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Thread: Moving the Rhod. Fire Force concept to Afghanistan?

  1. #21
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    IMHO part of the problem, certainly for UK elements in AFG, is that they are essentially fixed in ground holding roles and have very little capability at BG and Bde level to manouevre. Whether it is done by air, land (or sea ) the ability to maintain an uncommitted reserve and manoeuvre force at the time and place of your chosing is one of the fundamentals.
    IMO, When and if you do not have an un-committed reserve, you have become "fixed." If that is a permanent state, you can do nothing which is effective.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    (Rex, I don't know your military experience, you may well have flown choppers at some point for all I know. I write this like you haven't forgive me.)
    Thank you for writing in simple words that wouldn't confuse me. I had to look up "chopper," but found a nice book with a picture in it.



    The Soviets lost approximately a helicopter a week in Afghanistan, although I'm not sure what proportion of those were MANPADs versus other things. There's some discussion of both hiliborne operations and mujahiddin counters in Lester Grau et al, The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan and The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War.

    As I remember it, the RLI also suffered its largest single losses of the war when a SAAF Puma was hit--by an RPG 7, I think--in Mozambique in 1979, during Ops Uric/Bootlace.

    None of this, of course, is a reason not to use a modified Fire Force technique in Afghanistan. However, as several have pointed out, it is important to identify how conditions may differ there from southern Africa (or, for that matter, Vietnam).
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


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    Ken's earlier and very useful list of Fire Force articles included one piece from JRT Wood's website on the Rhodesia war, but missed his main (57pp) article on Fire Force: Helicopter Warfare in Rhodesia, 1962-80. Well worth a read.


    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


  4. #24
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Quite a bit different

    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
    ...(or, for that matter, Vietnam).
    Afghanistan is four times larger than Viet Nam with about twice the population and has about one fourth the number of friendly troops that were serving in VN at the peak. Populace attitudes are antithetical and the enemy contrasts in many respects. If all that weren't difference enough, the terrain is almost diametric and is far more troublesome for military purposes. The altitude alone has a significant impact on operations for humans, vehicles and especially for aviation...

    That said, many of the same TTP can still be and are being applied with environmental modifications.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    I hate to sound like a broken record with this, but the current ROE cannot facilitate the employment of firepower and supporting arms that made FF ops successful. Everything else is totally feasible, save that one issue. In fact, it isn't even so much a question about the ROE in total, but the element of positive identification (PID) that is required. We are fighting a population-centric fight, and I'll go out on a limb in doing so, but I think I can state unequivocally that the RSF were fighting a counterinsurgent fight. Means to the ends then would not nest with the options we are employing today. Unfortunately, FF was born out of that counterinsurgent strategy, and would have limited applicability if used by main force units.
    Last edited by jcustis; 06-28-2010 at 04:24 PM.

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    I've read about the "Fire Force" tactics again and again, but I simply don't get what's special about it.

    Enemies on foot are detected, airborne encircles the enemy (or blocks at least some escape routes), slow-movers do some air/ground attacks, airborne keeps fighting.

    So what's special? Didn't the same fail to meet the hopes thousands of times in VN?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    So what's special? Didn't the same fail to meet the hopes thousands of times in VN?
    Given the remarkably high contact and kill rates claimed by the RLI, the question then becomes:

    1) Were they doing something others weren't, or ISAF isn't; or

    2) Were the conditions (poor opponent, terrain, ROE, etc) that led to the RLI's apparent operational success something that can't be replicated in Afghanistan; or

    3) Are the contact and kill rates claimed for the RLI accurate.

    As far as I can see, those are the three logical possibilities--and working out which apply is the purpose of the thread.
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


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    I'd be tempted to go with door #2, Rex, and say that it was a combination of terrain and other operational factors. Count accuracy is always a question (no matter what), and there is also the very different political and military situation, but #2 is still (for me) the biggest factor.
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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
    Given the remarkably high contact and kill rates claimed by the RLI, the question then becomes:

    1) Were they doing something others weren't, or ISAF isn't; or

    2) Were the conditions (poor opponent, terrain, ROE, etc) that led to the RLI's apparent operational success something that can't be replicated in Afghanistan; or

    3) Are the contact and kill rates claimed for the RLI accurate.

    As far as I can see, those are the three logical possibilities--and working out which apply is the purpose of the thread.
    Rex, this outline is a good way to continue the analysis, and Fuchs' point stir things up sufficiently enough to merit a thought or two as well.

    To Fuch's question, he is exactly right, there was nothing special about FF ops per se. The sequence of the contacts were often just as he lays out.

    There were, however, a myriad of individual and discrete elements to FF that, when meshed together and synergized just right, posed a potent cocktail of firepower, aggressive action, and superb command and control that spun off from the right platforms used at the right time.

    It has to be noted though, that FF ops experienced that evolution into the Jumbo FF over time, and the kill rate did not hit the ratio often quoted until later in the war. A lot of terrs got away during the early stages, until adaption came into play.

    To Rex's points, there are several conditions that exist now that would prevent a similar capability from being employed to similar effect.

    To question 1, the answer is ABSOLUTELY!!! The first thing that comes to mind is the mobility of the individual RLI or RAR trooper. The risk calculation favored their ability to jump off into the fight in shorts and tennis shoes early on for goodness sakes, and even thought the uniform changed to full fatigues later on, they never donned armor. Their mobility, relative to the enemy on the ground, was superb. A troop on the ground today, even wearing a plate carrier with front and back and side SAPI plates, plus helmet, plus nut flap, plus uniform and boots, has to easily weigh 20-25 pounds more than the RLI trooper, even though they used the SLR and 7.62 ammo is heavier. When you look at the loadouts that were used when conducting externals, the weights crept up there, but they never wore armor despite the similar threats of small arms fire.

    To question 2, anecdotal evidence suggests that the opponents during the Rhodesian War were especially poorer than what we face today, and we less disciplined afield as well. I've spoken on the ROE, and I think Ken's comments about terrain stand alone. The terrain the EN chooses to fight us from here is typically more complex, and therefore easier to melt into in order to break contact through.

    To question 3, there is always the possibility of exaggeration and inflation. IIRC, there was an additional payout for putting a terr down, and that there were reports of actual noncombatant deaths being claimed as kills. I can't remember which book it was in (At the Going Down of the Sun perhaps?).

    Two constants, the weight of our equipment and the terrain, are always going to be there. The ROE has the potential to be changed, but even the boldest commander is not going to drop the protective equipment standard to a point where I think we could maneuver at great capability.

  10. #30
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default What is missing in Afghanistan?

    Like Jon C. I have delved into the Rhodesian War and so from my "armchair" the big difference is the lack of intelligence to identify and fix the farmer, sorry Taliban fighter.

    The Rhodesians had a variety of methods to get their intelligence and I suspect some is still not known. Whatever the criticism of the Rhodesian war effort for not understanding their Africans, they found alternatives - notably informants at the start, later on covert observations and the Selous Scouts in their recce role.

    In Afghanistan we appear to have a mass of information and little intelligence. As Ken W. has posted there are successful operations that have identify and fix, they are the exception IMHO. All too often we appear to know little beyond a few hundred metres (as I have remarked before).

    It is important to note that when the Rhodesians mounted external operations it removed almost all air assets for up to a week and in that time the internal kill rate slumped. Probably not an issue in Afghanistan air assets, where it is an issue is having "boots on the ground" that as RR says are simply not there.

    For those who want a contrary viewpoint J.K. Cilliers book 'COIN in Rhodesia' from 1985 is worth a peek (and is listed in Ken's Post No.9).

    Thinking and remembering now. The tactics used in South West Africa, now Namibia, by the Koevoet (a police unit), did not involve air assets, but armoured trucks, tracking and more.
    davidbfpo

  11. #31
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    Default Rhodesian Light Infantry was a prototype airmobile QRF

    When I created a "COIN for Aviators" class, I used the example of the Rhodesian light infantry as a prime example of a rudimentary Quick Reaction Force. While some of the specifics seem to have changed (parachute drop vs. helicopter landing), the concept seems largely the same as a modern-day QRF.

    It's important we put much of the RLI's tactics in perspective: their development of a parachute-in approach was the result of a lack of helicopter transports. The RLI's air assets would be dwarfed by a modern-day Army Combat Aviation Brigade, with seven C-47s (DC-3s) and eight Alouette helicopters (plus a few miscellaneous fighters and bombers) consisting of the entire air contingent. That was about it. The entire air lift portion would be dwarfed by a mere two companies in an assault helicopter battalion.

    Thus, the concept of parachuting in was one of necessity. While it might sound attractive and novel, it was not without its shortfalls. A DC-3 can only travel at around 130 knots, which is roughly the cruise speed of a Black Hawk or Chinook. Each C-47 also had a payload of, at maximum, 26 paratroopers. According to James Corum, approximately 20-30 RLI troops would be dispatched at any given time against insurgent bands (numbering anywhere from 6-30 men). Their primary mission would be to defend white homesteads against insurgent attacks. Thus, they were to hold ground. Their air support would be a Alouette helicopters with aerial munitions.

    Dropping paratroopers in to combat--sometimes at 300' AGL--was a risky proposition. Certainly, based on experience in airborne units, this would be about as dangerous as the enemy.

    The RLI's air units were often tipped off by the Selous Scouts or horse-mounted scouts, many of whom might perform the same roles as UAVs.

    Modern QRFs might consist of a platoon on alert with some UH-60s and AH-64s for fire support--not at all unlike the RLI's concept. Indeed, it appears we have a very similar set of TTPS, at least superficially.

    The difference might be in the kill ratios, which would be interesting to examine. The RLI killed over 1600 insugents, with minimal losses, according to Corham. Why might this be so? It's worth looking in to.

    It should also be noted that, despite the RLI's professionalism, they were ultimately voted out of power in the early 1980s, giving rise to modern Zimbabwe. Tactics are important, no doubt, but strategy and politics always win.

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    Council Member Starbuck's Avatar
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    1) Were they doing something others weren't, or ISAF isn't; or

    2) Were the conditions (poor opponent, terrain, ROE, etc) that led to the RLI's apparent operational success something that can't be replicated in Afghanistan; or

    3) Are the contact and kill rates claimed for the RLI accurate.

    As far as I can see, those are the three logical possibilities--and working out which apply is the purpose of the thread.
    Rex: These are the million-dollar questions. Let me try to investigate the RLI and Zimbabwe and find out.

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    Question here for the peanut gallery: Does the difference between insurgents in Rhodesia and those in Afghanistan depend on scale? Are we picking the right battles?

    A typical Rhodesian TTP, from what I have seen, involved massing for raids against White settlements. Questions:

    1.) How often were the insurgents detected and acted upon?
    2.) What was the terrain like around these settlements? How close were they to villages?
    3.) How does the "body count" compare to Taliban raids against, say, COP Keating and Wanat?

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    3.) How does the "body count" compare to Taliban raids against, say, COP Keating and Wanat?
    If I remember correctly, either Wanat or Keating involved 30 5-man teams. No gang of ZANLA or ZIPRA was that large at the point of attack on a settlement. those number were encountered on external ops in home camps, but I have never seen a number that high mentioned in the Operational Areas of Rhodesia.

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    Default "Armchair" peanut reports

    Quote Originally Posted by Starbuck View Post
    Question here for the peanut gallery: A typical Rhodesian TTP, from what I have seen, involved massing for raids against White settlements. Questions:

    1.) How often were the insurgents detected and acted upon?
    2.) What was the terrain like around these settlements? How close were they to villages?
    3.) How does the "body count" compare to Taliban raids against, say, COP Keating and Wanat?
    Starbuck,

    There is too often a focus on the external operations which were against camps of fighters and civilians, seen as containing hundreds plus of potential and actual guerillas who in due course would infiltrate across the border and commence operations in the African TTL and sometimes the white farming areas. In reality the main focus of the Rhodesian war was internal and as Cilliers observed without much strategic thought till near the end.

    From my little "armchair" understanding and visiting in 1985 the white farming areas always had Africans nearby, sometimes in the crowded TTL, but you need a map to see the reality. JMA and other Rhodesians know better.

    If you extract the kill rate in external operations, where sometimes thousands were killed, the internal kill rate IMHO would plunge, but for a white community each dead / other causes guerilla was a gain.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Maybe kill rate is a poor metric.

    I for one would prefer to have a "weapons looted from dead bodies" vs. "own KIA" statistic.

    That war wasn't even close to being a clean one, and statistics can be ugly things.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    I hate to sound like a broken record with this, but the current ROE cannot facilitate the employment of firepower and supporting arms that made FF ops successful. Everything else is totally feasible, save that one issue. In fact, it isn't even so much a question about the ROE in total, but the element of positive identification (PID) that is required. We are fighting a population-centric fight, and I'll go out on a limb in doing so, but I think I can state unequivocally that the RSF were fighting a counterinsurgent fight. Means to the ends then would not nest with the options we are employing today. Unfortunately, FF was born out of that counterinsurgent strategy, and would have limited applicability if used by main force units.
    Hi John perhaps you have pared the issue down to the basics.

    It seems that the ROE as applied in terms of the pop-centric approach to operations in Afghanistan serves to prevent a quick, short, sharp military action being carried out. My assumption is that the restrictions are out of fear of the potential for civilian collateral damage, yes?

    The assumption further then is that the efforts to separate the Taliban from the local population has not been a success as they remain intermingled and it is the ISAF forces who are then effectively separated from the local population, yes?

    That all said are there any situations when the Taliban operate outside the protective cocoon of the local population footprint? If contact were to be made in these situations would the absence of civilians allow for a relative free-fire-Zone?

    The example of an ambush of ISAF troops or vehicles is worth consideration. If gunship support was immediately available would their use be restricted? Restricted but able to be effective or restricted to the point of not being worth calling? The bottom line I guess is that would the air strikes be able to cause the Taliban to break off the ambush and attempt to withdraw from the scene?

    Can we get to this point please.

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Like Jon C. I have delved into the Rhodesian War and so from my "armchair" the big difference is the lack of intelligence to identify and fix the farmer, sorry Taliban fighter.
    In the early days the police Special Branch (SB) had an effective network of informers across the country. Once the insurgents arrived in the populated areas they immediately started executing anyone suspected of being an SB source. Most of these killings were horrific mutilations and not surprisingly the intel from the field started to dry up.

    Facing a desperate situation where usable intel from the local population was drying up the use of pseudo gangs (based on the Kenya experience) was attempted. This proved to wildly successful beyond our wildest dreams. This intel coming now front people with military training was markedly more accurate in all respects than what had been previously received from SB alone. By the end I think we were making contact on 8 out of 10 call outs and had the suspicion that the other two were ruses used by the Selous Scouts to try to authenticate themselves as insurgents to the local people. We lived with this.

    So the end result is the receipt of accurate, clear and regular intel we were able to deploy on and get talked onto the target by pseudo team on the ground by then in an Op position.

    The Rhodesians had a variety of methods to get their intelligence and I suspect some is still not known. Whatever the criticism of the Rhodesian war effort for not understanding their Africans, they found alternatives - notably informants at the start, later on covert observations and the Selous Scouts in their recce role.
    Actually David as a city boy from Cape Town (who had grown up among but separate to non-black brown people from a different genealogy line with different, language, culture, history and religions) I found the Rhodesian understanding of the Africans to be spot on. (This contrary to Roger Marstons book). Of course this understanding was never politically correct hence the criticism from certain quarters but perhaps for another thread)

    The key to the intel war was that the cities remained under control of the government until the end.

    In Afghanistan we appear to have a mass of information and little intelligence. As Ken W. has posted there are successful operations that have identify and fix, they are the exception IMHO. All too often we appear to know little beyond a few hundred metres (as I have remarked before).
    This is the last thing that will be changed it seems as some of these FOB's have found a place in Brit military history.

    It is important to note that when the Rhodesians mounted external operations it removed almost all air assets for up to a week and in that time the internal kill rate slumped. Probably not an issue in Afghanistan air assets, where it is an issue is having "boots on the ground" that as RR says are simply not there.
    Well as said by John Custis it was only when we concentrated the available resources in what was for Rhodesia a "Jumbo Fire Force" comprising 8-10 choppers, Lynx (Cessna 337) or two and a Dak.

    So by concentrating troops at the right place and the right time for certain ops (internal and external) was in good military planning rather than anything negative which really only happened when there was no chopper available for a casevac (for example).

    The boots on the ground thing remains interesting in that This Marston character and others say about force levels on the ground. Rhodesia/Zimbabwe is a bout the size of Montana. The claims are that 25,000 forces were on the ground at any time. Nonsense Professor Woods believes that the level of trained infantry soldiers deployed on average were 15 almost always understrength companies. He would say 1,500 but add another 300 if at full strength. That would leave the balance to be made up of police at police stations in Op areas, para-military police units, Armed Internal Affairs guards and Guardforce who guard the protected villages.

    The decision was made out of necessity to use the best soldiers to the maximum effect. And for better or for worse that was down by some pretty resourceful senior officers.

    Thinking and remembering now. The tactics used in South West Africa, now Namibia, by the Koevoet (a police unit), did not involve air assets, but armoured trucks, tracking and more.
    If the Taliban have to move across large expanses of similar to the terrain found in northern Namibia then there is some potential for considering Koevoet tactics which led to the insurgents being run down by vehicle bourne troops using a combination of tracking, intel collected along the way and by leap-frogging tracking teams forward to cut for spore ahead to speed up the process. These guys kills 3,681 insurgents at a cost of 155 at a 1:24 ration.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    Maybe kill rate is a poor metric.

    I for one would prefer to have a "weapons looted from dead bodies" vs. "own KIA" statistic.

    That war wasn't even close to being a clean one, and statistics can be ugly things.
    To be classed as a gook he had to have a weapon. No weapon, not a gook.
    We collected them and the equipment and stuff in the pockets and sent it back for probably later use by pseudo teams.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    If I remember correctly, either Wanat or Keating involved 30 5-man teams. No gang of ZANLA or ZIPRA was that large at the point of attack on a settlement. those number were encountered on external ops in home camps, but I have never seen a number that high mentioned in the Operational Areas of Rhodesia.
    Never would they dare move in those numbers in areas where fire force could respond. They had their attempts when ammo resup had to be done and then they might try it. If such groups were found the air support would be increased to jets. Find them, fix them, kill them.

    Attacks on settlements were few and far between. Seemingly for propaganda value about which they could exaggerate the numbers of security forces killed.
    Last edited by JMA; 06-28-2010 at 11:55 PM.

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