Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category

26th MEU Stuck at Bahrain

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 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
6 years, 9 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
6 years, 9 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
6 years, 10 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.

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

Somali pirates in small boats can be seen alongside the hijacked MV Faina. The captain of the hijacked ship off the coast of Somalia said one crew member had died (U.S. Navy/AP Photo).

The U.S. Navy and Marines have surrounded some very important cargo in the Gulf of Aden near the Somalian coast.

U.S. warships have surrounded the MV Faina, a Belize-registered ship that was hijacked by pirates off the lawless coast of Somalia last week.

While there’s no gold or precious jewels onboard, this buccaneer’s booty has the international community racing to intercept the boat before its cargo can be offloaded.

The Ukrainian-owned ship is carrying 33 Russian-made T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft guns, multiple-launch rocket systems and thousands of rounds of tank ammunition. Initial reports indicated the Ukrainian arms were destined for Kenya. But U.S. officials now say it appears they were to be shipped to Sudan, although it is unclear if they are headed to the central government in Khartoum or the government of Southern Sudan, which has purchased such tanks in the past.

The U.S. Navy has dispatched several destroyers and cruisers, as well as an amphibious ship with a complement of helicopters and Marines aboard, to ensure the hijacked arms don’t fall into the hands of terrorists in the power vacuum of the Horn of Africa region, particularly in Somalia, where al Qaeda-linked groups operate.

“We are not going to allow the offload of the ship’s cargo,” warned Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which has sent ships to the scene.

The U.S. ships are stationed in a 10-mile radius around the hijacked vessel to prevent it from escaping.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety of the crew as well as the cargo onboard MV Faina,” Christensen said, adding that the U.S. presence “represents the U.S. resolve to ensure safety and security in the region. Piracy is a problem that starts ashore and requires an international solution to this international problem.”

A senior U.S. defense official says the American ships’ main mission is to prevent the pirates aboard the freighter from being resupplied from shore. The MV Faina is anchored off the Somali port of Hoybyo, along with two other freighters that had been hijacked by pirates previously.

Also of immediate concern is the well-being of the ship’s crew of Ukrainians, Latvians and Russians, totaling 21. A Russian crewman is reported to have died from hypertension. A Russian naval ship is also on its way to the scene from the Baltic and is estimated to arrive off Somalia in a week, at the earliest.

The U.S. Navy says it has had no coordination with the Russians on the matter.

“The Russians, I believe, are trying to lend their support,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters today, declining to comment further.

The modern-day swashbucklers were armed with automatic weapons when they boarded the ship Thursday. They are demanding a $20 million ransom for return of the cargo, down from an initial demand of $35 million.

The region off the coast of Somalia is well-known for pirate activity where cargo ships are regularly hijacked for ransom. Indeed, the number of vessels hijacked this year, and the ransoms demanded for their safe return, have risen dramatically.

Robert Kaplan gives us a little more on the pirates and their methods.

I spoke recently with several U.S. Navy officers who had been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, and who had interviewed captured pirates. The officers told me that Somali pirate confederations consist of cells of ten men, with each cell distributed among three skiffs. The skiffs are usually old, ratty, and roach-infested, and made of unpainted, decaying wood or fiberglass. A typical pirate cell goes into the open ocean for three weeks at a time, navigating by the stars. The pirates come equipped with drinking water, gasoline for their single-engine outboards, grappling hooks, short ladders, knives, AK-47 assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades. They bring millet and qat (the local narcotic of choice), and they use lines and nets to catch fish, which they eat raw. One captured pirate skiff held a hunk of shark meat so tough it had teeth marks all over it. With no shade and only a limited amount of water, their existence on the high seas is painfully rugged.

The classic tactic of Somali pirates is to take over a slightly larger dhow, often a fishing boat manned by Indians, Taiwanese, or South Koreans, and then live on it, with the skiff attached. Once in possession of a dhow, they can seize an even bigger ship. As they leapfrog to yet bigger ships, they let the smaller ships go free. Because the sea is vast, only when a large ship issues a distress call do foreign navies even know where to look for pirates. If Somali pirates hunted only small boats, no warship in the international coalition would know about the piracy.

Off-hand cruelty is the pirates’ signature behavior. In one instance, they had beaten, bullied, and semi-starved an Indian merchant crew for a week, and thrown overboard a live monkey that the crew was transporting to Dubai. “Forget the Johnny Depp charm,” one Navy officer told me. “Theirs is a savage brutality not born of malice or evil, like a lion killing an antelope. There is almost a natural innocence about what they do.”

The Captain’s Journal has no idea what this Navy officer is talking about. He needs to go back and re-evaluate his own morality and ethics, if he has any. Piracy, theft and cruelty are most certainly born out of evil, and the pirates themselves are reprehensible along with their actions. Right and wrong, good and bad, righteousness and evil, are not merely conventions.  They are universal and invariant.  There is nothing romantic about this.

This isn’t about learning a language to communicate with a population, or identifying an indigenous insurgency, or befriending a tribal sheikh, or employing gated communities, or any of the complicated counterinsurgency tactics we’ve had to employ in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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.

Marine Operations in Now Zad, Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

Marines of 3rd platoon 1st squad, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, conduct a local security patrol in the city of Now Zad, Afghanistan to ensure the safety of the forward operating base on June 08, 2008.

Friend of The Captain’s Journal Major Cliff Gilmore (USMC) is in Afghanistan and sends an anecdotal update on Marines in Now Zad that makes him proud to be a Marine.

I did make a short trip “up north” to a fun little place called Now Zad where a company of Marines have been slogging it out. I don’t like to bring politics into these e-mails, but in general I can comfortably say that those who beat the “support our troops, bring them home now” drum clearly haven’t talked to the warriors I mixed with out there. Several have died. More have lost limbs to improvised explosive devices (IED). All of their corpsmen (medics) have received one or more Purple Heart Medals for injuries sustained in combat and not a one of them talked about wanting to go home. When I arrived at Now Zad I came in with approximately 30 combat replacements. New Marines in to take the place of those already killed or injured. They were all volunteers and left their various units to re-enforce the Marines at Now Zad because, according to one Marine, “…we heard this was where the bad guys are.”

I talked with numerous Marines and hovered in the pre-dawn shadows of the moonscape listening to their chatter for hours and heard only about what they had learned, how they were getting better at this kind of fighting, and how they couldn’t wait to get back outside the wire and “…hunt the scrappy little @&%!ers down.” Point here being, I’m not at all confident the boys in the middle of the fight are thinking in terms of how the folks back Stateside might be able to support them by bringing them home. Mostly they just want more bullets.

I ran into one young Marine who has already been shot twice and blown up by an IED once and came away essentially unscathed both times. The IED resulted in a sprained ankle which he taped up and strapped back into his boot. The two shots came while he was on the radio calling for medevac for a fellow Marine. As the story goes — told the same way by numerous Marines out at Now Zad — he was kneeling beside the wounded Marine, radio in one hand, assisting the corpsmen in treating the wounded Marine with the other. Calm as could be his conversation on the radio went something like “…sir, we have a Marine down and need a medevac immediately. We are located at grid 123456. He looks stable but his injuries are serious. We need you to come and get him now. Oh, and I just got shot too so you’ll have to come get me as well.”

He took two 7.62 AK-47 rounds to the left side under his arm. His armor stopped the bullets, but he didn’t realize that at first. As he described it, the force of the rounds hitting him felt “…pretty much real enough at the time…” As others described it, he didn’t even flinch when the shots came, did not skip a beat on his evac call, and once he had a chance to inspect his bruised ribs simply asked the doc to tape him up and then went back into the fight.

He didn’t ask to go home.

Proud indeed. Thanks to Major Gilmore for this update, and watch your six, friend.

New Body Armor for the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has the best coverage on the web of Marine Corps body armor. Naturally, after Body Armor Wars in the Marines Corps, we were a bit surprised to see a new design for the MTV (Modular Tactical Vest), but weren’t surprised at all that the major component of the weight – the Small Arms Protective Inserts, or SAPIs (or ESAPIs for enhanced 7.62 mm stopping power) – remain the same.

In Body Armor Wars, we made the point that there was essentially no difference between the weight carried by the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) and MTV tactical vests. They both carry SAPI plates (for 7.62 mm) and soft panels for shrapnel and very small arms protection (9 mm). But the complaints rolled in, and Marine Corps Commandant Conway was determined to reduce weight. Enter the revised version of the MTV.

The new plate carriers are essentially a slimmed-down version of the MTV, with larger arm holes, thinner shoulder straps and a shorter chest profile. The reduction in weight and lower silhouette of the plate carriers “would allow greater mobility with reduced thermal stress in high elevations, thick vegetation and tropical environments,” SysCom said.

The SAPI plates remain the same, but the soft panel coverage is reduced. Upon initial review, we asked, where is the coverage for the shoulders, groin and neck? It isn’t there, and while the weight is reduced, the protection is as well.

Having worn both the IBA and MTV, it is difficult to put on and take off. Neither the front nor the back opens, and so taking 32+ pounds and slipping it over your head with tight clearances leads to scarred noses, bruises on the forehead, and just plain frustration (the 32+ pounds doesn’t include hydration system, ammunition drums, etc.).

But the MTV is still a vast improvement over the IBA carrier. The Captain’s Journal has made the solution clear months ago. Reducing soft panel coverage is low hanging fruit and doesn’t help with protection while providing only marginal weight benefit. The real challenge is to reduce the weight of SAPI plates. Money should be directed at new technologies to reduce weight while also maintaining the current level of protection. As for the MTV, it will be a while before the revised version is issued, and perhaps it will never enter the training regimen for the Marines.

There should be a doctoral candidate in materials engineering somewhere who needs funding and would enjoy studying the fracture mechanics of SAPI plates, and it seems that the Air Force should be willing to relinquish one of its shiny new F-22s for the research, design and testing of lighter body armor for our men in uniform. To save the backs and maybe the lives of our Marines? Is this not a worthy cause? Is some member in charge of defense appropriations in the House of Representatives not willing to take this upon himself for the sake of our Marines? Then we don’t have to strip and bastardize the armor so that the Marines can carry it on their bodies.

Aboard the USS Iwo Jima

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

The 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment aboard the USS Iwo Jima.

The Cult of Special Forces

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months 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.

More Troops for Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

General David Petraeus is apparently going to recommend that a Brigade be redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan prior to the new administration taking over.

A senior U.S. Defense official who has seen Petraeus’ recommendations to the Joint Chiefs, Defense Secretary Gates and President Bush told FOX News the likely brigade to be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan is the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team is scheduled to deploy in the spring and their training could be shifted to match terrain in Afghanistan instead. The 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry unit, is well suited for such terrain.

Several reports also suggest that Petraeus is also recommending 1,500 Marines also be redirected from service in Iraq and sent to Afghanistan.

The Captain’s Journal has previously weighed in stating that we believe that the campaign will require an additional three Marine Regimental Combat Teams (RCT) and three Army Brigades. We now believe that this counsel was on the low end of the true requirements, and that General Petraeus will be obliged to redeploy much more that he has stated above.

The advisers to President Bush are said to object to the redeployment out of Iraq, and Bush will apparently decide this week. But in the spirit of our previous counsel that we don’t have until next year to bolster forces in Afghanistan, there is a revelation from Operation Enduring Freedom command that convinces us that there won’t likely be a Taliban winter rest this year.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALAGUSH, Afghanistan — American troops in Afghanistan will step up offensive operations this winter because insurgents are increasingly staying in the country to prepare for spring attacks, a U.S. commander told The Associated Press.

Maj. Gen. Jeffery J. Schloesser said a 40 percent surge in violence in April and May was fueled in part by militants preparing stores of weapons during the winter, which generally is a slow period for fighting, particularly in snowy Afghan mountainous areas.

“If we don’t do anything over the winter the enemy will more and more try to seek safe haven in Afghanistan rather than going back to Pakistan,” Schloesser said.

U.S. and NATO officials say militants cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan, where they rest, train and resupply in tribal areas along the frontier where the Pakistani government has little sway.

Schloesser estimated 7,000 to 11,000 insurgents operate in the eastern part of Afghanistan that he oversees — a far higher estimate than given by previous U.S. commanders.

He said the U.S. military realized more militants spent last winter in Afghanistan after speaking with elders and villagers who had been pushed out of their homes. The spike in violence in the spring occurred because insurgents were already in position to unleash attacks, though U.S. officials didn’t know it at the time, he said.

“They didn’t have to come over the passes, they were already here,” Schloesser said during an interview while flying in a Black Hawk helicopter Monday to a small U.S. outpost in Nuristan, a province that borders Pakistan.

Kudos to Maj. Gen. Schloesser for this perspective. The Captain’s Journal loves honesty and forthrightness. The Major General understands the need to continue operations, and so does General McKiernan, who doesn’t want to lose the terrain taken in and around Garmser after the Marines of the 24th MEU took it.

Introducing the general to his officers and senior enlisted, company commander Dynan briefs McKiernan on their recent fight against the Taliban, and the improving situation with the villagers.

Weeks later, McKiernan will explain how the problem with Pakistan and the ISI was affecting the local ground war. “There is a continuing issue of the very porous border with Pakistan and it has allowed insurgent militant groups a greater freedom of movement across that border . . . . They have the freedom to move across the border unimpeded and can easily resupply and recruit in Pakistan,” McKiernan told the Associated Press on 9 July. He added that rocket and mortar attacks launched by militants in Pakistan at U.S. and Afghani border outposts had spiked dramatically in May and June.

But today all the Army general wants to do is talk to “his” Marines. The 24th MEU was deployed specifically to Afghanistan in response to Canadian and British calls for additional American troops, and McKiernan uses it as his Quick Response Force, to be thrown into whatever emergency situation arises.

McKiernan asks Captain Dynan for permission to address the Marines of Alpha Company. Surrounded by Leathernecks, the new commanding general speaks quietly to the young men. “You’ve knocked the insurgents, the Taliban, out of the area,” he said. “They had no idea of how Marines can fight. They do now. You’ve given the locals the courage to stand up with us, and that’s what it takes to win down here.”

Pleased by the recognition, the Marines smile and pepper McKiernan with questions, then take turns shaking his hand. As the general and his entourage depart, the men of Alpha Company prepare for their evening patrols, where they will continue to walk through villages, meeting the locals, and letting friend and foe alike know that the Marines have landed.

Marine Corps Commandant Conway predicted that this would happen.

Conway anticipated the Corps’ predicament when the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, deployed to Afghanistan this spring, to provide a surge of forces there.

“I said, with all due respect … ‘let me predict something: Commanders will fall in love with the Marines because they will do a great job,’ ” Conway said. “There will be a request for an extension. There will be requests to replace them with other Marines.”

The Marines were, in fact, extended. And if new Marines are to fall in behind those slated to depart in November, a decision would have to be made soon.

That could come in a variety of forms. The 26th MEU departed North Carolina in August for an undisclosed location in the Middle East, while the 13th MEU is slated to push out of Southern California in January.

This is the first time The Captain’s Journal has seen in print the possibility that the 26th MEU might be replacements for the 24th MEU. But if this is going to happen, the decision will be made soon. The 24th MEU is scheduled to return stateside in November. Leaving port in January of 2009 and arriving in February of 2009, doesn’t really do justice to the needs of the campaign, although the 13th MEU might also be in the works for Afghanistan if our counsel is followed.

Either way, Operation Enduring Freedom is in dire need of troops, and the security situation is degrading. Security for the population is a hinge upon which much of counterinsurgency turns, and without adequate force projection, we cannot hope to win the campaign. As we have pointed out, at the height, Soviet General Gromov had up to 104,000 troops, while General Petraeus currently has only 32,500.

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