Mattis is No Good? A Look Into Task Force Violent

The morning news brought an article critical of Secretary Mattis that immediately caught my eye. There are aspects of his tenure I’m finding troubling; the slow walking of the Presidents decree on transgender service persons being one of them. It is hard for me to imagine Secretary Mattis needs a formal study to determine if transgendered service folks are or are not a hindrance to good order and discipline or a positive contribution to unit cohesion and combat power. Women in the infantry is another liberal delusion that should have been done away with by now – he already has a comprehensive study on that from the Marine Corps; the results are unambiguous regarding the folly of placing women in the infantry.

The author of the American Thinker post sites three reasons why Mattis is “no good”. The first is his testimony regarding global warming to the senate where he stated “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.” The second was his attempt to nominate former ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson to the post of undersecretary of defense for policy. The third was his “support” of LtGen John Nicholson who now heads the Afghanistan effort. Back in 2007 he was a Brigade Commander in the 10th Mountain division who was responsible for RC East. During his tenure the Marine Corp’s first special operations company, Fox company, which had named itself Task Force Violent, was involved in a incident that resulted in them being ejected from the country. Apparently supporting the commander in Afghanistan (who was there before Mattis was nominated as Secretary for Defense) is a strike against him.

The article was silly. The statement regarding global climate change can be viewed as a solid answer to avoid democratic hysteria over “deniers”. Mattis is well read and I doubt he believes in the politically correct nonsense regarding humans ability to speed up  or slow down the climatic changes that have existed since the birth of this planet. I have no opinion on the qualification of former ambassador Patterson. If he wanted her in the department he should have got her. Tarring him with the fallout surrounding the ambush in Bati Kot district of TF Violent is ridiculous; Mattis had nothing to do with that incident or the assignment of Gen Nicholson to head up our Afghanistan efforts.

But the article forced me to look into an incident I have avoided since before I started this blog; the firefight in Bati Kot between the MARSOC Marines and unknown assailants. The story is not a pretty one and has always been of interest to me because I was there that day escorting a group of senior Japanese diplomats to Islamabad via the Khyber Pass.

Or so I thought; the MARSOC fight happened on a Sunday the 4th of March 2007. I had driven the same route the Marines took the day before on the 3rd of March. I had to check my old notes to figure that out because over the years I could have sworn this incident happened the same day we drove from Jalalabad to Islamabad via the Khyber Pass.

Going through the Khyber with VIP’s is nice. The Torkham border with Afghanistan is behind us
Doing a low budget trip through the Khyber is interesting too but the chow can be risky
This is what I mean by risky. The meal was pretty good believe it or not.

In 2015 Military Times published a five part series on the Bati Kot incident titled Task Force Violent: The unforgiven. Only the first three article from that series would load for me today but reading those gave me a good sense of what happened. The article paints a picture of the Marines not being set up for success. The way they were deployed (they didn’t even know which country they were going to when they left CONUS on naval shipping), their task organization, their lack of support once on the ground and the way they were shoe horned into the Afghanistan SOCOM chain of command indicate significant failure by their chain of command.  I know some of the people in that chain of command and find the story, as written, suspect. Regardless, my overall view of their performance a Bati Kot remains unchanged. They over reacted and without question shot unarmed people.

The series on TF Violent contained important factual errors. Bati Kot and the adjacent Torkham border crossing were not a “a nefarious transfer point for suicide bombers and other extremists entering the country from Pakistan”. Taliban fighters and supplies went trough the mountain passes into the districts of Achin, Khogyani and Dih Bala which are not near the Torkham border crossing or the district of Bati Kot. The mountains that the Marines were interested are not the Tora Bora – they are the Spin Ghar mountains; Tora Bora is a cave complex inside the Spin Ghar range. Those errors are not minor to the story line of the Military Times articles

On the 4th of March the Marines had planned to go to the Torkham border to coordinated with the US Army MP company stationed there and then head to the Spin Ghar mountains to look at some trail heads their intelligence specialist thought might make good reconnaissance targets before heading back to Bati Kot district for a shura with some elders. They were in a six uparmored Humvee convoy containing 30 Marines from their direct action platoon. Most (if not all) of these Marines were combat veterans from Iraq which could explain their reaction after being hit by what they felt to be a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device).

Typical result of a VBIED targeting ISAF vehicles. As unlikely as it appears there were no soldiers injured in this attack which occurred on the Beshood bridge outside Jalalabad in 2010

In a cool interactive map embedded in the third part of the series we see the route the convoy took which appears to not have deviated too far off Hwy 1 – the Jalalabad to Torkham road. I’m not sure what trail heads they could have looked at but regardless they were heading back to Jalalabad when they were hit. While approaching the Spin Pol bridge that leads into the main bazaar of Bati Kot  (Markoh bazaar) a van loaded with fuel and explosive detonated between the first and second vehicles. The turret gunner in the second vehicle was knocked down, possibly knocked out and when he recovered he reports seeing four men shooting at them from the south. The convoy stops and other Marines report contact from both sides.

Afghan police officers stand around the vehicle allegedly shot by US Marines after they were targeted by a suicide attacker. One thing that is immediatly obvious is these Marines were good shooters (AP Photo/Rahamt Gul)

The Marines responded to the contact from both directions with controlled bursts; Military Times picks up the story from there:

The ride back to Jalalabad was tense. As the Marines hustled to get free of the danger, they hurled rocks and fired disabling shots at a few oncoming cars, a common warzone practice meant to keep the convoy moving and avoid being pinned in and attacked. Warning shots were fired to disperse a crowd and clear a path for the humvees — all in accordance with protocol, the court determined. …Afghan journalists arrived at the attack site instantly, followed by soldiers from the Army’s 66th Military Police Company who were instructed to cordon off the area and treat it like a crime scene.

Battle damage to the Marine convoy consisted of four bullet holes to vehicle 2 – the same one targeted by the VBIED,  Photo by Fred Galvin

The Marine Corps investigation of the incident concluded between 5 to 7 people were killed and 24 to 28 wounded by the Marines that day. Two problems with the story are obvious. The first is the amount of battle damage to vehicle 2 which is pictured above; compare that with the MRAP damage pictured earlier in the post. The MRAP was hit by a real VBIED; the humvee pictured above does not look like it was hit by anything. The second is that the area where the ambush occurred was benign enough to allow a handful of American MP’s to cordon it off and treat it as a crime scene.

A quick story about special operators to illustrate a point. The year prior to this incident I was heading up the effort of the first contractor awarded the American Embassy guard contract. I had already stood up the bridge contractor guards at the embassy and found myself heading this forlorn effort due to circumstances beyond my control. The company I worked for had hired another outfit to do the weapons training and they consisted of a dozen guys who were former SEALs, SF and Marines. They were a good crew with lots of trigger time in Iraq. The first thing they asked me for was armored SUV’s but we had none and gave them four beat up SUV’s instead. On the first morning of training they left early from Camp Sullivan, just outside the Kabul airport, to drive to the ranges at the military training complex just outside the city; a ten mile trip down the Kabul to Jalalabad road.

They exited the camp and drove through what we called hooterville, a narrow road with compounds on either side that was a good short cut to the Jbad road. After leaving my guards in one the towers alerted me to a problem and I ran up the ladder to observe the four vehicles reversing out of the ville, doing impressive J turns on the goat path the fed into the ville and hauling ass back to camp. When they got back I asked what was up and their team leader told me they were rolling into an ambush because they had observed local kids on the roof tops waving white flags as they approached. I took him up to the tower and with bino’s pointed out the dozen of kids waving flags from their compound roof tops to get their pigeons back into the family roosts. He turned to me and much to his credit said “don’t I feel like an asshole”. But I understood where he was coming from having been Iraq myself and just said “brother this isn’t Iraq – stay away from military convoys and armored SUV’s on the Jbad road and you won’t have problems”.

I also added he had some shit hot drivers – not dumping one of those SUV’s off the little trail and into the massive drainage ditches took some real talent. But talent alone didn’t work in Afghanistan; you needed to understand the environment and that was hard to do when you lived on a FOB and impossible if you had just arrived in country. What was a reliable pre-incident indicator in Iraq was not one in Afghanistan.

Which brings us to the days following the ambush of TF Violent. They apparently went on another mission to recover a truck and rolled both the truck and the recovery vehicle into a ditch. There were some shenanigans going on to get this mission out of the gate to include some nonsense about them fearing the Taliban were going to come into the wire and get them. That part of the story is in the third installment of the Military Times articles and is so bizarre that I don’t know what to say. Believing the Taliban could come into the Jalalabad air field which was home to a SEAL tier one outfit, a large CIA base, a brigade headquarters from the 10 Mountain Division and several aircraft squadrons was ridiculous.

The reason this incident upset me when it happened was the prospect of being on the road when the Marines were heading back to base. I had a trail vehicle full of heavily armed Tajiks from our preferred local sub contractor and these men had been with me for years. I was very fond of them and I too was armed and having been shot at before by the military while driving I was sensitive to the threat. My father and I exchanged some bitter emails on the topic as I insisted from day one the Marines had over reacted and had I been on that road at that time I could have been lit up.

When you look at the battle damage and contemplate the folly of a handful of Afghans taking on a six vehicle convoy from the side of a road it is hard to believe the Marines were facing a legitimate threat. Taking fire is not the same as taking effective fire. Knowing how the Taliban in that area conducted ambushes (they used terrain to mask SAF attacks and used road side IED’s not VBIED’s) could have allowed the Marines to recognize and apply the rule of opposites which is the most effective tool us contractors had in Afghanistan. VBIED’s didn’t show up in Nangarhar province until two years after this incident and if memory serves the UN did not classify this as a VBIED attack.

Here is a guess at what happened. A van filled with leaky fuel containers, which is how stolen diesel is transported in Afghanistan, lost control and swerved into the Marine convoy. The Marines, fearing it was a VBIED, lit it up with their turret mounted machineguns which have tracers in their links. The tracers ignite the fuel fumes and up goes the van. That would explain the lack of blast damage. The fireball alerts the rest of the Marines in the convoy to a possible ambush and because they are new in country and don’t know how different Afghanistan was compared to Iraq they spot armed males and start shooting. That’s a guess but an educated one, it is hard to explain the lack of battle damage to the Marine humvee’s any other way. The four bullet holes in vehicle #2 could have come from anywhere – Afghans have lots of guns; but were I to hazard a guess I’d say the ANP checkpoints near the bridge probably threw some rounds their way out of disgust.

Having said all the above I do not believe the Marines who participated in this event deserved the negative attention they received. Lot’s of military units in Afghanistan shot lots of civilians who they thought to be a threat to their convoys. I wrote about that repeatedly while I was there. That is why I’m so sympathetic to the men of Raven 23 who are in jail to this day for doing exactly the same thing in the same circumstances. It is also the reason why I support the PMC industry strongly. Had a contractor patrol done what the Marines did it is inconceivable that they would have escaped long stints in the Poli Charki prison. The legacy media contention that we were cowboys shooting up the countryside is as false as fake news can be.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest back the morning article on Secretary Mattis – it’s complete crap written by a guy who has not one clue what he is talking about. He probably is getting paid for that swill…..I wonder how that works? I’d like to get a paying gig like that too….inshallah.

 

 

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