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. So 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.
It’s still ‘crickets down’ in the Helmand Province. We suspect Victory Day will mark the start of the fighting season. 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 quite the 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-
Well, it turns out that it is not just our 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; thank God he didn’t miss bulldogging the little bastard, otherwise the Brits and their American allies would be receiving an unending stream of directives from High Command- all about the folly of trying a Superman dive from armored vehicles to subdue motorcycle-mounted Taliban.
Look, it’s not like they can be chased down on foot- The very next day, I learned that the Brits consider themselves to be “Donkey Soldiers” who are being led by “Lions”. Not the big, scary, aggressive lions, but instead the male of the species who lie around in the shade alot. Once again the P.B.I. (poor bloody infantry) are being victimized by their bloated and lazy staffs, who produce prodigous amounts of ozone damaging methane gas, all the while accomplishing nothing productive. Appearing in the one remaining British newspaper (which doesn’t have 35 sidebar-linked photos of buxom women married to soccer players!) this story 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 judgements because they are physically and mentally exhausted.
Good grief… once more ‘ The Lesson Which Can Never Be Learned’ is exposed to the light of day. The weight these men carry into battle is almost impossible to talk about today without “Twilight Zone” music playing in the background. The optimal load for marching infantry was studied exhaustively and documented extensively during the time of Roman Legions. One fighting man can carry 60 lbs and march all day, conversely he can carry 30 lbs into battle and maintain acceptable speed, mobility, and striking power without draining his stamina. Though every officer on active duty knows this, none of them can move beyond the “survivability aspect” heavy armor brings to the fight. So off they go, our PBI- into battle wearing over 100 lbs of armor. Now being able to puzzle things out on their own, they’ve figured out that the armor increases the chance that they’ll be shot. But, if 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, having to hump 100+ lbs of gear in this blazing hot desert (unless they’re in the east where the heat is not too bad as you work your way 8,000 feet up the Hindu Kush mountainside) is a sobering testament of just how little regard senior officers have, for the health and welfare of their men.
Employing gravity, the PBI are using this extra mass and weight to their advantage with superman dives from armored vehicle platforms to apprehend geezers. On the other hand, knowing that American Marines are inflicting so much punishment on the Taliban, thanks in large part to Bing West (age 70), who has spent a significant amount of time (by normal standards) here in Afghanistan. Bing West is, by definition a geezer, having fought in Vietnam, his son went through infantry officer training over 20 years ago (which I recall, being one of his instructors). So…can patrolling in body armor really be that bad, if our own geezers can still hack it?
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 26lbs.”
Sure, 26 lbs…color me skeptical, but prevaracation over the amount of weight trimmed off the fighting infantry misses the point. To wit: despite all the armor, and all the accouterments carried by the modern western infantryman; we are still kicking the dog poop out of local people who, wear no armor, and carry little more than a rifle with a single magazine. Know what? That is pretty damned impressive! Just imagine what we could do if we got serious about fighting here.