Archive for the 'Australian Army' Category



Investigating the Battle of Derapat

BY Herschel Smith
4 years 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.

Australian Army Decisions Under Fire

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 7 months ago

From The Age (regrettably extensive but necessary quote):

Senses heightened and with sweaty hands gripping their automatic rifles, the Australian commandos crept through the dark near the village of Surkh Morghab, in southern Afghanistan. Arriving at a mud-walled home, they looked through their night vision goggles for any signs of the local Taliban leader Mullah Noorullah. Intelligence had indicated he might be here, but after conducting a search the troops turned up nothing – in Defence speak, the house was ”dry”.

On that cold February night last year, with whispered commands, they then moved on to another nearby compound. It was to be a fateful decision. Within minutes the surreptitious operation was interrupted by bursts of gunfire, shouted orders and the explosive thump of grenades. Six innocent people were killed, including two babies.

Now, more than a year later, this operation is at the centre of one of the most serious war crimes investigations faced in decades by the Australian Defence Force.

The fate of those involved – the soldiers on the ground that night and their commanding officer back in Kandahar – is in the hands of the Brigadier Lyn McDade. As the Director of Military Prosecutions, she sits in an office in Canberra where she is charged with weighing up what happened in a few chaotic minutes during that night-time operation more than a year ago. That she is said to be considering criminal charges points to the gravity of her decision. No Australian soldier has faced manslaughter charges in Afghanistan or Iraq. And senior military lawyers say they recall no such case during Vietnam.

Today, The Age reveals that a central element of the case surrounds the ”Concept of Operations” document, known as CONOPS. This is a highly scrutinised plan prepared before any major operation. It is a complex checklist that ensures that any plans abide by the tactics, strategy, regulations, and legal framework stipulated by the Australian Defence Force. Before a CONOPS is approved, it passes up the chain of command and often past the eyes of military lawyers.

The extent to which this CONOPS discussed raiding the second compound is likely to be crucial for Brigadier McDade, and any decision she makes on charges of negligence. It is not clear if the second raid was outlined in detail, or at all, in the CONOPS. This will be central to Brigadier McDade’s view of whether the evidence can sustain a charge of negligence. If so, any prosecution case would rest on who gave a command to move on the second compound, and how such a decision was made.

Adding difficulty to Brigadier McDade’s task is the fact that she does not have all the pieces of the puzzle. The Age has confirmed that investigators could not visit the scene of the incident and did not meet any survivors of the attack. In part this is because the troops that would have been needed to provide security for such a visit were occupied with other operations when the request was made.

Still, recollections from numerous sources allows The Age to tell some of the story of that night in greater detail than before.

As they do on so many nights of every week of every ”rotation” or tour of duty, the commandos that February night had what they call ”reliable intelligence”. This intelligence stated that a Taliban leader was likely to be at what the military call a ”compound of interest” near the village. It is just 10 kilometres away from the sprawling base that Australian troops share with the Dutch and Americans in the town of Tarin Kowt.

A CONOPS was prepared, the raid went ahead, but no Taliban leader was found. The soldiers on the night would have known that it is often hard to gauge the reliability of an intelligence report. But intelligence is almost always assessed stringently before it is acted on. Even then, initially reliable evidence can lead to a dead end.

The commandos then moved on to look for the Taliban leader. If intelligence was used in the decision to go to the second compound where the bloodshed eventually occurred, the prosecutor will look at that intelligence. She will examine how that intelligence was scrutinised in the lead-up to the night-time mission.

Entering a compound at night requires precision and care. As the soldiers started moving through this second compound they dragged one man, Zahir Kahn, out of bed. SBS’s Dateline program recently broadcast an interview with Zahir Kahn in which he says the shooting started soon after he woke up. It is what happened in the next few furious minutes that will be considered by prosecutors.

As some of the Australians dealt with Zahir Kahn, other commandos scanned the compound for possible threats. The soldiers say they saw Zahir’s brother, Amrullah, pointing a weapon at them. They say they opened fire, as they are trained to do if they perceive a life-threatening risk.

Other soldiers have been cleared in previous incidents after shooting first, even when the Army could not establish that those killed had been armed. Shooting first can be permitted under the rules of engagement and the laws of war.

The initial public statement from the ADF in February last year said, “the soldiers were fired upon by Taliban insurgents”. A more recent statement from Defence simply said: ”We can confirm that Australian forces were involved in an exchange of fire with an Afghan man.”

Had this operation stopped here, it might have attracted little mention beyond a brief ADF press release. But once the shooting started, the Australians also responded with hand grenades. It was over in minutes, but when the smoke cleared, the detained man’s brother, Amrullah, was dead. So was Amrullah’s teenage sister, 10-year-old son, 11-year-old nephew, and two babies – a one-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl.

Because hand grenades were used in response to continued firing, Lyn McDade will carefully weigh who gave the order, or made the decision, to throw the grenades, and whether it was a proportionate response. The prosecutor will only lay charges if she thinks there is a reasonable prospect of a guilty verdict. Such a verdict would come from the six military professionals sitting on a jury in a military court.

Those at the centre of the allegations have disputed some of the claims made against them, which is why the details being considered by the prosecutor are crucial. There are disputed accounts, but The Age understands that some at the scene believe there were significant indications that unarmed civilians were close by. However, any interaction with civilians is complicated by the knowledge that Taliban fighters are part of the local population; in many cases they fight from their own homes, which for centuries have been designed as mini-forts to repel intruders.

Sustaining any criminal charges would require substantial corroborated evidence. Without access to the scene of the attack or to the survivors, it may be difficult to convince a jury of military professionals that the evidence points to a guilty verdict beyond reasonable doubt.

What galls the soldiers watching this process unfold is that unlike most of us, they have lived through the danger of these situations. Soldiers know that in the midst of a firefight, even battle-hardened veterans find it tough to work out how many people are shooting at them, and from where.

So, this investigation, and the prospect of a possible prosecution, has sparked whispers of recrimination and anger among the military. With dismay reverberating through the ranks of Australia’s army – and the defence force as a whole – the stakes are extraordinarily high.

If charges are laid it will open up a significant can of worms for the Defence Force. It will have ramifications for the future training of soldiers, fuelling claims and counter-claims about an investigation that some say only searched for scapegoats. And it will test the fairness and thoroughness of Australia’s military justice system.

There have been a series of investigations into this incident, with some restarted after complaints from the soldiers involved. There have also been rumblings about the six-month delay in transferring this case to the military police, the ADF’s Investigative Service (ADFIS).

However, that formal investigation faced formidable hurdles.

Last year the investigators in this case could not get to the compound that was the scene of such violence months ago. To escort them there would have required armed troops and vehicles, diverting resources from important operations. After careful consideration, it was decided no escort would be possible.

The investigators, and the special forces soldiers needed to protect them, also understood that such excursions were not a simple act. Turning up with an armed group of soldiers to ask questions at an Afghan house is very different to an Australian homicide investigation. The Australian newspaper did get to the site of the raid recently and interviewed the father of one of the victims. He reportedly said he did not blame the Australian soldiers, who, he said, had been misled by a local spy. However, the military believes its investigations face difficulties with similar searches for the truth.

This degree of control over operations with CONOPS is another example of micromanaging the military.  It removes the latitude of on-sight commanders to make extemporaneous decisions.  So just who is this Brigadier Lyn McDade?

McDade

She is a former civilian lawyer who has no previous military experience (and certainly no Australian infantry combat action badge), but who was brought into the new military justice system to aid in efficiency and effectiveness.  Has she accomplished this?  “There has been widespread discontent with the take-no-prisoners approach of the Director of Military Prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade. Military lawyers have told The Australian they believed minor offences that were previously subject to prejudicial conduct hearings had been endlessly moved into the court.”

It doesn’t bode well when the very chief of the military justice system is taking what would previously have been between a Non Commissioned Officer and his enlisted men – what in the U.S. is called non-judicial punishment – and placing it in formal military courts.  It would quite literally bring military justice to a halt in the U.S., cause undermanned units, and bring with it an atmosphere of dishonesty and suspicion.

There were apparently training and leadership problems associated with this particular Australian Special Forces unit, a revelation that is a bit surprising since Australian general purpose forces (i.e., infantry) are not allowed to participate in combat.  Only Australian special forces are allowed to participate in direct action combat.  But perhaps this isn’t so surprising given that those same forces have had to rush Australian military cooks to the front to give them “proper food.”  Perhaps the general purpose infantry could have done a better job after all.  They have been trained to endure austere conditions, as all infantry has.

It’s apparent that the Australian military cares and is attempting to cooperate with the various legal authorities in this matter, despite their detractors.  But Australia is starting down a dark road, one that the British have been on, and one that has cost the U.S. millions of dollars and untold court time and energy only to find out that all of the Haditha Marines have been exonerated except Staff Sergeant Wuterich (and The Captain’s Journal predicts that he will be as well).  This dark road will also find that the Australian military will take the brunt of the damage after all has been said and done, regardless of what happened that night.  Such is the nature of witch hunts.

What's for Dinner in Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 4 months ago

For the Aussies, it isn’t clear, but it had better be from home or they’ll get pissy.

There have been few if any complaints about the Dutch troops in Afghanistan from the other countries in the coalition forming the International Support and Assistance Force (ISAF). Generally they are regarded as valuable colleagues doing a good job.

However, there is one problem being experienced by the 800 Australian troops who share the Tarin Kowt military base in Uruzgan province with Dutch troops. The Dutch are in charge of the mess and the Aussies are less than happy about the food. There have been so many complaints about the Dutch food being “tasteless” and “not fresh” that the issue has been raised in the parliament in Canberra.

At a special defence budget hearing, Australia’s military commander air chief marshall Angus Houston commented: “It’s not Aussie food, it’s European food. People have been quite strong in their views about the European food”. Senator David Johnston said, “I think it was an insult to them. The least they could expect when they are deployed for six months is that they can eat proper food”.

The Dutch cooks at Tarin Kowt serve around 2500 soldiers a day, a mix of Dutch, Australian, French, Slovakian and British troops. The food is prepared in the Netherlands, frozen and then shipped to Karachi in Pakistan. From there it goes by road to Afghanistan. With delays at the border, the journey can take as much as two or three months. Because of food safety considerations, ISAF bases are not permitted to use local Afghan fruit or vegetables. Those are flown in from Dubai.

Houston told the Australian parliament: “We listen to our people. Our people have indicated they’d like some Aussie food.” A team of Australian military cooks has been rushed to Afghanistan.

Hmmm … proper food.  Well, the eating establishment looks something like this.

It is fairly well known that Australia won’t allow any troops but their Special Operations Forces to actually participate in kinetic operations in Afghanistan.  Now here is a picture of vittles for the U.S. Marines in Helmand (Garmser, where is there no electricity).

Well, perhaps if Australia would allow their infantrymen to deploy and perform infantry tactics and maneuvers in Afghanistan, they wouldn’t be so obsessed with “proper” vittles at a posh FOB as the Aussie SOF.


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Blunt Instruments in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

The Herald Sun has an article from an Australian perspective on the campaign in Afghanistan. Recall as you read this that based on discussions in The Cult of Special Forces, the Australians do not allow their infantry to engage in combat operations, and in fact require that they sign formal agreements stating that they haven’t provoked kinetic engagements. They allow only their special forces to engage in kinetic operations.

The ambush and serious wounding of nine elite Australian soldiers in Afghanistan this month showed just how tenuous the coalition’s hold is over most of the troubled country.

Despite the advanced weapons and remote technology waged against them by the world’s top military powers, including unmanned spy planes that escort most patrols, Taliban fighters backed by their comrades in Pakistan and Iran just keep on coming.

The situation is so confused that highly trained Australian special forces troops have been implicated in the death of a district governor during a firefight between the Diggers and Afghan police.

For one British attack helicopter crew the reality of this bitter war reflected the fantasy of a Terminator movie during a recent operation in the restive Helmand province.

After firing a Hellfire missile from their Apache chopper to level a building housing key Taliban leaders, they were astonished to see several men escaping from the smouldering pile of rubble in a sports utility vehicle.

The pilots tuned their high-tech optical equipment, which can focus on an individual face from several kilometres away, onto the speeding utility and positively identified a prime target inside.

Another Hellfire reduced the Toyota to scrap metal, but, amazingly, one of the insurgents had survived and what was left of him began crawling away, Terminator -like, from the carnage.

The coup de grace was delivered by a short burst from the chopper’s lethal 30mm chain gun.

The Taliban might be unable to drive foreign forces out with a decisive military offensive, but they are determined to win this war of attrition.

From the heavily fortified United Nations, American, NATO and Afghan government citadels in the capital Kabul to the bloody frontline “green zones” in Helmand and Oruzgan provinces, this is a war that could last for decades and may never be won.

As the coalition death toll mounts and the Western political landscape changes, the question being asked across Afghanistan is not how the military campaign is going but rather what are the alternatives.

The 70,000 foreign troops in the country, including 1100 Australians, represent the blunt instrument of international policy.

But the force is nowhere near big enough to actually defeat the enemy, train the Afghan army and secure desperately needed infrastructure development.

Indeed, the war may never be won, and the last paragraph explains exactly why. Not enough troops. Interestingly, the author calls the 70,000 troops in Afghanistan a “blunt instrument.”

With many of these troops unable to perform offensive or kinetic operations due to rules of engagement, and with strategic incoherence keeping them on FOBs rather than contacting the population, the remaining troops that can engage in combat do so with heavy use of air power with its collateral damage and raids against high value targets.

This is a blunt instrument indeed. While counterintuitive, one lesson learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom is that while some old school counterinsurgency thinkers advocated the small footprint, it is precisely this that causes convulsive contact with the population. The more productive, precise and surgical operations require time and infantry. Infantry contacts both the population and the enemy constantly, with enough force projection to provide security and gain intelligence.  The Captain’s Journal has repeatedly stated a maxim: the necessity to apply force is inversely proportional to the force projection.

So while the pedestrian version of kinetic operations has special forces raids as surgical and infantry operations as blunt, in counterinsurgency exactly the opposite is true. Australia’s political leadership would do well to learn this, and also surmise that in the end, the small footprint model will be more costly. Australia’s military leadership already knows this.

The Cult of Special Forces

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

The Autumn 2008 Edition of the Australian Army Journal contains an important article by Major Jim Hammett, entitled We Were Soldiers Once: The Decline of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps? Several key paragraphs are reproduced below.

There are indicators that the feelings of angst prevalent within the Infantry Corps have festered to the point of public dissent and critical questioning of the Corps’ raison d’etre. This is reflected not only by questions posed to our leadership (including the Minister for Defence and the Chief of Army) across three theatres of operation, but also by recent articles published in mainstream media. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence would suggest that disillusionment regarding the employment and future of the Infantry Corps has been a significant contributing factor to the discharge of personnel from the Corps …

The Infantry have not been tasked with conducting offensive action since Vietnam; Special Forces have been engaged in combat operations almost continuously since 2001. When comparing the role of the Infantry with that of Special Operations Forces (SOF), in contrast to the nature of deployments, the logical deduction is that either the role of the Infantry is now defunct, or that only SOF are considered capable of the role …

‘This cult of special forces is as sensible as to form a Royal Corps of Tree Climbers and say that no soldier, who does not wear its green hat with a bunch of oak leaves stuck in it should be expected to climb a tree’. Field Marshall Sir William Slim was remarkably prophetic when he cautioned against the inclination to consider some tasks capable of being fulfilled by Special Forces only. The parallels between Slim’s ‘Royal Corps of Tree Climbers’ analogy and the current trend of operational deployments accurately summarise the frustrations of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, who, despite the lack of a ‘green hat’ (or possibly Sherwood Green or ‘Sandy’ beret), consider themselves more than capable of ‘climbing trees’ …

Notwithstanding recent combat actions performed by Infantrymen in Afghanistan, the role of the Infantry component of the Reconstruction Task Force is limited to force protection—rigidly imposed to the point whereby participants have been required to sign formal documents declaring that they have not provoked combat operations— whilst their fellow countrymen from the Special Operations Task Group actively pursue engagement with enemy forces, having been publicly praised by defence and governmental hierarchy for previous tours of duty that involved daily contact with the enemy. In the same theatre, armies with whom we possess a standardisation program (US, Britain and Canada) are employing their Infantry aggressively against the enemy. The lack of Australian participation in combat has drawn adverse comment and questions from the international press …

Since 11 September 2001 Australia’s allies have become embroiled in violent conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia. Australia has professed itself a staunch ally of the Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed has received significant political kudos for what has been termed as unwavering support. At the coalface, however, such sentiments are dismissed as political rhetoric, as serving members from the United States, Britain and Canada lay their lives on the line in support of their government’s objectives whilst the Australian Infantry appear to do little more than act as interested spectators from the sideline.

Notwithstanding the mutual accolades provided between international political bodies in the interests of diplomacy, Australia’s contributions to both Iraq and Afghanistan have been derided and scorned by soldiers and officers alike from other nations who are more vigorously engaged in combat operations. In Iraq, the much heralded deployment of Al Muthanna Task Group-1 was met with incredulity by British forces deployed on Operation TELIC V. The stringent force protection measures and limitations to manoeuvre applied to the newly arrived (yet very well equipped) Australians were in stark contrast to the British approach of using the benign Al Muthanna province as a respite locality for (not very well equipped) troops who had been in sustained action in either Basra or Al Amarah.

The initial caution of such a deployment is both prudent and understandable, however the ongoing inaction and lack of contribution to counterinsurgency and offensive operations has resulted in collective disdain and at times near contempt by personnel from other contributing nations for the publicity-shrouded yet forceprotected Australian troops.

The restrictions and policies enforced on Infantrymen in Iraq have resulted in the widespread perception that our Army is plagued by institutional cowardice. Rebuttal of such opinions is difficult when all staff at Iraq’s Multi-National Division (South East) Headquarters are formally briefed that the Australian contingent’s national caveats strictly prohibit offensive operations, attack and pursuit. Of the phases of war, this leaves only defence and withdrawal.

Commentary & Analysis

In the Weekly Standard in March of 2007, Michael Fumento had an interesting article entitled The Democrats’ Special Forces Fetish: A Fatuous Promise to Double the Size of Our Elite Military Units. It is worth reading for the volume of information in the article, as well as for a good knock-down argument for why it is impossible to double the size of the Special Operations Forces.

The Democrats’ reflexive push to treat counterinsurgency as counterterrorism is one reason that The Captain’s Journal doesn’t cover or analyze hits against so-called high value targets (HVT). The war on terror isn’t about personalities, even though some of their favorite think tanks do wish to treat it as a police campaign against individuals.

But beyond this, there has grown up around SOF a sort of cult following and hero worship that clouds informed judgment and clear thinking. SOF, it is believed – perhaps based on the Rambo persona – can do anything, and tend to be the real warriors deployed when the fighting gets tough. Hard core kinetic operations is reserved for SOF. Gone are the days when special operations has to do with specialty billets such as language, reconnaissance, airborne, and other qualifications that is is just too expensive to grow in the armed forces. Enter the days of SOF as supermen.

But the advent of each new story about SOF that kills some high profile name, while riveting for the non-military reader, continues the same lesson that Rumsfeld took into Afghanistan with his vision of airmen with satellite uplinks guiding JDAMS to target, CIA operatives, and alliances with rogues in the country who could knock out the Taliban. Afghanistan is a failing campaign precisely because of this view. Counterinsurgency requires infantry and force projection, those things necessary to ensure security for the population.

While Fumento’s view might be applicable to the Army, Navy and Air Force, since The Captain’s Journal is a USMC blog, we’ll take a uniquely Marine view of things. While some Recon Marines have been split off from their units, Recon primarily still supports infantry, and the Marine force structure is uniquely aligned to conduct kinetic operations, whether conventional or counterinsurgency.

In order to help explain this, a conversation is given below. In this conversation, TCJ is The Captain’s Journal, M is some unnamed Marine, and City is the location in which this Marine happened to be during his deployment. It is left to the reader to surmise whether this is a real or fabricated conversation.

TCJ: Did y’all ever conduct distributed operations in the city?

M: Units of how large?

TCJ: Two, or three, or a fire team.

M: No. If you went into the city with less than a squad you died. Usually a platoon, always at least a squad. If a squad, the fire teams conducted a satellite patrol to throw the enemy off.

TCJ: What about snipers? Didn’t you have and use them?

M: Yea, we have the DM (designated Marksman) specialization who is also still part of his unit.

TCJ: How did he deploy into the city?

M: A platoon or squad delivered him to his location. When he was finished a day or two later we picked him up and escorted him back to the FOB or outpost. If he got into trouble, we were a radio call away.

TCJ: What if the population saw you deliver this DM and knew he was there?

M: So what?

TCJ: Well, if they knew he was there, so did the insurgents, and they would then know to avoid that area altogether.

M: Right. So whether the DM shoots or merely uses his known presence to pacify an area, you’ve met your objective, right?

TCJ: I understand. So the idea is to provide maximum force protection while also contacting the population.

M: Look. Combat in the Marines is engaged by the infantry. Infantry lays maximum metal down range when needed, beginning with the SAWs.

TCJ: So no one, including Recon, sees more combat than infantry?

M: It’s all still infantry. Recon is attached to infantry. DMs are attached to infantry. Artillery supports infantry. No one person is more special than anyone else. They are all billets, and the Marine does his job and fulfills his billet. Everyone is billeted to support infantry, and infantry protects everyone else. Infantry is king. It’s the focus of everything.

Major Hammett’s disdain for the lack of respect for and utilization of his infantry is both obvious and understandable. While Australian forces were inside the borders of Afghanistan prior to U.S. forces post 9/11, they were special operations forces. No infantry has been deployed to engage in kinetic operations in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

For a picture of what the Democratic proposal for structuring the armed forces of the United States would look like, see the one painted by Major Hammett. Special operations conducts black operations against high value targets, and infantry sits in the States training. The war on terror will not be treated as a counterinsurgency campaign. It will be understood to be a policing action requiring the SWAT team of U.S. special operations forces.

There are some who favor equipping, training and preparation for a near peer conflict who might like this picture. But before jumping too quickly, the reader should consider the unintended consequences of such an approach. According to Major Hammett, such consequences can be (but are not limited to) an Army that suffers from the perception of “institutional cowardice” and (as Major Hammett discusses later in his paper) the loss due to lack of job satisfaction of the very soldiers who the institutionalists wish to retain, and loss of the very soldiering that they wish to press due to inexperience.


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