Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category



U.S. Marines Prepare to Leave Fallujah

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

The final preparations are underway for the U.S. Marines to leave Fallujah.

As part of the reduction of United States troops from Iraq, by Thursday there will be few marines left in or around this mostly Sunni city of about 300,000 people. The closing of Camp Falluja is one of the most prominent symbols yet that America’s presence in the country, which at times had seemed all encompassing, is diminishing.

As recently as a year ago, the base closing was cause for alarm. The calm that seemed to have taken hold here was fragile enough that both Iraqi and American officials feared the potential consequences of the marines’ departure.

Today they look forward to it.

“That will make our job easier,” said Colonel Dowad Muhammad Suliyman, commander of the Falluja Police Department. “The existence of the American forces is an excuse for the insurgents to attack. They consider us spies for the Americans.”

To be sure, the threat of violence has not vanished. But the police said they were proud that a place that suffered a major attack a week just a few years ago has had only two in the last six months.

The view that the town is better off taking care of itself was echoed by residents, even in the neighborhood hit by the most recent big attack, in early December, when suicide truck bombers linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia killed 19 people, wounded dozens of others, and leveled nine houses and two police stations.

“Our sons will take care of the security issue,” said Khalil Abrahim, 50, a resident of the neighborhood, as he walked over the rubble of his house, wondering aloud how he could afford to rebuild. “They can do a better job.”

Camp Falluja will be handed over to the Iraqi Army, with most of its marines relocated to Al Asad Air Base, about 90 miles to the west. A smaller contingent will remain at nearby Camp Baharia.

The move reflects the confidence of the American command that major violence will not return here.

“It won’t happen again because the Iraqis don’t want it to happen again,” said Colonel George Bristol, the bald, heavily muscled commanding officer of the First Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group at Camp Falluja.

“We’ve certainly turned a page,” he said. “The conditions are now there where we can close it and turn it over to the people who fought beside us. It’s a great thing. If you look at the city, it has really come to life” …

At Camp Falluja, Major James Gladden and Master Gunnery Sergeant Ray SiFuentes are overseeing the dismantling of a base that had once been home to 14,000 marines and contractors.

The 2,000-acre post had its own fire department, water treatment plant, scrap yard, voter registration booth, ice-making factory, weather station, prison (for insurgents), beauty shop, power plant, Internet café, Turkish bazaar and dog catcher.

Its chapel could fit 800 marines for religious services, a Toby Keith concert or a performance by the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders, all of which were held there.

“We had basically everything a small town had,” said Gladden, 34, who is known by other marines as the mayor of Camp Falluja. “Everything except fast-food outlets,” he said, which were deemed too unhealthy.

There are only 200 marines left now, and about 170 truckloads a day leave the base, most headed for other United States military installations.

Even the gaggle of geese from the camp’s artificial pond, which some marines had adopted as pets, has been taken away. One by one, they were trapped and set loose at a larger pond at Camp Baharia.

A good deal of packing up involves making sure nothing is left behind that later could be used against American forces. Obsolete armor for trucks, ballistic glass plates for Humvees and concertina wire are cut to pieces. Thousands of mammoth concrete barriers are being trucked to other military bases.

First of all, this is a testimony to the difficulty of movement of military materiel and relocation of forces.  Logistics rules, and we have long said that the logistics officers will determine when the U.S. withdraws from Iraq rather than the politicians.

Second, it is even more a testimony to the bravery of the Marines in Operation Al Fajr, the follow-on operations, and then finally the Marines of 2/6 who conducted Operation Alljah.  Three years of blood, sweat and tears have brought Fallujah to this point.  The bravery of the Marines has enabled the process to move forward.  It’s now time to turn over, and continued presence by the Marines in Anbar would be an improper extension of the the final phase of counterinsurgency.  It is finished in Anbar.

Separately from another Marine stationed elsewhere in Iraq (perhaps to the North), The Captain’s Journal has received word that they are engaged only in force protection.  There is no combat.  It’s time to move on, since the victory has been won.

Changes in Body Armor for Marines

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

In New Body Armor for the Marines we detailed the interim, ad hoc changes to the Modular Tactical Vest resulting from complaints about various issues associated with performance of the vest in combat.  Below is the MTV:

And below is the modified MTV:

The modified vest kept the same SAPI plats, front, back and side, reduced the coverage of the soft panels on the sides and around the shoulders, and removed the soft panel neck and groin protection.  The changes were made to save weight and provide for maneuverability.  Unfortunately, only modest weight reductions are seen from the modifications, and yet the Corps has given up shrapnel and small arms (e.g., 9 mm) protection in the neck, shoulder and groin area.

The AP reports that there are permanent changes coming for the MTV.

Acting on widespread complaints from its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps has ordered major modifications to its body armor to improve comfort, mobility and safety, The Associated Press has learned.

The decision results from a survey of more than 1,000 Marines, many of whom reported that their flak jackets, which cost the Marine Corps more than $100 million, were too heavy and restrictive.

“The Marine Corps is developing an Improved Modular Tactical Vest to address the problem areas uncovered by the survey results,” Capt. Geraldine Carey, a Marine spokeswoman, told the AP by e-mail last week.

Earlier in 2008, the Marine Commandant, Gen. James Conway, temporarily suspended an order for more than 20,000 of the so-called Modular Tactical Vests.

“I’ve worn the vest on my travels into Iraq and Afghanistan, and I can tell you those Marines have raised some valid points,” Conway told the AP by e-mail.

Body armor has been an issue since the Iraq war began in 2003. The Army reportedly had a shortage of the ceramic protective plates needed to make vests effective, and lawmakers demanded answers from the Department of Defense after reports surfaced of soldiers’ families buying the plates themselves and sending them to Iraq.

The Marine Corps has been ahead in distributing adequate body armor and replacement parts to its troops, though it too has struggled to adapt and fine-tune the technology in an ever-changing urban warfare environment. The vest now used by the Marines in Iraq is the Corps’ third since 2001.

There are other lighter types of body armor that are widely used by police but they are not approved for combat. The Modular Tactical Vest, designed by the Marine Corps to improve on an older jacket, has a track record of stopping bullets and shrapnel.

It was designed to better protect the kidneys, lower back and torso in urban combat, and make it easier to carry ammunition, water and grenades.

The vest was the top choice of troops who tested it before a manufacturer was awarded the contract, according to Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson, Conway’s spokesman. Marine and Pentagon officials said it has a proven record of protecting troops, and Carey said there are no reports of failings that resulted in injury or death during combat.

But troops in the field started complaining almost as soon as the vests were issued in 2007.

At 30 pounds it is bulky and between one to three pounds heavier than its predecessor depending on its size, adding to the burden on Marines who carry more than 90 pounds of gear. Army officials testifying before Congress in 2007 said they turned down the vest because it was heavier and no more effective than what the Army was using.

Because the vest rides higher on the chest for added protection, and features shoulder straps and buckles for adjustment and quick removal, several Marines blamed it for causing facial bruises when rifle butts slipped during recoil.

To better shoulder their weapon, some Marines loosened straps to lower the vest, exposing their upper torsos, according to a Marine field commander in Iraq who spoke on condition of anonymity because it is against policy for troops to alter the vest.

Told of the practice by the AP, Conway said: “Any decision to scale down levels of protection for the sake of comfort is wholly unacceptable.”

The vest has a tab for quickly removing the vest to prevent a tragedy, such as when a Marine in an older jacket couldn’t remove it and drowned. But Marines complained that the tab snagged equipment, and are now told to tuck away the tab.

Unlike previous jackets, which Marines could just throw on and go, this one requires training or online video courses on how to wear it.

An initial 84,000 vests at a cost of more than $84 million were ordered in September 2006, nine months after an urgent request came in from the field for better protection. Conway, who became commandant after the contract was issued, put a hold on the last batch of 20,000 vests, questioning their design and testing.

He later lifted the suspension and the Marine Corps ordered more than $17 million worth of vests and replacement parts over the summer.

The current vest costs about $1,050, according to Lt. Col. A.J. Pasagian, who oversaw the survey at Quantico, Va.. The price of the improved vest wasn’t immediately known.

As we have explained before, the MTV is a carrier, not the armor itself.  The shell is a carrier for the SAPI plates and soft panel armor.  The MTV is also designed to hug the body tighter than the older Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) used by the Army, and thus acts more like an internal frame backpack by placing the weight on the hips.  It raises the front SAPI plate, lowers the rear SAPI plate, fully integrates the side SAPI plates into the carrier (rather than having to hang them on the carrier with Molle straps), and more efficiently deploys the soft ballistic panels compared to the IBA.

The MTV was a major improvement in carrier design, and complaints about weight should be aimed primarily at the SAPI plates, not the carrier or even the soft panel armor.  Additionally, the soft panel coverage should be maximized in any future design for shrapnel protection.

There is much reiterated in the report that readers of The Captain’s Journal already know, but what we learn from the AP report is that the Corps has conducted a poll, the results of which are driving permanent changes to the MTV.  Unfortunately, without major investment in SAPI plate design, any permanent changes aren’t likely to reduce weight without compromising protection.  As we have pointed out in our body armor coverage, the low hanging fruit has already been picked.  It’s time for major investment in the ballistics and fracture mechanics of the SAPI plates if we wish to reduce weight and maintain protection.  Otherwise the Corps will be disappointed in the outcome of this redesign.

Marine Corps to Replace M249 SAW

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

The U.S. Marine Corps is seeking to replace the M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon).

The Marine Corps has awarded a limited contract to three rifle manufacturers for a weapon to replace its M249 Squad Automatic Rifle.

The contract awarded Dec. 19 calls for a minimum of 10 weapons from each company to conduct further evaluation for an eventual down-select to one weapon. The final manufacturer could garner nearly $27 million for 6,500 of the so-called Infantry Automatic Rifles.

Ashburn, Va.-based Heckler and Koch USA and FN Herstal of Belgium won two of the contracts, with West Hartford, Conn.-based Colt Defense winning two separate contracts for two different weapons they offered.

Representatives of the three companies were not available for comment.

The Corps plans to replace its entire inventory of FN Herstal-made M249 SAWs equipped to rifle squads and Light Armored Reconnaissance scout Marines with the 5.56mm IAR beginning in 2010.

“The IAR seeks to enhance the automatic rifleman’s maneuverability and displacement speed while providing the warfighter the ability to suppress or destroy those targets of most immediate concern to the fire team,” said a Marine Corps release announcing the award.

Unlike the belt-fed SAW, the IAR will pull its ammo from an attached magazine. Most of the 10 original candidate systems had a low-profile, M16-like appearance since the Corps wanted the IAR to be easier to maneuver “through constricted terrain” like houses and buildings.

The SAW weighs nearly 17 pounds without its 200-round ammunition box and has an overall length of 41 inches. An M-16A4 weighs about nine pounds and is 39 inches long.

The Corps also asked for IAR systems that could fire from both a closed and open bolt feed.

“The IAR shall provide accurate automatic or semi-automatic fires against point (550 meters) and area (800 meters) targets in all light, environmental, and terrain conditions,” Marine Corps Systems Command told Military.com in October. “The IAR will be operated by a single Marine and employed from all doctrinal firing positions … [and] demonstrate improved portability, reliability and maneuverability through constricted terrain and conditions over the current M249 SAW.”

The Corps hopes to take delivery of the first 10 weapons from each candidate by mid-March 2009 and conduct evaluations and operational testing — including endurance and reliability testing at “government facilities” — to decide a winner. The Corps hopes to have its first units equipped with IARs by 2010.

The comments section to the article linked above are good and interesting, but The Captain’s Journal weighs in on this debate by advocating a slightly larger round than the 5.56 mm for the new SAW (while not up to 7.62 mm) with more grains of powder.

We are aware of instances in Iraq where nine rounds were put into the torso of an enemy fighter (who may have been pumped up on epinephrine or atropine) who still kept advancing, and who finally have to be stopped by an M203 grenade launcher.

Yes, we know all about the trade-off of caliber and the number of rounds of ammunition able to be carried by the Marine due to weight, and TCJ has been out front in advocating lighter weapons, equipment and body armor.  Even with the reduced number of rounds in reserve, we still advocate a slightly higher caliber and more powerful round for stopping power.

Littoral Combat and Other Navy Adventures

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

Sometimes the web is a wonderful thing.  Other times not so much.  We love the ability to communicate electronically, but we hate know-it-alls.  We hate know-it-alls, but we love the ability to expose them for what they are.

Every now and again a good example surfaces and it’s good to send it to our readers.  The most recent example of stupidity arises from a comment at the Small Wars Journal blog.  The wise and highly knowledgeable Frank Hoffman has written an analysis on American Maritime Power in the 21st Century.  It was linked by our friends Dave and Bill at the Small Wars Journal blog.  Now comes the stupidity with comments that add nothing to our knowledge.

This is drivel.
There has to be a better justification for spending money on big ships and expensive weapons systems than ‘to preserve our navel power’ (Fighting WW2 again).

Reaching back to the “American Century” for justification is backward looking and not a way for forward planing.

Go show us you can take care of a few boat loads of prates firing RPG’s. If you can’t do that with what you have now, we are not going to spend billions more getting more of it for you.

Ships are extremely vulnerable to air power (WWII), even the simplest missiles (Falklands), and a man in a row boat with a bit of explosive (USS Cole).

In the high speed world of today ships are slow, incredibly un-stealthy, and make wonderfully good targets when ever they get anywhere near hostile land.

The disadvantage with ships is they are not very large and easy to hit, and when hit the damage is compounded by the tendency for water to flow in through the holes.

They are really nice platforms for launching long range stand off weapons, like cruise missiles or aircraft, so long as the craft is far enough off shore to keep out of harms way.

As an off shore support system for operations in and against small backward nations like Vietnam and Iraq they are very useful.

In the age of satlights and cloud penetrating radar I am not sure that ships will continue to be a available fighting platform for use against a large modern state, like Russia or china, who have such technology.

They have one fatal flaw. You only have to get one or two good hits and the whole thing sinks. Resiliency and defensive systems are big problems for a modern navy.

No other military encampment takes down so much gear and men when when taking incoming fire. Maybe the future is not a navy as we know it now, but a fleet of much smaller fast boats that work together as a swarm.

Maybe the future of aircraft carries is a very high speed 150 foot long craft that can launch and recover automated predictor or raptor type aircraft.

To which The Captain’s Journal responded:

JamesM,

Yesterday Mr. Hoffman forgot some infinitesimally small amount of the information he knew on the subject about which he writes. This forgotten information from yesterday is more than you will ever know about this subject in one hundred lifetimes.

Also, your bravado concerning fluid mechanics is unimpressive. Some ships with holes sink, like aircraft with missing wings crash and tanks hit by EFPs break. And it took you some 70 – 80 words to state this fact and then repeat it for us. Wow.

As for the balance of your comment, I see nothing thoughtful about it. I, too, have concerns. Mr. Hoffman knows, like we all do, that money will be tight and that programs will have to husband their resources. I am concerned about the whole littoral combat program, whether maybe the USMC should re-evaluate their EFV program, etc. But I’ll attempt to address these issues without calling studied men out to have uttered drivel. I’ll follow this up on my own web site.

As for Naval power, the reason that China is pursuing an aircraft carrier is for force projection. We have 11, 5 or 6 or more active at any one time, and this takes cash. Maybe you should call up the Premier of the PRC and tell him your conerns about China pursuing Naval power. I’m sure he’ll listen. Let me know how it goes. Send me a note.

The only real “drivel” here is your comment. Now. I’m angry because I feel like I have wasted my time in responding to this comment. Finally, Dave and Bill are more gracious than am I. Your stupid URL http://drivel to which I am sent upon clicking on your name is enough to ban you forever from my own web site. I don’t suffer fools very well.

And we don’t suffer fools.  Smaller, faster naval craft phooey!  Small ships can be shot out of the water just like larger craft can.  But just as we don’t suffer people like JamesM, we wonder very deeply about the USMC EFV program.  We like the Osprey V-22 (although it needs more proving time), but we wonder about the notion of a floating tank, ready to swim and fight at the same time (or right after swimming).  Where are we going to perform a major amphibious assault of another sovereign country?  For what reason would we do something like this?  Really.  We understand the notion of ready reserve, and the idea of countries that go bad and embassies that have to be evacuated, and so forth.  We get it.  But the EFV?  Really?

As for high power force projection, China is pursuing an aircraft carrier because it is the very definition of power.  Guided missile destroyers can send ordnance even further into countries than aircraft can from aircraft carriers.  Yet the notion of using the 26th MEU for CENTCOM ready reserve is pushing the envelope when colleagues are suffering and dying in Afghanistan.  Ready reserve for what?  What’s going to happen that a single Marine Landing Battalion can handle?  Pirates?  The lawyers have prevented that.

Now.  Maintenance of force projection across the globe is one thing, but extravagance is another.  Should we really pursue the idea of the EFV?  Really?

In summary, we have concerns, but jamesM is an idiot and we aren’t.  We understand fluid mechanics.  So there you have it.

More:

Danger Room on Littoral Combat Ships

Strategy Page on Shipbuilding

The Captain’s Journal, 26th MEU Stuck at Baharain

The Captain’s Journal, The USS San Antonio

The Captain’s Journal, Can the Afford the New Destroyers?

Pirates? Call the Marines … Er, the Lawyers

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 4 months ago

Pirates?  Call the U.S. Marines … er, the lawyers.

Piracy off Somalia’s coast has plagued shipping companies for years, but the number and boldness of attacks has increased in recent months. While that has given fits to shipowners, cruise operators and navies, it also has kept a relatively obscure set of lawyers busy.

London’s Holman Fenwick has received more work as pirate attacks have increased off Somalia, where a French Navy frigate patrolled Saturday.

Among the most prominent is London maritime firm Holman Fenwick Willan. Partner Toby Stephens says lawyers at the firm have been awakened “at all hours” by ship owners calling the firm’s 24-hour hot line. “They’re often quite panicked, and understandably so,” he says.

Over the past three months, the rise in piracy has kept about a half-dozen lawyers at Holman Fenwick working nearly full-time for clients with potentially dozens of lives and tens of millions of dollars at stake in hijackings. To some degree, the work has helped Holman Fenwick offset other maritime practices hurt by the global economic slowdown.

Through the end of last month, the waters off Somalia had been the site of 96 pirate attacks this year, 40 of which had led to pirates boarding a ship, taking control and demanding a ransom, according to the International Maritime Bureau in London. World-wide there were 83 reported pirate attacks in the third quarter, up from 53 and 63 in the first and second quarters, respectively, the bureau says. In recent months, pirates have broadened their targets to include bigger vessels, including oil tankers and, so far unsuccessfully, cruise ships. In most cases ransom demands have been in the $1 million-$2 million range. But lawyers say hijackers have demanded as much as $25 million for the release of the Sirius Star, a Saudi oil tanker captured 450 miles off the Somali coast carrying cargo valued at more than $100 million.

On Tuesday several cruise-ship operators said they would shift or cancel tours or reroute passengers by plane to avoid the Gulf of Aden off Somalia. Also, the European Union said it would station armed guards on cargo ships in the area.

Mr. Stephens says his firm is working on “over a dozen” of the roughly 20 Somalia-area attacks in which the ships haven’t been freed.

“This year we’ve seen a definite uptick in piracy work,” says James Huckle, who is in charge of business development for the firm.

Business in Holman Fenwick’s casualty practice, usually dealing with shipping collisions, and its ship-financing practice have slipped as the world economy has slowed. Mr. Huckle says piracy cases have helped “counterbalance” that downturn but he is unable to provide specific figures.

Stephen Askins, a maritime lawyer at London’s Ince & Co. says he is handling “a few” piracy cases, but that Holman Fenwick “is really leading the way” in representing shipowners in piracy matters.

Piracy expertise at Holman Fenwick, which was founded in 1883, grew out of the firm’s history representing clients following shipwrecks and collisions. The firm represented the salvage companies that cleaned up after the oil tanker Prestige broke up off the coast of Spain in 2002. The firm also represents the owners and insurers of the MSC Napoli, a container ship severely damaged in an English Channel storm last year. In addition to about 290 lawyers, the firm employs about 30 nonlawyer experts, such as former ship captains, marine engineers and naval architects.

A firm’s initial role after a hijacking often is to ease a client’s fears. “No one’s been hurt, and the ransoms have so far been small enough for shipowners to pay,” says Duncan McDonald, a lawyer at London-based Stephenson Harwood. His firm represents owners of two ships hijacked and released earlier this year.

Then, a firm moves to determining where a ship is registered and the location of the hijacking. These factors affect the laws that will govern the case and the haggling over liability that often follows. A U.N. resolution passed in June allows a navy to enter Somalia’s territorial waters to repress an attack.

Shipowners and insurance underwriters are reluctant to speak publicly about their hijacking situations. But the managing director of a large insurance syndicate in London says that when a ship partly underwritten by his firm was hijacked several weeks ago, his first question to lawyers at Holman Fenwick was whether the payment of ransom was even legal. It was under U.K. law, Mr. Stephens says, which typically applies because that’s where insurance underwriters are usually based. If a ransom payment is illegal, the firm might have to negotiate with the country exercising jurisdiction.

The insurance-syndicate executive says the negotiations, which are continuing, have been stressful. “I know we’re in good hands…but there are still times when you feel like you have no control at all,” he says.

“The lawyer’s pen and the swashbluckling pirate’s sword met with a mighty crash as all the children heard and watched the brave battle ensue” … actually, scratch that.  We’re only on good hands if the Marines are killing pirates.  The Captain’s Journal has made it known what needs to be done.

TCJ has weighed in saying:

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort). Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

Ralph Peters has weighed in saying:

Piracy must be exterminated. Pirates aren’t folk heroes or champions of the oppressed. They’re terrorists and violent criminals whose ransom demands start at a million bucks. And they’re not impressed by the prospect of trials in a velvet-gloved Western court. The response to piracy must be the same as it was when the British brought an end to the profession’s “golden age:” Sink them or board them, kill them or hang them.

Lt. Col. P at OpFor has weighed in saying:

Kill all of the pirates.

Seriously. Why do we allow a handful of khat-addled assholes to dominate one of the world’s most important sea lanes? We, the western powers, have sufficient naval units in the area to take care of the problem in very quick order. What we lack is the will. We apply an idiotically high standard of judicial due process to a situation that doesn’t lend itself well to a judicial solution. Anyone who has dealt with Somalis can tell you that they laugh at western legalisms, and what they perceive as western weaknesses. And then they redouble their violent efforts to take what they want from you. They do react very well to a boot on their necks, and a gun to their heads. Then they tend to wise up quickly.

Here’s how it needs to be done. Oil tanker sends distress call, takes evasive actions insofar as it is capable. (Or better yet, armed men aboard oil tanker defend by fire.) Coalition forces despatch (sic) vessels and boarding parties. Pirates who survive ensuing gun battle are lined up by the rail and shot in the head, then dumped overboard. Pirate boats are burned. If their bases or villages on the coast can be identified, said bases are raided and destroyed. No fuss no muss, no ransom, no hostages, no skyrocketing costs.

So who has the trust?  The lawyers or U.S. Marines?  Should we pay ransom or kill the pirates?  We have a poll where the reader can weigh in on this question.

Kill Ratio = Fifty : Zero

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

The U.S. Marines recently made some Taliban pay heavily for their actions in Afghanistan.

In the city of Shewan, approximately 250 insurgents ambushed 30 Marines and paid a heavy price for it.

Shewan has historically been a safe haven for insurgents, who used to plan and stage attacks against Coalition Forces in the Bala Baluk district.

The city is home to several major insurgent leaders. Reports indicate that more than 250 full time fighters reside in the city and in the surrounding villages …

“The day started out with a 10-kilometer patrol with elements mounted and dismounted, so by the time we got to Shewan, we were pretty beat,” said a designated marksman who requested to remain unidentified. “Our vehicles came under a barrage of enemy RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and machine gun fire. One of our ‘humvees’ was disabled from RPG fire, and the Marines inside dismounted and laid down suppression fire so they could evacuate a Marine who was knocked unconscious from the blast.”

The vicious attack that left the humvee destroyed and several of the Marines pinned down in the kill zone sparked an intense eight-hour battle as the platoon desperately fought to recover their comrades. After recovering the Marines trapped in the kill zone, another platoon sergeant personally led numerous attacks on enemy fortified positions while the platoon fought house to house and trench to trench in order to clear through the enemy ambush site.

“The biggest thing to take from that day is what Marines can accomplish when they’re given the opportunity to fight,” the sniper said. “A small group of Marines met a numerically superior force and embarrassed them in their own backyard. The insurgents told the townspeople that they were stronger than the Americans, and that day we showed them they were wrong.”

During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didn’t miss any shots, despite the enemies’ rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position.

“I was in my own little world,” the young corporal said. “I wasn’t even aware of a lot of the rounds impacting near my position, because I was concentrating so hard on making sure my rounds were on target.”

After calling for close-air support, the small group of Marines pushed forward and broke the enemies’ spirit as many of them dropped their weapons and fled the battlefield. At the end of the battle, the Marines had reduced an enemy stronghold, killed more than 50 insurgents and wounded several more.

“I didn’t realize how many bad guys there were until we had broken through the enemies’ lines and forced them to retreat. It was roughly 250 insurgents against 30 of us,” the corporal said. “It was a good day for the Marine Corps. We killed a lot of bad guys, and none of our guys were seriously injured.”

Making Afghanistan a Marine Corps operation should be looking better and better to command right about now. But of course, a kill ratio of 50 to 0 (zero), while a wonderful thing, is mathematically undefined.

The upshot of this problem is that it is much easier to explain why the kill ratio is undefined and the results can’t be entered into a spreadsheet than it is to explain to a grieving parent or spouse that their loved one perished on the field of battle. This is a nice problem to have, one that will hopefully be repeated many times over as long as the Taliban are stupid enough to engage the U.S. Marines in conventional operations.

26th MEU Stuck at Bahrain

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

In The 26th MEU, the USS San Antonio, and Military Equipment, we detailed our objections to the job that Northrup Grumman had done in constructing the amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio, with its snarled electrical cables, unreliable steering, and general poor craftsmanship throughout the physical plant. It is wasteful of time and resources, and certainly hampers the ability of the U.S. Marines to perform during their duties.

In a time when pirates are endangering shipping lanes in the extremely busy Gulf of Aden, the U.S. Marines should be engaging and killing pirates. Ralph Peters, OpFor and The Captain’s Journal have weighed in describing the solution to the problem of pirates. But the Marines are wasting time in Bahrain rather than contributing to the global war on terror or protecting shipping lanes.

The USS San Antonio has yet another major mechanical problem. It has sprung an oil leak, and is in port in Bahrain to repair and weld piping.

Their ship is stuck at a Bahraini port, but that doesn’t mean extra liberty for some leathernecks with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Marines and sailors with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based MEU who are aboard the amphibious transport dock San Antonio “continue to train aboard and from that vessel,” according to a MEU spokesman.

The ship’s maiden deployment with the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group out of Norfolk, Va., was interrupted Oct. 31 when it entered a yard in Bahrain to fix major oil leaks. Navy officials projected the maintenance would be finished within two weeks. This marks the latest problem for the ship, which has been plagued with performance problems, and was delivered late and $1 billion over budget.

But problems with the ship — criticized Monday by Navy Secretary Donald Winter, who said he “continues to be unsatisfied” with its performance — have not stopped its Marine inhabitants from participating in training exercises and classes.

“This training includes leadership, martial arts, physical training, infantry and other job-skills training they would normally conduct underway,” MEU spokesman Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Piper said in an e-mail. “Accessibility to land actually expands these Marines’ opportunities to conduct physical and small-unit training outside the confines of the ship, and unit leaders exploit these opportunities whenever possible.”

Elements of the MEU’s battalion landing team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, and Combat Logistic Battalion 26, are on the ship, but they were not scheduled to participate in current training exercises, Piper said.

The 26th MEU set sail for a six-month deployment aboard the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, the San Antonio and dock landing ship Carter Hall Aug. 29. Those ships are currently in the 5th Fleet area of operation.

As expected, the Marines and Navy put a good face on this, but many Marines are surely grumbling under their breath, while their brothers suffer in Afghanistan, pirates plague the Gulf of Aden, and Islamists continue their takeover of Somalia. The long war is proving to be too difficult to encounter these kinds of problems during deployment. With radiograph, dye penetrant testing, and visual inspection, there is absolutely no excuse – none – for welding problems to become manifest while at sea on a new ship. This demonstrates that there is a QA problem somewhere that badly needs to be fixed.

But this also raises the important question of whether the existing MEU structure is the best way to implement the strategic vision of the Marine Corps Commandant for an expeditionary force. It might be wise to train to perform naval-based and amphibious operations, and perhaps this should be among the regular qualifications of Marines of all billets. But first of all, the use of an MEU with all of its expense, to work out the problems associated with a new ship is a questionable value judgment. Second, the use of a Battalion Landing Team (BLT) to spend seven months aboard a ship performing humanitarian missions, shows of force and practice maneuvers while their brother suffer in Afghanistan and pirates maraud the Gulf of Aden forces the question of whether command deployed this MEU in the most efficient manner to perform the most important mission.

60 Minutes and the Special Forces Hunt for bin Laden

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 6 months ago

Like many of you, I watched the 60 Minutes exposé on the special forces hunt for Osama bin Laden. My reaction was probably unlike most, but typical of the articles that frequent The Captain’s Journal. But more on my reactions in a moment. While we don’t normally interface with posts at other sites on a regular basis, this one is an exception that warrants special attention because of the salient points to be made on the campaign in Afghanistan. Christian at Defense Tech has an important post up on the whole sordid affair (you’ll see why it’s sordid momentarily).

So, after I posted the last thread, I went over to a forum that’s populated with no-joke special operations forces troops and looked at the discussion on the KBL/ Dalton Fury imbroglio. Man is it hot in there.

Apparently, Dalton Fury’s real name is Maj. Thomas Greer. I was wrong in thinking he was Pete Blaber, though it does turn out from the discussion that Blaber has a book of his own coming out called “The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander” that’s supposed to be available in December.

These operators at the forum are none too kind to a guy who’s attempting to “profit” from revealing covert operations covered under top secret non disclosure agreements. They skewer him and smoke his body over a pit of coals. But none of them disputes who he is, what he’s done or how the mission went down. There’s little comment about the actual 60 Minutes broadcast, though it would have been helpful if the reporters had mentioned the controversy Fury has caused and held fast on calling him by his real name (I did a search and his name comes up as a faculty member of American Military University). Once it’s out in the open, it looks a little ridiculous for a reputable news organization to stick to a pseudonym.

As a reporter who’s covered the military for a decade, I get a little annoyed at the knuckle-dragger attitude that someone who says anything about their covert activity should be banished. Give me a break. That attitude perpetuates an elitist, Samurai mentality that says “you don’t need to know. Just trust us, we know what we’re doing…”

Sorry, but I — and millions of other Americans — pay your salary and we damned right want to know what you’re doing. You work for us. So I’m glad, as long as it doesn’t deliberately put lives in danger of death (like the politically-motivated CIA tell-alls did back in the ’70s), that these stories come out. There’s been seven years between then and now, surely Delta and CIA have new ways of doing things that aren’t compromised by this book.

There is also a discussion thread at the Small Wars Journal in which it is concluded that this individual is the “real deal,” and it spends some time on the efforts at redaction that occurred between Greer and SOCOM. Good grief. Let’s go straight out of the gate and make our position clear. The Captain’s Journal doesn’t care who Greer is or if he is the “real deal” (any more than we care about the commenters at Defense Tech) except insofar as it goes to accuracy of his account and hence the ability to critique our strategy.

Further, the comment thread at Defense Tech is as brutal to Christian as the original one to which he points. I won’t waste time rehearsing it, but one particularly obnoxious example is this by someone with the pseudonym Krag (these people never use their real names):

Pathetic. You want to know…TS. Join an elite unit and then you’ll know. Otherwise, quit whining. The military doesn’t “work for” you or any other whining civvie. We work for the preservation of the Constitution. You pay taxes of which a small portion goes to pay for your collective defense…that entitles you to squat as to TTPs and classified information.

Get over yourself.

Congratulations Krag! Drop your dumbass pseudonym, tell The Captain’s Journal your real name and address, and we’ll send your B.A. degree in navel-gazing. But as for this elitist mentality and cloak-and-dagger secrecy, how do you say it in contemporary slang? The Captain’s Journal isn’t down with that.

If something is OPSEC, then it can’t be released. If it isn’t then it’s free game. Period. It shouldn’t be any more complex than that. TTPs can be OPSEC too, and the decision simply must be made as to whether the information is or isn’t OPSEC. Then we can move forward with the information, commentary and analysis.

Our position on special forces has been made clear before. We are a Marine blog. In the Marines, no one is special – or everyone is special, depending upon your perspective. Infantry is king, and every billet supports infantry. We are opposed to Recon being separated from the infantry unit they support. The Captain’s Journal supports the notion that special forces should be seen as specialized billets, not supermen who maintain a cloak-and-dagger secrecy, separated from the units they support.

On a related note, I could only chuckle when I recently watched the Navy SEALS (Military Channel) as they did their 6 mile run with a 50 lb. backpack, after which they qualified at 100 yards with a rifle (Marines qualify at 500 yards). In the Marines, a day that causes you to say “my life sucks” might include a 20 mile hump on a 100 degree F day with full body armor, backpack, SAW and three drums of ammunition, and hydration system (for a total of 120 pounds) followed by squad rushes for 1000 meters in the mud with live ammunition, followed by the Gunny telling you that the Lt. Col. has decided that we have two weeks to get everyone to the next belt in the MCMAP, so we get to “stay in the field, commune with nature and beat the hell out of each other for the next two weeks.” But I digress into the very thing with which I charge the “special” people.

Since we have now dispatched the juvenile navel-gazing and the “we’re so special, can’t you all see how we’re so special, tell us we’re special” mentality and can consider the things we learned on 60 Minutes (we didn’t learn much beyond what we already knew), our reaction was as our regular readers might imagine it to be. “There you have it in all its glory – the stupid Rumsfeld legacy.”

Air Force special operators with satellite uplinks guiding JDAMS to target, CIA operatives making shady deals with halfway reliable (or all the way unreliable) allies, Delta Force operators in the background, gizmos, gadgets and thingamajigs, tribal elements in the foreground, minute-by-minute radio communications on the whereabouts of UBL, and cloak-and-dagger secrecy after the fact … it all makes for interesting television, civilian amazement, and even more honest books about the abject failure of the Rumsfeld strategy in Afghanistan.

Marines are always in ready reserve, and if their forces needed supplementing, the 82nd or 101st Airborne should have been able to respond to the need of the moment. There is absolutely no replacement for infantry, and in this case, terrain control, interdiction and authority over transit was the solution to the problem. Infantry could have provided this, special forces could not. We let UBL escape, and it was not the fault of special forces. It was Rumsfeld’s fault. It was a strategic blunder.

It isn’t a reflection on their specialized billets, their capabilities or their commitment. It’s a function of force projection. Special forces cannot supply the force projection necessary to win counterinsurgencies. Only infantry can do this. This is what we learn when we put aside the sophomoric posturing over who’s special and who isn’t.

On Patrol with Marines in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 6 months ago

Corporal William Ash, a squad leader from 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), along with a stray dog lead a patrol through a city in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. When the platoon moved into the area, they found two stray dogs, and each time the Marines head out on patrol the dogs are right at the Marines’ side.

Marine from the 24th MEU in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Marine with dog.

MRAPs Being Re-Evaluated for Afghanistan Due to Rollover

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 7 months ago

With the road infrastructure and the relatively stable terrain in Iraq, MRAPS have been a huge success in protection against IEDs. They do have their difficulties with low hanging power lines and therefore some limitations in highly urban settings, but this is area in which dismounted patrols must be used anyway to contact the population. But with the undulations in the terrain in Afghanistan, as reported in June, the MRAPs are having some problems due to their high center of gravity.

Three Green Berets drowned Saturday when their Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle rolled into a river in Afghanistan. The deaths come amid growing concerns about the threat of catastrophic rollovers in the military’s silver bullet solution to improvised explosive devices.

Two military reports issued in June indicate growing problems associated with the MRAPs’ potential for rollover — as well as electrocution, when the vehicle snags low-hanging power lines — and an emerging threat from the vehicle’s glass dissolving into a cancer-causing powder when struck with explosively formed projectiles.

Saturday’s accident occurred in volatile Kandahar province and killed three members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to a Defense Department statement.

Anticipating a more active role on Afghanistan, the Marine Corps is busy investigating alternative solutions.

With plans to redeploy more Marines to Afghanistan later this fall, companies like General Dynamics Corp. and Force Protection Inc. are being asked to re-engineer mine-resistant vehicles that can traverse the war-ravaged country’s mountainous terrain while offering even greater protection.

High altitudes, dispersed battalions and restricted travel zones are among the serious challenges facing the service as it weighs the resources needed to perform its missions in Afghanistan where violence has escalated, senior Marine Corps officials told defense industry executives at the service’s annual expo Thursday.

Senior Marine Corps officials are concerned the current MRAPS are ill-equipped to handle the rocky terrain in Afghanistan, and are too heavy to easily transport to areas where they are needed.

“It’s OK in Iraq, but it’s not OK in Afghanistan,” said Dillon. “It’s got to have off-road capability and all the survivability.”

Blasts from roadside bombs are the leading cause of combat deaths and injuries in Iraq and have become a growing threat in Afghanistan, but it’s unclear whether the Marine Corps will buy more of the same vehicles, said Dillon. Currently, there are more than 900 MRAPs in Afghanistan, and close to 8,000 in Iraq. To date, the Pentagon has spent $22.4 billion on the program.

Instead, the service hopes to approve a hybrid armored vehicle that would provide the same type of protection as an MRAP, but would be more agile and provide improved maneuverability, Marine Corps officials said.

It’s more than just rollover concerns that are driving this innovation.  It is maneuverability, off road terrain capabilities and transportability.  The Marines may not be pursuing the hottest next-gen warrior trappings such as the exoskeleton, but when it comes to realistic battle space needs and possibilities, they have always been on top of their game.  Let’s hope that this program is off to a good and quick start.  Perhaps some representative of General Dynamics can contact The Captain’s Journal to give an update on the progress and goals.


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