Tim Lynch on FOB Gardez

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

After publishing A Half-Dozen Gargantuan Bases where we discussed the cloistering of Army troops on large FOBs in Afghanistan, we had reactions across the spectrum from Joshua Foust who believes that Philip Smucker’s piece exaggerated the risks in most areas of Afghanistan, to other contacts (active duty Army in Afghanistan) who responded that Smucker had gotten it exactly right.

Friend of The Captain’s Journal Tim Lynch of Free Range International provides a recent significant addition to this narrative.  For folks who get fumed at inter-service rivalries, you may stop reading now.  But a serious reading of Tim’s commentary shows that it isn’t about inter-service rivalries.  It’s about much more than that – institutional intransigence.

As I mentioned in my last post I do not really know what our mission in Afghanistan is. We are engaged in a counterinsurgency war but confine the troops to large FOB’s which directly contradicts our counterinsurgency doctrine. Our troops do not have sustained meaningful contact with local Afghans, cannot provide any real security to them, and due to Big Army casualty policies are forced to ride around in large multimillion dollar MRAP’s where they are subject to IED strikes which they cannot prevent because they do not control one meter of ground outside their FOBs …

While in the VIP barracks – a wooded B hut with my own little bed and table, I listened to the staff officers as they prepared to fly out to various other FOB’s to attend conferences of great import. One discussion I remember is an upcoming multi-day confab concerning “Water Shed Management.” Why the hell are we concerning ourselves with Afghan water shed management?  We have FOB’s sitting in important cities in which the main canals are full of garbage, human and animal waste, large protozoan parasites, and toxic sludge but instead of taking care of that simple problem we are conducting huge meetings on big box FOB’s with lots of senior officers about water shed management.  You know why? Because dozens of senior officers, Department of State flunkies, and US AID techno weenies can spend their entire tour preparing slides, looking at studies, conducting historical research, looking up old hands from the American heyday of public works projects in the Helmund Valley (back in the 50’s and 60’s) to produce a product which in the end is meaningless to the Afghans but shows “forward thinking” on behalf of the fobbits. They then can have multi-day super high speed presentations about water shed management without ever having to leave the FOB’s, deal with a real Afghan, or actually see, taste or feel any real water. It is virtual stability operations done by people who want to help but can’t so they do the next best thing which it to switch on the denial mechanism resident in us all and plow ahead on complex projects designed by complex people who are spending a virtual tour in Afghanistan …

His entire commentary is highly recommended, but now we come to the hard stuff.

You will not hear much about the Marines in the months ahead because they run counter to the preferred MSM narrative but the Afghans in the Helmund valley know who they are and they, according to our local sources (which are extensive in the region…The Boss was exporting fruit and cotton out of here back in 97 when the Taliban ruled and has more than a few reliable sources) the Afghans eagerly await the arrival of the Marines as they understand the Marines are here to stay. The Afghans in the Helmund like the Marines who they feel treat them with more respect than the other forces operating in the region. They also admire the tenacity of Marine infantry and their propensity to operate in small units while taking on large formation of Taliban. I have cited in previous posts examples from the mighty 3rd Battalion 8th Marines who had platoons numbering around 30 Marines attacking groups of Taliban numbering in the hundreds.  They beat on these thugs like a drum while sustaining zero causalities. Old Terry the Taliban doesn’t like fighting the Marines – he would rather throw acid on little girls or behead stoned ANP troops but that is the way it is going to be this summer.  They can run or they can die – there are no other options for the frigging cowards …

The number of enemy killed is meaningless – you have to kill the right guys – the bomb makers, foreign trainers, leaders, and money men. These are the “high value targets” (HVT’s) our tier one special ops guys go after in raids launched from afar based on suspect intelligence which more often results in the killing of innocent Afghans. The only way to separate HVT’s from the people is to be out in the districts with the people – no other method will work which is exactly what our counterinsurgency doctrine says should be done. There is only one large outfit in Afghanistan with the training, ability, attitude, courage and balls to do that – the United States Marine Corps. There are plenty of American Army and ISAF units who can do the same – again it is the institutions which are flawed not the individuals. But the Marines produce competent combat leaders who retain the hunger for the fight at the senior level. They also have the confidence in their small unit leaders to allow them to go outside the wire and stay there.

The Army SF teams, SEALS, SAS operators and small unit fighters from other lands who are as lethal and dedicated as the Marines all welcome the MEB.  They prefer Marine helicopter gunships – primitive though they are when compared to the Army Apache – because Marine pilots fly right into the teeth of dug in enemy to take them on at ridiculously low altitudes and at close ranges. An Army SF guy I talked with said that when his men were pinned down fighting for their lives it was a Marine Huey pilot who hovered right above them spraying mini-gun fire into the faces of the Taliban. Col Mellinger who is the operations officer for the 2nd MEB confirmed the story adding that the pilot took 3 AK rounds in the only place on the bird which would not bring it down – the self sealing fuel tanks. No stand off rocket shots for Marine pilots; they want to get close enough to shoot pistols at the Taliban. The various special operators out there now, preparing the battle space for the 2nd MEB  love Marine air… who wouldn’t?

Tim’s words folks, not mine.  There’s more than a little Oorah in Tim’s commentary, but coming from someone who is in theater and not constrained by hurting feelings, it’s meaningful to read confirmatory analysis.  At TCJ we have been highly critical of these tier one SOF raids that are launched from suspect intelligence and in reality accomplish very little of benefit.  It has been a constant theme, and re-attaching SOF to infantry, and then getting infantry off of the FOBs has been exactly our own counsel.

Note also that there is none of this “butterflies are beautiful and we love you so love us back” counterinsurgency doctrine from Tim.  Tim advocates killing Taliban, but making sure that it’s Taliban with the big T.  The only way to do this is to be amongst the people.

If you have heard it once here at TCJ, you have heard it a thousand times.  And now you’ve heard it from Tim Lynch.  Stop the ridiculous PowerPoint presentations.  Ban them.  Deploy to far flung areas and be amongst the people.  Kill Taliban.

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You are currently reading "Tim Lynch on FOB Gardez", entry #3082 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Special Forces and was published June 9th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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