Archive for the 'Army' Category

Michael Yon Gets What’s Coming To Him

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

No, this isn’t another ridiculous pile-on-Michael-Yon post from some unstable Milblogger who is bored with the fact that he has nothing left to cover now that we have withdrawn from Iraq (and plan to withdraw from Afghanistan).  Some people just have to find others to hate in order to be important.

No, Michael Yon has gotten the attention to the MEDEVAC issue that he deserves.  You can follow his coverage here, here and here, here and here (just for starters).  I won’t recapitulate the reports since you can go and read them from Michael.  Here is a decent summary video.

But I will observe that my bullshit-o-meter pegged high when the Army began making claims that the Geneva Conventions required them to mark MEDEVAC helicopters and then also to require them not to be armed for self defense (thus requiring an armed escort and delaying the transit in some instances).

First of all, if the Geneva Conventions actually do require that we send medical evacuation into the field with no self defense, then we should not have ever been a signatory to such a document, and such signature should be forthwith rescinded.  But it doesn’t.  Take careful note.  The U.S. Marine Corps doesn’t do business this way.

There.  Enough said.  Case Closed.  The U.S. Marine Corps isn’t violating the Geneva Conventions.  That the big-Army is wasting intellectual capital and moral authority on this is stupefying.

From the Front Lines in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

An important and recent account of combat action from a friend and patriot currently in Afghanistan.

How can you not love and admire the American fighting man. Men who are sent perform pointless, thankless tasks in the service of their nation. Poorly lead, poorly supported; they still manage to perform with patience and valor. It is unfortunate that there are no words to describe the thoughts and actions of such men. I try to explain to the privileged 99% of American citizens who do not serve, just what this means. And fail miserably. They just look at me, disbelief on their faces and I’m sure, disgust on mine.

So the platoon is vehicle mounted, MRAPS and Hmmwv’s with ANA in Ford Rangers. The platoon negotiates a defile with high ground all around and the ambush is sprung when the lead and then trail vehicles are disabled with IED and RPG fire. Its a good size linear ambush; PKM’s and RPG’s. The platoon takes causalities immediately and all vehicular maneuver is initially destroyed under intense fire. The soldiers dismount to fight for their lives. Even the gunners are forced off their turrets.The Taliban forces have RPG 9’s and are trying to take the vehicles apart even as the PKM fire is pinning the dismounts and killing and wounding. C2 is a mess and the some of the ANA forces are trying to run away.

One soldier, armed with an old iron sighted M14 he found in a Conex container in a small outpost, targets three PKM gunners who have the main element pinned down. The Taliban forces intend to reduce this force to the point that they can conduct a ground assault across the ambush site and secure equipment and prisoners. Platoon leadership is massing fires and calling for Medivac and CAS, but it’s not going too well.

The RPG men are at 200-350 meters, close to their max range. They are popping up and down over various rocky berms that define the surrounding high ground above the kill zone. They know their business; target the vehicles and masses of men, hold them in place so that the machinegun fire and ground assault forces can finish the job. As they pop up and down they make lousy targets for the ambushed forces pinned down below. The RPG’s are fast and loud and leave an evil, snaking, brown smoke trail in their wake.

Its the PKM fire that is the real issue. Cleverly and with sound tactical acumen, they are positioned within their max range on a berm above and behind the RPG gunners. It is very difficult for the U.S. Forces on the valley floor to see them and fix them with their own fires. Here the M4 is not really in its element. Firing up slope from exposed positions at machine gunners with cover and concealment, the little 5.56mm round is no match for the  7.62mm rounds delivered at a high rate of fire. The soldiers are off their trucks, away from their own machine guns and heavy weapons which again are very limited due to the steeply sloping terrain. They are difficult to elevate to the point that effective fire can be delivered. The Taliban RPG and PKM gunners suffer no limitations.

The platoon leadership struggles to maintain their fires and a fighting force. Despite all the chaos they begin to get vehicles moving and their remaining heavy weapons on target. The Taliban is tightening the noose on this ambush. The balance of the U.S. forces are still dismounted, returning fire and treating casualties. The Taliban now has 360 degree fire on this tiny force. U.S. Forces are surrounded and need to get the heck out of there.

The M14 gunner has watched fire from 3 specific PKM’s who have the front, back and sides of the ambushed forces pinned down. With some assistance spotting fire, he is able to silence or slow them down. He then takes the initiative and with a fire team in tow; maneuvers on a ridge line and kills the assault commander, his body guard and other PKM gunners. This breaks the back of the assault force and the platoon is now able to take charge of their Alamo Vally and recover their tactical loses from the ambush. CAS is now on site but no one cares. It’s F15’s and they rarely drop anything for fear of civilian collateral damage. Besides, the Platoon FAC is mired in ROE as opposed to mission, concerns. He is removed from the platoon COP within 24 hours of this fight.

The ambush is defeated but the remains of the platoon have very little time to recover and remove their own dead and wounded and to police the Taliban dead. The remains of the Taliban force are quickly scrutinized. The U.S Forces need to get the heck out of this ambush site before they are counter attacked by a larger Taliban force.

The Taliban assault force commander is well dressed and equipped. His pockets are rifled to reveal papers identifying him as a Pakistani Intelligence official. Its difficult to match his identification papers to his person because he was shot in the face and not much remains. He is also caring a small black book that has identifying and contact information for all the ANA and ANP officials in this area. The platoon interpreter is on site and he suggests that the information in this black book demonstrates the complicity of all local Afghan officials.

The Platoon consolidates vehicles and equipment for evacuation. Dustoff arrives for the wounded and though full of complaints, hauls the combat dead as well. Some equipment is destroyed on site with Thermite and direct fire and the Platoon returns to their COP to debrief, refit and turn-in their hard earned combat intelligence. Its really just another day in Afghanistan.

There are many themes from previous discussions, from Pakistani duplicity in this campaign, to micromanagement of the enlisted men, to ANA cowardice and lack of discipline, to the need for additional training in marksmanship and the need to arm members of fire teams and squads with various weapons that enable them to engage in more long range fire and maneuver tactics (in Marine Corps terms, this would mean relying heavily on the DM, or Designated Marksman, or Scout Sniper for long range targeting).  It also means arming squads with M14s or some equivalent weapon.  There are tens of thousands of M14s still in armories in the U.S. waiting to be utilized.

But without rehearsing too much detail on the main themes of heroism, megalomaniacal staff level officers, weapons training and selection, and poor performance of our allies, this account takes its place among the great ones in this campaign.  God bless the U.S. warrior.

Sustainable Defense Task Force

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

To be fair concerning the brief things I am about to say (and quote), you may go directly to the Sustainable Defense Task Force Report and read the analysis and recommendations yourself.  For now, the summary report at the Marine Corps Times will suffice.

An independent team has made a series of recommendations to Congress to reduce future Defense Department budgets, in light of the country’s growing deficit — including big cuts to the Corps.

The team, dubbed, The Sustainable Defense Task Force, was tapped for the project by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Their suggestions could reduce defense spending by $960 billion from 2011 to 2020.

Ideas include:

• Roll back the size of the Army and Marine Corps as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. The U.S. could save $147 billion over the next decade by reducing the Army’s end strength from 547,400 to 482,400 and the Corps’ from 202,000 to 175,000, the task force says.

• Reduce the number of maneuver units in the Army and Marine Corps. The task force suggests reducing the number of Army brigades from 45 to 42 and the number of Marine infantry battalions from 27 to 24. Doing so would contribute to the $147 billion in savings as the services reduce their end strengths.

• Delay or cancel development of Navy variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The U.S. could save $9.85 billion from 2011 to 2020 by canceling the purchase of JSF jets for the Navy and Marine Corps and buying more affordable F/A-18 jets instead. Doing so would leave the Corps without jump jets once the AV-8 Harrier leaves the service, but the task force argues that capability “has not proved critical to operations in recent wars.”

• End the fielding of new MV-22 Ospreys. The Corps could save $10 billion to $12 billion over the next 10 years by buying new MH-60S and CH-53K helicopters, analysts say. The K variant of the CH-53 is not expected to hit the fleet until at least 2015, but the Navy began replacing outdated CH-46 helicopters early this century with the MH-60 on amphibious assault ships.

• Kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program and field cheaper alternatives. The Corps could save at least $8 billion in the next decade by refurbishing cheaper, existing amphibious assault vehicles instead of continuing development of the yet-to-be-fielded EFV, the task force says.

• Reduce military recruiting budgets. The task force does not provide a service-specific breakdown, but says that with a military drawdown underway, the U.S. will not need to spend as much money finding new recruits. Recruiting budgets could be reduced by $5 billion over the next decade.

Some of the proposals — killing the EFV to save money, for example — are hardly new. But the report also includes a second set of proposals authored by Benjamin Friedman and Christopher Preble, analysts at the conservative Cato Institute in Washington.

In a five-page section at the back of the task force’s 56-page report, the two analysts propose a “strategy of restraint — one that reacts to danger rather than going out in search of it.” If adopted — a big “if” — it would result in deep cuts to the Army and Marine Corps, with the Army reduced from about 560,000 soldiers to 360,000, a 36 percent reduction, and the Corps reduced from 202,000 Marines to 145,000, a 28 percent decrease. The cuts would make the Corps smaller than it has been at any time since 1950, when there were about 74,300 Marines on active duty before the U.S. took an active role in the Korean War.

[ … ]

“We are spending more on our military than we have at any point since World War II,” Preble said. “It’s absurd to think that the type of threats that we‘re dealing with today in 2010 are greater than what we dealt with in 1950 or 1960 or 1970. It’s absolutely absurd.”

No, here is what’s absurd.  Pretending that this has anything to do with saving any significant amount of money via defense cuts.  Recall that we have discussed this depiction of defense spending as a function of GDP (via Instapundit).

This graph also comes from the Cato Institute.  Maybe the analysts at the Cato Institute should talk to each other a little more.  You know, maybe some staff meetings or hallway discussions or something.  Maybe they should do lunch.  With the Obama administration having thrown several trillion dollars into toilet to be flushed away without doing any good whatsoever, the focus on defense spending is disingenuous and hypocritical.  Right before the executive summary, the following quote is strategically placed.

Conservatives needs to hearken back to the Eisenhower heritage, and develop a defense leadership that understands military power is fundamentally premised on the solvency of the American government and vibrancy of the U.S. economy,” Kori Schake, Hoover Institution Fellow and former McCain-Palin Foreign Policy Advisor.

Nice try.  Let’s cut billions out of defense spending in order to counterbalance the trillions we throw away on social engineering programs so that if we ever really do need defense again after we have managed to control ourselves and stay out of fights with the enemy, maybe we will have spent so much on non-defense we will have curtailed our drunken appetite for throwing money away and we can get down to business defending ourselves.

The problem is that the enemy gets the majority vote.  Say what you want about the expeditionary warfare concept, the 100 or so nations in which we currently have troops deployed and based, and the supposed meddling we do in the affairs of others.  It keeps the fight abroad instead of at home.  For those who wish to wait for the fight to come to our doorstep, be careful what you wish for and consider just what it would be like.

I have been as hard on the big plans for the Marine Corps as anyone.  I dominate Google rankings for expeditionary warfare and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  I oppose it (the EFV) in all its manifestations.  I have advocated a much lighter, and more air-mobile Corps, with reliance on forcible entry via air (a new helicopter fleet) rather than via sea, to allow the Navy to set up shop after the Marines have secured a beachhead.  Relying on the hugely expensive and very heavy EFV is profoundly unwise.  I have also opposed the money for the F-35 because it isn’t half the aircraft that the F-22 is, and it has had halting production efficiency.

But the authors have crossed the Rubicon.  They’re talking about massive reductions in infantry battalions.  Don’t be fooled.  Good Infantry Battalions can’t be stood up easy, cheap or fast.  We are left with our pants down if we follow the advice of this report sanctioned by this group of bipartisan lawmakers.  And for the record, while I like the generally libertarian approach to domestic lawmaking, Ron Paul’s views of national defense are naive and childish.  Any study co-sponsored by Barney Frank and Ron Paul should immediately raise your hackles.

In the future, I have a better idea for saving money.  Rather than pay these analysts to reiterate this same claptrap, next time pay me ten percent of what you would otherwise spend and I’ll cut through the crap in one tenth of the words.  One tenth the words for one tenth the cost.  If Congress doesn’t recognize that as a deal, they can’t be trusted with our money.

Prayers and Sympathies to Families at Foot Hood, Texas

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

I don’t have much wisdom to give at the moment, and I’m sure that details will come out in the future that will elicit more commentary from pundits across the blogosphere.  Right now, remember the families of the slain Soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, in your prayers.

Systemic Defense Intelligence Failures

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

Bill Gertz reports on intelligence leading up to the Taliban attack at COP Keating, Kamdesh Afghanistan.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr. recently testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that there were three intelligence reports indicating Taliban forces were preparing to attack a remote U.S. combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan, according to defense officials.

Gen. Burgess appeared before a closed-door meeting of the committee on Oct. 22 and was asked by senators about the advance warning of a Taliban attack, first reported in The Washington Times, and whether the intelligence warnings were ignored.

About 100 Taliban fighters carried out the attack on the outpost near the town of Kamdesh on Oct. 3 in what U.S. Army spokesmen said was a surprise strike that left eight U.S. soldiers dead.

Gen. Burgess explained in testimony to the committee that the military had three intelligence reports on the issue, but that the reports were among many human-source reports that had not been verified by other means, such as electronic intelligence. As a result, the reporting was not deemed “actionable” intelligence, said defense officials familiar with the testimony.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Democratic and Republican spokesmen for the Senate Intelligence Committee had no comment, citing rules limiting discussion of closed-door committee meetings.

A DIA spokesman also declined to comment.

One official said the reports indicate that there was an intelligence failure by analysts who he suspects were “waiting for the smoking-gun report from technical systems.”

“The bottom line is that in spite of all our intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan, U.S. forces have been surprised twice by massed Taliban forces in a pre-planned attack against two of our outposts,” the official said. “That begs the question of whether we have a problem of analysis.”

Partially declassified intelligence reports revealed that in the period before the Oct. 3 battle, a new Taliban subcommander in Kamdesh named Ghulan Faroq had been appointed and was in charge of attacking Combat Outpost Keating. The reports also indicated that days before the attack, insurgent fighters in Kamdesh were resupplied with ammunition for large-caliber guns.

Commentary & Analysis

One year and nine months ago we discussed the claim made by General Rodriguez, apparently relying on Army intelligence, that the Taliban were focusing on Pakistan rather than Afghanistan and thus there wouldn’t be a Taliban spring offensive in 2008.  We predicted otherwise, and quite obviously defense intelligence got it wrong while we got it right.  Reinforcing this analysis several months later, Colonel Pete Johnson said that the notion of a Taliban spring offensive was a myth that was going to be debunked.  Yet there has been a spring offensive every year, with the security situation in Afghanistan continuing to degrade and the Taliban controlling more and more of both the terrain and the population.

In our analysis of the Battle of Wanat we pointed out that the AR 15-6 Investigation and Findings of Wanat pointed towards intelligence failures in the time leading up to the battle.

One key breakdown in force protection pertained to intelligence. Multiple villagers, including tribal elders, had told multiple U.S. troops that an attack on VPB Wanat was imminent, but the assumption that such an attack would be probative caused little concern among the leadership. But the enlisted ranks included men who knew what was coming. Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling suspected that his days were numbered, while he and his band of brothers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team prepared for a mission near Wanat, Afghanistan. “It’s gonna be a bloodbath,” he told his father, Kurt Zwilling, on the phone in what would be their last conversation.  In fact, there had been daily reports of 200-300 fighters massing to attack COP Bella in the first 10 days of July before transfer of operations to VPB Wanat

We have also discussed in detail the Taliban massing of troops, bringing at times near half-Battalion size forces to bear on U.S. troop garrisons as a favorite tactic.


Now regarding the Taliban attack at Combat Outpost Keating at Kamdesh, Afghanistan, we learn that defense intelligence had three reports of imminent danger but failed to act on this intelligence.  What “smoking gun report” would have convinced them to take action we aren’t told in the Gertz investigation, but it’s important not to get buried in the details of the specific intelligence failure.

This failure is part of a larger problem in defense intelligence.  The problem is both significant and consequential.  It is significant in that it points to a systemic problem, and consequential in that the affects range from denying the presence of a Taliban offensive to the deaths of nine Soldiers at Wanat and eight at Kamdesh.

The point is granted that this administration is at war with the CIA.  But issues at the tactical level, e.g., Taliban massing of forces, imminent attacks, etc., must be acted upon without reference to certainty.  Intelligence is meant to be shared, and if further verification and validation is needed, the proper assets must be deployed to address the need.

I have previously weighed in on the cult of special forces advocating a shift away from (the current fad of) replacing kinetic operations by infantry with Special Operations Forces.  But regarding the proper use of special operators (as I see it), this is an instance of ideal application of several Rangers assigned to and embedded with infantry platoons.  Recon missions based out of the smaller COPs might add to the local intelligence rather than having to rely on electronic and technological verification of other intelligence information.

In any case, just as we are attempting to define the boundary conditions for riskless war, our Army intelligence is attempting to craft riskless analysis.  There is no such thing, and in the mean time, we are failing our Soldiers and Marines in the field at the tactical and personal level.

Army Rejects Call for Independent Assessments of Body Armor

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

About eight months ago the GAO issued a report concerning body armor (SAPI plate) recall, and outlined a number of findings concerning the testing the Army had performed.  We summarized a few of the findings in DoD Testing Requirements for Body Armor and Army Recall.

COPD is “Contract Purchase Description,” PEO is “Program Executive Officer,” and BFD means “Back Face Deformation.”  This last concept becomes important in the overall picture.  Turning to the specifics of the report, several key findings are outlined below for the purpose of providing examples of the investigation.

The inconsistencies that we identified concerned the treatment of over velocity shots.  During first article testing conducted on February 20 and November 7, 2007, shots on six of the plates were over the required velocity. Because none of the shots resulted in a complete penetration, the shots should have been considered fair, and the test should have proceeded, according to the COPD. During the November 7, 2007, test, the testing facility official complied with the COPD and correctly proceeded with testing. However, even though the scenario was exactly the same for the February 20, 2007, test, the testing facility official conducted retests on additional plates. The testing facility official documented all of the shots, including the retests, and provided the test results to PEO Soldier for scoring.  When scoring the test results for the February 20, 2007, first article test (design M3D2S2), the PEO Soldier scoring official chose to use the test results for the retested plates when he computed the test score. Use of the retested plates resulted in a score of 5.5 points, and the contractor passed the first article test. Had the scoring official followed the fair shot acceptance criteria as stated in the COPD and used the initial plates that withstood the over velocity shot, the contractor would have accumulated an additional 1.5 points (complete penetration on the second shot) and would have failed the first article test with 7 points.

Translation: When an over-velocity shot is taken on a plate, the testing may proceed if the plate is not penetrated under the assumption that a lower velocity shot would not have penetrated either.  This is a reasonable assumption.  However, if the plate is penetrated by the second shot it fails the testing, even if weakened by the initial shot.  The PEO made the decision to exclude the plates that had sustained over-velocity shots on the initial testing and to perform retests, but not consistently (as later records show).  A second example of the Inspector General’s findings pertains to measurements of BFD (back face deformation).

PEO Soldier instructed the testing facility to deviate from the COPD and use an offset correction technique (a mathematical formula used to adjust the BFD) when measuring the BFD. The testing facility official used this technique during 2 of the 21 first article tests conducted under Contract 0040. The COPD required that the testing facility officials measure the BFD at the deepest point in the clay depression after the bullet impacted the plate. However, PEO Soldier officials stated that contractors complained that the BFD measurement was not fair if the deepest point in the clay was not behind the point of impact. Therefore, a PEO Soldier official instructed the testing facility in an April 25, 2005, e-mail to use the offset correction technique if the deepest point in the clay depression was not behind the bullet’s point of impact.

Translation: The contractors complained when the measurement of deepest penetration was made at any point other than the point of bullet impact, which is the point of highest risk to the Soldier.  Therefore, the PEO made a decision that a correction would be applied to account for this effect and bring consistency to the program.

The Captain’s Journal initially concurs with both of the program deviations discussed above, since it isn’t fair to penalize one plate as compared to another if an over-velocity shot happened to be taken against it, and also since the highest risk to the Soldier does happen to be the point of bullet impact.

And it is also fair to point out that these aren’t the only problems discussed in the report.  But there are deeper problems that discussed even in the report.  With respect to the over-velocity shots, our judgment is that not enough SAPI plates are being included in the test samples (i.e., the sample size is not large enough) and the boundary conditions (such as shot velocity) are not being well-managed.  With respect to the deformation, the question naturally arises why the most severe deformation is occurring anywhere other than the point of bullet impact?  What’s happening to the ESAPI plates that is causing deformation in other than impact locations?

These questions (and other such technical questions) are not posed or answered in the Inspector General’s report, since the investigation is done by a government office.  The investigation focuses on programs, QA, adherence to procedures, consistency of application of rules and the like.  True enough, there are problems with some of the above.

But Senators and Representatives who have infinite trust in the power of government to solve problems leave the technology to the experts when a government office is the the sole arbiter of the strength of any technical program – and technological expert doesn’t usually define government offices.  In this particular case, as we have suggested before, there is no shame in assistance from industry experts.

Questions have been raised above which point to the need for completely independent consultative services focusing on QA, programmatic controls, statistical analysis of sample size, control over testing boundary conditions, and most especially the SAPI plates themselves and the underlying fracture mechanics of bullet impacts by finite element analysis.

At this point the business of body armor investigations wasn’t complete at the Government Accountability Office.  Hence, in October 2009 they issued Warfighter Support: Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding.  In the executive summary they state:

To determine what effect, if any, the problems GAO observed had on the test data and on the outcomes of First Article Testing, the Army should provide for an independent ballistics evaluation of the First Article Testing results by ballistics and statistical experts external to the Department of Defense before any armor is fielded to soldiers under this contract solicitation. Because DOD did not concur with this recommendation, GAO added a matter for congressional consideration to this report suggesting that Congress direct DOD to either conduct such an independent external review of these test results or repeat First Article Testing.

To better align actual test practices with established testing protocols during future body armor testing, the Army should assess the need to change its test procedures based on the outcome of the independent experts’ review and document these and all other key decisions made to clarify or change the testing protocols during future body armor testing. Although DOD did not agree that an independent expert review of test results was needed, DOD stated it will address protocol discrepancies identified by GAO as it develops standardized testing protocols. DOD also agreed to document all decisions made to clarify or change testing protocols.

To improve internal controls over the integrity and reliability of test data for future testing as well as provide for consistent test conditions and comparable data among tests, the Army should provide for an independent external peer review of Aberdeen Test Center’s body armor testing protocols, facilities, and instrumentation to ensure that proper internal controls and sound management practices are in place. DOD generally concurred with this recommendation, but stated that it will also include DOD members on the review team.

Consistent with our own recommendations, they counsel in the strongest possible terms that outside independent consultative support be obtained.  But as soon as the GAO released its report, the DoD released a statement claiming confidence in the safety of the SAPI plates – a completely irrelevant rejoinder to the overall recommendations of the GAO report to procure consultative support for the program.  The same day that the DoD announced that they had full confidence in their body armor tests, they announced several new QA positions concerning ballistics and body armor testing.

The Army is sounding defensive and unwilling to open their program to outside expert inspection and assessment.  Here at The Captain’s Journal we haven’t recommended draconian measures such as jettisoning the Army test program, or complete replacement of the SAPI (at least until an equivalent, lighter weight ballistic insert can be developed).  We have only recommended the engagement of outside consultative services for the Army, just as did the GAO.

For the Army to reject that recommendation is very small and in extremely bad form.  When counsel has been given to open your programs to outside inspection and that counsel is rejected, it constitutes poor engineering.  There are many industries which “live in a glass house,” so to speak: nuclear, commercial air transport, pharmaceutical and medical, just to mention a few.  There is no valid technical or budgetary reason whatsoever that the Army cannot open their program to inspection by people who know as much or more than they do.

Packing Army (Marine) Style

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago



Drenched in sweat, Army Capt. Aaron Hall peeled off his soggy socks and applied a liberal dose of foot powder before slipping on a dry pair and rallying his troops back to their throbbing feet. For an outfit used to being ferried from fight to fight in armored vehicles, a 50-mile march through the Appalachians was a little much.

Perhaps no unit better exemplifies the challenges presented by the Army’s transition from desert warfare in Iraq to rugged mountain campaigns in Afghanistan than the 3rd Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade, whose tanks and Bradley assault vehicles were among the first to rumble into Baghdad in the 2003 invasion.

Under a 2007 plan to grow the Army and diversify its forces, 4th Brigade is the only mechanized unit being ordered to ditch its tanks and Bradleys and relearn how to move through a war zone on foot.

Which is how Hall and his soldiers found themselves zigzagging through the mountains of north Georgia, trying to cover 50 miles in three days. Even after serving last year as a platoon leader in Iraq, Hall wasn’t used to that kind of exertion.

“Whenever they said ‘road march,’ it was pretty much get in your Bradleys and ride 20 miles,” said Hall, 28, of Canton, N.C. “Now, it’s put on your boots and your rucksack and start walking. We’re our own transportation.”

Commanders say the retooled brigade should be ready to deploy again late next year.

About 40 percent of the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment’s soldiers are holdovers from the unit’s previous incarnation as the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment.

After the unit returned from its third Iraq deployment in December, its tank drivers, gunners and mechanics transferred to other units as the switch to light infantry took hold. Many infantrymen trained to fight with Bradleys, tracked vehicles that resemble small tanks, stayed and now are getting used to fighting on foot.

As a mechanized infantry unit, each soldier had a designated seat in a vehicle. As light infantry, a rifle company of 135 troops has just five vehicles — Humvees and trucks — to share.

1st Sgt. Chad Brown learned to count on the Bradley’s speed and lethal weaponry during his three tours in Iraq. His soldiers would travel to drop-off points shielded by the vehicle’s thick armor, then conduct foot patrols under cover of its mounted machine gun and 25 mm cannon.

“Going from mech my whole career to light infantry, there is a concern of, ‘Oh man, where is the heavy firepower?'<2009>” said Brown, 34, of Kingsley, Mich. “I’ve been shot at sitting in Humvees and in Bradleys, and obviously I feel much more comfortable sitting in a Bradley.”

For soldiers used to the protection of armored vehicles, getting them comfortable with the added exposure of maneuvering on foot is mostly about back-to-basics training, as that’s how troops just entering the Army learn to fight, said Maj. John Grantz, executive officer of the 3-15 Infantry.

Captain Hall is doing Marine-style humping.  But wait … WAIT … WAIT!  Maybe not.

In the interests of prompting, promulgating, promoting, protracting and prolonging highly destructive inter-service rivalries, I must ask the question, “where is the body armor?”  You know, that extra 32 pounds of weight (with the IBA) that drags you down?  And I see a day-pack (with hydration), but not the full backpack that comes in at 75+ pounds.  Tisk … tisk …

Recall our Marine in Helmand with 120 pounds plus a mortar plate? khanjar_ii

Okay, so much for the internecine rivalries.  I will be out of pocket for the weekend carrying a little bit less weight on my back through the Pisgah National Forrest and avoiding anything electronic or web-based including this web site.  Have a great weekend.  Go Army!  Go Marine!

Combat Action in Nuristan and Now Zad

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

Two videos, the first from the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan.
Watch CBS Videos Online

Next, this video was posted a few weeks ago, and is a followup to our article Video of U.S. Marine Operations in Helmand and Now Zad (see second video).  This video is low resolution and looks as if it was taken with a helment camera.  Bear with it.

Taliban and Security in the Wardak Province

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

World Politics Review gives us a glimpse into operations in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan.

The most surprising thing, initially, is how difficult and time-consuming even the most basic tasks are — like getting around between coalition camps, for instance.

I had left Forward Operating Base Airborne — where I am based with U.S. Army units from the 10th Mountain Division and a French army training team — for a short trip to a nearby combat outpost, only a few miles away. The objective had been to take water, food, and building materials to the new outpost. The trip, which had promised to be relatively easy and painless, ended up consuming the entire morning, and was both inordinately tiring and far more dangerous than I had expected for such a minor mission.

The problems started as soon as the convoy of armoured vehicles and trucks left the camp’s gate. A suspicious object was spotted nearby on the road, and a group of Afghan soldiers — mentored by the French — was sent to investigate. Because the Taliban and other insurgent groups cannot take the Coalition on in a straight battle, they have multiplied roadside bomb attacks. These now cause the most Western casulties, leading Coalition convoys to proceed with extraordinary care.

When the road was eventually declared clear, the convoy turned onto it, rumbling along at little more than 10 mph. Army vehicles and trucks beat up the dust and shook painfully, the French-made VABs (véhicule de l’avant blindés, or armored vanguard vehicles) struggling against the unpaved Afghan road.

A French machine-gunner leaned out of the gunner’s window next to me at the back of the vehicle, his hands resting impassively on his gun. The only thing that gave away his excitement was the trembling of his voice as he occasionally translated the chatter coming over his crackling radio into English for me.

The convoy stopped repeatedly as the French, who are supposed to be here only in an advisory capacity, kept sending the Afghans ahead to check out an area before the convoy could roll on. Locals, whether passing by or standing outside their shops and fields, looked on, occasionally giving a nod, a wave or even a smile. Some just stared — impassively, sullenly, perhaps even with some hostility: Wardak province has been very violent since things started to fall apart in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007.

My gunner still waved at almost everybody, evidently very aware that this campaign is now about winnings hearts and minds. He seemed less aware of the scorching heat, or else he had grown oblivious to it, to say nothing of the clouds of dust the VAB churned up in his face, and the violent shaking of the vehicle that kept bumping my helmet-covered head against the roof.

Upon reaching the combat outpost — perhaps the size of a soccer field surrounded by three-foot-wide walls — the soldiers quickly unloaded the supplies off the VABs. They then stopped for a cigarette break, during which their focused professionalism quickly dissolved into playfulness, chatter, and a happy performance of Happy Birthday for one of the sergeants.

Then the atmosphere quickly reverts back into soldiering, as the French commander explains to the American team returning with us how we are to proceed and how the convoy should respond should it be attacked.

Which is precisely what happens almost the moment the vehicles are out of the gate. The whoosh of an incoming rocket, then two more, is followed by a burst of crackle over the radio. The machine-gunner shouts to me — “Get down, get down!” — his head turning back towards the front of the vehicle, his hands ready on his gun. I automatically lower myself inside the VAB, wondering numbly whether I should perhaps take at least a few photos.

We aren’t hit and neither is the base, but the convoy is now stuck. There is no more firing, but mortars are soon launched from inside the base, and the two A-10 bombers covering the convoy are called in. We sit there for minutes as nothing seems to happen. And then we rumble on. We do not stop anywhere on the way back, and in fact take a different route than the one we used to come. It is unclear where the rockets were fired from, or even who fired them.

Stepping out of their vehicles, some of the soldiers begin to enthusiastically discuss the events. “Did you hear how they came?” they ask one another. “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh: one, two, three!”

A French officer walks over. “You okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I nod, exhausted, black from the dust, my skin badly sunburnt on my neck.

He grins. “Monsieur, c’est normal ici, tu sais?” (“Mister, that’s normal here, you know?”) Apparently they come under attack every day.

Did this report impress you the same way it did me?  Good men all around, but bad strategy.  What’s missing in this account is something like the following:

Following the desire to protect the population as well as provide for force protection, the 10th Mountain had sent several squads out on what they termed “distributed operations” to find and kill the enemy.  The dispatching of troops occurred during dark so as to preclude direct observation by insurgents.  The Soldiers were deployed with night vision gear, and had found concealment prior to combat operations beginning.

Upon initial mortar fire, the squads from the 10th Mountain Division went into action, having observed the terrain for the last eight hours.  They apparently knew where the fire was coming from, and had not only prepared to initiate offensive combat operations upon detection of insurgent movement, but had also called in close air support in anticipation of the kinetic engagement.

Six insurgents were killed in the ensuing operations, and two were captured.  Subsequent interrogation revealed information that led to the discovery of an extensive weapons cache.  PAO “so-and-so” remarked that subsequent aggressive patrolling by the 10th Mountain Division in the AO was intended to assure the population that their security was improving and would make further gains upon cooperation to find and kill or capture the Taliban fighters who were causing the instability.

Why is it that we’re reading accounts of the 10th Mountain squirreling away in FOBs and logistics routes which are regularly subject to mortar attacks?  Why does the Taliban have the initiative rather than the 10th Mountain Division?

Tired Narratives on Afghanistan: Holy Warriors, Militias and SOF

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Jonathan Kay has been to a conference of “experts” on the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Here is the narrative.

I’ve spent the last two days at a conference in Freeport, Bahamas, sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, listening to dozens of specialists discuss the best way to pacify the Taliban-infested border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s been a humbling experience, as well as an educational one: I seemed to have been the only person on the speaking roster who hadn’t spent a good chunk of his or her life in south Asia. (Emphasis on “or her”: It surprised me how many women have adopted this remote, misogynistic corner of the globe as their focus of study.) Alongside the various ambassadors – current and former – there was a former police chief from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, a former CIA operative, and a variety of brand-name global terrorism experts. Other speakers had done in-depth reporting from the region for Western publications, or run grass-roots NGOs. Most of the attendees agreed that the Taliban was strong, and getting stronger — and not one offered a simple solution.

A basic problem, it emerged, is the sheer complexity of the military dynamic in eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. While journalists often talk about the Taliban as if it were a single, unified force, there are in fact many Talibans.

On the highest level are the hard-core, mass-murdering jihadis — men whose cause is inseparable from that of al-Qaeda; who are intermarried into al-Qaeda, and have even adopted Arabic as their primary language. Everyone in the room agreed that ordinary politics means little to these men: Holy War is in their blood.

In the middle tier are the tribal militias, village-defense forces, drug gangs and other Taliban-of-convenience. These groups shift their allegiance around opportunistically depending on who seems to be winning at any given moment.

Finally comes the hapless foot soldiers — illiterate peasants paid by the month to tote a gun and go where they’re told.

Each group calls out for a different strategy. In the case of the dedicated jihadis, the only thing to be done is kill them — which means boots on the ground, special forces, and drones. The militias, by contrast, respond quickly to shifts in popular opinion, propaganda and outreach. And the low-level foot-soldiers can be lured away by jobs — which means economic projects and nation-building.

Who has taught them this narrative?  Where did they get it?  As for Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters have proven resilient despite repeated operations against them.  No turning to the right or to the left.  As for Afghanistan, the indigenous insurgency in the South has proven resilient enough that the U.S. Marines in Garmser had to kill some 400 of them before relative peace came to the city in what at times was described as full bore reloading (only to be lost later because the British couldn’t hold the area).

Where is this group of hard core holy warriors which is so small that drones and SOF can take them out, and the multitudinous groups of militia that turn on a dime to shifts in opinion (rather than extort monies and enforce Sharia at the point of a gun)?

The conference of “experts” is parroting wishful thinking rather than realities on the ground in Afghanistan, in which the U.S. Marines are having to engage in heavy combat in order to pacify an indigenous insurgency in the South.  There’s nothing like a conference of “experts” in a tropical getaway to make things interesting for us.  Unfortunately, it would have been better for them to have had the conference in Now Zad.

The more interesting and relevant narrative for us comes from the Strategy Page.  Note before we get to it that The Captain’s Journal called the interdiction of supplies through Khyber and Chaman before it was in vogue, called for engaging the Caucasus before Russia, called the campaign stalled (and even losing) in 2008 while General Rodriguez waxed on about how the U.S. was taking the fight to the Taliban.

Now finally, remember that we have called repeatedly (there are too many articles to link) for re-attachment of the SOF to the infantry, getting the infantry out of their FOBs into kinetics, classical counterinsurgency and population engagement, everywhere, all of the time with all resources.

Now to the Strategy Page.

Many in the Special Forces and regular forces have urged that there be more operations featuring closer cooperation and coordination between Special Forces and the more traditional combat troops. It’s expected that this will now be happening in Afghanistan.

In addition, Special Forces (and special operations troops in general) will get more resources. This is part of a trend, as commanders have found that efforts are more successful when Special Forces personnel are taking the point. This has led to some special operations troops getting special privileges, like wider authority to call in artillery fire and air strikes. Thus this “unleashing” of the Special Forces and other special ops units (SEALs and foreign commandos) will lead to some interesting situations.

They’re listening, and we’re partly there folks.  No special privileges though.  Re-attach them to infantry, just like Force Recon is attached to Marine infantry.  Just another billet to do specialized things.  The Army is dumbing down their expectations and taking the vast majority of their fighters out of the fight while also taking their SOF fighters out of the counterinsurgency operations.  Time to end that nonsense.  Get back to the basics.

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