In Why we must chase the Taliban and Refusing the Chase we covered how the ROE was preventing U.S. troops from engaging the insurgency when it was possible that noncombatants could be involved, and that this tactical approach had caused the need to chase the insurgents when they took cover in civilian areas and then later escaped. We must chase the Taliban and kill every last one of them, we are told by some Afghanis.
But we don’t have the troops, helicopters or logistics to continue the chase into the valleys, mountains and fields of Afghanistan. From Lt. Col. Scott Cunningham, commander of the 1st Squadron, 221st Cavalry, of the Nevada National Guard, we have another indication of insurgent tactics that brings up the issue of chasing the enemy.
The enemy in Afghanistan is elusive. They will rarely attack unless they have absolute superiority. Because of that, we usually maneuver with enough soldiers and firepower to defeat any potential threat we may encounter. Getting cut off by a superior force is a recipe for disaster. A TIC, or “Troops in Contact” is unlikely in any given patrol, but essentially inevitable over the course of an entire deployment. It can be either an IED, long-distance harassing fire or a close-up ambush. Depending on the enemy tactic, the maneuver unit will immediately attempt to pin the enemy down, and then use artillery, helicopters, or aircraft weapons on him, or flank them with maneuver forces.
The enemy has the tendency to attack from long range and then run away, often into villages, where our rules of engagement prevent us from effectively engaging him, or into the mountains where the weight of our gear prevents rapid pursuit.
One more important account comes to us from a Marine who was embedded with the Afghan National Army in the Kunar Province.
Upon getting into the village, we did the usual – looked around at the terrain and figured out how we were going to set up security with our sparse forces (2 Marines and perhaps a dozen ANA), before looking around for the village elder to talk to. We eventually got ourselves set up and found an elder, who invited me, my terp, and the ANA leader inside “The White House” for tea, nuts, and candies. No matter how poor, down and out an Afghan is, they’ll always have some small provisions for guests. It was a pretty gloomy, rainy day and the old fella seemed kind of down, though it’s never easy to really read people when you can’t understand a word they are saying. Eventually, his nephews, young men in their 20’s, came out and proceeded to show us pictures of their father, who apparently had been the head man in the village, but had been killed by the insurgents just a few months before. At that point, the older gentlemen teared up and had to leave the room. The story was that the Taliban killed him because he had been a powerful figure in the local area, and wasn’t showing enough support to them. It’s those moments where you really realize how alone those people are. They may have had each other, living in a huge house built of stones fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, but once we left the area that day they were really on their own. Our base may have been less than a mile away, but we didn’t really know what went on in that village at night. “Protecting the people” in Afghanistan is a tough thing to do.
Especially in a land where the people will not combat the insurgents themselves, it becomes necessary to take additional measures to target the insurgents. In this case it might come down to distributed operations. Additional troops will be needed, and Scout Sniper, Force Recon and DMs (Designated Marksman) will be used extensively along with the rest of infantry. But we must lie in wait, perform reconnaissance, find them before they find us (or the people), chase them into the valleys and hills, and be prepared to work in smaller units where force protection may not be the most important of the doctrines.
Of course, the embedded Marine in Kunar hasn’t the resources necessary to do these things. At least in part, that’s the point. The new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy will heavily target the population centers such as Kandahar. But I fear that we don’t even have enough troops to secure Kandahar. Population centric counterinsurgency is a romantic idea, but in lieu of unflagging support from the American people, perfect logistics, never-ending good will among the U.S. military and no problem with repeated deployments for a campaign that seems to never end, another strategy must be employed.
We must consider more robust ROE and chasing the enemy into his domain. I fear that absent such a radical shift in strategy we will lose. We simply don’t have the resources necessary to perform the magic outlined in FM 3-24. This is what Lt. Col. Allen West is saying, I think.