demonstrates a very detailed understanding of the limitations of their weapon systems and a thorough knowledge of our armor vulnerabilities.

“Karez” Irrigation Ditches: The enemy utilized prepared fighting positions built into irrigation ditches to maneuver about the battlefield and attack the platoon.  These ditches ranged from four to seven feet deep and made any frontal attacks very difficult.  The enemy would attack from one position and rapidly maneuver to another.  This facilitated flanking attacks.  The enemy also used tree lines to stage their attacks from.  Many wooded areas are bordered with mud walls and irrigation ditches, which the enemy used for cover and concealment.

Massing Forces: The enemy was able to mass their forces to over 400 enemy on the battlefield on several occasions.  This was not normally the case in Iraq.  Situations here in Afghanistan can quickly escalate and even company sized elements can find themselves outnumbered, outmaneuvered and outgunned.  The enemy will not always mass but they will rally to defend their leadership or protect their interests.  They have conducted ambushes that have swelled to 400 fighter engagements and have also massed to that size to conduct attacks on Forward Operating Bases.

Defense in Depth: The enemy plans their defenses with depth and mutual support in mind.  In one ambush the enemy engaged the platoon from a tree line that was supported by fighting position to the north that were tied into the defense and prevented us from flanking the ambush site.  These machine gun positions had excellent fields of fire and machine guns were set in on the avenues of approach. The enemy fought to the death in the tree line to defend their base 200 meters to the north.  As the platoon attempted to attack the base from the flank, they were engaged from multiple machine gun positions with excellent fields of fire with interlocking fields of fire.

Fire Discipline: Engagements have lasted from two to forty hours of sustained combat.  Marines must be careful to conserve rounds because there may not be any way to replenish their ammunition and it is not practical or recommended to carry an excessive number of magazines.  Marines took a few moments to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship and this greatly improved the ratio of shots fired to enemy fighters killed.  Crew Served Weapons do not always need to be fired at the rapid rate.  Good application of shoulder pressure will tighten beaten zones and lead to effective suppression. Talking guns will help conserve ammunition.

Fire Control: Fire control was critical during the battle from the team to platoon level.  One of the main reasons the platoon did not take many casualties during the battle was due to the effective coordination between crew served weapons, precision fires, CAS, mortars and small arms.  This permitted the platoon to place pressure on the enemy force and focus fires as required to maneuver elements of the platoon to close with and destroy the enemy.  Enemy forces use water to reduce the dust signature around their battle positions and it can become very difficult to locate enemy firing positions in the chaos of battle.  Unit leaders can use tracers in the day time and lasers at night to mark targets for crew served weapons and small arms fire.   Vehicle commanders and drivers can walk gunners on target using ADDRACS, target reference points and the field expedient mil system (one finger, four fingers from the hay stack).  The impacts from MK-19 are easily seen and can be used to orient the other gunners.

Combat Load: Marines had to conduct numerous trench assaults and squad rushes during the eight hour battle and the heavy weight of their armor and equipment greatly hampered their movement.  After this battle all of the Marines reevaluated their combat load and reduced the amount of ammunition that they carried.  After the battle, Marines normally carried no more than 4 to 6 magazines and one grenade.  In the company ambush in Bala Baluk no Marine fired more than four magazines in the eight hours of fighting despite the target rich environment.

This is not nearly all of the important TP observations.  The entire presentation is worth the time to study and re-study, and there are a number of counter-tactics that the Marines found that they could use with success.  This extremely important observation concludes the presentation: Iraq has allowed us to become tactically sloppy as the majority of fighters there are unorganized and poorly trained.  This is not the case in Afghanistan.  The enemy combatants here will exploit any mistake made by coalition forces with catastrophic results.  Complacency and laziness will result in mass causalities.

The Recon Marines and the authors of this report have done a great service to the balance of U.S. forces in theater for providing this analysis both of the enemy TTP and successful defeaters for them.  While a new study is released from the think tanks about every week on Afghanistan, this presentation should be considered the most important thing to come out of Afghanistan in the past two years.  I have discussed this with Michael Yon, and on this we agree.

It deserves as wide a distribution as possible.  Thanks to Michael for posting this, and a special thanks to the brave warriors of the Force Recon Marines.




You are currently reading "Marines, Taliban and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures", entry #2135 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Featured,Marine Corps,Weapons and Tactics and was published February 12th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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