Archive for the 'Distributed Operations' Category



HVTs and the Taliban Decapitation Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

From Strategy Page:

Between April and July of this year, U.S. and allied (including Afghan) special operations forces killed nearly 400 Taliban leaders, and arrested another 1,400 Taliban. All this was mostly done via night operations by commandos (mainly U.S. Special Forces and SEALs) and missile attacks by American UAVs. This is part of a trend.

In the past two years, SOCOM has been shifting forces from Iraq (where it had 5,500 personnel two years ago) to Afghanistan (where it had 3,000 troops two years ago). The ratio is now largely reversed. Most American allies have moved all their commando forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, where they not only do what they were trained for, but also train Afghans for special operations tasks. This has already been done in Iraq, where it worked quite well. As a result, there are now nearly 10,000 special operations troops in Afghanistan. The SOCOM troops in Iraq and Afghanistan account for about 80 percent of American special operations forces overseas. The rest are in places like Colombia, the Philippines and Djibouti (adjacent to Somalia).

Special operations troops not only participate in most of the attacks on the Taliban leadership (and key technical people building and placing roadside bombs), but also conduct a lot of the surveillance missions that locate safe houses where Taliban leaders operate from, as well as those used for bomb making workshops. Many Special Forces troops speak the local languages, and can negotiate with village and tribal leaders for information and assistance.

This “decapitation” campaign was successful in Iraq, and earlier, in Israel (where it was developed to deal with the Palestinian terror campaign that began in 2000.) Actually, the Americans have used siimilar tactics many times in the past (in World War II, 1960s Vietnam, the Philippines over a century ago and in 18th century colonial America.) But the Israelis developed decapitation tactics customized for use against Islamic terrorists.

In some cases, the Special Forces efforts have been so successful that the Taliban has been unable to get anyone to take the place of dead leaders. In some cases, the Taliban have called on friend and kin in the Afghan government, to try and get the Americans to stop. This puts these Afghan officials in a tight spot. While they are officially on board with this campaign against the Taliban, they also have members of their tribe, or even close relatives, who are in the Taliban. That’s not unusual in Afghanistan, where even the most pro-Taliban tribes have members who are not only pro-government, but actually work (most of the time) for the government. That’s how politics works in Afghanistan.

Ooooo.  Wow.  I’m sure this will end the insurgency in Afghanistan just like killing Zarqawi brought an abrupt end to the insurgency in Iraq.  Uh … er … nevermind, maybe not.  Maybe it’s not really killing several hundred “leaders” of what is already a disaggregated and decentralized insurgency that ends it.  Maybe, like Iraq, it’s operations against the insurgents themselves, thereby rendering the “leaders” embarrassed, irrelevant and powerless when they can’t get fighters to join their cause because they are seen as the losing side.

I continue to advocate reassignment of SOF to be matrixed directly to infantry (their skills could be put to good use), and I continue to advocate the ideas that the HVT campaign did not work in Iraq, is not working in Afghanistan, and will not work anywhere. You may disagree, but you must give me data that shows the effectiveness of this strategy.  I have yet to see any such evidence.  And as for the use of the term “strategy” to define this approach, it’s exactly in line with the facts.  Our strategy in Afghanistan at the present seems to be use of the GPF for force protection for logistics, medical personnel and air power, while the SOF boys take out leaders.  Pitiful strategy, this is.  If we cannot do any better than that we need to come home.

So how is Afghanistan now that we have killed or captured (and then released) all of those leaders?  Well, this doesn’t speak so well of things.

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan  is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.

Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence — even in areas where there are few Pashtuns, who previously were the Taliban’s only supporters. As NATO forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in their stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of their own, greatly increasing their activities in the north and parts of the east.

Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country’s 368 districts, according to published United Nations estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces.

The number of insurgent attacks has increased significantly; in August 2009, insurgents carried out 630 attacks. This August, they initiated at least 1,353, according to the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, an independent organization financed by Western governments and agencies to monitor safety for aid workers.

An attack on a Western medical team in northern Afghanistan in early August, which killed 10 people, was the largest massacre in years of aid workers in Afghanistan.

“The humanitarian space is shrinking day by day,” said a CARE Afghanistan official, Abdul Kebar.

And likewise, neither does this.  Maybe we just aren’t killing the right high value targets, or something?  Or maybe we just need to focus on chasing and killing insurgents where they live by troops in contact with them every day.  You know, distributed operations and small unit maneuver warfare.  Some troops are doing that.  All of them should be.

Marine Corps Distributed Operations in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

Those who follow military doctrine closely know about Commandant Conway’s push to distributed operations within the context of smaller units.  Heretofore, the Battalion Landing Team was the smallest unit fielded from ship to shore for which the Corps was prepared to provide logistical and communications support.  The combined arms concept has generally been applied at the Marine Air Ground Task Force level.  Defensetech recently had an interesting article on The Incredible Shrinking Marine Air Ground Task Force.

The Marines appear to be leading the innovation and thought experimentation on adapting small units to battle hybrid enemies – state and non-state armed groups mixing guerrilla tactics with advanced weaponry.

Down at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, they’re fleshing out an emerging warfighting concept called “distributed operations”: small units operating independently, at a fast paced, fluid tempo when either dispersed or concentrated. Think here of German sturmtruppen tactics from World War I, or, more recently, Hezbollah fighters operating in small dispersed, yet highly lethal, groups in the 2006 Lebanon war.

The director of the Marine’s thought lab, ret. Col. Vincent Goulding, has a piece in the new Proceedings (subscription only) discussing the experimental Marine company landing team (CLT), a reinforced rifle company intended to be the “centerpiece” of future Marine operations, along with a good TO&E. Although, missing from the chart is a 155mm M777 towed howitzer platoon.

The CLT is off to Hawaii in July where it will maneuver from the sea onto some lush, tropical simulated battlefield to conduct distributed operations against a hybrid threat. Tests will look for capability gaps and whether the company headquarters can handle calling in fires, handling logistics and directing the company’s platoons.

[ … ]

Marine Lt. Col. Roger Galbraith asks whether the CLT is the right size, and has a good comments going in the comments thread. “This is a big deal for us because we normally think only of battalion-sized units as being able to operate independently. In addition, we’ll be launching the CoLT from over the horizon (20+ miles out), that’s the first time we’re doing this over the horizon thing, although we first talked about it in 1997.…what took us so long?”

Looking at the TO chart, there does appear to be a glaring lack of direct fire weapons; it doesn’t include a Javelin anti-tank missile section. Perhaps the idea is that on-call fires will substitute for direct fire capability. It’s hard to see how that pans out though. Engagement ranges in complex terrain are often too close to effectively use artillery or air strikes.

In reality, teams smaller than a company are now being distributed throughout the battle space in Helmand, whether doctrine has caught up with the idea or not.

From inside of a small compound, known as Patrol Base Khodi Rhom, the Marines of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, alongside a section of Afghan national army soldiers, patrol an area once known for large amounts of enemy activity in Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Marines sleep inside of one-man tents perched on top of cots, some stand post at different corners of the compound. One of the Marines pulls a tab on a unit ration to heat up the squad’s breakfast of biscuits, gravy, ham and raspberry swirls-the same breakfast they’ve been eating the past few days. Some Marines conduct physical training on a makeshift pull-up bar made from a tent pole; they do push-ups and jump rope on a cardboard mat.

On April 20, the Marines, along with their regular duties of post and patrol, had a simple mission; to walk two M-240G machine guns to a nearby observation post known as observation post two.

Normally vehicles would be used to move the machine guns from post to post, but because the road nearby Khodi Rhom had not yet been cleared of roadside bombs, the Marines must move most supplies by foot.

“If something happens like communication gear goes down, we need more batteries or need to move things like crew-served weapons, we have to hump it out there,” said Cpl. Aukai I. Arkus, a team leader for Easy Company, 2/2.

Helicopters have brought in food and water lately, but before they made the landing zone safer, the Marines had to carry it in.

To get the machine guns to the OP, the Marines have to move across rough fields full of wheat and poppy and through canals. There are bridges to cross the canals, but the Marines don’t use them due to greater risk of encountering an improvised explosive device.

“In that area, explosive ordnance disposal exploited lots of IEDs,” said Lance Cpl. Derek A. Tomlin, a designated marksman with Easy Co., 2/2. “They went to town blowing up and collecting IEDs.”

Once the Marines have moved the weapons, they return to the PB, crossing over the same kilometer of rough terrain that it took to get there.

The Marines quickly launched another patrol, this time to a small village near the PB, where they had established relationships with local shopkeepers before.

The Marines buy goods from the local shops, which pays off in other ways, since the relationships have been useful for gathering information on the area. They are willing to help out the shopkeepers who are more cooperative by buying more goods from them.

The Marines bring the rice and potatoes they purchase back to the base where a cook from the ANA prepares it, allowing the Marines to take a break from their usual unitized group ration dinner of chicken breast.

“It’s a nice change,” said Tomlin. “What we’ll do is get rice and potatoes and then we’ll have the ANA cook for us since none of us know how to cook.”

The Marines had manned the position for approximately five days and had planned to be relieved the next.

Though the landing zone has been declared safe, the Marines are rarely moved by air, so they have to walk back to Combat Outpost Koshtay once relieved of their duty by another squad.

They are returning to the relative comfort of Koshtay; though that is not to say that they hated their time spent at Khodi Rhom.

“The best thing about being out there is operating at our own pace,” said Arkus. “We can be as aggressive with it as we want. It leaves time for the squad leader to know what’s going on and make decisions. Also, being isolated like that allows the squad to pull together in more instances.”

The PB has allowed the Marines to saturate the surrounding area causing a significant decrease in enemy activity and an increase in locals’ willingness to assist in improving of their villages.

This is a squad-size unit operating away from the FOB.  In Fallujah 2007 squad-size units (and even smaller, fire team-size units) were in operation alone.  Squads would safely deliver a Scout sniper to his location and pick him up several days later, and a fire team would routinely embed with the Iraqi Police in Fallujah for weeks at a time.  This is small – four men.

I don’t think any of this means the end of the Battalion Landing Team or MEUs. but it does mean a lighter Marine Corps.  For those who would claim that this is a focus on counterinsurgency in lieu of conventional warfare, I would argue that it is a return to what the Marines have always been.  World Wars I and II were anomalies in the history of the Corps.

Over at Defensetech, a commenter named Sven Ortmann shows his ass and makes completely useless, asinine and combative comments.  After reading them, I know nothing more about anything, and I want that five minutes of my life back.  Sven owes me, and if I ever see him I’ll take it from him.  It’s called being pedantic, and commenters like this is why I don’t frequent Defensetech.  But commenter Byron Skinner gives us some useful information after suffering through Sven’s hysteria.

This is the Marines getting back to being Marines and not Army clones. Before WWII this is what the marine looked like, small, fast and light. The current enemies are using speed, mobility and terrain knowledge and are winning in Afghanistan.

Technology is the force multiplier here not heavy iron. The Corp. knows that it’s going to be losing personal as the war in Afghanistan winds down. The Corps best NCO’s and Officers are now being cycled through Afghanistan, already 1,300 enlisted and 115 officers have been told they don’t have a career slot in the post Afghanistan Corps, those that don’t go voluntarily, will be RIF’ed.. General Conway is being up front and very Marine about what he is doing.

If some enterprising Marine Corps officer wants to send me a confidential note explaining whether this is on the level, that would be good.  Finally, take particular note of this one man tent in Patrol Base Khodi Rhom.

I want one.  I really, really want one.  Can this be purchased down at the Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) at Camp Lejeune?  Anyone?  Anyone know of a civilian version of this same tent?  I really, really want one.

Micromanaging the Campaign in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 6 months ago

From The New York Times:

The Taliban commander was back in the village. Our base roared to life as we prepared to capture him. Two Chinook helicopters spun their blades in anticipation in the dark. Fifty Afghan commandos brooded outside, pacing in the gravel. I was nearby, yelling into a phone: “Who else do we need approvals from? Another colonel? Why?”

A villager had come in that afternoon to tell us that a Taliban commander known for his deployment of suicide bombers was threatening the elders. The villager had come to my unit, a detachment of the United States Army stationed in eastern Afghanistan, for help.

Mindful of orders to protect the civilian population, we developed a plan with the Afghan commandos to arrest the Taliban commander that evening before he moved back into Pakistan. While the troops prepared, I spent hours on the phone trying to convince the 11 separate Afghan, American and international forces authorities who needed to sign off to agree on a plan.

Some couldn’t be found. Some liked the idea, others suggested revisions. The plan evolved. Hours passed. The cellphone in the corner rang. “Where are you?” the villager asked urgently. The Taliban commander was drinking tea, he said.

At 5 a.m. the Afghan commandos gave up on us and went home. The helicopters powered down. The sun rose. I was still on the phone trying to arrange approvals. Intelligence arrived indicating that the Taliban commander had moved on. The villagers were incredulous.

This incident is typical of what I saw during my six-month tour in Afghanistan this year. We were paralyzed by red tape, beaten by our own team. Our answer to Afghans seeking help was: “I can’t come today or tomorrow, but maybe next week. I have several bosses that I need to ask for permission.”

In my experience, decisions move through the process of risk mitigation like molasses. When the Taliban arrive in a village, I discovered, it takes 96 hours for an Army commander to obtain necessary approvals to act.

Analysis & Commentary

We dealt with this same thing in Seeking Riskless War based on an experience by Vampire 06 blogging at Afghanistan Shrugged.  Illumination rounds were needed in order to conduct kinetic operations against insurgents, with the request to deliver those rounds denied by Battalion command 100 miles away because the eight pound canister might land on a domicile.

This same mentality is evident in McChrystal’s tactical directive that essentially promulgates new rules of engagement under a single signature.  The rules as they stood were restrictive enough, and if McChrystal had wanted to calibrate his reports a closed door meeting would have been the best option.  Instead, publishing the new rules has opened up new space for the insurgents according to the Pentagon.

Four Marines were killed in the Kunar Province while under fire, when after twice requesting artillery and air support, they were twice denied by command who was located remotely.  The problem goes not to the issue of whether there should be rules or whether overuse of kinetics might lead to rejection of U.S. forces by the population.  The problem goes to whether tactical directives should be issued from remote locations to Lance Corporals in the field under fire, thus undermining the decision-making of those sustaining the real risk.

Norville de Atkine in Why Arabs Lose Wars has a remarkable analysis of the role of NCOs and first line command on troops and troop performance (also available here).

The social and professional gap between officers and enlisted men is present in all armies, but in the United States and other Western forces, the non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps bridges it. Indeed, a professional NCO corps has been critical for the American military to work at its best; as the primary trainers in a professional army, NCOs are critical to training programs and to the enlisted men’s sense of unit esprit. Most of the Arab world either has no NCO corps or it is non-functional, severely handicapping the military’s effectiveness. With some exceptions, NCOs are considered in the same low category as enlisted men and so do not serve as a bridge between enlisted men and officers. Officers instruct but the wide social gap between enlisted man and officer tends to make the learning process perfunctory, formalized, and ineffective. The show-and-tell aspects of training are frequently missing because officers refuse to get their hands dirty and prefer to ignore the more practical aspects of their subject matter, believing this below their social station. A dramatic example of this occurred during the Gulf War when a severe windstorm blew down the tents of Iraqi officer prisoners of war. For three days they stayed in the wind and rain rather than be observed by enlisted prisoners in a nearby camp working with their hands.

A strong NCO corps was and is something that the Iraqi Security Forces haven’t been able to implement despite the best efforts of U.S. trainers.  But the trend in U.S. warfare is going in the wrong direction.  While officers might like to claim that they have the utmost respect for and confidence in their Gunnys, First Sergeants, Sergeant Majors, and in the Army, Command Sergeant Majors, the practice of micromanaging conflicts shows this claim is to some extent wishful thinking.

The U.S. officer corps has unwittingly bought into the Western business and industrial model of high level managers micromanaging their employees, metrics, and even day to day actions.  Officers have become more managers than military leaders, and paradoxically this has driven the U.S. military away from the Western strength of the NCO corps and towards a more Middle Eastern model.

I have recommended chasing the Taliban into their lairs by a combination of tactics, including distributed operations (Force Recon, Scout Snipers, small unit operation, and high confidence in their decision-making).  Based on the micromanagement of the campaign by high level officers, this is a forlorn hope and wasted counsel.  We continue to seek riskless war.

Concerning Snipers, Rules of Engagement and General Kearney

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

Problem Statement

From all appearances, two more soldiers will be in military court defending their actions in battle due to the current rules of engagement – or [mis]application of them.  From the New York Times:

FORT BRAGG, N.C., Sept. 17 — From his position about 100 yards away, Master Sgt. Troy Anderson had a clear shot at the Afghan man standing outside a residential compound in a village near the Pakistan border last October. When Capt. Dave Staffel, the Special Forces officer in charge, gave the order to shoot, Sergeant Anderson fired a bullet into the man’s head, killing him.

In June, Captain Staffel and Sergeant Anderson were charged with premeditated murder. On Tuesday, in a rare public examination of the rules that govern the actions of Special Operations troops in Afghanistan, a military hearing will convene at Fort Bragg to weigh the evidence against the two men, both Green Berets.

The case revolves around differing interpretations of the kind of force that the Special Forces team that hunted and killed the man, Nawab Buntangyar, were allowed to use once they found him, apparently unarmed.

To the Special Forces soldiers and their 12-man detachment, the shooting, near the village of Ster Kalay, was a textbook example of a classified mission completed in accordance with the American rules of engagement. They said those rules allowed the killing of Mr. Buntangyar, whom the American Special Operations Command here has called an “enemy combatant.

Adaptability

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 1 month ago

During the Israel-Hezballah war, Hezballah used a strategy called distributed operations.  Small, self-sufficient teams of fighters with only low- to mid-level leadership conducted operations against the IDF, often cut off from communication, senior leadership and supplies.  The risks are great, but Hezballah could react organically rather than bureaucratically.

The insurgency in Iraq has taken this to the next level.  Distributed operations are the norm.  Insurgent snipers regularly stay cut off from their leadership for days.  Small teams of insurgents operate with near autonomy, yet the overall objective remains fairly well known and paramount.  The “membership rolls” of the insurgency can grow or shrink, depending upon any number of things.  An insurgent might be a respected worker by day and a fighter by night.

The insurgent makes use of any means available, such as high tech explosively formed projectiles transported in from Iran.  In the absence of a high tech weapon, they will make use of the lowest-tech weapon possible — ordnance delivered by humans, or suicide bombers.  Depending upon the needs, the insurgency can cluster or disperse, swarm or disappear, distribute largesse or threaten brutality, hide or relocate.

The single best word that describes this behavior is adaptability.

Let’s contrast this with a possible example from the U.S. Army.  Let’s suppose that there existed an NCO (non-commissioned officer) in a combat brigade who, after doing previous combat tours in support of OIF and training his subordinates to do the same for the next deployment, decided that he didn’t want to re-enlist for a full enlistment term, but also that he would like to deploy with the unit soon for another combat tour in support of OIF.  He decided this because he felt an obligation to the mission and his troops, and his troops wanted him to deploy with them.  So the intent was to stay in the Army until the combat tour was finished.

The problem is that the rules don’t allow it.  Our NCO has to re-enlist for the full term or leave the Army.  He decides to leave the Army, and so the Army loses a seasoned NCO who could have provided leadership to his troops in the upcoming deployment.  In this instance, adaptability has ceded the high ground to bureaucracy, and the insurgency wins one small encounter due to the unadaptability of the U.S. military.


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