Chasing the Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
12 years ago

In The Strategy of Chasing the Taliban I outlined the arguments against the application of strictly a population-centric approach in Afghanistan.  We discussed how the ROE was preventing U.S. troops from engaging the insurgency when it was possible that noncombatants could be involved, and that this tactical approach had caused the need to chase the insurgents when they took cover in civilian areas and then later escaped.  We must chase the Taliban and kill every last one of them, we are told by some Afghanis.

But we don’t have the troops, helicopters or logistics to continue the chase into the valleys, mountains and fields of Afghanistan.  From Lt. Col. Scott Cunningham, commander of the 1st Squadron, 221st Cavalry, of the Nevada National Guard, we have another indication of insurgent tactics that brings up the issue of chasing the enemy.

The enemy in Afghanistan is elusive. They will rarely attack unless they have absolute superiority. Because of that, we usually maneuver with enough soldiers and firepower to defeat any potential threat we may encounter. Getting cut off by a superior force is a recipe for disaster. A TIC, or “Troops in Contact” is unlikely in any given patrol, but essentially inevitable over the course of an entire deployment. It can be either an IED, long-distance harassing fire or a close-up ambush. Depending on the enemy tactic, the maneuver unit will immediately attempt to pin the enemy down, and then use artillery, helicopters, or aircraft weapons on him, or flank them with maneuver forces.

The enemy has the tendency to attack from long range and then run away, often into villages, where our rules of engagement prevent us from effectively engaging him, or into the mountains where the weight of our gear prevents rapid pursuit.

The Marines have also had to address this same issue in Helmand.  With too few troops, the tactic of fire and melt away must be addressed through different means than saturation of troops.  Quite literally, the insurgents can do this forever, and we can’t stay that long.  The U.S. Marines have heard my counsel (actually, they probably got to it first) and responded with the implementation of a quick reaction force.

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Afghanistan — When Marines kick in doors and begin to put rounds down range, some insurgents flee — a Huey pilot helped create a way to stop them before they slip through the cracks.

Capt. Bret W. Morriss, a pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, “Scarface,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), used the capabilities of the new UH-1Y Huey to create a concept to aid in the capture of insurgents.

Capt. Kevin Kinkade, the platoon commander for B Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Detachment, worked with Morriss to develop a way to effectively pursue insurgents who flee.

It can be dangerous for troops on the ground to chase fleeing insurgents because the enemy uses mines and improvised explosive devices to protect their routes of escape, explained Morriss.

Morriss and Kinkade created a concept called an aerial reaction force by adapting the concept of a quick reaction force. A QRF is a rapid response force commonly used to reinforce or investigate areas of interest. By combining the time-tested tactics of the QRF and the capabilities of the new Huey, the Marines created ARF — a force with strength in a couple of prime areas.

“ARF proves the capabilities of the Huey,” said Morriss. “It improves abilities of the [ground combat element] giving the Marines more flexibility and maneuverability.”

The new Huey can keep up with the demands of the ARF concept because of the improved lifting power of the helicopter. It can carry 6-8 combat-loaded Marines, plus the helo’s crew, into and out of tactical zones at high altitudes and in hot weather. The previous helicopter the Marine Corps used was the UH-1N Huey that did not have the power to carry such a load. Morriss’ squadron is the first HMLA to use the new Huey in combat.

The new helicopter provides outstanding economy of force, giving close air support and reconnaissance support for the Marines that it inserts. Historically, Marines used a heavy or medium lift helicopter to bring in the reinforcements, and flew attack helicopters for close air support.

By employing these new Hueys, Marines can use ARF to quickly capture a person of interest or small group of insurgents, or they can be used as an addition to a larger ground operation. The UH-1Y has brought back true utility to the Marine Corps supporting a wide variety of assault support missions.

When HMLA-367 heads home to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., in the next few months, they will pass on the new tactics to the incoming squadron, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, the “Gunfighters.”

“What Capt. Morriss developed keeps Marines safer by giving them the flexibility to close with the enemy with less risk of hitting a mine or being ambushed,” said Maj. Thomas Budrejko, the operations officer for the squadron. “It also improves the operational capabilities of the units on the ground.”

Morriss, a graduate of Virginia Tech, received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his part in creating and executing ARF.

Just as Marines have done throughout history, Morriss and Kinkade adapted to the war at hand and developed new Marine Corps tactics that will likely save Marines’ lives and ensure the capture or elimination of the enemy.

This is adaptation at its finest.  It’s what the U.S. Marines do, and it’s what is needed in this geophysical space at this moment in time given the circumstances.


  1. On April 28, 2010 at 1:40 pm, Federale said:

    Gee, didn’t they do something similar in Vietnam? Didn’t the Green Berets call that a Mike Force?

  2. On April 29, 2010 at 8:00 am, bgaerity said:

    From my civilian, pop-culture-saturated perspective, the QRF sounds an awful lot like a tricked-out SWAT team. Which just adds to my confusion about how to classify what we’re doing in Afghanistan: war? COIN? policing? It’s an amalgam of all three, but with no clear end-state. Each aspect has its own metrics, but which ones do we focus on? There is much debate about means (you’ve done a great job of discussing the pros and cons of a population-centric COIN), but what about ends? Let’s assume we adopt your pursuit approach and calibrate the ROE to support that. And let’s assume we can maintain security in population areas. But along the way, we kill a number of civilians (it’s gonna happen) and the Afghan government (politicians, police, army) proves to be inept. A new generation of Taliban (led by existing Taliban remnants) or tribal warlords will most likely emerge to challenge the government and will get support from Afghans who are sick of corruption, don’t trust the U.S., and think the gov’t. is weak…and the whole thing starts over. My intention isn’t to be hopeless, helpless, or cynical, but to keep seeking an answer to the question “what are we trying achieve?” Because without that clarity, we won’t know which tactics to apply. “Clear, hold and build” sounds simple and reasonable, but, damn, we’re struggling with the “clear” part! How the hell do you take out all the Taliban without losing the PR war? And how do you win the PR war without taking out all the Taliban? And when do we call it “done” and go home? I hate this uncertainty. I’m willing to commit to the long-haul as long as I know what we’re trying to achieve. Personally, I’d like to see many more development projects that directly benefit ordinary Afghans (electricity, water, roads, schools, etc.). In the end, I think we (and the Afghan govt.) have to overwhelm the country with competence. It starts with the military, and has to extend throughout the “value chain.” So, if the net effect of a pursuit approach is to convince the Afghan population that the U.S. is a competent power, then sign me up. It would be the virtual beachhead that’s so desperately needed right now.

  3. On May 3, 2010 at 12:19 pm, TSAlfabet said:

    Personally, I have long advocated for the Kentucky Fried Counter-Terrorism approach.

    Our “end game” is denial of territory/support to the bad guys, so they cannot gain any traction to significantly infiltrate. There will always be religious zealots around to bully and try to intimidate wherever they can find an unprotected spot. The difference is, however, that when we create areas that are solidly allied with us, there is simply no room for any sizable force to gather– they will not receive funding or supply voluntarily and will be tracked down and killed if they try to stick around.

    How do we do that?

    Kentucky Fried Counter-terrorism. The franchise model that has won the world to Big Macs, extra crispy chicken, you name it.

    In the normal world, a franchise ‘buyer’ takes the products and brand of the franchise ‘owner’ and makes it their own. The franchise chooses the spot, hires the employees, decides on what discounts to use, which of the menu items to provide, how late to stay open, and pricing. Yes, the owner of the brand, the Kentucky Fried Corporation (or whatever) ultimately owns the logos and recipes and such, but none of that matters to the local patrons. Their experience is largely determined by how the local franchisees decide to operate the place. It stands or falls based on what the local customers like or don’t like.

    In Afghanistan, we seem to be operating under a crazy model where the franchise owner is present and running every single, local restaurant, so to speak. It is common knowledge that the central government is corrupt, perhaps hopelessly so. The key is to stop letting that central government, i.e., the “franchise owner” interfere with our local operations.

    In effect, we need to publicly say all the right things about respecting the central government’s authority, nationally, but, in actual practice at the local level, we pay our “franchise fee” so the central government will leave us the heck alone to run things the way we want. That means that we decide who we hire on as local security forces, we set the rules for NGO’s to operate, we decide how the building and holding gets done. The central government simply collects their monthly franchise fee and stays fat, dumb and happy. The locals can then choose to side with us based upon what WE do and how we operate locally rather than the corrupt central government. Like a local KFC, they won’t care about the owners 1,000 miles away as long as the local chain is operating to their satisfaction and the owners stay the heck away from them. That is what most Afghans seem to want anyway: to be left alone.

    The only way we can clear and hold areas is to multiply force levels with locals that we hire, train and trust to keep out the bad guys. We support them like an employer supports his employees (as we did with the Sons of Iraq that we hired on way back when). We start another “franchise” nearby when the original one is up and running and self-sufficient.

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You are currently reading "Chasing the Enemy", entry #4903 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Marine Corps and was published April 27th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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