From the Front Lines in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

An important and recent account of combat action from a friend and patriot currently in Afghanistan.

How can you not love and admire the American fighting man. Men who are sent perform pointless, thankless tasks in the service of their nation. Poorly lead, poorly supported; they still manage to perform with patience and valor. It is unfortunate that there are no words to describe the thoughts and actions of such men. I try to explain to the privileged 99% of American citizens who do not serve, just what this means. And fail miserably. They just look at me, disbelief on their faces and I’m sure, disgust on mine.

So the platoon is vehicle mounted, MRAPS and Hmmwv’s with ANA in Ford Rangers. The platoon negotiates a defile with high ground all around and the ambush is sprung when the lead and then trail vehicles are disabled with IED and RPG fire. Its a good size linear ambush; PKM’s and RPG’s. The platoon takes causalities immediately and all vehicular maneuver is initially destroyed under intense fire. The soldiers dismount to fight for their lives. Even the gunners are forced off their turrets.The Taliban forces have RPG 9’s and are trying to take the vehicles apart even as the PKM fire is pinning the dismounts and killing and wounding. C2 is a mess and the some of the ANA forces are trying to run away.

One soldier, armed with an old iron sighted M14 he found in a Conex container in a small outpost, targets three PKM gunners who have the main element pinned down. The Taliban forces intend to reduce this force to the point that they can conduct a ground assault across the ambush site and secure equipment and prisoners. Platoon leadership is massing fires and calling for Medivac and CAS, but it’s not going too well.

The RPG men are at 200-350 meters, close to their max range. They are popping up and down over various rocky berms that define the surrounding high ground above the kill zone. They know their business; target the vehicles and masses of men, hold them in place so that the machinegun fire and ground assault forces can finish the job. As they pop up and down they make lousy targets for the ambushed forces pinned down below. The RPG’s are fast and loud and leave an evil, snaking, brown smoke trail in their wake.

Its the PKM fire that is the real issue. Cleverly and with sound tactical acumen, they are positioned within their max range on a berm above and behind the RPG gunners. It is very difficult for the U.S. Forces on the valley floor to see them and fix them with their own fires. Here the M4 is not really in its element. Firing up slope from exposed positions at machine gunners with cover and concealment, the little 5.56mm round is no match for the  7.62mm rounds delivered at a high rate of fire. The soldiers are off their trucks, away from their own machine guns and heavy weapons which again are very limited due to the steeply sloping terrain. They are difficult to elevate to the point that effective fire can be delivered. The Taliban RPG and PKM gunners suffer no limitations.

The platoon leadership struggles to maintain their fires and a fighting force. Despite all the chaos they begin to get vehicles moving and their remaining heavy weapons on target. The Taliban is tightening the noose on this ambush. The balance of the U.S. forces are still dismounted, returning fire and treating casualties. The Taliban now has 360 degree fire on this tiny force. U.S. Forces are surrounded and need to get the heck out of there.

The M14 gunner has watched fire from 3 specific PKM’s who have the front, back and sides of the ambushed forces pinned down. With some assistance spotting fire, he is able to silence or slow them down. He then takes the initiative and with a fire team in tow; maneuvers on a ridge line and kills the assault commander, his body guard and other PKM gunners. This breaks the back of the assault force and the platoon is now able to take charge of their Alamo Vally and recover their tactical loses from the ambush. CAS is now on site but no one cares. It’s F15’s and they rarely drop anything for fear of civilian collateral damage. Besides, the Platoon FAC is mired in ROE as opposed to mission, concerns. He is removed from the platoon COP within 24 hours of this fight.

The ambush is defeated but the remains of the platoon have very little time to recover and remove their own dead and wounded and to police the Taliban dead. The remains of the Taliban force are quickly scrutinized. The U.S Forces need to get the heck out of this ambush site before they are counter attacked by a larger Taliban force.

The Taliban assault force commander is well dressed and equipped. His pockets are rifled to reveal papers identifying him as a Pakistani Intelligence official. Its difficult to match his identification papers to his person because he was shot in the face and not much remains. He is also caring a small black book that has identifying and contact information for all the ANA and ANP officials in this area. The platoon interpreter is on site and he suggests that the information in this black book demonstrates the complicity of all local Afghan officials.

The Platoon consolidates vehicles and equipment for evacuation. Dustoff arrives for the wounded and though full of complaints, hauls the combat dead as well. Some equipment is destroyed on site with Thermite and direct fire and the Platoon returns to their COP to debrief, refit and turn-in their hard earned combat intelligence. Its really just another day in Afghanistan.

There are many themes from previous discussions, from Pakistani duplicity in this campaign, to micromanagement of the enlisted men, to ANA cowardice and lack of discipline, to the need for additional training in marksmanship and the need to arm members of fire teams and squads with various weapons that enable them to engage in more long range fire and maneuver tactics (in Marine Corps terms, this would mean relying heavily on the DM, or Designated Marksman, or Scout Sniper for long range targeting).  It also means arming squads with M14s or some equivalent weapon.  There are tens of thousands of M14s still in armories in the U.S. waiting to be utilized.

But without rehearsing too much detail on the main themes of heroism, megalomaniacal staff level officers, weapons training and selection, and poor performance of our allies, this account takes its place among the great ones in this campaign.  God bless the U.S. warrior.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On October 3, 2010 at 11:04 pm, KP said:

    Someone should send this to Gen Patreus and ask if we are there to win or just die. Thanks for the briefing. I have heard similar tales but considered the source as unreliable. Now, maybe I owe them an apology.

  2. On October 4, 2010 at 9:15 am, Fred J harris said:

    Wonderfully written account. But for the equipment it could be from WS Churchill’s The Story of the Malakand Field Force.
    Our soldiers and civilians fighting are always in my thoughts and prayers.
    Many thanks.

  3. On October 4, 2010 at 10:28 am, Rick said:

    As always I am amazed at men and women our country produces that are willing to go into harms way. If I could ask a favor keep my brother in your prayers he is on tour 3 this year. He fly AC130U gunships which is his dream job. He took this on knowing how much he would be away from his wife and daughter, knowing that at times he could not tell them or the rest of his family which unnammed random desert he would be at. He is just one of many that do this. I just wish that they would let them do their jobs as they were trained. I wish I could provide more details of his exploits but cannot as he can give generalities but no specifics.

    Semper FI

  4. On October 4, 2010 at 6:52 pm, ex RC East guy said:

    Any chance of knowing what part of the country this happened? God bless those heroes!

  5. On October 5, 2010 at 5:06 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Paktika Province.

  6. On October 5, 2010 at 6:33 pm, Ken said:

    I truly believe it’s time to KaKa or get off the pot. Our American fighting men & women are designed to win and kick ass, not be targets for a bunch of Terrorists. Bring them back home, it appears we will have enough to deal with right here on our own soil…….

  7. On October 8, 2010 at 10:22 am, Jim Foody said:

    You have targeted the 99% that are not currently serving. They are not the problem. The soft news media, the weak politicians & the controlled military leadership that stop the soldiers from effectively doing their job. Just like “BlackHawk Down” the ground soldiers need air support to put some fear into the Taliban. If they can not get the right weapons & tactical support they should leave. Current reasons for staying there are just more BS. God Bless the Troops.

  8. On October 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm, Zathras said:

    It’s the “pointless, thankless missions” part of this that concerns me. I have no reservations about making dead heroes of young men in a cause important for the country. I accept the necessity of blood, wounds and suffering — but not for nothing.

    A defile in which the whole column could be immobilized by disabling the lead and trailing vehicles, and then assaulted at will from high ground? For what was passage of such a feature attempted? I’ll bet some of the soldiers that got shot there would like to know.

  9. On October 29, 2010 at 7:46 am, F said:

    What happened to the notion of the infantry closing with and destroying the enemy? Or the TTP that counter-ambush drills involve turning into the ambush and couter-attacking?

    I personally know how much it sucks to run up those hills in full body armour, but that’s almost always preferable to sitting in the kill zone waiting for indirect support – which with the vagueries of elevation always make that much less accurate. Plus, closing with the enemy brings them back to within effective 5.56 range. Finally, that kind of fixed bayonet assault will do more to strike fear (or at least respect) into the enemy than sitting back, waiting for a jet to maybe fly by.

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You are currently reading "From the Front Lines in Afghanistan", entry #5569 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Army,Pakistan,Taliban and was published October 3rd, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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