Inchon is the call sign for the 1st Marine Regiment – currently deployed in southern region of the Helmand Province as Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT 1).  They are  operating out of a large FOB in the middle of the Dasht-e Margo (Deseret of Death) about 50 kilometers from the Provincial capitol of Lashkar Gah, named Camp Dwyer.  Unlike other FOB’s I’ve visited this massive base has lots of room but very few people. The Marines don’t like FOB’s much and having (by design) a lean tooth to tail ratio (trigger pullers to support personnel) this is what one would expect to see.

Camp Dwyer was carved out of the desert last year. Spartan, functional, isolated, and full of Marines who would consider themselves cursed if they had been left in the rear with the gear
Camp Dwyer was carved out of the desert last year. Spartan, functional, isolated, and full of Marines who would consider themselves cursed if they had been left in the rear with the gear

RCT 1 is commanded by another close friend of mine Colonel Dave Furness, USMC, of Columbus, Ohio. Like my friends featured in previous posts, Colonel Paul Kennedy, USMC and Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Kenny, USMC, Dave was on the staff of the Marine Corps Infantry Officer course with me back in the early 90’s. The four of us also commanded recruiting stations in the late 90’s (the Marines take recruiting seriously) and as is often the case in the Corps we would bump into each other in places like Okinawa, Korea or Thailand when assigned to Fleet Marine Force infantry units.

When I arrived at the RCT 1 headquarters building I was shown into a large office where Dave was waiting with a warm smile, big bear hug and man was he a sight for sore eyes. We sat down and Dave started reading me in on his view of the operational situation he’s dealing with in the Southern Helmand. I started taking  notes:

“Timmy planting guys in the ground is easy, I don’t even worry about that, leaving it to the Battalion Commanders. You know what I worry about? The time horizon. That’s my problem because it impacts my grunts and I’m the only guy in this lash-up who can effect it. The main problem we face here is that the poppy has a value added chain. A farmer is given the seed, he is given the fertilizer – poppy doesn’t take much water or care while growing – and at harvest time he is given guys who score the flowers and collect the dope. At the end of the season he is given a portion of the harvest to sell or barter. The dope is then moved, processed and smuggled out of the country. Poppy has a well established added value chain which provides employment for lots of people while making life easy for the farmer. It costs him little to grow and doesn’t take much work. We want to sell him seed and fertilizer for a crop which is difficult to grow and much more susceptible to failure due to bad weather, floods and insects. We want him to harvest it and want him to take it to market and sell it. There are no value added processes to employ other people. There is no cold storage, no food processing plants, no grain elevators, no good roads, and no teamsters to truck produce using economies of scale.  What would you do if you were a farmer in southern Helmand?”

Readers who have been following the Afghan campaign over the years must be depressed at hearing this. What Dave identified as the problem is exactly what military and development experts identified as the problem nine years ago.

Dawn Patrol -Dave, "The Coach" Mike McNamara - who was also on the staff of IOC back in the 90s. Dave was heading to Marjah for meetings and to spend time with his Marines at the pointed end of the spear
Dawn Patrol: Dave, Mike “Mac” McNamara – who was also on the staff of IOC back in the 90s and me. Dave was heading to Marjah for meetings and to spend time with his Marines at the pointed end of the spear.  Is it me or do Colonels look a lot younger then they did back in the day?

We talked about why, after so long, we’re still talking about the problem instead of fixing it but I don’t want to get my buddies in hot water for bitching about how difficult it is to do what should be easy so I’ll move on to something I also found interesting – the time horizon. Like every other commander in theater Dave is frustrated to the point of insubordination with how slow we are at funding and executing projects. More from Colonel Furness:

“I’m not doing much clearing; the 7th Marines (who rotated home a few weeks ago) did all the clearing. Paul (who commands RCT 2 in Delaram) is fighting like a lion up north right now but we’re pretty much policing up small cells of die-hards which isn’t that hard. Marjah is still active but as we expand out of the district center we’re getting that under control. I’m still losing guys, I still take KIA’s and I have had several Marines lose limbs. I hate that, hate seeing my guys get hit but we’re dishing out more than the bad guys can take so the kinetics will die down. What I want for my Marines is a reasonable time horizon for reconstruction projects so they can see the fruits of their sacrifice. I can do the paperwork for 40 or 50 projects which I know will create the value chain needed to beat the poppy and there is no chance that me or my Marines will see any of it done, or even started, even if they get approved and “fast tracked.” My guys are patrolling three times a day, eating Mr. E’s or local chow, they sleep on the deck in the dirt and I want them to see why they are doing this. We like the Afghans; every one of them we talk to asks for two things: all weather roads and schools for their kids. They know they are doomed to a lifetime of hard labor with no chance at upward mobility because they are illiterate, so they want a better life for their children. My Marines who are out there living in the dirt and heat and filth with them want the same thing. But I can’t build schools with my CERP funds, nor can I hire teachers with my CERP funds and working through the regional contracting command to program money for those things is like pulling a diamond out of a goat’s ass. It is just doesn’t happen.”

I wanted to talk war but the warrior wanted to talk value added chains and time horizons. “We’ll talk about that later in detail with the staff, I have a treat for you, lets go see Mac.”

Mike McNamara is one those characters with a story so improbable that you would think he was a creation of Hollywood. In the golden days of Hollywood Mike McNamara, a.k.a Mac would have made a worthy character in any war flick. I had not seen Mac since 1994 and had no idea he was deployed here with Dave.

Mactalk on KNOX News Talk 1310. in Grand Forks North Dakota

Major Mike McNamara, USMCR, left active duty in the late 90’s, moving his family to North Dakota where he has a regular job, coaches the high school baseball team (his Dad managed the Boston Red Socks) serves on the city council and has his own radio show. Mactalk has got to be among the most entertaining radio shows in the nation. Mac is one of the smartest, funniest people I have ever met. That’s saying something too – Jeff Kenny is so funny that The Bot couldn’t eat chow around him. Jeff would come up with totally bizarre observations that were so funny Shem would have soda coming out of his nose or start choking on his food he was laughing so hard.  Mike doesn’t drill with the reserves and only puts on the uniform on when his friends ask him to come run their Combat Operations Center (COC) when they go to war. This is the third time he has been called and it is also the third time a general officer has had to tell the manpower weenies at HQMC to shut up, activate McNamara and send him overseas without delay. Mike will never be promoted past the rank of Major and couldn’t care less – when his buddies call he drops what he’s doing and comes overseas for a year at a time.  Every time.

Mike was set up in the COC like a grand pasha with several computer screens and a few log books arrayed in a semi circle in front of him. He was in the process of planting some guys into the ground who had been foolish enough to start sniping at a Marine patrol. We watched the feed from a Reaper which was loitering about 2o,ooo feet above the doomed Taliban – it was invisible, inaudible, and alert.  The Reaper was hanging Hellfires on its weapon pylons and as we watched it sent one screaming towards four villains when they huddled together next to a wall out of sight of the Marines they had just attacked.

The Hellfire is a supersonic missile but when it makes its final course correction just prior to hitting target it slows to subsonic speed. The sonic boom gets ahead of it so that the targets hear it about 1.5 seconds before it strikes.  Sure enough three of the four look up startled while the fourth immediately started running like he’s in the Olympic finals of the 100 meter sprint.  The three Lookie Lous’ disappear – the sprinter starts to stagger clearly wounded. Within the hour he would be joining us at Camp Dwyer where he received  state of the art medical care and will be kept in the base hospital until well enough to be turned over to the Afghan Army.

The Hellfire is pinpoint accurate with a limited ECR (effective casualty radius).  Designed to kill enemy armor the military has discovered it is the perfect weapon to shoot at human targets because they can take out guys leaning against a wall without any damage to the wall or people standing just a few feet away.

Nobody is safe from catching a ration of good humored ribbing when The Coach is in the room.
Nobody is safe from catching a ration of crap when Mac is in the room.

The morning news feed contained this story: yet another front line dispatch about restrictive rules of engagement. Which was most timely because I asked Mac about that yesterday and I give him the last word.

“This is “smart guy” war dummies get people killed here just like they did in al Anbar Province (Iraq).  The current ROE emphasizes the preservation of civilian life except in extreme cases which is fundamental to winning the civilian population and also fundamental to “winning the peace.” Anybody who doesn’t understand this is either stupid or inexperienced in this business. When our Marines are in contact near structures or civilians and ask us for supporting fires we ask  “are you unable to maneuver?” Answer: “…wait one… then you get “…we’re good, we can still maneuver…”

Even though it’s harder you restrain your firepower allowing the ground force to work the problem while we get attack helicopters, or jets or drones into a position to use precision weapons. The goal is how to keep the pressure on miscreants until you can whack them. This is smart guy war from squad to RCT (Regimental Combat Team) level.

We also use our air assets to do “show of force” runs in order to suppress accurate small arms fire and that works too. There are creative non-kinetic things you can do before you have to drop the hammer. Our Marines are great at exercising restraint; it’s amazing to me to see them do it every day.

My take on those who bitch is that they haven’t studied the ROE close enough to learn the “in’s and out’s”. We run rotatory and fixed wing CAS (close air support) multiple times every day. We understand killing civilians sets the effort back in a huge way… especially when we are beginning to see so many positive signs in the AO. BUT, we know we can protect our Marines and we do. Smart guy war is harder, it demands more from both the Marines in contact and my guys who are just itching to unload ordnance on the bad guys.

I’ll tell you what’s tough and that’s the days after we have had our own killed or badly wounded. Those days are the most challenging in terms of restraint. When we’re evaluating targets on those days you can feel the vibe in the room is different. That’s when the adults have to show up and keep things solid. It’s not easy and it’s not fun but that’s what we’re paid to do; be the adults.”

29 Replies to “Inchon”

  1. Dear Tim Lynch !

    Always a valuable read! I appreciate your work on your blog very much. Thank you for give us “outsiders” an insight and take good care. C.O.

  2. Excuse me…I’ve been invited to dinner with Karzai and some Taliban friends who’ve come to town in order to work out a deal. I wonder if there will be any arguments over how the rugs are laid out? Princeton Patreaus’ people are providing me with transportation to the site.

    Gosh, this takes me back some 35 plus years ago when Henry was working on that Nixon plan of “peace with honor” game of retreating.

    If only John Kerry had a son in the military who was stationed in Afghanistan at an outer, I mean right dab in the middle of bad guy’s land, post, taking constant fire, being surrounded and then…

    Karma…is it real? If Barney Frank loses this election, do you think he would ever consider joining our military, now that his people are invited to do so? Attention…of course he would stand tall!

    Proud to be an American, sir! Once again we’re being suckered…

  3. It ain’t just you Tim. Quarterbacks looked a lot older in our day too.

    Quarterbacks are supposed to look like Earl Morrall and Johnny Unitas, or Dan Fouts and Kenny Stabler. Or something…

    ARE MY

  4. Tim . . . thanks for the update. The Helmand PRT needs serious work. Sigh.

    Look forward to hearing more about 215th ANA Corps. Any early indications regarding how many local recruits are joining the ANA and provincial AUP? Heard from someone else on the ground there that this is starting to happen. Although no doubt the situation varies greatly by subdistrict and district.

  5. I always saw more women and kids in the opium fields during the brief collection/harvest time than guys. I read that the current cost to keep a pair of boots in Afghanistan is now about 1 million a year. Surely for that much you can put up a bunch of 10 grand schools.And over there a 10 grand school would be a magnet school. Marjah ? gee we don’t seem to be hearing that name too much anymore, not like last Feb when it was going to be the centerpiece of our effort.

  6. Smart guy war? Love the post, but excuse me coach, I don’t see any smart guys around. My son is currently in the 1st AO and his squad just went combat ineffective. They captured the guys who killed the latest squad leader, then saw them again a week later. Too bad you missed the opportunity to push your button then. The first part of the post complains that a key nine year old problem isn’t resolved. Because they can only be killed when are actually holding guns (once dropped it’s a no-no), the “villains” aren’t taken out of circulation. Instead they learn from their mistakes.
    It doesn’t sound to me like there are many smart guys around that are actually focused on the problems that need to be solved. Save the civilians. Good idea. Got it. The E3s are executing that. What are you doing to solve their problems, other than just restraining them and pushing buttons occasionally?

    1. I wouldn’t be too hard on The Coach Daver if my son were out with a line company in the 1st Marines I’d be very thankful that he was in the regimental COC. What the coach was talking about was their ability to clear fire missions rapidly and without interference from on high. He is the first guy I have talked with on the topic of ROE who instead of bitching said that he could work effectively within the constraints of the current structure and I was really surprised by that. We were not talking about other problems with the ROE so bear in mind the focus of blog post was narrow in scope.

      I will get a chance to visit with line companies as we ramp up our development projects for FY 2011 and will be able to ask squad leaders and platoon commanders about their take on the ROE. I suspect I am not going to hear anything positive about the ROE from them. But I’ll bet a month’s pay that none of the 1st Marines are going to tell me that the RCT HQ failed to provide supporting arms when they were needed or failed to support them in any other way.

      Your son is in harms way and will be so for the duration of his deployment. You must be worried sick and at the same time unbelievably proud of him. I have been around long enough to be able to walk into a COC and within 15 minutes figure out if they know what they are doing. The 1st Marines know what they’re doing.

  7. 1. This is complicated business.
    2. Just saddling up and heading outside the wire requires knowledge and ability.
    3. Forty years ago, we’d get in a fight and have three C&C helicopters overhead, issuing contradictory orders and interfering with the fire support we were screaming for.
    4. Didn’t know enough then to be overly critical. In later years if a brigade (then regimental commander) had been issuing orders to my platoon commanders, would have thrown my bars in the battalion commander’s face.
    5. Bonus: according to a retired intell WO named Tourison, the CIA had file cabinets full of info on the local opposition and movements of their NVA masters. We were clueless.
    6. Point: Different time, different situation, But. This stuff isn’t easy and as operations increase in sophistication, it gets harder.
    7. Every one has a different point of view. Have heard a bunch of those in the last couple postings. One more: If the grunts loose faith in the mission, they focus primarily on staying alive. That works against accomplishing the mission and creates a raft of unfortunate side-effects.
    8. If you haven’t lived it, you probably don’t get #’s 1 & 6. Know I have to keep reminding myself.
    9. As far as officers looking younger, the last of my cohort are wearing three or four stars. The damn generals are starting to look young. Sucks, getting old.
    V/R JWest

  8. John Ryan. Don’t calculate what you could do with the savings from not deploying troops. You’ll get a migraine.

    Since it’s not clear that “development” actually acts to quell the insurgency and any progress made from improving the standard of living of Afghans would come after your unit RIPs out there is no incentive for the military to reduce it’s numbers so as to redirect resources to projects executed by organizations capable of doing them in a cost effective manner.

    I thought it was well known that the insurgency is primarily funded by shaking down development and security companies and stealing NATO material and not through opium. As crops and cash increase in the districts it also becomes less of a pain for villagers to feed guerrillas and pay taxes. NATO troop numbers, ANSF numbers, security force casualties, civilian casualties, insurgent attacks and development dollars all have roughly followed each other up since 2004. It’s possible that the unintended consequence of helping Afghan farmers is strengthening the insurgents.

    I think Obama’s December review is too early to see if the escalation in ISAF operations has had a positive effect. Of course the Taliban if pushed hard may just follow Mao’s 16 character dictum and lay low while NATO continues to hemorrhage cash.

  9. Thanks for the update Tim,but seeing the news today, things may not look much better for you and the marines.

  10. I see DAI and IRD are threatening to suspend millions in projects if their PSCs are shut down. An interesting quandary. The projects are variously described by US gov types as “essential”,”vital’ or ‘crucial” to the COIN campaign yet Karzai seems to disagree.

    In bureaucracies “essential” things usually aren’t so it’ll be interesting to see if Karzai can be forced to give in or if he really sees the PSCs as doing more harm than the development firms do good (which is often in doubt with or without PSCs in support).

  11. ” What I want for my Marines is a reasonable time horizon for reconstruction projects so they can see the fruits of their sacrifice.
    Agreed. If we don’t have it, morale plunges and really…what are we there for? An endless fight. The RC you write of is the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick not only for the Afghans, but for the Marines as well.

    But how is this going to work if the politicians here have made a concerted effort to vilify and cut funding for the contractors who in all reality –are the ones taking the lead on such projects?

    People worry about the political situation –with justification in Afghanistan. However, the political issue here is so crazily polarized, discussions are difficult to come by.

  12. Just remind yourself that the “Peace Corps” married the “Military” some years back. As in every marriage, there are bound to be arguments and drama.

    Another reason why we have prayer!

  13. Funding for reconstruction in the USMC AO has gone up substantially in the last year. Part of the problem is the short tour length of the Marines. Six months is not long enough in a campaign where cultural understanding, establishing relationships and conducting development are considered key. I’m not sure one year is long enough but the downside of using a ‘professional” military is that nasty things like career planning and promotions raise their ugly head to interfere with success.

  14. Daver, you are right 100%. The situation in the Ist Zone is bad, and the tactics are worse. Last week alone, 10KIA, several units rendered inop, and WIA climbing.

    Not sure what is going on with Tim, he was pretty sure about the tactics before, but now?

    Until they get off the FOB, stop doing predictable 3 a days and do some real counter guerilla tactics and get off this drink tea and build roads stuff we are going to take worse losses than the Brits in Sangin.

    The whole command from CG on down to the COC is a big cover up mode. These spray and pray insurgents that everyone including Tim made fun of, are fighting back and hard.

    It is their ground, they know how to protect it. Until Tim’s Buddy the Commander gets off his butt and stops trying to be social scientist inputs and stuff we are going to keep taking the hits for no reason.

    Tim? Come back to reality man? This is a screwed up operation and we are taking major injuries.

    Change the TACTICs…please

    This “I am sure you are worried, but proud as hell” is recruiter talk. Get in their face and have them change the tactics.

    The young Marines deserve it. Hell swap out these geniuses with new leaders if you must but do something. Send Coach back to Radio work. Fight these bastards. Now.

    The rosy picture you provided has nothing to do what is happening on the ground. Davers…right on. Semper Fi does not mean you lie.

    See Captains Journal good post on ROEs and Tactics of FOB and why it does not work…

  15. Is smart guy war the same as the “graduate level of war”? Funny…you’d think planning retaking the Falklands, D-Day or the bomber offensive took more brain power than policing an Afghan village.

  16. The British MSR into the 1982 Falklands theater and the allied MSR to Normandy didn’t pass through enemy held territory (disputed at sea, yes – held, no).

    “Smart guy” war is making do as best as you can within the political limitations that one is operating under at the time.

    “Graduate level” war would be moving the entire Coalition (or at least the combat capable US elements) deep into the FATA and staying on the move.

    Nobody ever wins at shadow boxing.


  17. Have you noticed that “smart guy” war doesn’t have a military solution? I take this to mean that the military should be taking orders from civilians since they by definition (unless the phrase is just to cover up military failures) don’t have the answer.

    The “graduate level of warfare” is just a through away phase to make the military seem much smarter than it is in the mode of Barry McCaffery, who never met a US general who wasn’t “brilliant”.

  18. Awe crap now karzai wants a list of aid groups. See how many ANP he needs,to rent out to the aid groups. needs to add to the bags of money from Iran no doubt.

  19. Had a dream last night that years ago when America first sent death and destruction to those in Afghanistan such as Osama and Omar, that the orders were to kill anything that offered resistance, drive all bad guys and their friends into a corner; if we found them trying to cross the border into Pakistan shoot anything that moves, while those we drove into a corner were given a simple choice, life or death. After we destroyed all those we caught and those who resisted and those who fought us, we then made a major effort to communicate to every Afghan still alive that if they ever harbored or supported another attack on the United States of America we would be back with a killing and destruction machine the likes of which they would never, ever recover from.

    The second part of my dream had me going to the national bank account of America and finding monies inside, not IOU’s with Chinese smiling just down the street!

    Naturally, I awoke in a cold sweat, realizing this had been a dream and that my reality was living these past 9 years with clowns running our government and running this war…a real nightmare!

  20. Some great photos of colonels and a major )
    Line of vehicles looks impressive. The Coach humor part made my day.
    Tks for this positive Marine update!

  21. Tim, this is great I have periodically following free range and appreciate the perspectives I had to comment on this one knowing all you guys this one had me reminiscing and laughing at the same time thanks! My best to Dave and his hardchargers.

  22. Tim,

    Are we still struggling with the production of poppy? I am glad to see that over a year later we still haven’t figured out the solution to that pesky “poppy problem”. I sat in meetings, VTCs, and planning sessions until all hours of the day and night over a year ago planning the great “Marjah Invasion” and from the beginning there were smart guys (both USMC and Army) in the room who kept asking senior leaders (then McChrystal, Flynn, Nicholson, and so on…), “what are we going to do about the poppy?”. We had scientific data that showed it would take years to wean farmers off poppy, but we still invaded and tried to hold the ground. All the while, we’re still baffled as to why the bad guys are still able to bankroll their operations and keep fighters armed. Bottom line, the initial plans called for ANA and ANP to be in control of southern Helmand and be close to policing on their own now…how is that coming along? Sadly, most senior leaders in the room failed to admit the fallicious logic in our plan and that ultimately we all saw this coming… A fleeting enemy who simply picks up and moves to avoid serious attrition, corruption at the local levels of security and government that relies on a continued poppy industry, and worst of all senior US military leaders who fail to stand-up publically and denounce this administation’s complete lack of strategy for Afghanistan!! McChrystal gets partial credit but he was ousted for making fun of people, not denouncing the President’s plan as ridiculous and lacking in merit. Luckily, the right guy (GEN P.) will remain the ever loyal professional GO who will continue to cheer-lead us to a “win” for this administration. I can’t wait to hear his progress report starting early next year following the mid-term elections.

    I am all in with the poster who says we should be in the FATA taking it to every Taliban Islamic crazy who comes out to oppose us. The biggest failure of this war will be the strategic blunder to remain allied with Pakistan. At the end of the day, it’s too late to reverse course and the best we can hope for is the impression of stability and the Afghans taking the lead. All the while Karazai can continue to pad his bank accounts with donor funds to include Iran!

  23. I am in Helmand as I type, and from the outset of my deploy, I have been scratching my head at the absolute bizarre rationale that an Afghan farmer can be convinced somehow to take a farming product with lesser sale value (wheat) and supplant poppy or marijuana with it.
    Helmand produces something like 3/4 of the poppy in Afghanistan, yet beside the business of trying to get farmers to plant wheat because it shares the same growing season, we are doing nothing about the crops that are grown right under the feet of our patrols, harvested under our observation, and then spirited away when we aren’t around (due to troop-to-task ratio issues). We are lucky to interdict what we do catch on its way to processing centers are other distribution points of the nexus, but that is still just a drop in the bucket.
    Until we have a policy in place that truly tackles the growth of illicit farming products at the source, coupled with tougher limits for quantities of drugs an Afghan is allowed to possess, we can never have a strategy built on anything that truly deters the sharecropper farmer or even large landowner from putting poppy or marijuana in the ground. The basic fundamental calculus an Afghan farmer is never going to change until we get the policy aligned with the strategy.
    Hell, in my district, it’s hard to even find laborers for projects, since most of the men are in the fields working. Same goes for trying to line up vocational training…men are tending to fields.
    This upcoming poppy planting season is the first time that the Marines have a real opportunity to influence the drug/Taliban nexus, but our efforts will be for nothing if something does not change to make it easier to burn a field to make a point. It isn’t address the cause, but rather just the symptom, but so is dropping a bomb that risks collaterla damage and civcas. I’d rather have a slightly pissed off farmer who can be paid to use his hands for something else besides harvesting poppy, than an apathetic farmer who is part of the nexus of money that funds the instability within the region.

  24. The main source of funds for the insurgency is NATO- material stolen, contractors shaken down for taxes, locals taxed or chipping in from money they’ve got for doing NATO funded programs and wait for it- Taliban being paid directly for CFW.

    Poppy cultivation is helped by NATO programs that improve irrigation.
    Increases in edible crop cultivation also help the Taliban because there is surplus food to feed the troops. Increases in cultivation also increase concealment- as was shown when the Brits in Sangin tried to get the locals to stop growing corn because of the concealment it provided. They were a touch confused because they had just replaced poppies with corn at the Brits request/payment.

    It’s handy for NATO to blame poppies for its woes but the truth is as the occupation gets bigger the Taliban have more resources.

    Funny how unintended consequences work.

  25. Is smart guy war the same as the “graduate level of war”? Funny…you’d think planning retaking the Falklands, D-Day or the bomber offensive took more brain power than policing an Afghan village.

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