Investigating the Battle of Derapat

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

The diggers were involved in a significant engagement in the Oruzgan Province on August 24th.  The diggers were apparently let down by intelligence and restrictive rules of engagement, but as expected, there is push-back by the Australian Army brass.

An email from a soldier who criticised the army over a deadly battle will be part of an investigation, Defence Minister Stephen Smith says.

Digger Jared MacKinney died in the battle on August 24.

Another soldier who cannot be named told a friend in an email that it was a miracle that more Australians didn’t die in the battle.

“The army has let us down mate and I am disgusted,” he said.

Mr Smith told reporters after visiting HMAS Stirling south of Perth that force protection was a “serious matter” for the army and the government.

“The views of soldiers on the ground has always been taken into account so far as force protection measures in Afghanistan is concerned,” he said.

“The issues that are raised in the email will be considered in the course of Defence’s investigation of this matter.”

[ ... ]

Lance Corporal MacKinney’s widow, Becky, gave birth to their second child, a son, Noah, just five hours after his funeral service in Brisbane on September 10.

The soldier said in his email that his section had been in a contact 100m from the same spot two days earlier and reports from sappers clearing bombs on the morning of the battle had said civilians were fleeing the valley.

“That told us it was going to be on,” he said.

The patrol’s first big surprise was the size of the enemy force. No intelligence reports had prepared the two sections of about 24 men for a confrontation with up to 100 enemy attacking from multiple firing positions as close as 80m.

“We were at times pinned down by a massive rate of fire but we stuck to it,” the soldier said.

The second shock for the Diggers, forced to withdraw as they started to run low on ammunition, was the complete lack of fire support from artillery, mortars or aircraft.

“We are not f—— happy, but then again the BG (Battle Group) f—- up the intelligence report because a certain Major writes it from the signal log book (radio log of conversation) instead of getting contact reports, patrol reports and a patrol debrief,” the soldier said. “The army has let us down, mate, and I am f—— disgusted.”

The soldier, from Brisbane’s 6th Battalion, said an unmanned spy plane flew above the battlefield pin-pointing enemy positions throughout the three-hour battle, but effective fire support still failed to materialise.

He also revealed Lance-Cpl MacKinney died almost half an hour into the battle.

“Jared got hit and the boys were working on him but he would have been gone already,” he said.

“They were copping rounds the whole time, all the way through to carrying him on the stretcher and loading him on the AME (Aero Medical Evacuation chopper).”

The soldier’s email has been circulated to senior officers, including Defence Chief Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.

His plea is supported by retired counter-insurgency expert, Major General Jim Molan.

“We must never incur casualties because the support for our soldiers was not fast enough, not accurate enough or not able to be used because of restrictive rules of engagement,” General Molan said.

The enlisted ranks have their supporters among the brass.

Former Iraq war commander Jim Molan, a respected commentator on counter-insurgency, says aspects of the firefight are cause for serious concern.

In an opinion piece in today’s The Weekend Australian, the retired major general calls for the use of more aggressive tactics to prosecute the war — tactics he says will save lives in the long term and force the Taliban to negotiate.

“Combat commanders must be under no illusion that when they make contact with an enemy force . . . they must do their utmost to destroy that force,” General Molan says.

“Our troops found themselves facing (some say) up to 100 Taliban. This is one of the few times when we actually know exactly where our armed enemy is, and we must always capitalise on it.

“In this battle, the few Australian soldiers accompanying the Afghans once again fought brilliantly and, along with supporting fire, may have killed up to a third of this force.

“As the Australians withdrew, the other two thirds of the enemy went somewhere, certainly with the capacity to kill more Australian and Afghan soldiers . . . and still able to intimidate the population.”

But is this view common among the officer corps?  Maybe not.

Senior military sources told The Australian the war in Afghanistan was not a “kill and capture” mission but a “care and nurture” mission, in which discrimination and proportionality were crucial.

The senior military sources have made a fundamental logical blunder.  They have confused an emphasizing reduction with an exclusive reduction.  To be sure, nurturing anti-Taliban elements is a goal of the campaign, for instance.  But to claim that it is the only goal is wrong.  To encourage your troops to nurture your allies is an emphasizing speech.  To say that that is all that they are there to do is an exclusive focus on one element, and it is not only wrong-headed, it is dangerous.  If killing the enemy is not the main goal or at least one of the goals of the campaign, the campaign has lost its focus and should be ended.

I am currently trying to obtain a copy of the subject e-mail.  At the moment, we know that it makes the following claims.

“That contact would have been over before Jared died if they gave us f…..g mortars,” he wrote.

The email also says how two units of about 24 men each were left unprepared for a confrontation with up to 100 enemies attacking from multiple firing positions as close as 80 metres away, because of lack of intelligence reports.

This sounds eerily familiar.  It isn’t required that it be U.S. troops for there to be problems with the rules of engagement.  We will learn much more before this investigation is over, and the Australian military needs to be open, honest and forthcoming with the information.  There is much to learn from this engagement, from the Taliban tactic of massing of forces, to problems with the rules of engagement.

  • Paul Edson

    The reaction of the Aussies will be very interesting. I hope it is akin to that of the Marine Corps Commandant’s reaction to the ACLU position on Prayer.


You are currently reading "Investigating the Battle of Derapat", entry #5626 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Australian Army,Rules of Engagement and was published October 15th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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