Ten Dollar Taliban and Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 11 months ago

The AP has an informative update on the U.S. Marine efforts in Now Zad.

After three tours in Iraq, U.S. Marine Sgt. Andre Leon was used to brutal shootouts with enemy fighters and expected more of the same in Afghanistan.

Instead, what he’s seen so far are anonymous attacks in the form of mines and roadside bombings — the mark of what he calls a cowardly adversary.

“I’m not impressed with them,” Leon, 25, of Herndon, Va., said this past week from a Marines camp deep in the southern province of Helmand, where U.S. forces are challenging Taliban insurgents and their devastating use of IEDs, or homemade bombs. “I expected more of a stand-and-fight. All these guys do is IEDs.”

Marines on the front lines in southern Afghanistan say there’s no question that the militants are just as deadly as the Iraqi insurgents they once fought in Iraq’s Anbar Province. The Afghan enemy is proving to be a smaller, but smarter opponent, taking full advantage of the country’s craggy and enveloping terrain in eluding and then striking at U.S troops.

In interviews, Marines across Helmand said their new foes are not as religiously fanatic as the Syrian and Chechen militants they fought in Iraq and often tend to be hired for battle. U.S. commanders call them the “$10 Taliban.”

Taking advantage of the Afghanistan’s mountainous rural landscape, the fighters often spread out their numbers, hiding in fields and planting bombs on roads, rather than taking aim at U.S. forces from snipers’ nests in urban settings, as often was the case in Iraq. And they are not as bent on suicide, often retreating to fight another day.

“One thing about Afghanistan, they’re not trying to go to paradise,” said Sgt. Robert Warren, 26, of Peshtigo, Wis. He served a tour in both Iraq and Afghanistan before his current assignment at Combat Outpost Sharp, a Marines camp hidden in cornfields and dirt piles.

“They want to live to see tomorrow,” Warren said. “They engage with us, but when they know we’ll call in air support, they’ll break contact with us. … They’re just as fierce, but they’re smarter.”

Marine commanders believe they face between 7,000 and 11,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, although it is unclear how many are low-level militants hired for battle as opposed to extremist leaders.

By comparison, officials still are unsure how many members of al-Qaida in Iraq remain. Earlier estimates ranged between 850 to several thousand full-time fighters, although commanders believe that number has been reduced significantly as a result of counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq …

Both foes are also sometimes known to use drugs — troops have reported finding syringes and needles in enemy camps.

Training does not seem to be an issue for Marines who have been making the transition from Iraq to Afghanistan. Their skills appear to have held up in both war zones.

But new U.S. battle guidelines that limit shooting into or otherwise attacking buildings without ensuring there are no civilians inside have at times made the fighting more difficult.

The rules were put into place this summer after dozens of Afghans were killed in a May battle in Farah province that ended when U.S. forces bombed a building where Taliban fighters were believed to be hiding.

“It’s frustrating to be attacked from a building,” said Lt. Joe Hamilton of Baltimore as he scrutinized two-story village structures on the other side of dirt-and-barbed wire walls at Combat Outpost Fiddler’s Green. “You can’t shoot back because you don’t know if there are civilians there.

He added: “They’re more disciplined. They wait longer until we get in their kill zones, then they attack us.”

In Anbar the insurgency was bifurcated between the indigenous fighters and the foreign elements who fought for religious reasons.  In Fallujah in 2007 fighters from Chechnya, Somalia, and other countries were killed by the 2/6 Marines.  They were found to have been taking epinephrine and morphine before engagements.

It’s a positive development that although the indigenous fighters are disciplined, they aren’t fanatics.  They only work for people who are fanatics.  Scores of them might still have to be killed in order to convince them that a few dollars isn’t worth the risk.  But the situation is not good for the Marines.

Recall that we have had this debate about rules of engagement and the fact that the Marines cannot possibly be assured in these cases that there aren’t noncombatants inside structures.  Thus, not only would the 2008 Marine Corps operations in Garmsir not have occurred, but the Taliban will learn to seek refuge in structures very quickly in these engagements.

It was a simple observation but for some reason difficult for others to understand.  “You can’t shoot back because you don’t know if there are civilians there.”  And thus the warfare ends and the game begins.  I suspect that it will be a deadly game for the noncombatants and Marines alike, regardless of the intent of the rules.



  • blkfoot_04

    Ok, the ROE really hinders the Marines for bringing down the rath of God from the sky down upon them, but, This place seems like an excellent practice range for United States Marine Corps Scout/Snipers teams.

    Pull back some of the regular grunts (say 2 platoons worth or approximately 80 Marines back to a support position, since the Marines are limited on “how many personal they can have in country due to the numbers game being played) and replace them with Highly trained Scout Snipers teams with their very accurate weapons and equipment that need to get in trigger time. Or 40 Scout/sniper teams. I’m pretty sure the Corps has 40 teams just begging to be put into the action.

    Now Zad is a “holding Hell”, neither side can advance due to not enough strength will be committed to do the job, so “Hold/ fix” in place the Taliban/ Al Qaida that is just several hundred yards away is the order of the day.

    Like you state, it’s a “Game” not a “War”, thats being played right now (due to crappy political reasons)…might as well make the best use of this “training time” as possible.

    Please don’t take me wrong on this by using the terms “Game” instead of “war” and “training time”… Believe me killing is never a game, and live rounds outbound and inbound are never training…but, if this is the Hand the Marine Corps has been delt with by “Those whose name will not be spoken”, then by gawd do something with it thats productive and effective.

    Also, don’t think for one moment I don’t think the Marines that are there now are not effective…anything but that. I’m just saying…if we’re going to shut down Now Zad as a Taliban/ Al Qaida strong point, and the ROE wont let ya do the job with the Big boys, then a pression one shot one kill on a positively IDed target, might make those clowns in the black suits start messing their pants a little more.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    I don’t disagree, per se, with deploying them along with infantry. In fact, Scout Snipers are like Force Recon. They deploy attached to infantry. They probably do have them with the force in Now Zad. Perhaps it would be a good thing to have more.

    But what I would really like to see is enough infantry to move in under cover of darkness, surround the places where the fighters are dug in around Now Zad, and do clearing operations once and for all. A sort of al Fajr experience for the Taliban.

    Then stay and ensure that the Taliban don’t come back.

  • blkfoot_04

    I think the main problem is the “Numbers” Game. The Marines are anywhere and everywhere, but not enough in one spot to “get er done”. And not all that are in country are Infantry.
    And I think people might be confused by the concept of a Marine Brigade. It’s not a continual fixed breathing creature like the Army Brigades, but has a Headquarters eliment as the base, a Marine Regiment as Ground Combat Arm, Combat Service Support group (CSS) formed as needed, and a Air Combat Element or (ACE)…configured as needed or required. So, most people are mistaken to think the whole Brigade is a Ground Combat Arms (Infantry, Arty, Tank/ AV’s) which it’s not, so 8000 Marines can get be reduced down pretty quickly for in the sharp end of the spear by-gawd 0300 Infantry types…The 2nd Marine Brigade once you start subtracting the Marines doing other important jobs (what their trained for) like, Engineers, Maintence, Supply, Motor-T, Logistics, Communication, Water purification, P.O.L., Heavy Equipment operators, Administration, Medical/ Dental (Generally the Navy side of the House, but counted in the total Marine head count), Food service, M.P.s, Civil Affairs, Intel, Aircraft crewmen and pilots, you just pretty much cut your 8000 down to 3000 pretty ricki-tic.
    Then you have Force protection (one whole Battalion assigned just to protect all those Marines inside the wire or traveling with resupply convoys, another 800 Marines removed for that).
    You have 3 Manuver Battalions left to be spread thru out Helment Provience which is the Marines Area of Operations. Generally there are 3 line Companies and 1 Weapons company per Marine Battalion. So you have 12 Companies that you can spread thru out the whole Provience, actually only 9 because the Weapons Companies generally gets detach out to the other three companies in their Battalion (their Heavy weapons by the way, .50 Cal Mg, 81mm motors, and your anti-tank weapons that can be used as bunker busters as needed.
    The Marine headcount was limited by Higher up’s to form the 2nd Marine Brigade. 8000 being the base head count total. The Marines aren’t “Authorized” to send any..”extra” Marines in but whats in the 2 MarBrg TO&E. Explaining why the MEU’s haven’t been sent in. Until called for, their a ready reserve to kick A and take names..but not until they get the word.

    Generally the Scout/Sniper teams are regiment or higher and attached out as needed, or on special ops as required. Thus comes my Original comment, to stay with-in authorization of Marines in country, remove (for the time being, shuttle out on a milk run or how ever to keep this all legal) 2 Platoons of basic 0300′s Infantry, and replace with equivelant number of Scout/Sniper teams from other Marine Regiments not incountry…keeping the Legal authorized Marine head count spic-n-span…to clean house in Now Zad with well placed rounds to the head of any Taliban stupid enough to provide that nice silouett of a target to the Scout/Sniper team.
    What do you accomplish by doing an “end around like this”
    1) Your still with in the Legal wording of the ROE.
    2) Your still at your legal end strength of Marines in Country and their wont be a Congressional hearing on who authorized “extra” Marines.
    3) Your taking out Talban with professional Scout/Snipers or at least demoralizing the hell out of them.
    4) Your not pulling other Marines from their assigned duties elsewhere to clear out a supposively not high priority Town (Now Zad), thus still continuing on with your mission as passed down from on high.
    5) Your scout Sniper teams through out the Corps gets Live fire training with Live targets, making them better Scout Sniper teams. Only keep them in country for about a month to do their job, and then send them back to their parent Regiments through out the Corps, rotating back in the original 2 Marine Platoons from their R&R out of country.
    6) If Taliban is still hanging around Now Zad after being picked off and demoralized after the first group of Scout Snipers time is up, Rotate another Group, same number from other Regiments thru out the Corps, rotate out a second group of 0300′s platoons for R&R out of country to keep “Authorization” levels intact.
    7) There’s more than one way to skin a cat. think outside the box, if the ROE ties your hands and the Authorized Head count ties your hands, use your teeth and feet, kick and bite the hell out of them!

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  • DesertPete45

    Before being deployed to RVN as a young Marine in 1967 we had a class from several British officers who had been involved in guerilla wars in, I believe, Malaysia. They told us that it usually requires 10-12:1 ratio of good guys to guerillas to win. I wonder if this is still the thinking? Regardless the lack of combat forces in Helmand and the assanine ROE which no one in our government seems to be concerned with and the lack of resolve to win this thing, I believe, will be our demise. As I have asked prior; where are the generals with conviction who will retire/resign before subjecting their charge to ROE that favor the enemy? The above ideas of scout/sniper teams is good but don’t believe it will happen. I agree with blkfoot_04 it IS a numbers game and in this game we are not winning. I am amazed at what I consider the stupidity of agreeing to adhere to the NATO ROE and even more restrictions by McChrystal.

  • jonesgp1996

    Parsing some of the words at the beginning of the article, it seems that, after 8 years of covering the war, the journalist in the field still doesn’t “get” that this is not a war being fought within the the WW II paradigm. “Front lines”? Isn’t everywhere and nowhere a front line? Perhaps Sgt. Leon lulled our gullible correspondent into such a mental framework by positing that he expected a “stand and fight” enemy. I can’t hold the use of such terminology against the sergeant because I’m sure he’s smoked from constant patrolling, being in and out of contact with the enemy, etc., and using the right words at the right time probably wasn’t foremost in his mind at the time he spoke them.

    On the subject of the enemy’s tactics, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re employing basic Maoist doctrine (or a variant thereof) which calls for melting away when faced with a superior force.

    To DesertPete45: what purpose would be served by generals resigning? Would it not be better for them to remain within “the system” and use the authority that flag-officer rank carries to effect change within? Resigning over ROE would be quitting, and it would not lead to some sort of sea-change in how things are run.

    As for NATO, all I can say is we (the US) are NATO! It’s not like the UN; we are a founding member with a say in what happens. Coalition warfare may seem burdensome at times, but the only thing worse than having allies is having none at all. If the Belgians weren’t guarding an airfield somewhere, we would have to do it. I will concede that not every NATO ally or ISAF coalition member is on par militarily with the US, but if they weren’t there doing some of the drudge work, we would have to send more US troops do to that stuff. I think we’re going to see what happens when some serious troop-contributing nations (Holland in 2010, maybe Germany depending on how the upcoming election goes, not to mention the UK and Australia as popular support dips) start dropping out. Is the US going to pony up more troops? We may have to, but you can bet the political will and popular support for such a move are weak at best.

  • DesertPete45

    jonesgp1966- I agree with you that generals resigning will not accomplish much but dammit what the hell else can we do?? OK, if they are willing to exercise the authority that their rank (flag officer) carries but are they?? I don’t think so. Meanwhile our young men are beign killed because we cannot call in air, artillery etc. One of the links by a reporter catalogued women and children carrying ammo to the Taliban fighting against Marines somewhere in Kunar(4 Marines killed!!!!) Our Marines were denied artillery and air!! So where the hell where the flag-officers when this came down?? I am disgusted that our young men, and to some extent our young women, are being sacrificed for the ultimate political correctness. I feel as though I am in a stupor. We are scrificing our young Marnes, Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors to appease the internationalist which include Obama, Gates, Jones Mullen, and McChrystal, UN and the Hague!! What is wrong with this??? Much!!!!


You are currently reading "Ten Dollar Taliban and Rules of Engagement", entry #3722 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Marine Corps,Marines in Helmand,Rules of Engagement,Taliban and was published August 31st, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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