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.

29 Replies to “Victory Day”

  1. Is this Victory over Alexander Day? or is it Victory over the British Day? Or is it Victory over the Ghaznavids Day? Or is it Victory over the Rooshians Day? or is it Victory over the Taliban Day? I’m confused……

  2. It’s “victory” in the 1919 war with the British. The Afghans, having wasted the chance to throw in with the Kaiser and Turks and get the North West Frontier back during World War 1 waited until 1919 to launch an invasion of India. It failed but the Brits let them have control over their foreign policy which the Brits had been running since 1880.

  3. I hate to say this. But a Marine humping all that stuff is sort of well…. to use a comparison, like watching new parents go out on a walk with a baby buggy and take every damned thing with them. Just take the baby.

    As for Bing West, there comes a golden age when being a geezer has its advantages. While most would settle for discounts at movies, I suppose telling the Marines and Army to STUFF IT trumps everything else. I just wish Tim Hetherington had made it to Bing’s age. Onward.

  4. Your ending line: “Just imagine what we could do if we got serious about fighting here.”

    This house of cards will soon be coming down, not from the direction most would expect, yet still coming down. Does it warm your heart that Obama-Mao has some drones flying over Libya?

    Final storyline: The US just bled out to the amazement of few! It was a death from 1000 cuts.

    Start up the band: Play “Here is Obamacare to the rescue” loudly and if possible, proudly.

    We’re the suckers in this game. No body armor will help now!

  5. It shouldn’t be surprising that ISAF is capable of killing Taliban. They outnumber the Taliban probably on the order of 15-20 to one. They probably outspend them 1000-1. They have air supremacy and the most sophisticated weapons, communications and target acquisition devices available.

    The remarkable thing is that despite this disparity the Taliban keep fighting and seem intent on increasing the frequency of their operations. The morale of the guerrillas is what is amazing. Is there any doubt that if the firepower disparity became equalized just a bit- give the Taliban several hundred decent ATGWs and the training to use them well, that the ISAF coalition would crack?

    1. Harlan:

      If I were of the Taliban, my game plan would be to harass these “invaders” while allowing their “peace corps” mentality to continue working it’s magic; as witnessed by those new roads, schools, hospitals, commercial buildings, machinery, various transportation vehicles, and those dollars (soon to be worth much less) floating within my country; to run “their course” knowing that sooner, rather than later, they will pull up stakes, pack their tents and go home, leaving all this “stuff” right here in my back yard.

      As to those dead brothers and sisters of mine…well, we’ll just gather up the girls and have one big pregnant party as the opium crop acreage expands too!

      America has been very good to us…Allah knows this, soon many Gringos will learn Osama was right in his “Letter to America” which most never read. Perhaps we will give a donation to the Muslim Brotherhood for their struggle in the Middle East…using American greenbacks of course!

      We love your Obama…and Yankee go home…with the Taliban’s thanks!

  6. Nice poster. And the grenade launcher aint bad, either.
    Being called donkeys by folks who are about to become roadkill is not an insult.
    In 100 BC, Marius reformed the Roman Legions, making them more mobile by stripping out as much heavy transport as he could. This meant that the luckless milites were burdened with a heavier load, though each group of 8 men had a donkey to carry domestic equipment (cooking gear, tents, bedding and such). On average, they carried between 60 and 80 pounds of armor, weapons, engineering equipment, personal clothing and other effects. They became known as Marius’ Mules. Fast forward twenty one centuries, my armor and gear was about the same on patrol. I tried running the airfield at Farah in full combat gear when I first arrived. The best speed I achieved was a slow shuffle. I never tried running in full kit in the field, because of the rocks that are strewn everywhere.break a leg doing that. I figured I was more likely to die from heat stroke or exhaustion than by getting shot. But the bottom line is that, even though I was 50 and only in mediocre shape when I arrived in theater, I quickly got used to the load. Still bitched about it, but I could handle it. You can get used to anything in time, if it does not kill you first.
    The Romans were smart in training. Every weapon used for training was at least double the weight of its counterpart used in combat. Troops were hardened in peacetime by doing daily road marches in full kit. Holland M. Howlin’ Mad Smith inflicted this on his Marines in WWII. Worked pretty well). Prior to deploying for Afghanistan, I had done some wimpy five mile hikes in full kit on my own, but that did not come close to preparing me for conditions on the ground. Being retired now, I don’t know what kind of training the Army is doing, whether they are training with full body armor or not. Those plates are kind of pricey, and surprisingly fragile to boot, so I suspect that they are not included in training. But they need to find a way to work that into the POI to harden the troops. If they are going to use them in combat, they need to train with them in peacetime.
    The deputy commander of 7th Signal Brigade told me once the we don’t have to practice being miserable. The sad fact is, you DO have to practice being miserable, because the cost of being unprepared for the discomfort of combat is too high.

  7. Even if you believe ISAF body counts (I think they’re actually half at best) it’s costing us $ 40 million to kill insurgent.

    That’s $ 40 million @ 5% interest compounded…for ever. Half to China. The cost of a year of the campaign doubles every 14 years.

    There is no way the enemy can do more harm to us than we are inflicting on ourselves. A staff colonel and his entourage do more harm to the US in one year than the average Talib could hope for in a lifetime.

  8. Thanks for the update Tim. well something still works there still.even if you have to go rodeo on there ass. But Tim? is karzai plan for full domination working for him.? On the outside looking in it don’t. stay safe.

  9. Hot damn! We’ve got our “new and improved” grenade launcher in the arms of a valiant Marine. Where’s that MRAP which we could place next to him? How much money spent would there be with these two weapons of mass destruction? (Keep those two Afghans with those older weapons in the background for curiosity value)

    How many bad guys will these two American systems kill within this theater giving us a “cost benefit ratio” of what percentage?

    Money well don’t say! Especially after how many years of involvement and how many dollars on the hook are we now?

    Bet me Princeton Patreaus doesn’t get a boner every time he sees all the toys (err…tools/weapons) at his disposal!

    Sorry, hate to leave this little war, got to get ready to watch the Royal Wedding of Diana’s son…you know, one of two British brothers who spent some time in their national military.

    Obama, Romney, et al…nope, no military action for them, especially for any of Romney’s four sons last I heard.

    You must sacrifice for the good of our country to help others; like in Libya, as McCain wanders about with his boner, being back in the action–err news once again. His kind of “heroes” he calls those fighting against Qaddafi, as a few of our drones go flying silently overhead spending how many of our citizens’ dollars–whoops, forgot, that would be new IOUs for our kids.

    And the purpose of all this energy (American blood and treasure) being spent for others?

    I’d ask Obama, our “heroic” commander in chief, only he is too busy running around (that would be flying, this last trip 53,000 gallons of jet fuel pus) collecting campaign funds in California from the Hollywood crowd…actors all!

    Soon, even these 9th century “livin the high life” Afghans won’t take American greenbacks in exchange for hash!

    I wonder why? And when they don’t, let’s blow’em up with that new and improved grenade system, then hightail it outta there in our super MRAP so that we can get to Obama’s re-election party on time and dance like it’s 1994!

    Miss the old days, yet? Remember how wars used to be lost and/or won?

  10. And finally…

    In keeping with the spirit of Easter weekend…

    What if I were to resurrect both Sigmund Freud and William Shakespeare for a short moment wherein this statement is offered:

    “American citizens recently decided they did not have enough “coins” to support the Government’s COIN strategy as expressed in three military theaters.”

    To which I would then ask of these great thinkers: “What do you make of such a reality, especially given the choice of words?”

  11. Whatever happened to the concept of “light” infantry?


    There are at least as many armed Taliban/al-Q members combined in the combined AfPak theater as there are armed Coalition members, including the ANA/ANP. Both sides have been “surging” since at least 2006. The problem is that most of the combined Taliban/al-Q numbers are on the Pak side of the Durand Line, where only unmanned UAV’s and occasional spook types are allowed to shoot at them.


  12. What I liked about this post, is the challenge of the conventional wisdom about today’s load out for the infantryman. Today’s infantry is not a light infantry. My view of a light infantry, is a force that can not only keep up with the enemy both in lethality and mobility, but defeat the enemy in both of these areas.

    Let’s look at the mission of the Marine Corps Rifle Squad. It is to ‘locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver….’ We have ‘locate’ squared away, as soon as the enemy fires upon us. But when the enemy fires from PKM range, or from multiple positions, or from concealed positions in a tree line, ‘close with’ becomes a little more difficult. Especially when the enemy is using hit and run tactics.

    For the PKM up on the hill, you need a weapon that can not only reach it, but be more accurate than that PKM at that distance. For the multiple positions firing upon a squad, a unit has only a certain amount of time to ‘close with’ the enemy. Do we have the tools necessary to close with, and in the time needed? Are our forces light enough to close with and use ‘fire and maneuver’ to get close enough?

    Another thing I was thinking about is that I think we could modify tactics to actually catch the harassing fires folks. The guys that fire a magazine or belt of ammo, then hop on their bikes or run down some trail and escape. We should make every effort to ‘locate’ these guys, and ‘close with’. I think a drone archer team could help a squad keep eyes on these types of attackers.

    A drone archer team would be two guys–one with a drone launcher and a Tactical Grenades (TIGERs), and the other with a spare drone grenades and viewers/controllers. Upon engagement with the enemy, the drone archer team immediately gets an eye in the sky with a launch of their drone. Using a RPG type launcher to launch the drone would be one way to accomplish this kind of speed. The point is, that team’s soul purpose in life is to locate enemy attackers and keep eyes on those attackers until they are killed or captured. And they would use the drone as a weapon as another way of attacking.

    I could also see tactical grenade drones getting very smart. Meaning, you launch them above the enemy units, and they go into vulture mode when they identify shots being fired in that particular zone. The drone would also zero in on the shots fired with the camera system, automatically. All a drone archer team needs to do is determine what action to take as they are viewing the enemy. If the squad leader wants the enemy dead, then the drone archers tap the target on the screen of the viewer, and whatever trigger system, and the tactical grenade plows right into the attackers. Or the squad leader might want the drone to follow the attackers as they are running away or buzzing away on their bike.

    I think a drone archer team would help a squad to locate and close with the enemy. A drone archer team would be the asset of either a platoon, a squad, or company, and it makes drones a organic capability of small units. Just a thought…..

  13. But back to the load of the infantry. Get rid of the varmint guns, and ditch the armor. We need light, mobile, and highly lethal. We must be able to at least match the enemy in mobility and lethality, and we are just not there…. We must also modify small unit tactics so that a squad could be extremely light weight and lethal. Folks like the RLI or Selous Scouts sure were able to figure that out, and be extremely lightweight and lethal. That is what my vision of mobility and lethality is.

    1. I’m with you Matt and know our infantry could be more effective on the offense if they were allowed to figure things out on their own. All the armor radios, and ordnance is the price we pay for having so much money that we can spend like union bosses or Chicago politicians. There are apparently CIA led teams who operate like the Selous Scouts but they are very few and spread out to the point where they make no real difference. Regular infantry could be doing the same if we let them and that would seal the Taliban’s fate in the South if we were out every night bush whacking them.

  14. 1. This load stuff comes up, now and again.
    2. We all read “The Soldiers Load….” at TBS.
    Agreed with it. Except….
    3. Prior to that, spent a year in the boonies humping a ruck that averaged about 90#. Almost all BDA.
    4. Room for a carton of cigarettes, bug repellent and a towel on top. Hung canteens all over the thing.
    5. All rucks were packed the same, although loads differed. Personal gear was not allowed. Reasons for this are obvious.
    6. Did wear flak jackets. Were considerably lighter than the IBA and wouldn’t stop much. A comfort tho, when being mortared and lying in a 6″ deep hollow.
    7. You are balancing two problems. If the troops had spear carriers, they could go light. Then someone would have the bright idea to turn the load carriers into more infantry.
    8. The other side of the coin is this: it’s really nice to have the kitchen sink on hand when you need it.
    9. Squeak through after your support has let you down, and you are more likely to load up when going on patrol.
    10. Don’t have any answers. Think the folks down in the weeds do.
    11. The folks at higher tend to be risk averse these days. Fear their dictates have less to do with tactical achievement than career preservation.
    12. Never seems to change.
    V/R JWest

  15. Render: If your figures are right then the Coalition is killing, if their figures are correct, 1% of the enemy annually. If 1% of Pashtun 18 year olds go on the war path then ISAF is short 4,000 dead enemy per year just to keep up with Jihadi recruiting before foreign fighters and other types of Afghan join up.

    Since NATO/ GOA is fighting a war of attrition it would seem to be in an unwinnable situation if the enemy numbers are as high as you think.

  16. Baba Tim good read. Sounds like same old bitch that the “modern” infantry has had for a millennia. It brought back fond memories of humping that gear in the Helmand AO, minus the Perot graph.

    You and Mac stay safe; who knows how restless the native’s will be after they harvest their bumper poppy crop. Praise Allah for 3 solid weeks of rain in January.

    Hope you scored some fresh bread and lamb from the local bazaar for your Easter feast.

    Peace brother

  17. If what I am reading in today’s internet news is true and accurate, then perhaps our military personnel should just be carrying a sidearm, a shovel, along with some matches and two candles. That way, when we exit-and I think it could be at night, we might be forced to copy the methods of those recently 450 plus escaped bad guy prisoners the Afghans were keeping in a “secure” prison.

    Of course we’ll have to leave behind all our fancy toys–err weapons we’ve been led to believe will give us the upper hand in fighting these 9th century peoples.

    This year’s “Tunnel rat” reunion will be held in beautiful Afghanistan! Save your coins…buy silver too!

    Some things never change, now do they?

  18. “we might be forced to copy the methods of those recently 450 plus escaped bad guy prisoners the Afghans were keeping in a secure prison.”

    i would certainly like to see details on this 1000 ft tunnel engineering… what closest building did they use for cover..

    wild wild west … oops, i mean wild wild east.. !

    1. If the villains can dig that kind of tunnel under a prison they can do it under a PRT or large base. That would be a real problem – good thing the Taliban suck at war fighting.

  19. Well it looks like some don’t take there job to heart much. This is twice now I think.

  20. About those bad guys who copied Steve McQueen’s moves by leaving their prison…

    Not to worry: I am sure we American citizens have provided the proper funds for the Afghans to have been given the best “state of the art” reception gear; that is, a digital camera of high pixel value to take “up close and personal” photos of each and every bad guy, including identifying tattoos, lost teeth or gold teeth, fingerprints, etc. DNA samples most likely were also taken, along with an accurate family history, all collected into a hardened laptop computer which was then transmitted to a central office via satellite linkup where this data was “mined” for information and stored within various redundant levels for official review by attending Afghan agencies and some American State Department personnel.

    In other words, we should…err, the Afghans should have these bad guys back in custody shortly due to their previous outstanding efforts to know who it was they were holding in a quasi-secure 13th century environment (upgraded from 9th century).

    I am sure when Obama-Mao learns of this “run for freedom” he will appoint a commission to discover how best to create a process so that something like this “never happens again” and to verify that “torture by Americans” was not the reason these guys wanted to leave in the first place.

    The Afghans will learn of Obama-Mao’s sincerity when next they celebrate one of their muslim, islamic holy rites by listening to our dear leader’s finest wishes for their spiritual beliefs.

    I can’t wait for Earth Day next year…Easter…too old a holiday for me, pal! I’ve got a picture of Van Jones in my locker…He’s my kind of true warrior, don’t ya know!

  21. I feel the need to explain my recent posts, especially after learning today that a young, 25yr. old warrior from Rio Rancho,NM died via combat in Iraq a few days ago.

    “At the tip of the spear” was a line the late Col. David Hackworth put forth often in his efforts to communicate what war is like, has been, and will always be. It has been said 10% of our military personnel are actively engaged in direct combat operations, while the 90% support these efforts.

    I often look at this like viewing a pyramid, where for more years now than I sometimes wish to realize I have been at the bottom with all the civilians. Our job is to offer strength and great support to those at the top, the spear so to speak.

    My cynical posts attempt to direct illumination as to how I suspect my fellow American citizens are not supporting– especially our elected national government leaders, those who risk limb and life on a daily basis for this country.

    I am of the Viet Nam crowd; the military considers me a combat veteran. I consider myself the luckiest son of a bitch I know for a variety of reasons. When I go to my VA hospital, such as this early afternoon, I again walk away with tears seeing these young guys and some women who were not so lucky as I and others were, now many years ago.

    I fight the fight with my neighbors, these civilians who should be demanding victory–today, as completely and as totally as possible.
    Most have had and continue to have no family members wearing our military uniform.

    I sparred with Hack over this issue years ago, prior to his death, and agreed with him that this adventure would be very, very difficult for America to achieve.

    I wish not to offend my fellow veterans and those who presently wear our military uniform with my posts.

    However, I am greatly offended by those who think others should sacrifice for their personal freedoms, while they do little to help beyond offering phony lip service comments!

    They know who they are, and guys like me know who they are too!

  22. These The Young Turks are sometimes spot on their political gambits. They endure as a interesting view. I pray they will continue be corageous enough to tell it like it is and counter the GOP sponsored Fox Network propaganda.

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