Collateral Damage

It is time to turn the ole gimlet eye onto the news starting with  this article about the killing of a little girl by the Italian army ISAF contingent in Herat. which I want to compare to the current civilian casualty flap in Farah Province where over 100 people are reported to have been killed in ISAF air strikes. In my opinion one these incidents should result in a murder charge and the other is the way things have to be but we are not managing that message well at all.

The facts as reported about the Italian shooting seem very clear. They overtook a civilian vehicle but reported it to be driving at high speed they claim to have fired warning shots but TV footage of the car shows it was hit repeatedly in the left rear quarter panel area indicating the shooter was behind the vehicle. The shooting resulted in the death of a 12 year old girl and the Italians drove right past after shooting this car load of people without even stopping. That is murder. There is no way to justify it as anything else based on the facts presented in the news article. Most civilian traffic will attempt to stay in front of convoys because once overtaken you’ll join 100’s of other vehicles in a miles long 20 mph rat line. Which of course is point #1 how can the Italians overtake a racing car in their armored troop carriers? They can’t.

It is a common technique for suicide bombers to slow down and wait for a convoy to draw close and then detonate their IED. It is also common for the slow moving traffic to pull over allowing military  convoys to overtake them. These convoys pass vehicles all the time but they will light up vehicles they suspect to be VBIED’s. It’s a poor tactic due to the compressed time/distance ratio.


Colonel John Boyd, USAF (Ret) developed the Observe Orient Decide Act (OODA) Loop theory after an analysis of air to air engagements during the  Korea conflict. The Soviet MiG-15 was faster than the American F-86 Sabre and were operating from Chinese airfields close to the front. The F-86 squadrons were flying from the south and would arrive with maybe 15 minutes of fuel to burn before they were forced to head home. The MiG could out-climb the Sabre at all altitudes, and it had a greater operational ceiling.

But the MiG had design flaws resulting in poor control at high speeds, a low rate of roll and directional instability at high altitudes. Boyd recognized that the way of taking advantage of these flaws was to enter a series of intricate turns designed to make the MiG react to the Sabre. Once the MiG was committed it just a matter of time before the Sabre was able convert his high speed maneuver advantage to get a gun solution using the K14 radar gun-sight, which was designed to use derivative movement information for the firing solution.

For earthbound gunfighters the OODA loop also has great utility. The best example would be the famous (in my circles anyway) Tueller drill. Named after Salt Lake City Police Sergeant Dennis Tueller it is a simple demonstration of perceived vs actual risk. The drill assumes an assailant armed with an edged weapon is being uncooperative and is designed to show how close is too close in that situation. The assailant stands back to back with a shooter who has a holstered pistol and is facing a target 7 yards away. On cue the assailant starts to run and stops when he hears the pistol report.  The shooter presents his weapon to the target and delivers a controlled pair center mass. A well trained shooter using a good rig and pistol can deliver a controlled pair from the holster in 1.1 to 1.3 seconds – about the time it takes a young adult male to cover the 21 feet.

This MRAP was hit by a three wheel cab on the Jalalabad/Kunar bridge. There were no serious injuries to the soldiers in this attack.

Twenty one feet is about three car parking spaces or the length of a slightly bigger than average room.   Most people feel safe with that much room between them and a stranger.   If an assailant starts at you full speed from that distance only the best trained top tier shooters in the world have a chance of presenting a pistol and firing two effective shots. And that is only if they have already decided to shoot;   the step in the OODA loop model which takes the longest to work through.   The Tueller drill is a perfect example of training designed to improve OODA loop decision making. By illustrating how close is too close and reinforcing the concept with dynamic training the students learn how to make the critical shoot don’t shoot decision faster based off legitimate state of the art training.

This is how the army would like to travel. This is the Jbad truck by-pass and is normally not too crowded.

Which brings us to ISAF convoys and machinegunners;   ISAF convoys over take civilian traffic and pass on coming civilian traffic as a matter of routine. Convoy gunners are responsible for recognizing potential threats, warning them to keep their distance, and firing on them when that warning is ignored. Although ISAF convoys are slow they will still close with on coming traffic at a rate of 60 feet per second which is 3.5 car lengths.   On a flat road with perfect visibility a convoy gunner has about 60 seconds – the time it takes a vehicle to reach him from just outside the max effective range of his machine gun – to determine if a vehicle is a threat.   There are very few places in Afghanistan with that much flat terrain – my guess would be that the average civilian car to ISAF convoy encounter is around 10 to 15 seconds long.   What do you think it would take to get your attention, have you orient your weapon, then make the critical friend or foe decision before firing into an oncoming car?

Convoy’s could never keep vehicles from crowding in around them in urban areas. This is downtown Jalalabad and the soldiers in this convoy have been in country for months are relaxed.

To distinguish potential threats in the normal chaotic local traffic clutter requires gunners with enough knowledge to apply the rule of opposites. Suicide vehicle drivers tend to have a signature, they tend to behave erratically, and in order to detect one in time to warn and engage him you would have to detect him a long way off. If you think through this process – especially while driving so you can do a little real time war gaming – you will come to the same conclusion I have. And that is our counter VBIED measures will never work because it is not possible for a soldier to complete the OODA loop and reach an informed firing solution given the small amount of time, short distances, and number of innocent people who drive like lunatics in Afghanistan.   You cannot recognize a VBIED that fast – not possible – so why the hell are we still shooting 12 year old girls in this country?

7 Replies to “Collateral Damage”

  1. Outstanding, and just to continue the Boydism’s. If the Italians, or any military, become ‘closed systems’ they will sink into chaos and eventually die. Or so that is the idea behind why closed systems suck. lol The second law of thermodynamics comes up for that, and thanks to Boyd’s Destruction and Creation paper, it has become very clear to me the importance of understanding this to understand OODA. Are we defeating the enemy, when we allow these kinds of tactics to be used? Or are we becoming isolated further in the moral department? Are we becoming isolated by living out of FOBs? Are we becoming isolated mentally, when we don’t listen to the people or learn from the lessons of the past? Things to think about, and closed systems suck.
    Also, one of these days, I hope to hear the briefing from Chet Richards or an Osinga type briefing. One day…. Semper Fi Tim.


    Boyd divided warfare into three distinct elements:

    * Moral Warfare: the destruction of the enemy’s will to win, via alienation from allies (or potential allies) and internal fragmentation. Ideally resulting in the “dissolution of the moral bonds that permit an organic whole [organization] to exist.” (i.e., breaking down the mutual trust and common outlook mentioned in the paragraph above.)

    * Mental Warfare: the distortion of the enemy’s perception of reality through disinformation, ambiguous posturing, and/or severing of the communication/information infrastructure.

    * Physical Warfare: the destruction of the enemy’s physical resources such as weapons, people, and logistical assets.

  2. Man, I just had the OODA loop explained to me last week, and now you are writing about it in even greater detail than I had previously experienced… yay for learning! I am torn whether or not to agree with you on the village casualties. I definitely see your point, but I wonder if you are a tad hasty in assuming uniform levels of resistance to insurgents across villages. In my recent travels, I visited 7 different villages all with varying levels of defensive capabilities ranging from complete dependence on the Afghan Forces and CF to “Thanks but no thanks, everyone here has an AK, and we’ll be just fine if they come-a-knockin’.” I’m not familiar with the security situation in Farah, but i’m fairly certain that it isn’t as big a focus as RC South and RC East, currently. There’s a pretty good chance that our usually-less-than-stellar awareness of village life and politics is even weaker in an attention-starved area such as Farah. That being said, the end state of villagers knowing that harboring insurgents will bring them nothing but problems motivating them to actively seek security as quickly as possible is a good thing. The “defenseless” argument only goes so far; as in criminal activity, war has an “accessory to the crime” aspect as well.

    Enough ranting, here is an interesting Asia Times article on how Obama’s shunning of Karzai turned out to work in Karzai’s favor:

    Keep up the good work Tim-san.

  3. Great article. One reason why many European NATO outfits are finding it a steep learning curve is a mixture of the men they put into the field and how their forces are geared. Italy, like Germany, I would suspect is geared in kit and attitude towards fighting off millions of bloodthirsty Siberians swarming across the border and into West Germany and securing the Mediterrenian for NATO.

    You can go someway to offset the disadvantage of not having the kit to fight a low-intensity conflict by putting the best men you can into the field and preparing them specifically for this task. The UK for example tends to rotate several elite formations along with experienced regular army formations for example.

    From what you’ve found and seen on the ground there Tim, I honestly don’t think the likes of Germany, Spain and Italy are doing that and thats resulting in inexperienced and dissaffected men who don’t appear to be prepared for what awaits them cocking up like this and that results in, as you say, murder or manslaughter at least.

  4. Here are some more Boyd goodies I dug up. I just read his Patterns of Conflict via slideshow, and it was quite the read. I found some quotes that jumped out at me in regards to today’s COIN stuff, and the situation in Afghanistan.


    Mao Tse-Tung synthesized Sun Tzu’s ideas, classic guerilla strategy and tactics, and Napoleonic style mobile operations under an umbrella of Soviet Revolutionary Ideas to create a powerful way for waging modern (guerilla) war.

    Result: Modern guerilla warfare has become an overall political, economic, social and military framework for “total war”. Page 66

    Break guerillas’ moral-mental-physical hold over the population, destroy their cohesion, and bring about their collapse via political initiative that demonstrates moral legitimacy and vitality of government and by relentless military operations that emphasize stealth/fast-tempo/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of overall effort.

    *If you cannot realize such a political program, you might consider changing sides! Page 108

    Without support of people the guerillas (or counter-guerillas) have neither a vast hidden intelligence network nor an invisible security apparatus that permits them to “see” into adversary operations yet “blinds” adversary to their own operations. Page 109

    Patterns of Conflict Link

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