4 years, 4 months ago
Vampire 06 blogging at Afghanistan Shrugged has an important account of a recent engagement that provides a good barometer for the way business is being conducted in Afghanistan.
The sweat under my IBA and in my ACUs is starting to freeze, I can feel it against my skin. I’m wishing right now that I’d put on some long underwear before we’d come out here, it’s too late for that now. Currently, we’re holding about 200 meters short of the target khalat, it’s aprox 2330. The moon has finally risen giving us better illumination than when we started this about 4 hours ago.
In this shallow wadi are a platoon of US infantry, a company of ANA infantry. We’re watching the khalat from a defilade position waiting for the ANP, Afghan National Police., who are making their way across about 400 meters of plowed fields. As soon as they get here we’re going to jump off on the last stage of this operation.
In a small cluster are the US platoon sgt, Kandak Commander, one of my captains and me. As we talk in hushed whispers about how we’re going to move up this khalat and search it, we each look like something out of a scifi movie. All of the US personnel have night vision monocoles on giving one eye the green hue of night vision and the other peering into the Afghan darkness. My ANA counterpart has no night vision, thus we have to describe things to him through the terp and then try to show him by having him look through our night vision device (NVD).
The ANP come stumbling across the field and reach our position. We brief them on what we’re going to do, make sure they understand and get ready to move.
“Everyone ready”? I ask
“Roger” replies the platoon sgt
“Seis” say the afghans, meaning yes.
“Alright lets move”, and we begin to push forward on line toward the target building
Four hours earlier this mission started because the TOC observed four suspected ACM about 700 meters north of our FOB through a thermal site. The ACM were located behind a wall near some woodpiles just outside the bizzare area. We’ve taken serveral rockets from this location in the last three days. We gathered in the TOC and discussed our course of action. We think we’re about to get the guys that have shooting at us.
Our joint decision is that the ETTs will move to the bizzare mounted in vehicles and then dismount, clearing through these woodpiles; catching or killing these guys. The US forces will move to a support by fire position to our east and cover our dismounted movement. The end of the wall the ACM are hinding behind is the ANA limit of advance, beyond the end of that wall is an open field extending for several hundred meters. So, if the ANA and ETTs don’t get the bad guys, they’ll be forced to move out into the open field for the US forces to get them.
The ANA have no night vision capabilty, so a key piece of this plan is that the US will fire illumination rounds via 60 milimeter mortars once we dismount allowing the ANA to see as we move through the woodpiles. All of the ETTs have night vision.
Sounds great, we’re going whack these guys that have been trying to kill us for three days. Yeah Team!!
We roll out and as we move an F-15 comes on station, with rover capability. Our plans demise has now arrived. Rover is a feed that allows TOCs on the ground to see what’s the plane is observing via digital link. One of the TOCs getting this feed is the battalion headquarters for the US forces. This TOC is located about 100 miles from us.
The ANA reach the dismount point and we all get out, prepping to move through the wood piles. These piles could hide anythig, giant stacks with limbs and logs sticking out everywhere, trying to see a person in this is going to difficult at best. Once we’re all ready I call for the illumination rounds.
DENIED! Because the battalion commander 100 miles away thinks it’s to dangerous. His concern is that the canister that the illum round is in will land on a khalat in the area, this canister weighs about 8 pounds. Disregard the fact that without this illum the ANA can’t see anything. 8 pounds hitting a house or us not being able to see? I’m coming down on the side of us being able to see the enemy.
I call for the illum round again. DENIED! What the…? This guy is 100 miles away and making decisions that should be made by us on the ground, we’re the ones closing with the enemy. I guess empowering subordinates and letting ground commanders make the call isn’t taught anymore.
We now have a serious problem. The ANA can’t see but the ETTs can, guess we’ll now have to move in front of the ANA clearing through the piles of wood. So that’s what we do. The ETTs get in front and start moving forward. There are about 50 of us in this position and only four of us can see anything.
Later review of a videotape from the thermal site will show that as we move through; we come within about 100 meters of the enemy before they pick up and run into the open field. With the illum we would have had these guys dead to rights and either captured or killed them. We can’t see that far without illumination, but we didn’t hit a house with an 8 pound canister. Justice is served! I feel better about myself already. 100 miles must give some other perspective I’m missing. I can barely see 50 feet.
We reach the limit of our advance. The F-15 is back on station and says he’s seen the ACM run to a house which he’s illuminating with an IR laser. I can see the laser coming out of the sky, but I can’t see any backscatter off the traget meaning it’s pretty damn far away from where I’m holding. These bad guys must be on roids because they ran about 5 kilometers in roughly 10 minutes. Afghanistan has a bright olympic future with these guys.
After holding here for another 10 minutes we decide to remount the vehicles and move to the target house the aircraft spotted. We still have no illumination and the ANA are stumbling around in the dark trying to get back to their vehicles. Their pissed, I’m pissed but not as pissed as I’ll be when I see the video and how close we were originally. I still haven’t told the ANA how close we were.
Finally after much cussing in Dari and English we get back to the vehicles and move out to the target. As we drive, I think to myself, there is no way they ran this far, no way.
Now we’re moving toward the target house. My clothes are freezing to me and the ANA can see a little bit more due to the moonlight. We get a radio call to hold short again.
The 100 mile commander has called on the radio trying to telling us how the ANA/ANP are supposed to search the house and what they can and cannot do. Who the hell is this guy? He’s telling the armed forces and police of a sovereign nation what they can do in their own country. He’s not even here on the ground and this is now an Afghan operation. He must have missed the part about Afghanistan being it’s own country.
We give him the infamous, “Yeah Roger” and start moving again. I’m amazed and galled by this guys audacity. He’s a battalion commander, so what, I’m standing in a field in the cold and dark with an Afghan Battalion Commander. He’s running the show and oh by the way we don’t even think this is the right house. But 100 mile is telling us it is. Good God!
We knock on the door and after some time an Afghan farmer answers the door, he’s been asleep. The ANA/ANP search despite the direction of 100 mile and we don’t find jack. No duh, it’s three miles away from where this all started. Luckily at this point we don’t know how close we were to getting these dudes.
The ANA, ANP, US and ETTs trudge back across the field to our vehicles. Defeated not by the ACM but our own commanders.
Tim Lynch of Free Range International makes the following observation.
You cannot successfully deploy little detachments of infantry in a large geographical space and expect them to fight and behave within the frame work of their commanders intent unless they know their commander trusts them to do the job. The commander can tell them he trusts them all he wants but actions speak louder than words. If he insists on micro managing units when they are in contact the message he is sending is “I do not trust you and do not think you will make the right calls in combat.” The first step towards being able to fight a proper counterinsurgency is to deploy units in the field whom you trust and do not micromanage. There is no other way and I do not care how many Colonels in Bagram tell you differently using all sorts of anecdotal stories to illustrate why they are compelled to control fights from on high. In the counterinsurgency fight junior leaders have got to be left alone to do what junior leaders are supposed to do – fight when they have to and figure out how help the local population when they are not fighting.
Analysis & Commentary
I hope that Vampire 06 keeps on blogging, and I know that Tim Lynch will. Along with Michael Yon, they are must-reads for the person who wishes to understand what’s going on in Afghanistan. While not ostensibly oriented towards ROE, the report by Vampire 06 and Tim’s comments fairly well summarizes the problems that I have had with the rules of engagement – both standing and local – ever since I have been covering and commenting on this issue.
First, every actuarial or practitioner of probabilistic risk analysis knows what risk is. Quite simply, it is the product of probability and consequences:
Risk = P X C
When evaluated this way, each evolution or sequence may then be evaluated against another to assess relative risk between options, or designs, or situations, or circumstances. There is of course a risk associated with wanton destruction in a counterinsurgency campaign, that being that the rate of creation of insurgents is greater than the rate of destruction of insurgents. Yet upon General McChrystal’s implementation of his recent tactical directive which essentially changed the ROE for Afghanistan, some old warriors claimed that the net result of such a change would probably be more, not fewer, civilian casualties.
The tension is in tactical versus strategic concerns, and it’s foolish to believe that this is an easy balancing act, or that only one choice involves risk. McChrystal’s new tactical directive which prohibits firing upon buildings or other locations (especially with the use of air power) if it is possible that noncombatants could be harmed is at least prima facie in the strategic interests of the campaign. Yet this same directive has caused Marines in Helmand to refuse to engage certain buildings with direct fires, the end result being that Taliban fighters later escaped. These same Taliban fighters will likely cause various distress to the local population, and may be involved in the development or emplacement of roadside bombs which will blow the legs off of Marines. Assessment of risk only in terms of immediate danger to the population ignores the very real risk from the affect of prolonged operations with Taliban fighters who know that they can hop into any available domicile for protection against U.S. fires.
Second, the proceduralization of rules and tactical directives tends to press decision-making upwards in the organization. It invariably involves lawyers who have deployed with their assigned units, or at least staff level officers who have been trained by the lawyers. It’s an attempt to convert war into a clinical, riskless enterprise, with success depending more on risk-free deployments for staff level officers than on-the-ground results.
One thing that separates Western Armies (and in particular the U.S.) from the balance of the world is not only the strong officer corps, but more specifically the strong non-commissioned officer corps. Decision making should be pushed downward in the organization rather than upward. The people best suited to balance the tactical versus the strategic concerns are those who are in the field doing the hard work of counterinsurgency. The preferred model is training, education, assistance and especially trust, rather than regulations, rules, lawyers and staff officer decisions 100 miles away.
Vampire 06 is fully capable of performing the risk calculations without help from superiors. He, like all field grade officers, does this intuitively and on the fly. The goal is balanced risk, but we must reject the notion that we can eliminate all consequences in war. There is no such thing as riskless war.
Rules of Engagement Category
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