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Thread: Patrol Base Density and Proximity - Too many and too close?

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default Patrol Base Density and Proximity - Too many and too close?

    I am typing away in a crowded MWR internet center in Manas, Kyrgystan, and instead of simply sleeping until hungry, I was reading up on the Marine Corps' recommendation of a former Corporal for the Medal of Honor. First off, good on the lad for doing beyond what might have been expected in that deadly valley. I linked from that article in the Marine Corps Times, and over to onethat highlighted the struggle of 3/5 to quell the insurgents in Sangin, and it actually made me pose the subject questions.

    It seems, in the 3/5 article, that there were a number of patrol bases establised by the British in Sangin, but they consumed so much manpower securing and supplying them that the insurgents actually gained more freedom of maneuver in the process.

    This flies contrary to much of what I had come to accept as a basic truth for COIN (in certain cirumstances), which was break away from the super-FOBs, establish oneself close to the population, and actually provide security. It also stands in contrast to much of the doctrinal literature written in the past five years, which highlights how smaller and closer is better. I know there must be more to the analysis of the British effort, so I'm curious what folks here have to offer, either through first-hand experience or other pondering.

    And before this thread goes any further, I'm not keen on hearing the B.S. that the Brits didn't patrol enough, and weren't aggressive enough, or were too risk-averse to tame Sangin. Save that for the tabloids and drama yarns. I've seen a few moments of Ross Kemp that tell me otherwise when it comes to the blood the British have spilled, and although I never set foot in Sangin, I dont buy into the hype that is often spun.

    I am simply trying to look at the issue and figure out where the tipping point may be, between securing the populace at the cost of becoming over-extended. Are there any historical examples from past small wars that should be factored into the decisions to apply a patrol base methodology? What are some of the measures of effectiveness.

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    Default "COIN math"

    I don't have first hand experience with Afghanistan, but I'd assert that just like there are calculations involved in employing combat power in a "conventional" sense, the same holds true in an irregular environment. The basic answer to your question are the fundamental planning factors on what is required to secure the force, whether it be in a small COP or a large FOB, or "going mobile" ouside of the wire.
    There is an advantage to the large FOB in that for a set investment in FOB security and logistics, you may be able to generate much greater aggregate combat power outside of the wire at any one time. The obvious disadvantage, as you point out, is that fewer large FOBs means less density of presence and greater distance any force must travel outside of the FOB to cover an entire area. The lower density drives the greater travel distance and results in the "commuting to war" charge as forces spend as much time getting to/from all points of their operating area as they do actually operating in it.
    I don't think there's a single answer to your question, but its METT-T dependent. However you highlight some real considerations when choosing a laydown. Yes, big FOBs can be bad, but there are advantages. You should probably consider a mix of solutions. Even though COIN may be all about being out with the population, there are hard calculations in how you can generate the necessary persistent (or episodic) presence.

    Happy Birthday Marine!

    Phil Ridderhof
    Phil Ridderhof USMC

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by PhilR View Post
    I don't have first hand experience with Afghanistan, but I'd assert that just like there are calculations involved in employing combat power in a "conventional" sense, the same holds true in an irregular environment. The basic answer to your question are the fundamental planning factors on what is required to secure the force, whether it be in a small COP or a large FOB, or "going mobile" ouside of the wire.
    There is an advantage to the large FOB in that for a set investment in FOB security and logistics, you may be able to generate much greater aggregate combat power outside of the wire at any one time. The obvious disadvantage, as you point out, is that fewer large FOBs means less density of presence and greater distance any force must travel outside of the FOB to cover an entire area. The lower density drives the greater travel distance and results in the "commuting to war" charge as forces spend as much time getting to/from all points of their operating area as they do actually operating in it.
    I don't think there's a single answer to your question, but its METT-T dependent. However you highlight some real considerations when choosing a laydown. Yes, big FOBs can be bad, but there are advantages. You should probably consider a mix of solutions. Even though COIN may be all about being out with the population, there are hard calculations in how you can generate the necessary persistent (or episodic) presence.

    Happy Birthday Marine!

    Phil Ridderhof
    Agreed, Phil. Balance in all things remains fundamental. I would also add that in a Xenophobic society, flooding the zone with too many outposts, further adds to the distrust, and boosts the bad guys IO.

    Best
    Tom

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default ALMAR 1011-White

    Happy Birthday, Marines!

    Semper Fi.

    On topic, agree with PhilR and Tom -- balance /common sense are key.

    My personal belief is that the small outposts are very counterproductive. Too much effort goes into securing and resupplying them to really reap the benefit of being 'local.' Larger FOBs (Bde / Regt size, IMO; only rarely Bn (+) and almost never Co -- or ODA, that oughta rattle some cages... ).

    PhilR is correct, that does cause commuting to the war -- and there's nothing wrong with that. There's no reason Platoons and Companies cannot go out and prowl the area for days, even weeks, at a time. Unless, of course, one is excessively risk averse...

    I haven't been to Afghanistan in the current fight but I have been to a fight or two with opponents at least as good and probably more numerous and I have been in the neighborhood and in similar terrain. Everyone I've talked to who has been there recently or is there now essentially seems to agree that we are far more risk averse than necessary (one told me he's convinced the MRAP is the Devil's invention... ).

    I suspect rather than "stretched too thin" number-wise that risk aversion is the real reason for the small outpost approach. It's a way to obtain 'presence' while minimizing risks (in the eyes of some). It is essentially the theory of 'limited war' which holds that one should use minimum force applied to a COIN fight where presence is important. The flaw in the approach is that there are not enough troops (there almost never will be) to really flood the zone.

    Plus, minimum force is a good dictum for law enforcement but an extremely bad one for military forces. Trying to limit war only prolongs it and increases casualties and damage, better to slam in hard and fast and get it over with. More short term damage but far less long term pain.

    And yes, that applies in FID / COIN as well.

    And all of you "shoulda been in the Old Corps... "

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    Default Base creep

    We do tend to end up with too many bases, posts, OPS, etc, but this is partly a result of the type of thing I observed in the Korengal, Kunar, and Nuristan over the course of about a year.

    Subordinate commanders, as they become more familiar with the terrain and enemy, identify more and more places that it would be beneficial to establish some presence on. You know the deal - OPs to watch areas from which the enemy habitually fires on our bases, an extra post to keep an IED-plagued stretch of road under observation, etc. All of these individually are justifiable, but they soak up more and more manpower and reduce the number of boots that can actually patrol out the front gate. Senior commanders need to do a better job of controlling this tendency of subordinates to circumvallate themselves, but that means accepting.

    Because what we really need in these cases are not just extra posts, but more people, and that is the one resource that is extremely difficult to come by.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    The more guys you have running around in strange looking uniforms and strange looking vehicles the easier you are for the enemy to spot! That is a tremendous advantage for a small mobile Guerrilla force. LE has to deal with that everyday we just call them criminals.

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    I would disagree with this one on the LE front - the NYPD employs the "flood-the-zone" tactic regularly and adjusts its deployments on a precinct level with Compstat. Despite some obvious gaming that has to light, overall as a longtime resident of NYC I would argue that the NYPD's tactics are overall quite effective as a deterrent to street violence and open-air drug markets.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    I would disagree with this one on the LE front - the NYPD employs the "flood-the-zone" tactic regularly and adjusts its deployments on a precinct level with Compstat. Despite some obvious gaming that has to light, overall as a longtime resident of NYC I would argue that the NYPD's tactics are overall quite effective as a deterrent to street violence and open-air drug markets.
    But that tactic is based on Intelligence ,that is what is what makes them effective. Not a magic force to space ratio.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I think you're both right...

    Flooding the zone puts so many unigrams out there that the bad guys knowing where they are is immaterial. Yes, it relies on good intel -- but it can and does also rely very much on patterns -- and low level initiative. It also can (and should) involve folks the bad guys will not see until it's too late.

    The military equivalent of patterns also relies on terrain analysis and determination of natural lines of drift -- and alternatives to those lines. Channeling works...

    LE is forced by the numbers (Cops vs. bad guys) game to play 'reaction.' Military forces are also strength constrained as Eden says but they have more flexibility and are less constrained by public attitudes. All that's required is to apply mass locally, aim for surprise and possess a strong desire to initiate contacts instead of responding to them.

    On balance, Armed Forces can initiate more contacts provided acceptance of risk is the norm, not the exception. That can put the emphasis on prevention where it should be. However, the word I get from the 'Stan is a tremendous amount of ennui and 'we're leaving soon' angst, an unintended consequence of the domestic US politically induced announcement of a 2011 drawdown.

    Add that we don't do patterns all that well because of the change of analytical teams (and Cdrs with differing idea...) annually or more often, that we go out of our way to discourage initiative at low levels and that force protection ranks well above initiating contacts and you have a recipe for risk avoidance. Thus we react instead of prevent.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Folks the bad guys will not see until it's too late.
    And that is really the key IMO....also helps that most Folks speak English in the US and most Folks are generally glad to see the Police in those types of situations, not so true overseas.


    Force to space is good where you know the enemy will be coming across a certain border or from a known sanctuary or where you are operating in a cleared village because his behaviors (carrying weapons toward an objective) will identify him as the enemy. So until you have recruited a local counter-guerrilla force I don't see how saturating a zone with strange looking foreigners is really going to do much good. But I could very well be wrong to.

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    Council Member Red Rat's Avatar
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    Happy birthday Marine! Always nice when there is a new kid on the block!!!

    Speaking as a Brit I think that where we got it wrong is that we established a large number of patrol bases to dominate the ground with the purpose of securing the population. But we over-extended. We dominated the ground and in turn secured the population (eventually), but we fixed ourselves in PBs and at unit and formation level lost the ability to flex combat power around the AO to disrupt and attrit the enemy. We ended up establishing a semi-secure zone (little overt enemy activity) and established a recognisable FLET (Forward Line Enemy Troops), but with little ability to flex beyond the FLET. That ceded at local level a degree of initiative and freedom of manoeuvre to the enemy that was unhelpful in many ways.

    I think it boils down to planning. When you establish a PB you need troops to secure the PB and dominate the ground around it, but you also need to maintain the ability to keep the enemy on the backfoot. In AFG I think greater synchronisation (although I believe it is better now) with ANSF so as ISAF pushes the security bubble out ANSF fill the space behind is the key. This enables ISAF (or ANSF, does not really matter) to continue to conduct offensive operations.

    Successful COIN operations require many things, not least mass time and presence to 'secure the population', but it also requires effective manoeuvre operations to strike the enemy. I think we lost the ability to do that for a wee while because we overextended. It is a lesson that has been recognised.

    Lastly to quote a Law Enforcement analogy I recently heard: "It is not police stations that make people feel safe, but policemen on the beat".
    RR

    "War is an option of difficulties"

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    Council Member Red Rat's Avatar
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    And another thing!

    The questions is not necessarily 'how many patrol bases and how close', but 'what do I want to achieve and what is the best way of achieving it?' It is just possible we became fixated by the US surge success and 'living among the people' in Iraq and tried to translate it to Afghanistan, without really understanding what happened in Iraq and what was happening in Afghanistan.

    Things continually change and move on, so must we.
    RR

    "War is an option of difficulties"

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Happy Birthday, Marines!And all of you "shoulda been in the Old Corps... "
    Isn't that what Lt. Presley O'Bannon said to the guys who joined the Corps after him?

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Yea, verily...

    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    The questions is not necessarily 'how many patrol bases and how close', but 'what do I want to achieve and what is the best way of achieving it?' It is just possible we became fixated by the US surge success and 'living among the people' in Iraq and tried to translate it to Afghanistan, without really understanding what happened in Iraq and what was happening in Afghanistan.
    Absolutely correct on the first item, and certainly seem correct on the second. The ego of the person who had been in Iraq (whoever or whatever he or she was...) was destined to rule what was done in a later tour to Afghanistan. Two very different wars and sets of terrain and people...
    Things continually change and move on, so must we.
    True - some do that well, many more have difficulty with it.

    Pete:Yep. He learned it from Samuel Nicholas.

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    1. I think there are a few more factors that need to be added to the equation of "population / counter-insurgents = force ratio and/or "bed-down" density. These are:

    a. As Tom mentioned, the cultural factor. There certainly is a "too much", this is probably based on (b);

    b. What your forces are doing in said bases; and

    c. The relationship of static to mobile forces. Putting all your forces into static bases doesn't give you much room to flex.

    2. More on (b) above; what you're doing is based off your mission. I think, at the tactical level, if you use "secure the populace" as your mission, you're setting yourself up for the fall.

    3.
    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    we established a large number of patrol bases to dominate the ground with the purpose of securing the population. But we over-extended. We dominated the ground and in turn secured the population (eventually), but we fixed ourselves in PBs and at unit and formation level lost the ability to flex combat power around the AO to disrupt and attrit the enemy. We ended up establishing a semi-secure zone (little overt enemy activity) and established a recognisable FLET (Forward Line Enemy Troops), but with little ability to flex beyond the FLET. That ceded at local level a degree of initiative and freedom of manoeuvre to the enemy that was unhelpful in many ways.
    Hey, sounds like my tour!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    And all of you "shoulda been in the Old Corps...
    Ken is waxing nostalgic about his first duty assignment again.

    "Beat to Quarters! Private White! To the tops!"

    I mean, I know Major Henderson was a great officer and the USS Constitution was a great ship but give it a break already.
    Last edited by Rifleman; 11-11-2010 at 04:12 AM.
    "Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper

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