Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category



Marines, Taliban and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 11 months ago

This generation’s Ernie Pyle, Michael Yon, has posted a very important Powerpoint presentation.  His post is entitled The Eagle Went Over the Mountain.  Michael has posted some very important prose on the campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  But sometimes all a good journalist has to do to be good is find and send on the important things he finds.  The trick is in knowing what’s important.  Every unit planning a deployment to Afghanistan, and even those who are not, should spend time studying this presentation for its worth in the fundamentals of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP).  The Powerpoint presentation is linked just below.

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Here is one excerpt on a common tactic.

The bait and ambush attack is one of the most common ambush techniques used by the enemy.  The enemy is very observant and has noticed how aggressive Marines are compared to other coalition forces.  They have use this to their advantage on several occasions and have drawn Marines into complex ambushes with catastrophic results.

In this scenario a platoon minus was patrolling the town when they were engaged with sporadic small arms fire from a distance.  They returned fire and were moving further into the town when they were engaged by a single enemy fighter who fired on the platoon and broke contact.  The platoon chased the fighter through the town when they suddenly found themselves in a dead end.

The enemy attacked the platoon from the rear and pushed them further into the dead end.  The enemy had driven the platoon into a fire sack and they ambushed the platoon from the roof tops.  This continued until aviation assets came over head and broke the ambush.

Here is a visual depiction of the tactic.

This is only the beginning of the discussion concerning logistics ambushes, fire and maneuver tactics, development of enfilade fire, and even the thickness of the mud walls of the Afghan homes (18″ thick, resistant even to 20 mm Vulcan).  As few of the summary points of the presentation follow:

Fire Control: Enemy forces have demonstrated a high level of fire control in numerous engagements.  They have shifted and focused their fires on what they perceived to be the greatest threat.  Ambushes have generally been initiated with bursts of machinegun fire followed by volleys of RPGs.  The beaten zone of the RPGs have been within six inches to a foot.  This shows a very developed system of fire control and points to a section leader controlling these fires.  The complexity and size of some of these ambushes point to a platoon and company level command structure.

Interlocking fields of fire: The enemy did an excellent job of placing fighting positions in locations where they could mutually support each other.  As elements of the platoon attacked one position, they would be engaged from multiple firing positions.  Several times during the engagement elements of the platoon would be pinned down from accurate fire coming from several directions until other elements could maneuver to destroy those positions.

RPG Volley Fire: Almost every time the enemy attacked the armored vehicles, the enemy attacked with volleys of 2-3 RPGs.  This demonstrated a high amount of coordination and discipline.  Often times these attacks came from multiple firing positions.

Combined arms:  The enemy demonstrated an advanced understanding of combined arms.  Most of their attacks on the platoon combined machine gun fire with RPGs, rockets and mortars.  Enemy forces used their PK machine guns to suppress turret gunners while several RPG gunners would engage vehicles with volleys of RPGs. They also attempted to fix the vehicles using RPGs and machinegun fire for attacks with rockets and mortars.

Fire and Maneuver: The enemy proved to be very adept at fire and maneuver. The enemy would fix Marines with RPG and machine gun fire and attempt to maneuver to the flanks.  This happened with every engagement.  If elements of the platoon were attacked from one direction, they could expect further attacks to come from the flanks.  This occurred both with mounted and dismounted elements of the platoon.

Anti-Armor Tactics: The enemy did not attempt to penetrate the crew compartment of the vehicles they engaged.  They fired volleys of RPGs to the front end of the HMMWVs in order to disable them and start a vehicle fire.  Once the crew evacuated, they would engage them with crew served weapons.  This demonstrates a very detailed understanding of the limitations of their weapon systems and a thorough knowledge of our armor vulnerabilities.

“Karez” Irrigation Ditches: The enemy utilized prepared fighting positions built into irrigation ditches to maneuver about the battlefield and attack the platoon.  These ditches ranged from four to seven feet deep and made any frontal attacks very difficult.  The enemy would attack from one position and rapidly maneuver to another.  This facilitated flanking attacks.  The enemy also used tree lines to stage their attacks from.  Many wooded areas are bordered with mud walls and irrigation ditches, which the enemy used for cover and concealment.

Massing Forces: The enemy was able to mass their forces to over 400 enemy on the battlefield on several occasions.  This was not normally the case in Iraq.  Situations here in Afghanistan can quickly escalate and even company sized elements can find themselves outnumbered, outmaneuvered and outgunned.  The enemy will not always mass but they will rally to defend their leadership or protect their interests.  They have conducted ambushes that have swelled to 400 fighter engagements and have also massed to that size to conduct attacks on Forward Operating Bases.

Defense in Depth: The enemy plans their defenses with depth and mutual support in mind.  In one ambush the enemy engaged the platoon from a tree line that was supported by fighting position to the north that were tied into the defense and prevented us from flanking the ambush site.  These machine gun positions had excellent fields of fire and machine guns were set in on the avenues of approach. The enemy fought to the death in the tree line to defend their base 200 meters to the north.  As the platoon attempted to attack the base from the flank, they were engaged from multiple machine gun positions with excellent fields of fire with interlocking fields of fire.

Fire Discipline: Engagements have lasted from two to forty hours of sustained combat.  Marines must be careful to conserve rounds because there may not be any way to replenish their ammunition and it is not practical or recommended to carry an excessive number of magazines.  Marines took a few moments to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship and this greatly improved the ratio of shots fired to enemy fighters killed.  Crew Served Weapons do not always need to be fired at the rapid rate.  Good application of shoulder pressure will tighten beaten zones and lead to effective suppression. Talking guns will help conserve ammunition.

Fire Control: Fire control was critical during the battle from the team to platoon level.  One of the main reasons the platoon did not take many casualties during the battle was due to the effective coordination between crew served weapons, precision fires, CAS, mortars and small arms.  This permitted the platoon to place pressure on the enemy force and focus fires as required to maneuver elements of the platoon to close with and destroy the enemy.  Enemy forces use water to reduce the dust signature around their battle positions and it can become very difficult to locate enemy firing positions in the chaos of battle.  Unit leaders can use tracers in the day time and lasers at night to mark targets for crew served weapons and small arms fire.   Vehicle commanders and drivers can walk gunners on target using ADDRACS, target reference points and the field expedient mil system (one finger, four fingers from the hay stack).  The impacts from MK-19 are easily seen and can be used to orient the other gunners.

Combat Load: Marines had to conduct numerous trench assaults and squad rushes during the eight hour battle and the heavy weight of their armor and equipment greatly hampered their movement.  After this battle all of the Marines reevaluated their combat load and reduced the amount of ammunition that they carried.  After the battle, Marines normally carried no more than 4 to 6 magazines and one grenade.  In the company ambush in Bala Baluk no Marine fired more than four magazines in the eight hours of fighting despite the target rich environment.

This is not nearly all of the important TP observations.  The entire presentation is worth the time to study and re-study, and there are a number of counter-tactics that the Marines found that they could use with success.  This extremely important observation concludes the presentation: Iraq has allowed us to become tactically sloppy as the majority of fighters there are unorganized and poorly trained.  This is not the case in Afghanistan.  The enemy combatants here will exploit any mistake made by coalition forces with catastrophic results.  Complacency and laziness will result in mass causalities.

The Recon Marines and the authors of this report have done a great service to the balance of U.S. forces in theater for providing this analysis both of the enemy TTP and successful defeaters for them.  While a new study is released from the think tanks about every week on Afghanistan, this presentation should be considered the most important thing to come out of Afghanistan in the past two years.  I have discussed this with Michael Yon, and on this we agree.

It deserves as wide a distribution as possible.  Thanks to Michael for posting this, and a special thanks to the brave warriors of the Force Recon Marines.

Husbanding our Military Dollars

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 11 months ago

The Obama administration has called for a 10% decrease in military spending to begin in fiscal year 2010.  At The Captain’s Journal, calling this irresponsible would be an understatement, and less than our readers have come to expect.  It’s just plain dangerous, considering the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan, Iraq being a likely protectorate of the U.S. for years to come, the resurgence of Russia flexing its muscle in Georgia and the Black Sea and Caspian regions, the growth of China and its naval forces, the need for growth of the size of both the Army and Marine Corps, and many other needs and dangers in the world as it now exists.

Then along comes a report like the one on the Internally Transportable Vehicle.

The Marine Corps is starting to deploy a jeeplike vehicle called the Growler, 10 years after conception and at twice the contract price, after delays that were caused by changing concepts and problems in contracting, development and testing, according to two reports …

The idea for such a vehicle was developed in 1999 by the Marine Corps, which wanted a vehicle that could be carried in the V-22 Osprey aircraft to support assault operations and that would tow a 120 mm mortar and an ammunition trailer.

Today, instead of one vehicle that could serve both functions, there are two — one for reconnaissance and a shorter version that tows the mortar and ammunition trailer — built by the same company.

The first Growlers in the mortar program — officially called internally transportable vehicles, or ITVs — have been deployed to Marine units, but with limited combat capabilities. Because of their light armor and ammunition safety problems, “you can’t run it up the highway in an urban area such as Iraq,” said John Garner, the Marines’ program manager for the vehicle. “But it could accompany foot-mobile Marine infantry in a not-built-up area such as Afghanistan,” he added.

The inspector general report said that the average cost of a single Growler has risen 120 percent, from about $94,000 when the contract was awarded in 2004 to $209,000 in 2008. The unit cost for the vehicle with mortar and ammunition trailer has grown 86 percent, from $579,000 to $1,078,000 …

… after the contract was awarded, Garner said, “there were significant additions made for capability.” For example, an air suspension had to be added to allow the Growler to get on and off the Osprey because it could raise and lower its height. The makers added a new cooling system, power steering and power brakes, along with a beefed-up General Motors engine similar to the one used in the GMC Yukon. Altogether, Garner said, about $50,000 of the cost growth was in additional off-the-shelf items that now permit the Growler to travel up to 45 mph on a highway.

To be fair, this concept wasn’t created out of nothing.  It goes hand in hand with the Osprey V-22, Amphibious Assault Docks and the expeditionary force structure that the Marines seek.  Also to be fair to the Marines, the Army has some on order as well.

But it’s time for some straight talk.  Here is how it happens.  Performance specifications are written.  Request for quotes are sent out to potential contractors, and bids are received and evaluated.  They are evaluated based on cost, which ones most closely adhere to the performance specifications, and so forth.  A contract is awarded, and rather than simply adapting the forces to the contract, the practice is to adapt the contract to every request for a modification.

It is the last part that adds cost, and the first part that causes price to be so high to begin with.  For the price of the Growler one could go down to the local auto dealership and order up eight to ten jeeps.  Doing so would require that unit-based enlisted men figure out a way to load them onto the V-22s with ramps, jacks, winches, or other means.

The Marines are, after all, supposed to be able to improvise, adapt and overcome.  The reflexive tendency for advocates for the military (like The Captain’s Journal) is to defend the program.  “But wait, you don’t understand, there are requirements that must be met in a war zone, there are compatibility issues, it just isn’t that simple.”

But in fact it is that simple.  We must learn to make do with less, even if the defense budget is not cut.  We must learn to husband our resources so that they will go further, arming the U.S. military to remain the best and best-equipped in the world.

If this requires the use of duct tape, cable ties, winches, hoists, bungee cords, jacks and chain falls, then so be it.  When we spend this much money on a vehicle, something else goes wanting, such as badly needed lighter body armor, open bolt designs for SAWs, and so on.  We simply cannot spend $200,000 on a 4WD vehicle and continue to be the best armed military in the world.

The program manager should be aghast as the cost of the vehicles, and should never have let it enter the production phase.  It’s not a matter of funding the military.  It’s a matter of putting the funding in the right place and husbanding our resources.  Every family member on a budget does this every day, and it isn’t unreasonable to expect that military equipment design programs do it too.

2/6 Marines Counterpiracy Mission

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 11 months ago

Battalion Landing Team 2/6, Golf Company, 3rd Platoon, a unit with which The Captain’s Journal is intimately familiar, is now engaged in counterpiracy.

Members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are participating in counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, a spokesman for Marine Corps headquarters said Thursday.

Amphibious transport dock San Antonio, the flagship for Combined Task Force 151, is carrying a reinforced Marine platoon, said 2nd Lt. Josh Diddams. Officials will not say how many Marines are on the ship, which left Camp Lejeune, N.C., in late August with the Norfolk, Va.-based Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group. A typical Marine infantry platoon consists of about 40 troops.

Task Force 151 is a multinational force recently organized to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases along Somalia’s coast, where last year more than 40 vessels were hijacked, including a Saudi tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude oil and a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and other weapons bound for Kenya. The task force is operating in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

Sailors and Marines on the San Antonio spent weeks preparing the ship for its role as the command ship and afloat forward staging base for the task force, according to a Navy report. Marines on the ship include those with 3rd platoon, Golf Infantry Company, a military police detachment and intelligence personnel, according to the report.

The MEU, which recently left Kuwait after two weeks of training at Camp Buehring, did not respond to questions about the anti-piracy mission.

The Marines are currently (or were) on board the amphibious dock USS San Antonio.

The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio transits the Gulf of Aden to serve as command ship for Combined Task Force 151. The task force conducts counter-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.

The folks at Information Dissemination are engaged in some hand wringing over comments made by Tom Ricks.

I was disappointed when I read Thomas Ricks strategic assessment regarding the Navy’s approach to piracy.

Tom Ricks is an astute observer of military strategy, and if he sees the pirate situation off Somalia as simply a way to take a cheap shot at the disaster called naval shipbuilding strategy, then I’m afraid nobody in the media may understand what is and has happened. I’d like to welcome Thomas Ricks to the blogosphere by suggesting that when it comes to maritime strategy as it relates to the issue of Somali piracy, he doesn’t appear to know what he is talking about. Thomas Ricks writes:

Better late that never to be going after the Somalia pirates. To me, this is a strategic issue. Keeping the sea lanes open, especially for oil, should be a top priority for the U.S. military. Instead we seemed to defer to the Indians, Chinese and others, letting them take the lead. The Navy may feel that all its special operators — the guys trained to board and take over ships — are busy in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, admiral, does that tell you that you probably need more ship boarders, and maybe fewer aircraft carriers or anti-missile systems? You think maybe?

I noted that Yankee Sailor left a comment on the thread. I’m betting Thomas Ricks has no idea who Yankee Sailor is, nor why Yankee Sailor’s opinion is more informed. We know better. I have a lot of problems with the assessment Tom is making here, starting with what the top priority for the US military should be. If the top priority of the US military, including the Navy, isn’t winning the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, then something is wrong. There is a reason why there are more sailors deployed on land in the CENTCOM area of operations than at sea, and that reason is absolutely valid.

This is a strategic issue as Tom contends, but with the assertion of “better late than never” and the suggestion that “Indians, Chinese and others” taking leadership roles is somehow representative of a failure of maritime strategy, Tom Ricks is essentially admitting to me that he has never actually read the US Navy’s maritime strategy.

They go on to fret over comprehensive modifications of strategy and the question whether the Navy has the “right equipment” to address piracy.  This is a boring and wasteful discussion, and Ricks’ counsel is just fine.  The Navy has the right equipment in theater right now to address piracy.  An Amphibious Landing Dock, Amphibious Assault Ships, and Marines with guns who want to kill people.  Nothing else is necessary.

There have been other articles here and there questioning the need for the U.S. to address piracy in the Gulf of Aden.  Again, boring discussions, one and all.  Ships with weapons, ships with oil, and ships with other strategically important materiel were and are being taken hostage for huge sums of money, making Somalia a haven not only for pirates, but a wealthier place to boot, this largesse perhaps falling into hands that may later provide safe haven for Islamic militants.

Even if the pirates and militants do not currently get along, largesse flowing into a country without a government and under the control of warring factions cannot possibly be good for U.S. interests in the region.  If the Marines, as soldiers of the sea, cannot tackle the issue of piracy, then we are surely lost in a strategic malaise with too many pedantic people saying too many wasteful words.

One more point is in order.  The constant worry and hand-wringing over the legalities of counterpiracy operations and rules of engagement makes the Navy – and the law of the sea lawyers – and Information Dissemination – look weak and fragile.  Is this a nice way of saying it?

The problem is easy to tackle, and Ralph Peters, Lt. Col. P and TCJ have weighed in before concerning the methodology.  It involves killing pirates, dumping bodies overboard, and destroying their domiciles and enablers.  The prose is not for shock effect.  It’s serious, with recommendations that, if followed, would save lives and be a catalyst for safe seas.  This is the best strategy of all.  No need to retool ships, worry over strategic vision or call the lawyers.  It’s best when problems driven to the simplest solutions.

Doctor Honors Fallen Marine Son by Deploying to Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
9 years ago

I have been following this story (by Tony Perry of the L.A. Times) for quite a while.  This man meets the very definition of heroic.

When his son, Marine Lt. Nathan Krissoff, was killed two years ago in Iraq, Dr. Bill Krissoff found a unique way to honor his memory.

He closed up his lucrative orthopedic practice in Truckee, Calif., and, at age 60, joined the Navy medical corps in hopes of being assigned to Iraq to treat Marines and other military personnel.

It took presidential intervention to get Krissoff a waiver from the military’s age limits on enlistees.

Now, Lt. Cmdr. Krissoff, 62, is on the verge of deploying to Iraq with a Marine unit. And on Thursday night, President Bush — in his farewell address — included Krissoff among Americans who display “the best of our country — resilient and hopeful, caring and strong.”

Krissoff’s younger son, Austin, is also a Marine officer, now based at Camp Pendleton. He soon will return to Iraq for a second deployment.

“The way I see it, Austin and I are carrying on with Nathan’s unfinished business in Iraq,” Krissoff said Friday in a telephone call from Camp Lejeune, N.C. “We’ve picked up the fallen standard.”

Krissoff’s wife, Christine, will remain in northern San Diego County during the seven-month deployment. Many of their nonmilitary friends do not understand the couple’s decision, she said.

“It’s not a complicated thing,” she said. “It’s about serving our country.”

Nathan Krissoff was killed Dec. 9, 2006, by a roadside bomb outside Fallouja, west of Baghdad.

No, not really so complicated.  It’s all about honor, sacrifice, dignity, and having courage and a servant’s heart.  As one who has had to wonder late at night if a Marine Officer and Chaplain were going to show up at my door, this man and his wife have been through what I feared, and have come out on the other end honoring their son by sacrificing even more.  I’m left speechless, but honored to have heard Krissoff’s story, and of his son’s life.

Navy Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Bill Krissoff, seen in a family photo at Camp Pendleton, joined the Navy medical corps to honor his Marine son Nathan, who was killed by a roadside bomb west of Baghdad in 2006. The doctor, who is on the verge of being deployed to Iraq, was praised by President Bush in his farewell address as among Americans who display “the best of our country — resilient and hopeful, caring and strong.

Dr. Bill Krissoff, far right, is seen in a family photo with, from left, his son Austin, who is a Marine Corps officer; his wife, Christine; and his son Nathan, a Marine who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. To honor Nathan, Krissoff closed up his orthopedic practice in Truckee, Calif., and, at age 60, joined the Navy medical corps in hopes of being assigned to Iraq to treat wounded troops. It took presidential intervention to get Krissoff a waiver from the military’s age limits on enlistees, but now he is on the verge of deploying to Iraq with a Marine unit.

Commandant James Conway’s Vision for the U.S. Marine Corps

BY Herschel Smith
9 years ago

Having been busy in the Anbar Province since 2004, the Marines had become a second land Army, or at least, so Commandant General James Conway had feared.  We’ve been listening hard, and in the midst of seemingly disorganized talk about littoral combat, the force being “too heavy,” the need to go back to the Corps’ expeditionary roots, and the desire to leave Anbar and take on the task of Afghanistan, frankly it has been difficult to weave together a narrative for the future of the Corps.

Commandant Conway has taken a huge step forward in systematizing that vision with his presentation at the national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, even if he didn’t intend to address this point.

Marines shipping out to Afghanistan this year eventually will spend twice as much time at home as deployed, Commandant Gen. James Conway said Thursday.

Conway said he doesn’t know yet exactly how many Marines will go to Afghanistan, but he said it would be fewer than 20,000. And as the Corps swells to 202,000 active-duty Marines, a goal the service expects to reach later this year, those deployed troops could spend about 14 months at home for every seven months they spent in theater, he said.

But that’s only partly meant to afford troops more time off with their families, Conway said. Just as important, he wants Marines to have more time to train for operations they’ve been too busy for since the force has been locked down in Iraq.

“You don’t have time to do mountain warfare training, or jungle training, or cold weather training, and most importantly to us, we’re not doing amphibious training with our brothers in the Navy, because we just don’t have time,” he said. “Now, we’ve got to fix that.”

Conway made his presentation at the national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, outside Washington, D.C., to an audience composed mostly of active and retired naval officers and defense contractors.

Marines and other U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan “for some time to come,” Conway said, acknowledging that the situation there “will get worse before it gets better.” He hasn’t ruled out negotiations at some point with the resurgent Taliban fighters there, but the problem now is that the Taliban thinks it’s winning, Conway said, and it wants to bargain as the victor.

“Of course, we can’t allow them to do that,” he said.

Conway sees a Corps that has as many as (but no more than) 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the balance of the force Stateside for 14 months at a time.  Not only is this time intended for family, but he sees retraining to conduct all manner of warfare, from conventional to COIN, from jungle to mountain and cold weather.

He wants a well-trained and rested force.  This is a good vision.  What isn’t apparent is whether his vision includes the Navy’s vision for littoral combat.  It’s one thing to support amphibious warfare with amphibious assault docks, amphibious assault vehicles, helicopters, and all of the other things necessary to support a Marine expeditionary unit.

It’s quite another to buddy up with the Navy as it pursues its vision of littoral combat in the vicinity of near-failed states.  At The Captain’s Journal we see jettisoning aircraft carriers, guided missile destroyers, and larger surface warfare as a very dubious proposition.  Hopefully, Conway can find a way to partner with the Navy in preparation for amphibious warfare without involving the Corps in questionable programs in which the Corps has no business.

Finally, the amount of time preparing for amphibious warfare should be limited to be commensurate with the actual probability of engaging in such warfare.  Jungle and cold weather mountain training makes sense.  The Corps might actually be engaged in such things at any point as the ready reserve for CENTCOM.  Unless we can find a nation-state against which we believe we might launch an amphibious assault, it’s prudent to spend less time and effort on it.

U.S. Marines Find Iraq Tactics Don’t Work in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
9 years ago

Before The Captain’s Journal is a strategy blog, we are first and foremost a logistics and tactical blog (logistics and tactics, techniques and procedures – TTP – is our first interest).  We are also a Marine blog, and so naturally, when McClatchy published their article (U.S. Marines find Iraq Tactics don’t work in Afghanistan), we were interested.  Several money quotes are given below, followed by commentary and analysis.

DELARAM, Afghanistan — On a sunset patrol here in late December, U.S. Marines spotted a Taliban unit trying to steal Afghan police vehicles at a checkpoint. In a flash, the Marines turned to pursue, driving off the main road and toward the gunfire coming from the mountain a half mile away.

But their six-ton vehicles were no match for the Taliban pickups. The mine-resistant vehicles and heavily armored Humvees bucked and swerved as drivers tried to maneuver them across fields that the Taliban vehicles raced across. The Afghan police trailed behind in unarmored pick-up trucks, impatient about their allies’ weighty pace.

The Marines, weighted down with 60 pounds of body armor each, struggled to climb up Saradaka Mountain. Once at the top, it was clear to everyone that the Taliban would get away. Second Lt. Phil Gilreath, 23, of Kingwood, La., called off the mission.

“It would be a ghost chase, and we would run the risk of the vehicles breaking down again,” Gilreath said. The Marines spent the next hour trying to find their way back to the paved road.

The men of the 3rd Batallion, 8th Marine Regiment, based at Camp Lejeune, are discovering in their first two months in Afghanistan that the tactics they learned in nearly six years of combat in Iraq are of little value here — and may even inhibit their ability to fight their Taliban foes.

Their MRAP mine-resistant vehicles, which cost $1 million each, were specially developed to combat the terrible effects of roadside bombs, the single biggest killer of Americans in Iraq. But Iraq is a country of highways and paved roads, and the heavily armored vehicles are cumbersome on Afghanistan’s unpaved roads and rough terrain where roadside bombs are much less of a threat.

Body armor is critical to warding off snipers in Iraq, where Sunni Muslim insurgents once made video of American soldiers falling to well-placed sniper shots a staple of recruiting efforts. But the added weight makes Marines awkward and slow when they have to dismount to chase after Taliban gunmen in Afghanistan’s rough terrain.

Even the Humvees, finally carrying heavy armor after years of complaints that they did little to mitigate the impact of roadside explosives in Iraq, are proving a liability. Marines say the heavy armor added for protection in Iraq is too rough on the vehicles’ transmissions in Afghanistan’s much hillier terrain, and the vehicles frequently break down — so often in fact that before every patrol Marine units here designate one Humvee as the tow vehicle.

The Marines have found other differences:

In Iraq, American forces could win over remote farmlands by swaying urban centers. In Afghanistan, there’s little connection between the farmlands and the mudhut villages that pass for towns.

In Iraq, armored vehicles could travel on both the roads and the desert. Here, the paved roads are mostly for outsiders – travelers, truckers and foreign troops; to reach the populace, American forces must find unmapped caravan routes that run through treacherous terrain, routes not designed for their modern military vehicles.

In Iraq, a half-hour firefight was considered a long engagement; here, Marines have fought battles that have lasted as long as eight hours against an enemy whose attacking forces have grown from platoon-size to company-size.

U.S. military leaders recognize that they need to make adjustments. During a Christmas Eve visit here, Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway told the troops that the Defense Department is studying how to reconfigure the bottom of its MRAPs to handle Afghanistan’s rougher terrain. And Col. Duffy White, the commander of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, said he anticipates that Marines will be wearing less armor by spring, when fighting season begins again.

Commentary & Analysis

As regular readers know from our body armor coverage and analysis, we have been preaching the virtues of weight reduction in body armor for months, and even years (focusing on the weight of SAPI plates).  Further, the Marine Corps was lethargic to react to known problems with troop transport, abandoning an urgent request for MRAPs in 2005.  The Marines had chosen to run Amphibious Assault Vehicles across desert terrain, and one particularly brutal example of the consequences of this choice was the loss of fourteen Marines near Haditha in August 2005.

Marine Commandant Conway has lamented the heaviness of the force now, and if there is a need for lighter, faster-moving all-terrain vehicles, then the Corps cannot be as slow to react as it was in Anbar.  We have also commented that some TTPs (such as satellite patrols) won’t have the same value in the rural terrain of Afghanistan versus the urban terrain of Iraq.  Having said that, the lectures of the Marines will stop and the analysis will start.

First of all, the Marines do not carry “60 pounds of body armor each.”  Someone has misled the journalist, or the journalist has simply gotten the wrong data, and unfortunately the misinformation has made it’s way into print.

The Modular Tactical Vest, the outer tactical vest in lieu of what the Army uses (Interceptor Body Armor vest) carries the same front, rear and side SAPI plates as the Army, and although the Marine MTV consists of slightly more soft panel protection than the IBA which adds a couple of pounds, the weight of all body armor fielded for the Army and Marines equals roughly 32 pounds, give or take a few ounces.

The balance of the weight to which the journalist refers is a hydration system, ammunition, weapon (which is hooked to the vest by a carabiner) and other odds and ends (e.g., ballistic glasses, gloves, tools, etc.).  These things would be carried by the Marine whether there was body armor or not.  So roughly half of the weight is non-negotiable.  Further, a backpack adds much more weight to the system.

Second, the McClatchy reporter says the following: “The Afghan police trailed behind in unarmored pick-up trucks, impatient about their allies’ weighty pace,” as if the U.S. Marines were holding up the Afghan police.  This is embarrassing for McClatchy, even if they aren’t embarrassed.  The notion of the Afghan police being anything but rife with corruption is absurd, and there was a reason that the police didn’t go out ahead of the Marines.  It’s the same reason that of the nine dead and twenty seven wounded in the Battle of Wanat, not a single one was Afghan Army.  They were all U.S. Army.  There wasn’t a chance in hell that the police would have gone it alone without the Marines, and they likely wouldn’t have even contributed to the fight.

Third, this example shows the need to adapt, and adapt the Marines will.  But Marines who have to chase the Taliban through the hills need more Marines.  Counterinsurgency will require more force projection, this being done in the rural rather than urban areas (the McClatchy article does have this right).  Intelligence-driven raids and kinetic operations will ensue upon adequate contact with the population, with the Marines providing them the security they need from the Taliban.

The real fight will start when the Marines are waiting for the Taliban in their mountain lairs because of what the people have told them.  Or, when the Taliban can’t come out of their caves because the Marines own the terrain.  Dismounted patrols will suffice just fine with enough Marines, and the question of all-terrain vehicles won’t be such a weighty issue.

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.

The Marines will ramp up force projection in Afghanistan, and McClatchy reports like the one above won’t take on the importance they do with minimal forces.  The Marines will adapt, improvise and overcome.  McClatchy, on the other hand, should do a much better job of understanding Tactics, Techniques and Procedures.  And in order to have any respectability whatsoever, they need to get the data right concerning simple things like body armor weight.

One of our Marine Chaplains

BY Herschel Smith
9 years ago

One of our Marine Chaplains.

Lt. Cmdr. James L. Johnson, chaplain, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, kneels before a lighted cross before an evening prayer service in Sahl Sinjar, Iraq. Johnson said his job as chaplain is to assist the Marines and be a counsel for them wherever they go.

Johnson delivers a service to Marines of Company C, 1st LAR Bn. in the field in an area south of Mosul, Iraq. Johnson said he is impressed by how the battalion’s Marines bring all their skills together to do many different types of jobs in order to get their mission accomplished.

Of Marines, Counterinsurgency, Widows and Cows

BY Herschel Smith
9 years ago

U.S. Marine Maj. Gen John Kelly, the top U.S. commander in Anbar Province, is seen before the start of a handover ceremony at the government headquarters in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, in Iraq Monday, Sept. 1, 2008. Progress is proceeding apace in Anbar, and the Marines are leaving the Fallujah area of operations headed mainly for Camp Baharia and Al Asad Air Base.

We have observed before that it is the responsibility of the people and government of Iraq to progress on reconciliation, and that the Marines can help only marginally in this endeavor and certainly don’t belong in the middle of internecine struggles at this point in the counterinsurgency and reconstruction effort.  Maj. Gen. Kelly regrets, though, the lack of progress in sectarian reconciliation, saying that “the Shiite-led government should have poured reconstruction money into the Sunni region after Sunni fighters joined forces with U.S. troops to chase al-Qaida out of the western province.

Marine Maj. Gen. John F. Kelly told The Associated Press that his greatest “mission failure” was his inability to bring together the government in Baghdad and the Sunnis in Anbar to take advantage of the steep decline in violence … Although Kelly said his mission did not include asking the central government for more money for the Sunni province, he was clearly frustrated by the lack of progress — a schism that stems from decades of brutal oppression of Shiites under Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime.”

In a time in our nation when the reflexive tendency is to avoid responsibility for things assigned to your responsible charge, the U.S. Marines still accept responsibility for things they weren’t assigned.  It’s a still sure and reliable sign that the phrase semper fidelis is more than mere words – it’s a code by which the Marines live.

The adaptability, wisdom and scholarly approach to the campaign in Anbar is a testimony to the character of the Marines and their leadership.  It hasn’t ended, and the example provided to the government of Iraq even recently by the Marines couldn’t be more stark.  Rather than “close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver,” the Marines are making sure that they have done their very best to ensure that there is no enemy, once again at the direction of Maj. Gen. Kelly.

As American forces work to revive Iraq’s tattered farming economy, they seem to have found an effective new weapon.

Cows.

At the suggestion of an Iraqi women’s group, the Marine Corps recently bought 50 cows for 50 Iraqi widows in the farm belt around Fallouja, once the insurgent capital of war-torn Anbar province.

The cow purchase is seen as a small step toward reestablishing Iraq’s once-thriving dairy industry, as well as a way to help women and children hurt by the frequent failure of the Iraqi government to provide the pensions that Iraqi law promises to widows.

The early sign is that the program is working. Widows, many with no other income, have a marketable item to sell, as well as milk for their children. Although Iraqis, particularly women, are often reluctant to participate in an American effort, the cows were immediately popular.

“It was an easy sell,” said Maj. Meredith Brown, assigned to the Marines’ outreach program for Iraqi women.

The idea, proposed by members of the Women’s Cultural Center in Fallouja, at first met with resistance from U.S. military officers and civilian officials involved in aid programs for Anbar. Nothing in their training provided guidance in haggling for livestock.

But those objections quickly evaporated when Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the top Marine in Iraq, signaled his support, Brown said. The Iraqis now refer to their animals as Kelly’s Cows.

Though Kelly’s support may have been based on gut instinct, the need to beef up Iraq’s badly broken dairy industry was argued in a Nov. 25 report by Land O’Lakes Inc.

The Minnesota cheese-and-butter company was hired by the Marine Corps to examine the Iraqi dairy industry. Its 38-page report, based on field research in the fall by two Land O’Lakes dairy specialists, concluded that there was enormous growth potential for the industry in a milk-drinking, cheese-eating nation that can locally produce enough milk to satisfy only 5% of the demand.

The study also pointed out that, even in Iraqi farm families with able-bodied adult males, much of the work is left to women: “Women milk the cows, bring feed and fodder to the animals and are supported by their children.”

In Anbar, two factors drew the Marines to the cow purchase: It was small-scale and it was suggested by the Iraqis. The Marines have learned that big-ticket projects, or those imposed by the U.S. on the Iraqis without local support, start with two strikes.

The Marines began buying cows in November at a livestock market at Saqlawiyah. Of the 50 cows, 35 were pregnant and 10 already had calves, which went along with their mothers. The five others were taken to a laboratory for artificial insemination. Brown put the program cost so far at $58,000.

To qualify for a free cow, each widow had to sign an agreement not to slaughter or sell the animal and instead to use the milk as a marketable item or for the family.

The project is not entirely altruistic. The Marines believe that widows with at least some economic resources are less likely to join Al Qaeda to carry out suicide attacks in exchange for a promise that their children will be cared for after the women are gone.

“If she’s desperate enough, she just might put on that [suicide] vest or drive that truck” full of explosives, Maj. Brown said.

Rather than being in the middle of internecine struggles, the Marines have led by example.  This is counterinsurgency at its very best, and represents the closing of an era in Anbar.  It’s the final phase of the campaign, and while troops will remain in Iraq for some time to help ensure border sovereignty, proper training of Iraqi Security Forces and robust actions against remaining hard core al Qaeda in Iraq fighters, General Kelly has every reason to be proud of his Marines and his own effort.  Mission accomplished.

U.S. Marines Prepare to Leave Fallujah

BY Herschel Smith
9 years 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
9 years 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.


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