Vultures Descend On Kabul As The Plan Takes Form

A group of senators engaged on a ‘fact finding’ holiday stopped into Kabul to glad hand troops on July 4th and demand a “coherent plan” from the Trump administration. I do not like congressional junkets because they are prohibitively expensive, make the forces in the fight focus on hosting VIP’s instead of maintaining an external focus on the various villains they are there to fight, and they accomplish little other then promote grandstanding by the very politicians who helped get us in the mess that is Afghanistan.

My observations of these delegations both at the American Embassy in Kabul and out in the field with the troops are that our elected officials drink too much, take more ambien then is good for them, understand little of what is happening on the ground and are an enormous pain in the ass to host in the field. One of my closest Marine Corps friends banned me from talking to any CODEL after an inebriated John Bonner asked me (at the embassy in Kabul) how the war was going. He was getting both barrels when Dave coughed up an ambien, told me to shut up and saw the congressman to his assigned lodging.

Sen McCain visiting the Marines in Helmand back in 2010. M y buddy Dave Furness was the CO of RCT 1 at the time and allowed me to visit only if I promised to say not one word to any elected officials. Photo by Baba T

Senator McCain, during his visit to Kabul yesterday, demanded a “Coherent Policy from Trump”  which indicates he is either stupid, because the policy is forming right in front of him, or playing politics with an administration he doesn’t care for too much. Good losers lose and they tend to resent winners as they age so McCain’s comments are par for the course and will have exactly no impact on the plan that is shaping up.

Everything you need to know about our future in Afghanistan can be found in these two places: the Enhancing Security And Stability In Afghanistan report to congress from the military last month and General Joe Dunford’s appearance at the National Press Club last week (which was awesome and a highly recommended podcast  that can be found on All Marine Radio).

The plan which we can see forming includes the recent deployment of the 3rd Squadron, 73rd Calvary Regiment, which is part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg. The 300 plus men of the 3rd Squadron have the following mission:

They will oversee security at a tactical base and serve as a quick reaction force in Helmand province, where some of the heaviest fighting of the past 16 years of war has taken place.

The squadron is part of a 1500 man deployment from the 82nd that is being sent all over the country, probably to fill a similar role. Portions of the 82nd have already arrived in the Helmand in the form of an artillery battery that deployed to both Lashkar Gah and Camp Shorabak. It’s safe to assume that is where the paratroopers will be deploying too giving TF Southwest a robust quick response force.

Airborne Arty being set up in the 505th Zone Police HQ in Lashkar Gah. Photo from TF Southwest.

Along with artillery and a dedicated reaction force Task Force Southwest received some attention from on high when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford visited Afghanistan as part of his ongoing assessment.

One of the things that is important to understand when you see this picture is how well these two men (Gen Dunford and BGen Roger Turner) already know each other. That’s an intangible worth its weight (historically speaking) in gold. Photograph from TF Southwest.

It appears Task Force Southwest is getting reinforced with enablers that it will use in support of Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). That means members of the advise and assist mission plan to get out and about with their Afghan counterparts where they can control American fires with the requisite precision.

This is a good thing, the only way the Marines can make a difference is to reinforce the procedures they are trying to teach the ANSF with practical application. This also explains why we recently lost (in a green on blue attack) paratroopers assigned to the advise and assist mission during combat operations against ISIS-K  in Nangarhar province.

However today we learned that Pfc. Hansen B. Kirkpatrick, 19, of Wasilla, Ark., died July 3, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from wounds received during an indirect fire attack. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. If the 3rd Squadron of the 73rd Cav from Fort Bragg is there how did we lose a grunt from the 1stBn, 36th Infantry who is out of Fort Bliss?

An even better question is why are we mixing Marines with soldiers on a mission where it would be advantageous to have just Marines or just Army assigned to it? Marines work better with other Marines because they know each other, have the same communication equipment and training and the Marine Corps is designed to deploy as their own air/ground/logistic task force. The 82nd Airborne is also, by table of organization, designed to deploy in an identical manner so why the mix and match?

My take is the mixing of forces has been born of the necessity to keep these training packages deploying, for seven months at a time, indefinitely. Afghanistan is not the only game in town as we are also fighting in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, the Philippines, probably Libya and who knows where else? We have our national forward deployed capable forces all forward deployed making it impossible for just the Marines or just the Army to do the Helmand mission. The timing of the flow into the Helmand is important too because it will allow a 2 month window to deploy the next Task Force Southwest while the artillery and reaction force remain in country.

Why are we planning to stay indefinitely? That argument is best summed up by Old Blue in a recent email exchange we had on the topic.

According to a Rand study of over 80 insurgencies since WWII, about a third of the time, the government wins; insurgency defeated with no significant changes in the government.  Another third of the time, the insurgency wins; total government collapse and replacement.  The final third is “mixed outcome,” meaning that the government makes changes or reforms that satisfy the insurgency without toppling the sitting government.  This was the same study that pointed out factors that successful insurgencies tended to have in common, such as external support and safe havens, such as Pakistan.

Sometimes those eggheads bring something useful to the table.

The chances of an outright win by the Afghan government are slim. The Taliban (catch-all) have too many of the prerequisites to win.  Short of a major change of heart on the Pakistani side, that leaves two potential outcomes, the most positive of which is a mixed outcome.

Back to the study, which demonstrated that time really isn’t on the side of the insurgency. In fact, the percentage of successful insurgencies declined over time.  The longer the fight went on, the likelier a government win or mixed solution.  What Obama’s ill-considered move did was breathe life into a very tired insurgency.  A few thousand troops won’t enable advising down to the company level, which is what we need to reset to, but it will show resolve.  That in itself will have an impact.  The mission will creep, based on input from those who will evaluate progress and needs, and the struggle will continue.  That is not a benefit to the Taliban, nor to their patrons.

Note on insurgency; they do not negotiate like nations do. Mao wrote the book on this stuff, and they have read Mao, trust me on that.  Mao said never negotiate unless it’s to paralyze your enemy.  There are two reasons to do so; to gain time and space to recover, or right before you deal them a death blow.  Negotiating in lieu of defeat is the one he really didn’t get to.  He wasn’t writing a book on how to lose an insurgency.  The insurgency will have to be badly damaged and finding itself outcast by the people, along with waning support from Pakistan.  That is doable with support.

The “mixed solution” described by Old Blue above is exactly the way I see things ending too. The current struggle for Afghanistan has a military and a civil component. I’m not sure what we are doing on the “civil” side but would be surprised if we were not working with tribes to split local Taliban alliances. If the international alliance is throwing its considerable weight into fracturing the various Taliban affiliates the NATO military approach will, with time, drive the ambient level of lawlessness down.

There is no winning in this scenario and there are, as of yet, no identified matrices that would indicate the job is done and it is time to come home. Which means we may never leave Afghanistan just like we never left Germany or Japan.

Is that a good thing for America? Probably not; as I have argued in many prior posts we should have smoke checked bin Laden (using our troops not war lord troops from Nangarhar province) and gone home in 2002. But we didn’t and I personally am encouraged to see we are staying. I like Afghanistan – I like most of the people in Afghanistan; were it possible I’d go back there and continue to help them.

What I’m not going to be able to do is go back to embed with the Marines in the Helmand province. I didn’t come close to raising the funds needed to do that but did raise enough to off-set my trips to Camp Lejeune and Washington DC which was phase one of the send Baba Tim back to Afghanistan project.  I also have failed to attract any media interest in sending me but have been getting some media exposure lately. Sometime this week I’ll get a copy of my second appearance on Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler on the OAN channel. Plus I’ll be the guest this week on the Reuters War College podcast. There still seems to be interest in Afghanistan but not enough to get the new or old media to send me.

I want to thank my friends and those of you who donated anonymously for supporting my go fund me effort. America is going to be in Afghanistan for years to come and I’m certain that at some point I’ll make it back to report the ground truth you are not going to hear from the legacy media. Inshallah.

D-Day In Afghanistan

The 73rd commemoration of the Allied invasion a of Normandy on D-Day (operation Neptune) is a fitting place to start an examination of what is happening in Afghanistan. One reason for that are the iconic photographs from that invasion of the firepower the Allied forces were using that day.

USS Iowa (BB-61) cutting loose with a 16 inch naval gun broadside (this photo is not from D-Day)

Battleships were part of the prep fires for that invasion and they fired 123,984 shells on D-Day. The mark 8 “super heavy” 16-inch shell, when fired with a proximity fuse would leave a crater 50 feet deep and 20 feet wide which is bigger than the crater caused by the honey dipper borne IED that hit Kabul last week. A relevant question to ask when watching the old footage of Battleships launching broadsides into the French coastal towns and village is where were the French citizens who lived there?  They were still there and to this day the civilian casualties from the D-Day invasion remain unknown although one source claims the number to be around 50,000.

Photographs from D-Day were censored by the governments involved so accurate pictures reflecting the fate of the French caught up in this massive attack are as rare as finding accurate news reporting in the legacy media is today.

As the invasion forces landed and started to move inland they were supported by M4 Sherman tanks. These tanks were named after William Tecumseh Sherman, a famous (in the North) infamous (in the South) Union general noted for his scorched earth tactics during the “March to the Sea” where he gutted the agricultural and light industrial capacity of the deep south.

M4 Sherman tanks in action after D-Day

Sherman is also famous for this quote which is relevant to the quagmire in Afghanistan today.

“I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”

Sherman knew war was hell and because of this immutable truth he felt wars had to be ended as quickly as possible. This is why he destroyed the economic foundation of the South while avoiding pitched battles when he could. He knew that in doing so he was inflicting a harsh punishment on the civilian population of the South but didn’t let compassion interfere with his mission. Although Grant ultimately beat Robert E Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia forcing its surrender at Appomattox it was Sherman’s destruction of the Confederate economic base that sealed their fate. Sherman ended the Civil War as fast as was possible given the situation on the ground at that time.

The Taliban seems to have adopted Sherman’s strategy. They have inflicted massive, morale draining defeats on the Kabul government in the past few months. The attack on Kabul’s military hospital, the horrendous slaughter of recruits in Mazar-e Shraif, the Kabul truck bomb attack (using the equivalent of one 16-inch shell) followed by the suicide bombing attack at a funeral for the victims of that truck bomb attack which has been followed by another massive VBIED in Herat. The Taliban are stepping up their relentless campaign of death and destruction with one goal in mind. They want the war to end and end on their terms.

Western armies in general and the American military specifically no longer understand the truth behind General Sherman’s famous quote. We lack the capacity to inflict the damage required to end wars quickly and (more importantly) decisively. Instead we offer solutions and forces that will string out war for decades. We come with firepower controlled by lawyers, we are more concerned with “tolerance” and putting females into fighting formations then we about winning. We adopt tactics like night raids that accomplish nothing tactical but instead drive the population away from the allies we are supposed to be supporting. We insist that taking out Taliban ‘leaders’ is important while ignoring that the Taliban gets stronger and more capable the longer we fight them.

Understanding that wars must be ended quickly to prevent unnecessary deaths and destruction does not mean there will not be death destruction. Lobbing 123,984 16-inch shells into the towns and villages of France was not humane, it exposed the civilian population to unimaginable death and destruction but it also shortened a horrible war. Going into Musa Qala or Sangin and giving the tribes a simple ultimatum; join our side or we will burn down your villages, kill your livestock, and put all of you in ‘relocation camps’ is not humane. But it would have shorten the current Afghan war by a decade.

We can see what is happening by allowing the Afghan war to enter its 16th year; death and destruction on what is now approaching biblical levels. That’s not humane, it’s not smart and it reflects poorly on our ability to think and act at the strategic level.

Telling the Pakistani’s to go into Miranshaw, kill the Haqqani clan and get those tribes under control; or we will, is not humane but it would win the Afghan war. Putting Pakistan on the horns of a dilemma by starting to advocate for a Pashtun and Baluch homeland would be humane for the tribes involved. But it would also involve diplomatic brinkmanship of the highest order. To do that the international community would have to be prepared to eliminate Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal with preemptive strikes. That would cause the same level of death and destruction we visited on the citizens of France 73 years ago but nobody in the west has the stomach for that. Yet.

The Taliban and their radical Islamic allies see our current campaigns in Central Asia, the Middles East, Africa and now the Philippines as a clash of civilizations. Western Civilization was once able to do the most important function of a healthy civilization. That is to reduce and re-direct the natural aggression of males while also reducing and re-directing the natural tendency of vanity in its females. Today in the west male aggression is crushed, starting before grade school, by a feminist dominated system that medicates them and then prosecutes them for the trivial offense of eating part of a piece of pizza so it is shaped like a gun. Our boys are drugged, punished and ostracized relentlessly for the crime of being boys.

Yet that same system promotes female vanity to such ridiculous heights that we now have females in Marine Corps infantry battalions.  If you think that’s progress you just might be a denier….of reality.

Islam promotes male aggression while crushing female vanity. Their cultural fear of female sexuality produces a bizarre dissonance reflected in increases in birth defects from intermarriage, a hatred of homosexuals but an acceptance of homosexual acts between young men and with younger boys. Large farm animals are at risk of rape when bands of armed young Muslim fighters are about; the US military has thousands of hours of surveillance video to prove that.  The repression of females by Islamic society has produced shocking levels of hypocrisy which should make it the weaker participant in a clash of cultures yet, for now, the issue is in doubt,

When an Islamic terrorist blew himself up outside a Ariana Grande concert last week the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom announced she had enough and promptly introduced measures that will do nothing to stop Islamic terrorism while reducing, even more than before, the freedom of her people. Islamic terrorist proved that point with yet another truck/suicide knife attack in London just days ago.

In response to the attack in Manchester Ariana Grande staged a benefit concert where thousands of her young female fans were transfixed as she sang about having a “wrist ice cycle (meaning her wrist was covered in male seman) while riding a dick bicycle“.  What do you think ISIS YouTube star who influenced the Manchester bomber, Shaykh Ahmad Musa Jibril, of Dearborn Michigan thought of that performance? I don’t know but I bet it was something like “we will kill them all”.

Our response for the past 16 or so years to the challenge of Islamic terrorism seems to be something along the lines of “hold my beer..I got this”.  We don’t have a damn thing; the only question is will we get a clue in time to save ourselves?

The Graveyard Of Hope

As the recent horrific bombing in Kabul is driven out of the news cycle  it is time to interject some honesty into the Afghan story. The day of the latest attack Afghans took to twitter in droves asking how can a truck bomb get into the most secure part of the city or when will they be allowed to live in peace?

The answer to the first question is the truck bomb got into the Ring of Steel the same way every truck bomb has for the last decade. Bribes combined with insiders of dubious loyalty and lax security. True it was stopped at a checkpoint at Zambaq square but that is routine; trucks are not allowed to travel downtown during rush hour, it shouldn’t have gotten that far. The fact that it did indicates it was moved into position and hidden before it took off the morning of the bombing.

The answer to the second question is you’ll be allowed to live in peace when the Afghan people rise up and fight for it. More on that below.

Today angry protesters clashed with riot police in Kabul, several were killed and all were demanding the government resign over the latest atrocity. The religious leaders (the Ulema) of both Pakistan and Afghanistan have declared the attack on civilians during Ramadan to be un-Islamic. This would be news were it not routine. Just a month ago Afghans and the Ulmea were saying the same thing after the attack on recruits praying in a Mosque in Mazar-e Sharif. The month before that it was the attack on the military hospital in Kabul (some 300 meters away from yesterday’s truck bomb) that had Afghans furious and the Ulmea declaring it an un-Islamic attack.

How does this end? It ends like it started. Back in 2001 two ODA teams 555 in the north and 574 is the south combined with anti-Taliban Afghan tribes to defeat the Taliban while Delta Force ( the Combat Applications Group or CAG) went after Osama bin Laden in Nangarhar province. As these groups rolled into the country Afghan tribes joined them in droves to rid themselves of the unpopular Taliban.

I’m not a cheer leader for Special Forces as can be seen in this post but the job they did in 2001 was one they were well suited for and one they executed like true professionals. They mimicked what the Taliban had done when they came to power – they used the power of the people to drive their oppressors out of power. Massive change comes to Afghanistan when the people of Afghanistan rise up and demand it.

The ODA teams and their unbelievably skilled brothers from the CAG were doing a mission that was squarely inside their skill set and it was an impressive feat of arms. But the momentum that gained the quick victory came from the Afghan people. They supported the international effort and they drove the Taliban from power.

Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory when generals in the rear refused to let a young Brigadier named James Mattis to throw his Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the mountains behind Tora Bora to seal bin Laden’s escape route into Pakistan. That defeat was compounded by fuzzy thinking about staying on to help Afghanistan back into the world of functioning nation states; a mission we are not equipped to do and have never been able to do.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published and editorial that reflected my thinking on the matter although I’m only in partial agreement with its recommendation. The author was Eric Prince and the article was titled The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan. Both the author and idea are a fascinating combination that explain why Afghanistan is doomed.

Eric Prince is a military genius of epic proportions. He has proven his leadership and foresight time and again and for his efforts he has been maligned by the legacy media and jealous, less capable, bureaucrats in the CIA, Department of State and Pentagon. His crime was being successful at the ancient art of contracted war making. Google his name today and the words mercenary, infamous, and notorious jump off page after page. Forget the vitriol and focus on his accomplishments as outlined in the video below:

Eric Prince recommends a MacArthur like Viceroy to consolidate power under one person and then to address the weak leadership, endemic corruption and frequent defections; he offers this:

These deficits can be remedied by a different, centuries-old approach. For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and — when necessary — fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.

An East India Company approach would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support. The U.S. military should maintain a small special-operations command presence in the country to enable it to carry out targeted strikes, with the crucial difference that the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.

His solution is correct except for the Viceroy – he has to be an Afghan. You need to find an Afghan who is a warrior and an Islamic scholar. He’s there, waiting and we need to find him, present him to the Ulmea and then to the Loya jirgia and then the Afghan people.  Find that man and give him Eric Prince to set up the modern day equivalent of the Flying Tigers and a ground component I’ll call the Fighting Tigers and Afghanistan will be saved.

The UN has got to go as does NATO because they cannot help Afghanistan now. You need low tech aircraft and infantry capable of doing Pseudo Operations. That means Afghan units with embedded western mentors who live, fight and die like Afghans. A force that is on the Afghans side; one they can rally behind as they once did when the Americans showed up in small numbers controlling big fires.

If the Afghans are to find peace they will need a military capability that does not rely on a multi billion dollar logistic tail that runs through Pakistan. Contracted armies can fight on the cheap using low tech air and the fighting power of western military men. Pakistan in not a friend of Afghanistan and there will be no peace for Afghans until they operate on the opposite side of the Durrani line to share some of their pain with the Pakistani enablers who send the truck bombs to kill their children.

A radical solution like this  would require the international community to get over their aversion to contracted military formations. And that requires the international community to admit their efforts have been wasted, their solutions wrong and their council worthless. That is a bridge too far so, for now, and well into the future, the Afghan people are doomed by international bureaucrats who learn nothing, forget nothing but never hesitate to insist on solutions that always fail.

The way forward is to accept the lessons of the past and use what has worked in the past. Western armies can no longer do this kind of work. Contracted armies can; there are no other rational alternatives.

Discipline

I have repeatedly written that in order for the Resolute Support Train and Assist mission to work the trainers will have to get out and fight with the trainees. The reason I’m adamant about that is not the traditional reason American combat advisers are normally effective.

When my uncle Chad spent a year as an adviser to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps they needed no help from him with their staff functions, battle drills or training. What they needed was his access to American fire power. Marine advisers were inserted into South Vietnamese units at the battalion and regimental level to access combat enablers, specifically American tactical aircraft, medical evacuation helicopters, artillery and naval gunfire. They lived with their South Vietnamese counterparts for the duration of their assignment and went with them to the field every time their unit was deployed. They formed tight bonds with their counterparts too which is the basis of trust and a good way of avoiding green on blue attacks.

The advise and assist mission in Afghanistan today has little to do with access to American combat enablers (there isn’t much to access now anyway). It is focused on improving battle staff mission planing. Solid staff work is critical to mission success at the battalion (and higher) level. The Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and the National Police (ANP) have serious staff functionality issues due to attrition, low levels of literacy in the ranks and the problem of rampant  corruption.

The corruption problem as well as the logistical issues seem to have improved (somewhat) over the years as can be seen when examining current photographs of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in action. They have all their battle gear and are wearing it correctly, their gun handling skills have improved and their cold weather gear is uniform indicating their supply chain is getting it out to them. Literacy too is improving countrywide and the ANSF has attracted and retained a cohort of well educated, motivated officers. Yet working with these officers to improve staff functionality is tinkering at the margins.

Discipline is the key to dominating on the battlefield in Afghanistan and it is sorely lacking in the ANSF today. Correlating discipline to battlefield survival is not something that is well understood. Traditionally when we think of discipline we think of close order drill or the stripping away of individual identity and replacing it with a tribal identity (in boot camp) so that men respond instantly to commands in order to promote unit survival in battle. That is 2nd generation military discipline which is a non-factor in the distributed operations found on the battlefield of today. I’m talking about  4th generation discipline which is essential to combat effectiveness when you have seeded the battlefield with squad sized combat outposts (COP’s) many of which have Corporals with just three years of service under their belts running them.

This quote from an interview on All Marine Radio with Major General Paul Kennedy explains the concept well:

Gen Mattis jacked me up during OIF 1 about shaving and I have never forgotten that lesson. Shaving is not a cosmetic activity and it’s not even so your gas mask fits, it’s for when the small unit leader walks down the line he sees you have taken care of business. It might be the only time in the day that you have used soap and water to clean yourself up so when they see that you have shaved then they know you probably also have eaten and taken care of your weapon and are ready to go. You shave every day because it is a physical sign that your head is in the game…..When you’re in a COP and have limited food and water and are trying to decide how much to use to eat but you take care of hygiene first; that’s discipline.

How does something like shaving translate into battlefield survival? I’ll let Mike ‘Mac’ McNamara (host of All Marine Radio) explain it in another quote I lifted from one of his interviews with Brigadier General Dave Furness:

Of the last 31 Marines we lost as an RCT (Regimental Combat Team) during our 2010-2011 deployment, 19 of them were OUR fault. Failure to follow established combat SOP’s was the #1 culprit in those 19 cases.

What does shaving have to do with failure to follow SOP’s? It’s another way of saying attention to detail matters. Marines who care for their weapons and hygiene before their stomachs are demonstrating the internalized discipline that will allow them to sit for hours in the sweltering desert sun to wait for EOD teams to respond to their position and clear IED’s. Marines who understand internalized discipline are not prone to ignore positive identification procedures that may or may not make sense to them. Marines with internalized discipline are demonstrating they trust their chain of command and their fellow Marines.

As MajGen  Kennedy pointed out in the podcast linked above Marines with internalized discipline will find over 80% of the IED’s discovered during a deployment with their eyes only. No fancy gear, no dogs, no nothing but the senses proficient warriors hone when serving at the front.

Failure to following established SOP’s designed to mitigate the number one threat in the Helmand province (IED’s) was a discipline issue. Even the Marines, who have the well-earned reputation of being the most disciplined service in America, have problems internalizing the correlation between discipline and battlefield survival. I considered myself to be a proficient infantry officer while on active duty and I never completely understood this. That I was not the only one is evident in the statistics Mac put together and published.

I have several video’s of ANA troops running past American EOD techs working to disarm IED’s and getting blown sky high four steps later. They are gruesome; they are upsetting, they make you sick because they were completely avoidable had the soldiers involved shown the discipline it takes to wait while IED’s are properly identified and neutralized. That’s what the ANA and the ANP need now; mentoring by small unit leaders that instills the discipline required to survive on the modern Afghan battlefield.  That alone is of more value then all the combat enablers we normally bring to a fight and it is not what our advise and assist missions are doing.

As an aside I urge you to take the time to listen to the interviews linked above. What Mac is doing with his All Marine Radio podcasts is providing to all who listen a graduate level education on not just combat leadership but organizational leadership. There are now hundreds of interviews with Marines (and a few non Marines) from privates first class to four star generals on his podcast library and they are a fascinating glimpse into military history.

Included in his treasure trove is a tape recording of the radio traffic between a company commander’s tank and his platoon commander’s tanks in the thick of the battle for Iwo Jima (43 minute mark in the podcast linked above).  I’ve never heard anything like it and the man he was interviewing (Tom Clifford who at the time was the President of the University of North Dakota) was the company commander on those tapes and he had no idea a tape of his tac net even existed. I cannot stress enough how good this material is…you’re crazy if you don’t take advantage of it. The first two hyperlinks in this post are All Marine Radio interviews with my Uncle Chad and General Zinni talking about being combat advisers in Vietnam (and a lot more). They are fascinating radio.

Dave Furness, Mike ‘Mac’ McNamara and I on Camp Dwyer, Helmand province in 2010

The news coming out of Afghanistan is not good. This recent article in Fox news is an example. It is talking about the deployment of a Brigade Combat Team (Army term for a Regimental Combat Team) from the 82nd Airborne to Afghanistan. This deployment, like the current Marine deployment, was scheduled long ago and is not news. But the article contains all sorts of extraneous information like the “devils in baggy pants” moniker for the 82nd (from WWII when their uniforms were distinctly different from regular army units) that is not relevant today and confusing to the non professional. The article doesn’t explain what everyone wants to know which is why are they going and what they will be doing.

More disturbing is this article on the Breitbart website concerning “McMaster’s War”. The article, concerning the need for more troops in Afghanistan isn’t that bad – it’s the comment section that should give pause to our leadership. Not one comment (and they are still pouring into the website) is remotely positive. When you’ve lost the segment of the population that comments on Brietbart website you’ve lost the American people.

At some point in the very near future President Trump and his national security team will have to explain what we are doing in Afghanistan, how that will make things better for the Afghan people, and when are we going to leave. Failure to do so will cost the military the good will of the American people earned by the generation that proceeded them. That would be, in my opinion, inexcusable.

If our military leadership fails to talk about how our continued involvement will improve small unit performance then we’ll know we are wasting time, treasure and blood tinkering at the margins of enhanced combat performance. The ANA needs discipline; the ANP needs that too given the fact they are fulfilling a combat role that involves zero policing. They need our help and I hope we start providing them the help they need, not the help that sounds good on a PowerPoint slide.

There is no way to determine what is going on in Afghanistan without competent reexporting from the front. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.

Friendly Fire

As reported in the update to my last post the Army has started a friendly fire investigation into the two most recent deaths in Afghanistan. Why would the they start a friendly fire investigation when the soldiers who were there are adamant that enemy fire killed sergeants Rogers and Thomas? That’s a question with two answers; the first being the pentagon is required, by law, to notify next of kin if there exists the slightest chance that  their loved one was killed by friendly fire. The second reason is the Pat Tillman case which also involved the Army Rangers and was one of the more disgraceful cover-ups in the last 15 years. Or so I thought until I looked into the matter over the weekend.

The Pat Tillman case is worth examining not just because of the cover-up the incompetence of the staff officers who sent Pat’s platoon on the ‘clearing villages’ mission in the first place was a story too. Pat Tillman was killed during a multi day sweep of villages on the Pakistani border of Khost province. They were ordered to search villages for Taliban fighters or weapons and to do so on a strict timeline dictated from on high.

Let me inject some reality into that mission. The maps being used back then, just like the maps used today, seldom identify villages by their correct name or location. What appears to be secondary roads on these maps are most often dry stream beds or goat trails. Instructing men to clear villages that don’t exist using roads that don’t exist is the epitome of 2nd generation military thinking.

If 40 Rangers go into the a village and search every dwelling (an unspeakable insult to highlander Pashtuns) finding no weapons is the village clear? If they come under fire while leaving the village are the villagers Taliban? The answer to both questions is no. The mission was a fools errand that could not have accomplished anything other than getting the villagers on the war path and our men wounded or killed for no reason.

It is difficult to track down the Tillman story today because of all the legacy media garbage that populates the search term. 60 minutes did a segment on him which told the viewer nothing other than his mother was pissed. ESPN did a segment which I assume was crap but I won’t watch ESPN propaganda so I’m not sure. The only good source I found over the weekend was the book Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer. He got to the story late and took four years to research and write the book so when it came out it was OBE (military slang for overcome by events) and few paid attention to it.

The ensuing cover-up should have ended the careers of the generals who created the story and put it into play. I was talking to some of my Marine buddies years later and they hated General McChrystal because his blatantly unethical behavior in signing off on a fairy tale (that he himself concocted) made it impossible for them to get the Silver Star awarded to men who had earned it.

Did you know Pat Tillman was part of the Jessica Lynch rescue package? Me either; that fact was uncovered by Krackauer;  he was part of the quick reaction force standing by in reserve and did not participate in the  mission because the reserve was not needed. The reason they were not needed was the Iraqi fighters had left Nasiriyah days earlier. Lynch had been well cared for by the Iraq staff of the hospital she had ended up in after sustaining serious injuries when her vehicle crashed. The story behind that incident is a parents worst nightmare – having a child in combat who is poorly trained and incompetently led.

The large rescue to get Lynch was not only unnecessary but stage managed by a Bush administration official named Jim Wilkinson to deflect attention from the fact that 17 of the 18 Marines killed in the battle for that town were killed by friendly fire. Two A-10’s from the Ohio National Guard killed them during repeated strafing runs. Wilkinson was able to shunt special operational forces into the area and have them cool their heals until he could get a special operations media team there to cover the rescue. How a junior White House staffer could do that and why the generals he was brow beating didn’t throat punch him remains a mystery.

Another mystery is why the cover-up of the Marine friendly fire incident remains in place to this day despite the fact that one of the Marines on the ground, who had been attacked by Air Force A-10’s during the Gulf war, knew exactly what was happening as soon as he heard the chain guns. I’ve heard that sound too (coming from a range thank God) and it is not a sound you’ll ever forget.

In all three of these cases the men on the ground knew what had happened and knew the official stories were lies designed to cover the asses of senior officers and political figures. Jessica Lynch never fired a round, did not battle with Iraqi soldiers and could not have fought after her truck crashed knocking her unconscious. She was not abused or raped but instead protected by the hospital staff from the Iraq military and that staff tried several time to give her back but were thwarted by Marine sentries who would not let them approach their lines.

The slaughter of Marines from Charlie company 1st Battalion 2nd Marines was recognized as friendly fire instantly by the survivors yet it took a year for the investigation to be completed and the results were a bold face lie. The Rangers with Pat Tillman knew he was killed by friendly fire within 90 seconds of it happening yet were ordered not to tell anyone, to include his brother, who was a member of the platoon but was not close enough to witness the act. That, by the way, is an unlawful order that no military man was obligated to follow and I would hope that were I in their shoes I would have enough balls to ignore it out of hand.

There were a ton of irregularities in all these investigations that should have sent up red star clusters to the media and senior leadership.  But in all three cases the senior leadership participated in the lie and there were no competent media (for example C.J. Chivers of the New York Times) on hand to look into the story. There are few (if any these days) members of the media who could even understand what it was they were looking at which is why I’m trying so hard to get back to Afghanistan.

An optimist would conclud the Army has finally learned it’s lesson about cover-ups and now follows the letter of the law regarding potential friendly fire incidents. I’m not an optimist and sense something is not right with this story.

So what do we know? News reports generated from pentagon press releases tell us 50 Rangers and 40 Afghan Commandos took part in this mission. It was  a raid targeting Abdul Hasib, the self-described “Emir” of ISIS-K who reportedly runs their tactical operations.

I have long argued night raids in Afghanistan were counterproductive but have no problem with this night raid because the local folks living in the Mamand valley of Achin district departed long ago. This raid was targeting a known commander who was holed up in a series of compounds we knew to be inhabited by bad guys. We could have dropped another MOAB on him (just to make a statement) or used  any of a hundred other weaponeering choices to destroy those compounds and all who were in them. But instead we chose to do a raid with Rangers and Afghan Commandos. Why?

Why did we use that option? I have no idea but fear the answer will be every bit as unsatisfactory as the answer to why Pat Tillman was combing through the valleys of Khost province chasing wild geese. The American public still holds our military in high esteem thanks to the the generation who served ahead of them. In the 70’s, when I was a teen, the military was universally despised for being liars and hypocrites. The men serving back then did not deserve the antipathy that washed over them from the Carter White House, the congress, the press and academia. The men serving now are not maintaining the trust passed down to them and if the lying, obfuscation and meaningless missions continue they will deserve every bit of the scorn the country they are supposed to be serving will be heaping on them.

There is no way to determine what the hell is going on over there without competent reporters on the ground digging up truth and reporting that in context. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.

 

 

 

 

The Momentum Is Not With Us

The 300 Marines of Task Force Southwest (TF Southwest) are on their way back to the Helmand province of Afghanistan to help stabilize the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in that part of the country. Based on the mornings news from the front it would appear they will be too little, to late.

Last night the Taliban staged an attack on the biggest base in the North of the country, Mazar-i Sharif, killing 140 young recruits who were in the base mosque for Friday prayers. How is it that an army, mentored by international military units for the past 15 years, cannot protect its young recruits from being slaughtered on its largest base? This is the biggest question of the day and one we can anticipate will never asked by our corporate media or explained by the senior American generals in Kabul.

But it’s worse than that because Mazar is not in Pashtun lands and the Tajiks and Uzbeks who comprise a majority of the population up north fought the Taliban back in the 90’s as part of the Northern Alliance. The Taliban is a mainly Pashtun movement and seeing the franchise branch out into the Tajik and Uzbek communities is a sign that the momentum is not going our way. There have been individual northern tribal fighters in the Taliban before but if the non-Pashtun tribes are now majority anti government it would seem that the game clock is rapidly running out.

Standing in front of the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i Sharif back when it was safe to travel the north.

Into the fray the Marines now enter without supporting arms or other combat enablers. They are not going to fight; their mission is to advise and assist which identical to the German army mission that is on the very base in Mazar that was attacked last night. The Germans suffered no casualties because the international advise and assist teams are housed on secure FOBs inside the Afghan FOBs where un-vetted Afghan troops are not allowed to enter.

And therein lies the problem. Mentoring of foreign armed forces is best done with teams who both train and fight with them. Advising officers after mounting (literally) a combat patrol to take you from your office to their office is ridiculous. You cannot put lip stick on that pig. Can it work? Hard to see how at this point.

Which brings up the question of what could the commanding general, Army LtGen John Nicholson,  (no relation to Marine Corps LtGen Larry Nicholson who has been featured in this blog several times) be thinking when he asked for a few thousand more troops to help train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)? That question was answered for me by BGen Roger Turner, the Commanding General of TF Southwest. He said the Afghan security forces in general and the Afghan army specifically have improved to the point where with  a little extra mentoring and support they can turn to corner and become self sufficient.

Marines from TF Southwest heading into the Helmand. BGen Roger Turner is on right. (Photo by Cameron Glendenning)

General Turner, who I have known for a long time, is nobodies fool. He is a bright, tough and more importantly, intuitive combat leader. General Nicholson has been at his job for over a year and also has a stellar reputation. Both of these men have been handed tasks that, in my humble opinion, cannot be achieved. But I don’t know what they know and will give them the benefit of the doubt.

Mainstream press coverage of this deployment has been uniformly uninformed, as has has the normally more accurate alternative media. This story posted on Brietbart yesterday is a good example. Read it and think about what you know on the topic when you’re finished. Then scroll through any of the last 10 posts on this blog and you’ll see what I mean. Apples versus oranges.

There is no indication that the momentum in this conflict is shifting towards our side. It clearly belongs to the various groupings of Taliban, ISIS and the other armed opposition groups and drug running syndicates that flourish countrywide. And then there is the annoying fact that the picture being painted by the Resolute Support mission staff differs (dramatically) from reality. This backgrounder PDF released by NATO states the following about ANSF attrition:

Reducing attrition is essential for the long-term viability of the ANSF, especially with respect to retaining quality personnel. If total strength objectives are increased in the future, attrition must be reduced even further. Average monthly attrition rates are 2.6% in the ANA and 1.29% in the ANP. The ANSF’s goal is to reach an attrition rate of less than 1.4%. On average, the ANSF consistently gets 6,000-9,000 recruits every month

Those rates of attrition are (to be charitable) suspect. This week Steve Inskeep of NPR had an interview with the author of a new book,  Our Latest Longest War, LtCol Arron O’Connell, USMC.  This book may well be the best yet from the military perspective on the Afghan conflict and I cannot recommend it more highly. Here is a portion of the interview:

O’CONNELL: I believe we’ve been trying to help them out of the tragic story of Afghanistan for 15 years. Americans are big-hearted people. The United States is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. But there is still space to reason what the appropriate amount of blood and treasure is to spend on a mission that seems to be in stalemate at best, backsliding at worst.

I think we have pretty good evidence now, both from Iraq and Afghanistan, that the massive assembly-line attempt to produce capable, professional national security forces has not worked well, and it’s been at tremendous cost. And for all those who say we should just keep doing what we’re doing in Afghanistan, let me explain why that’s not sustainable. Every year, between a quarter and a third of the Afghan army and the police desert. Now, these are people that we have armed and trained. We’ve given weapons to them. We’ve given them basic military training. And every year, a third of them disappear.

INSKEEP: With the guns.

O’CONNELL: With the guns. That’s not sustainable for us economically, and it’s certainly not sustainable for the Afghan people to just fill the hills with armed militias.

That sounds a little higher than 2.6% per month but 2.6 x 12 = 31 so the NATO brief is about right but looks better than the stats provided in the interview above.  And this is why I feel it imperative to go back and cover this deployment. There is too much blood and treasure riding on this mission to condemn it to the mediocre coverage of the main stream media.

If you have the means and are interested in the truth regarding the situation in Afghanistan then please take the time to visit the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page and donate. We all deserve the truth about what is being done in our name and the only way to get it is to send someone over there who understands what he’s seeing and has the depth of knowledge to give context and background to his reporting.

After making a generous donation it would be appropriate to say a quiet prayer for the men and woman of TF Southwest. Their going need all the good karma in the world to pull this off. My money is still on them.

Attention To Detail

Last week I got a treat that was too good not to share; a chance to link up with my friend Col Dave Furness, USMC, the commanding officer of  Regimental Combat Team 1 currently deployed to the  southern Helmand. Col Furness was heading out to look over the positions of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines (Lava Dogs) commanded by LtCol Sean Riordan, who came through the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course when Dave and I were instructors there. I needed to see the USAID FPO’s in that neck of the woods providing a perfect excuse to tag along.

LtCol Riordan, Col Furness and Baba T after a 5 hour foot patrol. - We're hurting too but Bushido forbids the display of weakness on the part of commanders
LtCol Riordan, Col Furness and Baba T after a 5 hour foot patrol. – We’re hurting- it is just too damn  hot –  but Bushido forbids the display of weakness on the part of commanders so I had to buck up too or face unending grief from my buddies.
This is why we're hurting
This is why we’re hurting and believe it or not that is a good ten degrees below summer norms in the Helmand Valley

When  Dave and Sean  first showed up several months ago there was some of hard fighting to do to allow them to penetrate this far south but that turned out to be the easy part.  Terrain and vegetation forced the Taliban into linear defenses. They tried minefields in front of their positions in to slow down the advancing Marines. But Marines have helicopters, so they would fix the villains with a frontal holding attack and then fly into their rear and chew them up. The Taliban were quick to adapt and countered with minefields and fighting positions to their rear too. The Marines started flying into their rear to fix them there allowing  the  Marines to flank the Taliban and pin them against the Helmand River.  Fish in a barrel, except for the runners who manage to slip out, ditch their weapons and start walking away. Unarmed men do not fit the Positive Identification (PID) criteria and cannot be engaged. So the Marines let them skate.

Heading out to an isolated patrol base - this picture seems timeless to me - how many times have we seen similar photos from Vietnam?
Heading out to an isolated patrol base – this picture seems timeless to me – how many times have we seen similar pictures from Vietnam or Korea or WW II?

A few months back as they were pushing south the Marines would run into situations that (for guys like them) are a dream come true.  An ANP commander pointed out a village where his men have hit 3 IEDs in as many weeks and each time the villagers poured out with AK’s  to start a firefight.  A few nights later the Marines blew a controlled detonation on the road to simulate an IED hit and when the villains rushed out with their flame sticks they ran into an ‘L shaped ambush’.  No doubt (knowing the Lava Dogs) the villains also met Mr. Claymore, were introduced to the proper use of a machine gun section, and were treated to a 40mm grenade shower from those new and  super deadly M32’s.  Bad day.  Not many survived that textbook lesson on the proper use of an ambush squad, but those days are long gone. The Taliban has run out of options in their limited playbook and have gone to ground but are still planting the IED’s and will still strike at what they consider soft targets but these attacks seldom rise above the level of being a minor nuisance.

These IED’s kill and maim vast numbers of innocent Afghans, yet  rarely inflict casualties on ISAF units. The Marines still get hit by them but have deployed in such a way as to significantly reduce the vulnerability of their line infantry. Know how? By staying off the bog box FOBs and getting into little squad size combat outposts.

This is why the Marines are able to dominate this part of the Helmand. The terrain is flat, places to hide are few, and they have much better weapons systems which can reach out a long way. It is no longer possible for the villains to assemble 200 or 300 fighters like they once did in this area when the British Army first moved in. A force that size would have so many rockets falling of them they would need shovels and wheel borrows to scoop up what was left for burial
This is why the Marines are able to dominate this part of the Helmand Valley. The terrain is flat, places to hide are few, and they have precision weapons systems that reach out and touch people from a long long way away.  It is no longer possible for the villains to assemble 200 or 300 fighters like they once did in this area when the British Army first moved in.  A force that size would have so many rockets falling on them that local villagers would need shovels and wheel barrows to scoop up what was left for burial. The Brits didn’t have enough manpower, ISR, indirect fire assets, or mobility to really fight in the Helmand. All they had were small units of brave, well trained infantry. Emphasis on brave. They were and are formidable but too few in number to make any  lasting difference in a Province as large as Helmand.

Southern Helmand Province is a long, flat narrow area, where the population is confined mostly to strips of land in close proximity to the Helmand River or one of its main canals. The Marines are able to spread out into COP’s (combat outposts) PB’s (Patrol Bases) and OP’s (observation posts) covering the entire AO (area of operation).  These positions are manned by junior NCO’s and in one PB the senior Marine was a Lance Corporal.  They move positions frequently; every time the Marines set up in a new one of any size local families immediately move as close to the positions as they are allowed and start building mud huts. For them a  small band of Marines equals security and the implicit trust shown by this pattern of behavior is something in which the Marines rightly take great pride.

See the GBOSS tower off in the distance? This picture was taken from a PB which also has a GBOSS - they now have enough ISR that the Marines can watch the entire main road which runs through the Southern Helmand
See the GBOSS tower off in the distance? This picture was taken from a PB which also has a GBOSS – they now have enough ISR that the Marines can watch the entire main road which runs through the Southern Helmand

So if the Marines have been kicking ass out there, why is the title of this post “Attention to Detail”?

Brace yourself  for a confusing yet  illuminating segue.

Back in the early 90’s, LtGen Paul Van Riper interrupted one of our IOC field events because he had been directed to stage a capabilities demo for a visiting member of the British Royal Family. I think it was Prince Andrew, but may have that wrong. General Van Riper is probably best known as the man who destroyed the US Navy in a 2002 “free play” staff exercise. But his reputation back then was as a general who would go” high order” at the slightest provocation.

I recall when he showed up outside the old combat town in Quantico; my fellow instructors and I lined up to render him a salute but for some reason I cut my salute early. He glared at me as if I were a putrid urine specimen. And not just a casual glare – he held it for what seemed like hours as my face worked its way through the various stages of red finally topping out at crimson. I remember observing full Colonels on the side of the road picking up trash (they had apparently been told to have their Marines get this done the day before but didn’t- so now they had to do it). We saw those Colonels because we had to go back and get clean uniforms for our students and ourselves – after five days in the field we were pretty stinky and no member of the Royal Family was going to be forced to deal with stinky Marines.

The General came up with a slick ambush involving a SPIE rig extract which would deposit our students in a LZ just down the road where the Prince could shake hands and take photos.  We rehearsed for two days all the while correcting what we thought were very minor issues, but they were defects Gen Van Riper found intolerable. The demonstration came off without a hitch – which we expected because we (the IOC staff) were good at this sort of thing. But we were forced to recognize the 500 rehearsals Gen Van Riper had insisted on had served us well. We had thought General Van Riper a lunatic; his obsessive attention to detail some sort of sick personality quirk but it turned out he was showing us what had to be done for a mission of this nature.

We were wrong to label Van Riper as anything other than a consummate professional despite his prickly personality.

Here’s why: attention to detail saves lives. It is not something that one can turn on one moment and off the next. It is a habitual behavior borne of years of practice, and even more years of serious ass-chewing from those above you who know the business. We had always known attention to detail was critical, but had applied it only when  practicing the deadly arts of war. We were masters at running complex live fire and maneuver training which required considerable attention to detail to pull off. However, in all honesty, we just didn’t apply it in the garrison or classroom setting.  As young officers we thought we could turn it on in the field because that’s where (we thought) it was important.  What Gen Van Riper and the many others like him were demonstrating to us was that we were wrong – you can never turn off attention to detail.

This night patrol brief started with all the Marines gear on the ground. They were then searched by their patrol leader and platoon sergeant. No ipods, tobacco lighters, matches, or any other no essential items are allowed and as every good Marine Sgt knows you inspect what you expect
This night patrol brief started with all the Marines gear on the ground. They were then searched by their patrol leader and platoon sergeant and  then instructed to put on their gear one piece at a time and that too gets inspected twice to ensure that every member has what he is supposed to have and knows exactly how much ammo, pyro and grenades are with them and who has what. No ipods, tobacco, lighters, matches, dip, snuff, written material of any kind, or any other non essential items are allowed.  As every good Sergeant knows you inspect what you expect and these guys know a thing or two about inspecting.

Our first stop on our tour of 1/3’s area was a newly established logistics hub, which was a pigsty.  I had never seen Dave ‘channel’ Gen Van Riper before, but I have now, and man, it is a sight to behold. He went high order, repeating over and over that a unit that can’t keep its own little camp in order is a unit unfit for combat operations outside the wire. “If the little things are kicking your ass, how the hell do you expect me to believe you can accomplish the big things I sent you out here to do?”  I’m paraphrasing here because between Dave and SgtMaj Zickefoose, so much ass was being chewed that I thought it best to go hide in the MRAP and didn’t even attempt to write down what they were explaining in the harsh unequivocal terms of infantry Marines.

At every little base we stopped in Dave's cultural advisor checked up on the ANA troops who live and work side by side with the Marines. Their #1 bitch was lack of leave time which RCT 1 had solved by contracting with an air carrier who could move 300 paxs at a time weekly. The Regional Contracting Command came up with a lower bid and that carrier could only move 150 at time and they have never made it in weekly as agreed due to constant maintenance problems. Gee, I've never heard of that happening before in Afghanistan. So now getting the ANA their home leave is becoming a problem again. And for the record there has never been a fratricide or anything remotely like that between the Marines and their ANA colleagues. Maybe RCT 1 is just lucky - but I think their just that good - which is better than being lucky.
At every little base we stopped in Dave’s cultural adviser checked up on the ANA troops who live and work side by side with the Marines. Their #1 bitch was lack of leave time which RCT 1 had solved by contracting with an air carrier who could move 300 paxs at a time weekly. The Regional Contracting Command came up with a lower bid and that carrier could only move 150 at time and they have never made it in weekly as agreed due to constant maintenance problems. Gee, I’ve never heard of that happening before in Afghanistan. So now getting the ANA their home leave is becoming a problem again. And for the record there has never been a fratricide or anything remotely like that between the Marines and their ANA colleagues. Maybe RCT 1 is just lucky – but I think their just that good – which is better than being lucky.

There was good reason for Dave’s rant. The active fighting has been long over, but the dying continues due to IED strikes and the most important factor in countering IED’s is attention to detail coupled with strict adherence to procedure. As we visited every little PB, COP, and OP in the Lava Dogs AO (there are over 50 of them now), we found that the logistics hub was the exception – each base and outpost we visited after that was spotless (or as spotless as things can be in the desert). Although the Lava Dogs had mastered the art of maintaining a clean and organized patrol base, Dave and the SgtMaj continued to pound home their message:  the fighting is over, we have tried every trick in the book to lure them into fighting us, but they won’t play anymore and have gone to the IED. The procedures for mitigating IED’s are well established and well drilled. They cannot be deviated from, no matter how hot it is, how long you’ve been out, or how far away the next available EOD teams may be. We must follow the procedure to the letter, no exceptions, because the lives of your fellow Marines depend on it.

Dave made it a point to ask the young Corporals and Sergeants who run these outposts if they needed anything. The answer was uniform across the entire AO. "We're good sir but could use some barbells and weights
Dave made it a point to ask the young Corporals and Sergeants who run these outposts if they needed anything. The answer was uniform across the entire AO. “We’re good sir but could use some barbells and weights.”

 

Another PN and another "Hey Sir, We're good here but sure could use a barbell and some weights"
Another PB and another “Hey Sir, we’re good here but sure could use a barbell and some weights”

 

By day 3 Dave would say "I know you need weights is there anything else I can get you?" Well sir we've tried about everything we can to keep our generator going is there a chance for a replacement? If you know the Marine Corps you can guess the answer to that one. I think Dave said "I'll be getting weights to you as soon as I can" Leaving a grinning SgtMaj behind to discuss the virtues of proper generator maintenance in the context of a Marine Corps which prides itself on penny pinching. When the RCT 1 command group roles into these compounds they sleep out in the open with no A/C like everyone else - that's how they roll and let me tell you its all fun and adventure for the first few days but then the prickly heat rrash starts spreading and man that's when the fun meter starts heading right. The white little tubs are clothes washing tubs - hand crank version - and they work OK. Better than a flat rock for sure.
By day 3 Dave would say “I know you need weights is there anything else I can get you?”   “Well sir, we’ve tried about everything we can to keep our generator going is there a chance for a replacement”? If you know the Marine Corps you can guess the answer to that one. I think Dave said “I’ll be getting weights to you as soon as I can” Leaving a grinning SgtMaj Zickefoose  behind to explain the virtues of proper generator maintenance in the context of a Marine Corps which prides itself on penny pinching.  The white tubs in the foreground  are clothes washers – hand crank version – and they work OK. Better than a flat rock for sure.

Military life is often plagued by weak martinets who make the lives of their troops a burden by insisting every rule and regulation be followed to the letter. They use rules and regulations to cover for a lack of confidence in their professional ability to make good decisions; so when confronted with problems they make no decisions, hiding instead behind the letter of the law contained in the UCMJ. Good commanders insist on attention to detail and following established procedures because paying attention to detail needs to be habitual for it to be effective   – you just  cannot turn it on and off.   To quote Col Furness: “Attention to detail and strict adherence to orders is what keeps men alive.” But then, he’s no martinet.   As an example: despite  rule 1 (no keeping local dogs as pets) you will find dogs on every little base Dave owns. I’m not sure he knows they are there because he tends not to look at or notice them as he walks into these small, clean outposts.

The local dogs are good for morale, can take the heat better than military working dogs, and have over and over saved mens lives when they accompany their American friends on patrols.  Somebody gets them flea collars, a rabies shot and de-wormed and from that point on they are part of the tribe. A martinet would put an end to that nonsense instantly because it is against the rules – benefits to the men and mission be damned. But a commander who understands Napoleon’s maxim “The moral  is to the physical as three is to one” he’ll find a way to work around problems like this by applying the spirit, not the letter of the law. Besides, the Marines broke the code on local dogs in Iraq so seeing them on every post here is really  no surprise.

So I get onto Dave's MRAP for a brief from his MK 19 gunner and the while time he's talking I'm fiddiling with my camera. When he finishes I say "I bet I can shoot that MK 19 better than you can" (click). Is his expression priceless or what? Then it was "Sir, let me try this again; when the big dog starts to bark you unstrap the ammo cans. Then you sit and wait for me to yell for ammo, only then do you break the seal and hand the can up. Then you sit right back down until I tell you to do something different or that I need more ammo. Got it"? His expression never changed by the way so maybe I'm not so damn funny after all.
So I get onto Dave’s MRAP for a brief from his MK 19 gunner and while he’s talking I’m fiddiling with my camera. When he finishes I say “I bet I can shoot that MK 19 better than you can” (click). Is his expression priceless or what?  I show him the pic grinning like a village idiot and then it was “Sir, let me try this again; when the big dog starts to bark you unstrap the ammo cans. Then you sit and wait for me to yell for ammo, only then do you break the seal on one can only and hand that can up. Then you sit right back down until I tell you to do something different or that I need more ammo. Got it”? His expression never changed as he went over this for the second time so maybe I’m not so damn funny after all.

As did  Gen Van Riper all those years ago, Dave continues to pound into his Marines’ heads the need for attention to detail. When “The Ripper” would rip into us we didn’t have the advantage of combat experience so the context of these lessons were lost on us. Maybe I shouldn’t say “us”  but they were on me. I think it was Dave Furness who told me the first time you lose a Marine because he was doing something he shouldn’t or had on him something which he shouldn’t (like an ipod or cell phone that suddenly rings at the worst possible moment) you learn instantly to go Van Riper on them because if you don’t, you’ll lose more in the same manner and that will break you.

Killing the Taliban is the easy part of this conflict because, as I’ve pointed out about 100 times in past posts, they just plain suck at fighting and we have become very proficient in targeting and killing people.  Getting the Marines to treat the local people with respect and project friendship and warmth is also easy.  The Marines with RCT 1 are in close contact and living with these people 24/7.  It is in their nature to smile, give kids candy, treat the injured etc…   The only consistent problem the Marines have with the local population is their treatment of dogs and other domestic animals. Yet despite this, the Marines  cowboy up,  doing their duty as good troops always do.

The only thing the local people of southern Helmand are concerned about, when it comes to Marines, is that they are going to leave. They would much rather see them stay –  I hear this from the locals everywhere I go in this Province.

Now the hard part of the job is maintaining focus day after day in the heat, dust, and wind of the Helmand River Valley. This is where experienced combat leadership comes into play. Getting face to face with Marines to hammer home  over and over that they must maintain their vigilance, that they can’t get sloppy just because the Taliban won’t play anymore. This is when the hammer has to come out because it is human nature to slack off when the pressure is off.  Well, the pressure may be off from the Taliban but it certainly isn’t from the RCT 1 command group.  Which is exactly how it should be.

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Victory Day

Well  here we  are, a week away from Victory Day, the third annual national holiday celebrating the martial history of Afghanistan. There is Independence Day in August, which celebrates running the Brits out of the country in the 1800’s. Then, there is Liberation Day in February, which marks the end of direct Soviet  Army involvement. Next week, we pause to remember the days  when Afghans  beat the stuffing out of each other with  Victory Day  – celebrating the defeat of the Soviet backed Najibullah regime in 1992.

High noon in downtown Lashkar Gah - it will be a ghost town like this for at least another week
High noon in downtown Lashkar Gah – it will be a ghost town like this for at least another week

It’s still ‘crickets‘  in the Helmand Province. The last of the poppy harvesters   will return home, sort out their share of paste, rest a bit and then cast around for something to do. It  appears that for most of the adult males in Helmand, fighting the foreigners for pay, is no longer an attractive option.  The WaPo published a story last week about how the United States Marine Corps is wearing out the Taliban the old-fashioned way – by shooting them. This trend is noted  here by the Belmont Club, and here by Herschel at The Captains Journal, and here by the Long War Journal.  This latest article on the martial prowess of the Marines comes at  a propitious  time (even though it was based on a Bing West embed last fall) because my Dad, of all people, sent a new Marine recruiting poster which I can now share-even with  the F bomb-

It is rumored the Pentagon is not too happy with the newest USMC recruiting poster
It is rumored the Pentagon is not too happy with the newest USMC recruiting poster

Turns out that it is not just the Marines who are ‘gettin’ some’ in the Helmand, but also the Brits, who  still have a task force in the province, stationed in and around Lashkar Gah.  The other day, one of their squaddies pounced, literally, on a senior Taliban bomb maker.

 My Muckers were being shot on the ground and I thought, I’m not having that”.  Said Private Lee Stephens, who leaped  from his Warrior armored vehicle to deliver a textbook ‘Flying Clothesline’ takedown on a Taliban who was  hustling to flee from the patrol.  “I jumped out and I grabbed the geezer” said Pvt Stephens;

Good thing he didn’t miss bulldogging the little bastard, otherwise the Brits would be receiving an unending stream of directives from on High about the folly of doing a Superman dives from armored vehicles to subdue motorcycle-mounted Taliban. The Brit press followed up with this story that could have been written anytime over the past 9 years.

 Writing anonymously, the author reveals that the Taliban have dubbed British soldiers “donkeys” who move in a tactical “waddle” because they now carry an average weight of 110lbs worth of equipment into battle. The consequences of the strategy, he says, is that “our infantry find it almost impossible to close with the enemy because the bad guys are twice as mobile”.The officer claims that by the end of a routine four hour patrol, soldiers struggle to make basic tactical judgments because they are physically and mentally exhausted.

Good grief…  once more ‘ The Lesson Which Can Never Be Learned‘  is exposed for all to see and none to act on. The optimal load for marching infantry was studied exhaustively and documented extensively during the time of the Roman Legions. One fighting man can carry 60 lbs and march all day and with a 30 lbs fighting load he can maintain acceptable speed, mobility, and striking power without draining his  stamina. Every officer on active duty knows this but none of them can move beyond the “survive-ability aspect” heavy armor brings to the fight. So our PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) go into battle wearing over 100 lbs of armor.

The lads are both fit and smart and have figured out heavy combat loads increase the chance they’ll be shot due to poor mobility and heat exhaustion. When they do get shot, the armor prevents penetration, which is a testament to the concern their senior officers have  regarding their health and welfare. But then again, forcing men to hump 100+ lbs of gear in a blazing hot desert is a sobering  testament  of just how little control senior officers have over the health and welfare of their men. Marine Officers tell me that congress is to blame for the ridiculous notion that force protection is derived from heavy body armor and large armored trucks.

Men will take significant risks to reduce the loads they carry into battle. The ANA soilder in the background and his ANP counterpart if the foreground have just been in contact with the Taliban but they remain as light as they can possibly be
Men will take significant risks to reduce the loads they carry into battle. The ANA solider in the background and his ANP counterpart if the foreground have just been in contact with the Taliban but they remain as light as they can possibly be, no spare ammo, water, radio etc…  I’m not saying this is smart I’m just saying it is the way it is.

One advantage (for what it is worth) of all this weight is when the lads dive off armored vehicles to apprehend villains the extra mass and weight turn them into formidable meat rockets.

Soldiers loads has been one of the more popular topics for staff college papers since the days when Staff Colleges were invented
Optimal soldiers loads have been one of the more popular topics for Staff College papers since the invention of Staff Colleges.

Having done  some research,   I  find that American Geezers have something in common with British Tommies; they too can say “I’m not having that” and the discussion is over.    Turns out Bing West doesn’t wear body armor or helmet!  He may be on the facility of  the Naval War College, and he may submit reports to the American Department of Defense, but somehow he has reached  that glorious  station in life where he can tell the Marines and the Army to  STUFF IT-   He goes out with whoever he wants, while wearing whatever he wants.    Man, that’s nice work if you can get it!

It is not like being a reporter makes one a non-combatant,  as we were reminded again with the passing of Tim Heatherington in Libya yesterday. Bing West doesn’t have to wear body armor because he’s 70,and nobody expects men his age to walk around  lugging 100 lbs of gear,  and he  has earned his due with the Marines.  That seems perfectly reasonable; what is unreasonable is to expect any man, of any age, to carry around over 100 lbs of armor, water and weapons during combat operations.  We know that forcing men to carry that much weight will cause significant problems;   but the only significant problem senior officers worry about are the  ones which will adversely impact their careers.  They know that we task the PBI to carry too much weight, they know that physical and mental exhaustion leads to increased numbers of our guys suffering enemy wounds and  they know that the men know- which means that the press knows, which is to say everyone knows;  but nobody wants to acknowledge that  what they know- we ALL  know.  The British defense Ministry did what bureaucrats do when confronted by unpleasant facts – they made the shit up and released it to the press:

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “The issue of weight carried by soldiers on operations is well recognised and work is constantly under way to reduce the amount carried by soldiers.  “Since June 2010 a number of weight savings measures have reduced the weight carried by soldiers by up to 26 lbs.”

Sure, 26 lbs…color me skeptical, but  prevarication over  the amount of weight trimmed off the fighting infantry misses the point. The lads carry too much weight and suffer casualties because they rapidly run out of steam and sloe down when under fire.

Hotel California Naw Zad Edition

Facebook sent me a reminder about a post that went up 5 years ago and asked it I wanted to re-post it. I did then went to read and realized it was probably one of the better more prescient posts I ever wrote so here it is….back on the front page of FRI exactly 5 years after first being published.  It even has click bait if the form of two of must attractive and gutsy Free Ranges in the land. But the video at the end is disturbing …… those kids are fighting age now.

I ended my last post with an observation about the importance of how wars end.  That was most foolish of me because I was assuming we started bombing Libya with the intention of using the military to achieve an appropriate political endstate (because that’s how this shit is supposed to work).  But that isn’t at all what we are doing in Libya….I’m not sure what we are doing but it has nothing to do with an acceptable political endstate because there’s been no political debate or though given to the matter. It appears we’re bombing Libya because Obama feels we need to bomb Libya. Do you understand how unbelieveably stupid it is to start a war without any clue as to what you want to achieve?  Obama is not only a world class intellectual midget he’s now getting to be dangerous (to the entire world) and where the hell are the fucking Joint Chiefs? I know where they are….their where their predecessors are as documented in the excellent book Dereliction of Duty. Obsequious is not a word that should be applied (ever) to senior general officers but there it is.

I’m all for killing Col Gadhafi because he killed Americans; a lot of them in Berlin and over the skies of Lockerbie Scotland. I expected that Obama would not think through what he was doing but for some strange reason assumed the NSC and Pentagon had a plan (I type that with a straight face..honest) I forgot that the NSC is now headed by a political hack (with no previous military or national security experience)  named Tom Donilon and, being on vacation with my kids, it also slipped my mind that the Pentagon is busy focusing on the things that really matter; force feeding acceptance of openly gay service members and retro fitting submarines to accommodate female sailors.

I can’t bring myself to re-hash the hypocrisy, stupidity, or folly of Obama and his minions when it comes to the multiple crises popping up in the Middle East. It’s too depressing; the White House Bat Phone must be ringing off the hook nightly but we now know nobody has the balls to answer it.  Besides Mark Styen has done the heavy lifting on this issue with an excellent assessment which ends:

But lost along the way is hard-headed, strategic calculation of the national interest. “They won’t come back till it’s over/Over there!” sang George M. Cohan as the doughboys marched off in 1917. It was all over 20 minutes later, and then they came back. Now it’s never over over there not in Korea, not in Kuwait, not in Kosovo, not in Kandahar. Next stop Kufra? America has swapped The Art Of War for the Hotel California: We psychologically check out, but we never leave.

I must add this gem which, as the Bot is my witness, is an almost exact replica of conversations I had over and over during the summer of 2008 with Liberal USAID contractors at the Tiki Bar.  Obama has turned out to be worse than my worst summer 2008 nightmare. It is no longer funny (but the clip below is).

What is happening in Libya would not be important to the US had not Obama involved us kinda sorta. The ongoing revolts in Syria, Bahrain and Yeman are important to American interests but you need to know something about the region to understand that. That type of specialist knowledge is hard to come by in Saul Alinsky seminars, Reverend Wrights church sermons or the Harvard Law School.

While on holiday I saw this article on an airstrike targeting a Taliban commander that ended up killing civilians.  The article also helpfully points out that nine kids were killed in the Pech Valley earlier in the month which prompted the usually hysterics from President Karzai.

I’m not so sure about what the deal was with the Pech Valley airstrike except to point out that I know a few of the attack helicopter pilots based out of Jalalabad and they know just about every stinking inch of the Pech Valley.  I doubt the veracity of the report and will address that in a minute because this story about Naw Zad pisses me off and here’s why.

We got played again by the Afghans and the reason we got played has everything to do with the intelligence shortfalls identified by MajGen Flynn two years ago, combined with a still non-existent human intelligence capability.  Here is why I can say that with near total certainty without knowing a damn thing about what went on in this strike.

The unit that was on the ground in Naw Zad  (1st Battalion 8th Marines or 1/8 in Marine speak)  has rotated home and the battalion now working the battle space has been on deck maybe two weeks.  Battalions who have just arrived are not given a long enough leash to do whatever the hell they want; it is inconceivable that they came up with a “these two cars have a Taliban commander in them” plan and were then able to talk the Regimental Combat Team they work for (and I know its commander well) into letting them smoke two vehicles containing persons unknown with attack helicopters. The Naw Zad Valley is a flat, treeless expanse of high desert.  If the battalion thought they had a Taliban commander driving up or down it why not just stop the cars and grab his dumb ass?

This is what the terrain and vegetation looks like in the Naw Zad valley
This is what the terrain and vegetation looks like in the Naw Zad Valley

When aviation assets attack moving cars which reportedly contain high level Taliban it is a safe bet that the hit is driven by intelligence.  Normally that is supplied by the CIA and normally the hit has to be given a green light by someone from on high (who in the modern military/intel system is never held accountable for that decision).  That’s what normally happens but we all know the CIA doesn’t know shit because they have no humint program and rely on ‘walk-ins’. I would bet money that a “walk-in” targeted this car and the NDS vetted for him and we got exactly identical results for targeting folks based on NDS/CIA vetted ‘walk-ins’. That is how we  killed 27 woman and children attending a wedding in Nangarhar Province back in July 2008. Or when we  killed over 2 dozen children at a wedding party in Kandahar in November 2008, or….I could go on and on.

The common denominator with these botched attacks was human intel fed into the system by “walk-in” informants of dubious background and character or fed to our FOB bound intel people by the un-FOB bound Afghanistan intel people who have scores to settle or land to steal.  How many times do we need to be played by the Afghans before we wise up?  How many innocents have to die before we learn we cannot put all our eggs in the electronic warfare basket and start to develop our own human intelligence capability?

It’s not that hard to get off the FOB and stay off the FOB, my children did it.  Grad students from MIT do it…which reminds me the Synergy Strike Force girls are back in Nangarhar staying at the Taj and doing some super cool medical and social networking stuff.  Jenn’s blog is here and Rachel’s blog is here – Rachel brought her husband Juan Rodriguez along and he’s a pro shooter with a good eye and great glass on his camera – you should spend some time on both blogs. As you can see in the picture below hot chicks can stay off the FOB and roam around with no worries ….why can’t our HumInt teams do the same?

The Girls are back in town hanging out with Bollywood stars and SF A teams - they have been putting up excellent posts and photos for the past two months
The Girls are back in town hanging out with Bollywood stars and SF A teams – they have been putting up excellent posts and photos for the past two months

The Pech Valley

Earlier in the month ISAF was accused of shooting up 9 teenagers in the mountains of the Pech River Valley.  The Army attack helicopter pilots who work that part of the country have memorized (it isn’t a big valley) every attack point in the Pech Mountains where it is not unusual to see Taliban fighters who are very young. Remember the video of a 12 year old boy cutting the head off “an American spy”?  Or the herd of teenagers rolling boulders into the road behind American vehicles during the battle at Ganjgal?  Army attack pilots don’t light up people in the mountains for no good reason so there is no doubt in my mind that if they smoked 9 teens it was because they were carrying weapons. Karzai knows this as he does that the gum cameras will provide the answer to any questions he has. Notice how he never asks for the gun camera footage…that’s because he’s getting upset to score political points.

Were he a great leader, a man of integrity and one who listens and cares about the Afghan people what he should be upset about is the video pasted below. This video horrified (and I mean horrified) my Afghan staff.  I didn’t intend to show it to them but one of the cooks heard the music from the video and walked into my office to see why I was playing Jihadi music.  Within minutes the whole staff was watching in mute horror before wondering off in stunned silence tears running down some of their cheeks. This video is what should be concern the Afghan elites but it’s not…why?? I suspect the elites can’t extort cash out of the Taliban over videos like this or over dead civilians so why bother them.  The Americans – they pay and pay and pay.  And look what they have wrought.

Crickets

Crickets as in “I hear nothing but crickets” is the word of the day for Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT 1) based in Camp Dwyer and controlling the southern districts of Helmand Province.  I needed to do a little district level coordination last weekend and was able to catch a ride to Marjah with my good friend Col Dave Furness USMC, the CO of RCT 1.  He was heading there to host a CODEL (congressional delegation) and agreed to let me tag along if I promised to not talk to talk to any congressmen.  That’s an easy promise to keep so once again I got to ride with the Marines across the Dasht-i-Margo (desert of death) and into the fertile Helmand Valley River town of Marjah.  The chances of us getting attacked while en-route?  Zero.  Chances of hitting an IED?  Just about zero.  Crickets – the Taliban have taken the winter off and their stay behind IED teams are failing miserably.  Know why?  Because the Marines when faced with tactical problems have turned to tactical solutions.

How cool is this? The M32 40mm grenade launcher - finally something to replace the M203 which was a dog. Imagine being a young infantry Marines living the dream and able to walk around with a super high speed low drag weapon which the Taliban have already grown to hate>
How cool is this? The M32 40mm grenade launcher – finally something to replace the M203 which was a dog. Imagine being a young infantry Marine living the dream at the pointy end of the spear and able to walk around with a super high speed low drag weapon. And this is one lethal piece of kit which can shoot 6 well aimed 40mm grenades in 2 seconds.  The Taliban learned very quickly not to let Marine infantry get too close to them (which they routinely do anyway) and now when Marine infantry gets within 150 meters they have to contend with dedicated grenadiers who will soon have HELLHOUND and DRACO thermobaric rounds.

Last summer Wired magazine had a pretty good article about the DoD Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) and the cat and mouse game they’re playing with IED attackers.  Given the size and complexity of the American military these guys are operating as fast as one can expect but they are too far removed from the battlefield to help front line infantry deal with IED cells that vary  dramatically in effectiveness and methodology.  As I mentioned in the last post when line troops want to get actionable intelligence the only dependable option is to get it themselves.  Likewise when the Marines need tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) to battle Taliban insurgents the tried and true method is to figure it out on their own and pass on what works to the units coming in behind them.

Remember this photo from last year?
Remember this photo from last year?  That is the CO of 2/6, LtCol Kyle Ellison, giving a coin to one of the more exceptional ANP officers.  At the time Kyle told him the coin was a token of his appreciation for the professionalism displayed by this officer who is always at his post with his equipment every day without fail.
Look at him today and note the addition to his uniform. 2/6 is long gone - Marjah now belongs to 3/8 but that coin Kyle presented last year means something to this officer and Kyle doesn't pass out many coins which makes the award very special. I was really happy to see this officer again and also see how much he values the coin
Look at him today and note the addition to his uniform (the 2/6 coin attached to his left breast pocket). 2/6 is long gone – Marjah now belongs to 3/9 but that coin Kyle presented last year means something to this officer.  I was good to see him again and also see how much he values the coin.

The Taliban learned that they need two obstacles in front of them when they shoot at Marine patrols and the most common obstacle used is a bunch of IED’s buried in choke points in front of large, deep irrigation ditches.  The Talibs believe that the two obstacles will give them the 30 or so minutes it takes to get air or rocket delivered ordnance targeting them. That was a good plan during the heavy kinetic fighting around Nawa and Marjah when the Marines first arrived.  But the Marines have been here a while now and seeded this vast AO with little patrol bases.  RC Southwest averages 500 patrols daily and those patrols identify and record every compound; recording if they are occupied and by who which is a moving target as families continue to flow back into the villages.

Every patrol submits a fire plan which includes on-call firewalls that  have been pre-planned by the Ops officer Mike (Mac) McNamara and the RCT-1 Air Officer shop.  A firewall is fire coordination measure to clear the air space and near space of all obstacles so RCT can fire HIMAR rockets.  It takes a good 20 minutes to set up a firewall if you are running on the fly.  With pre-planned firewalls when the squad leader calls for fire support – Mac sends a text message to the Direct Air Support Center (DASC) declaring Firewall XYZ in effect. The DASC says “roger that” (unless they have to move assists out of the way which may delay the affirmative a few seconds) and RCT 1 has a firewall.  Knowing if the nominated target is an abandoned or occupied compound speeds up the clearance too which is the whole point of the intensive patrolling and census taking.  Every compound in the AO has an alpha numeric designator and the battalions update their lists daily due to the number of families who are moving back.  What once took 20 minutes can now be done so fast it’s stunning.

Col Dave Furness greeting arriving congress members at the COP in Marjah. Both Dave and Paul Kennedy - the CO of RCT 6 which was based in Delaram last year are
Col Dave Furness greeting arriving congress members at the COP in Marjah.  The delegation is completely jet lagged at this point and would instantly fall asleep if subjected to powerpoint briefs. Day trips like this not only keep them awake and active but become just about the only thing they remember from a weekend visit.  
LtCol David Hudspeth,CO of 3/9 with Representative Kathy Castor D-FL in the Marjah bazaar.
LtCol David Hudspeth,CO of 3/9 with Representative Kathy Castor D-FL in the Marjah bazaar during last weekends CODEL.  

The Marines on the ground still have to contend with the IED’s and the Taliban seed IED’s everywhere which, as you’d imagine, does not endear them to the local population.  To cope with the flood of IED’s, most of which function by pressure plates and have very small magnetic signatures, required new tactics and a special tool, which in typical Marine fashion, was designed by a Gunnery Sergeant, fabricated from materials purchased in local bazaars, and paid for out of pocket by the troops. I’m not going to describe the tools or TTP for now because they are effective and need to stay that way as long as possible.

I missed something I really wanted to see on this trip and that was the monthly NCO symposium.  Dave came up with the idea after seeing the turnover between two sister battalions from the 1st Marines 3/1 and 2/1.  3/1 had a strike to find ratio hovering around 90% during their 7 months in theater and 2/1 who is now 5 months into their deployment has pulled out over 400 IED’s at the cost of 2 WIA and 1 KIA. This was due to an uncommonly planned, organized and executed turn over package based on every bit of front specific knowledge 3/1 had gleaned during their tour.  Using the turnover as a template Dave and his staff started a monthly training symposium for the squad and fireteam leaders from all his battalions designed to facilitate cross decking of the best practices and procedures.  I’ll have to wait a month or two before I can get back and attend one of these and man am I looking forward to it.  It’s a great idea to focus time, attention and limited resources on the young leaders.  It is also worth the investment to get them in front of the principal staff members who clear their calls for fire requests and the Regimental Commander who encourages any and all questions and will sit in the classroom all night to answer them.  Face to face is the best way to get things sorted out and with an endeavor as complex as war things need to get sorted out frequently.

The CODEL heads out to the bazaar. There has been more rain over the past three weeks in Helmand Province then there has been over the previous 3 years. When the congressmen landed one of them asked where the bathrooms were - there are none on this combat outpost just piss tubes inserted into a neutral corner and three wooden boxes with toilet seats bolted on them. Piss tubes and thunder boxes - things congressmen will not soon forget.
The CODEL heads out to the bazaar. There has been more rain over the past three weeks in Helmand Province then there has been over the previous 3 years. When the congressmen landed one of them asked where the bathrooms were – there are none on this combat outpost just piss tubes inserted into a neutral corner and three wooden boxes with toilet seats bolted on them. Piss tubes and thunder boxes – cheap, effective, and something most congressmen have never seen before or want to see again.

There is hard fighting ahead but I just do not see how the Taliban is going to be able to do jack in the southern Helmand Province.  The Marines treat every foot of ground outside their COP’s as if it contained an IED and yet they figured out how to move and move fast through the mine fields.  The Taliban can’t sow anymore mines than they already are sowing and it wouldn’t matter if they did.  The Taliban can’t train effectively, they can’t improve their rudimentary command and control, they are rarely able to coordinate among themselves and they didn’t spend the winter lull learning how to shoot.  They’re guns are old and worn, their ammunition a mix of dodgy 3rd world crap, re-loads, and what they can buy on the black market.  (C.J. Chivers of the New York Times, has been writing extensively about the guns and ammunition used by all side in this conflict and his piece What’s Inside A Taliban Gun Locker is worth a look.)  The Taliban are not going to emerge from their winter off with enhanced capabilities but the Marines will.

The summer fighting season will be here in a matter of weeks.  In RCT 1’s AO the Marines have used the lull in fighting to push out to the fringes of the Green Zone.  There they still occasional gunfights and IED’s continue to take their toll but not that often.  The Marines expand their area of influence while patrolling constantly; the SF guys continue to raid.  Dave told me the HVT raids are a big help and the targeting precise; he’d  be happy to see a lot more (I stand corrected B).  He also told me the raids are coordinated with him so again there seems to be a big shift in not just the ROE but also the TTP.

Nobody is sure what to expect when the poppy harvest is in and the fighting starts again in earnest but I’m predicting the southern Helmand will see limited fighting because the Taliban lack maneuver room, lack good rat lines, and are now isolated from a large percentage of the population.  The fighting this summer is going to be in the north outside Sangin, Musa Quala and Naw Zad.  If the Marines break the Taliban up there and the army/ISAF units in Kandahar continue to press the Taliban out of the green zone the villains are in real trouble. This could be the tipping point but for it to matter countrywide we need the will to hang on and repeat this process in the places like Khost, Paktia and Kunar. That’s not going to happen but still, giving the Taliban a serious ass whooping right in their front yard is a morale booster for the men. It also will give the Afghans space to unfuck themselves and it they don’t take this opportunity to do so then…….what can you say?  It’s going to be a real interesting summer but right now the word of the day in the southern Helmand province is crickets.