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Thread: "We're pinned down": 4 Marines die in Afghan ambush

  1. #1
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    Default "We're pinned down": 4 Marines die in Afghan ambush

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/227/story...ink=MI_emailed

    Can this part possibly be right?

    U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines — despite being told repeatedly that they weren't near the village.
    And if it is, what sort of impact will this story have on domestic support for the war?

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    Even if the denial of fires occurred as the reporter claims, I wonder if he has his facts right as to the cause (new rules to avoid civilian casualties). Generally speaking, restrictions on the use of artillery are nothing new. Even in early deployments to Iraq, we needed BDE-commander approval for any fire mission of artillery into the city that we operated in, or the immediate vicinity (battalion commander approval for mortars). I generally cringe when weapons organic/OPCON to battalion are controlled by BDE, but in that case I think it made sense. Certain fires need restrictions.

    Whatever the case, the quoted passage is a bit odd. I just read the full article (a very short article, considering the length of the firefight) and the reporter notes that the Captain requested artillery or attack aviation and the response was that no helicopters were available. Later, a specific request for artillery was a smoke mission, not HE. They did not get smoke, but they did get WP. Firing WP doesn't seem like something you do if you are worried about civilian casualties.

    The report is very light on details.

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    Council Member Greyhawk's Avatar
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    Default Always worth noting the obvious...

    (I'm thinking here of the question "what sort of impact will this story have on domestic support for the war?")

    Detailed ROE are not in the public domain. We know a bit from the unclass (and publicly released) portion of General McChrystal's tactical directive, and we know a bit about this battle. From that, those who want to draw broad conclusions from scant knowledge will proceed without much caution.

    So much for the obvious, here are my thoughts.

    What percentage of the US public will do that? It will certainly be incorporated into the current level of noise, and some will consider it signal. I'd bet the number is close enough to zero not to matter - not because few are quick to judgment sans knowledge but because few are concerned with that degree of detail.

    Now if some high-visibility public figure were to begin banging this particular drum, and if enough media attention was paid to that banging, then all bets are off. But in this case I don't know who that drummer would be.
    Last edited by Greyhawk; 09-09-2009 at 01:33 PM. Reason: typo

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    Council Member IntelTrooper's Avatar
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    I am very frustrated by this report. I can absolutely see this happening, although in the past units in Konar were not shy about using artillery to support troops in contact. What is especially disturbing to me here is that the Marines in contact are clearly ETT or PMT mentors -- and it is par for the course for the local battlespace commander to not provide adequate support for these troops, or to try to ignore them altogether.
    "The status quo is not sustainable. All of DoD needs to be placed in a large bag and thoroughly shaken. Bureaucracy and micromanagement kill."
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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    I for one don't buy very much of this story, for a ton of reasons.

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    Council Member Greyhawk's Avatar
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    Default You know what this war really needs...

    ...is a few more Generals:

    Weeks before his son's death, John Bernard said he had been raising red flags about the military's new rules of engagement policy, which stipulate when and how U.S. soldiers are and are not allowed to use force. The new rules, issued by U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new top commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, were aimed at reducing civilian casualties.

    Now, a month after his son was killed, John Bernard, 55, says he is on a mission to spark a national discussion about the new rules, and the military's broader strategy in the Afghanistan war, which he believes led to Joshua's death and continues to endanger U.S. soldiers serving in the embattled country.

    ...Bernard's efforts are gaining traction among Maine's congressional delegation. Rep. Michael Michaud and Sen. Olympia Snowe have written letters directly to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Sen. Susan Collins, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has spoken with Gates.

    For those who don't recognize the names, John Bernard is the father of Marine Lance Cpl Joshua Bernard, whose photo the AP published over his father's wishes.

    Now...
    Had it not been for the policy of U.S. forces working closely with Afghanis and the new rules of engagement that restrict use of force in the name of preventing civilian casualties, Joshua Bernard might not have been killed that day, John Bernard said.

    The drum is being banged.

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    Registered User raptor10's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    i for one don't buy very much of this story, for a ton of reasons.
    +1
    Who shall I send? ME

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    To those who doubt, I challenge you to listen to the 15 minute audio interview with the story's author, which includes pictures.

    If I had watched men die for want of needed support in contact, I would be fuming mad too. Sh*t happens in war, I know that well, but this one apparently didn't have to.

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/251/story/75300.html

    (Sorry, can't embed the video from McClatchy's website)

    On the ROE thread I mentioned why I supported GEN McCrystal's new rules, which I still do. I oppose those who can't understand when rules need to be interpreted or violated to do the right thing.

    It goes back to my question as to why johnny (joe) can't think and what I posted in that thread as to what I would do if confronted with such a decision. I said:

    And then there is the Cavguy solution. If you're on the ground, and the right and obvious thing to do is staring you in the face, just do it, and take the consequences. That's actually what we did that day of the video. My army experiences tell me well considered violations of rules/guidance is generally underwritten by most commanders, especially if conditions warrant.
    The task force supporting obviously didn't feel they had that flexibility, or were unwilling to use it. Sad.

    Niel
    Last edited by Cavguy; 09-15-2009 at 04:12 AM.
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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default A point of view nearer the scene

    From the newly id'd blogsite: http://www.quattozone.com/ by a US PAO in Afghanistan on the ambush and ROE: http://www.quattozone.com/2009/09/ru...nragement.html

    commanders in Afghanistan owe their troops an explanation of why and under what conditions they should place themselves at greater risk. The rest of us need to resist the temptation of jumping on a bandwagon that equates looser ROE with supporting our troops.

    Eight years of less restrictive ROE have not prevented tragedies such as the ambush in Ganjgal. In fact, more permissive use of firepower may have contributed to the murderous rage of those responsible for the attack. Had the troops caught in the ambush been able to level the village - or if Lance Corporal Bernard had been able to summon the full military wrath of his country to his aid - we might be mourning fewer dead Americans today. Tomorrow, though, we would mourn those killed by a larger, stronger insurgency in the next village. The new ROE in Afghanistan rely on a hard but sound calculus: greater risk to our troops now means less risk and a greater chance of success for our troops later.
    davidbfpo

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    I think Niel makes some very good points, along with others on this thread, especially Schmedlap's caution about establishing facts before making sweeping conclusions.

    But to Niel, it is very possible that what drove the actions and decisions in this whole affair was in fact the General's recent guidance to avoid civilian casualties. So on the one hand say you support it, but on the other and very understandable one you are viscerally upset that these men didnt get the fire support they needed.

    At least for me this is a tough contradiction (to which your post does not resolve) to let stand.

    thanks

    gian

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    Council Member Greyhawk's Avatar
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    Default The 10k mile soda straw

    Frankly, IntelTrooper's point disturbs me more than any ROE questions... but on to the ROE question. I'm not writing what follows for the benefit of folks who know (aka regulars here), but threads like this one tend to draw the attention of folks who don't (aka visitors via Google, etc), so I think it worthwhile to add this.

    From the publicly released portion of Gen McChrystal's tactical directive:
    The use of air-to-ground munitions and indirect fires against residential compounds is only authorized under very limited and prescribed conditions (specific conditions deleted due to operational security).

    (NOTE) This directive does not prevent commanders from protecting the lives of their men and women as a matter of self-defense where it is determined no other options (specific options deleted due to operational security) are available to effectively counter the threat.

    I am not privy to those other specific options and conditions - so I'm speaking on generic terms. Here's the quote from the story that's generating the heat:
    U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines — despite being told repeatedly that they weren't near the village.
    I'm left to wonder if the radio response from the TOC was "sorry, no can do - ROE says so" - or if not, how this explanation made its way into the story. If I can think of a dozen ways that could happen I'm sure others can, too.

    Some of those "ways" include an accurate characterization of the decision process. Which - if that's what it is - reads to me like a misinterpretation of ROE. ("...despite being told repeatedly that they weren't near the village...") One would hope (and I think this approaches Niel's point) that errors on the side of caution would favor the guys on the ground. But obviously one could argue that (assuming the case is as described) errors in this case favored the bad guys.

    None of that indicates the ROE themselves are "bad" - to make that determination we'd need to examine those specific options and conditions - something the guys who made the on-scene decision did, and something those who will officially review this incident will also do.

    FWIW: in this case it appears the four Marines were killed in the opening moments of the attack prior to the request for fires, this is not to downplay the issue but to clarify that we are not talking about an incident where any US troops died as a result of whatever decision was made regarding IDF/CAS.

    On the other hand, there are other troubling aspects to the (as-told) story of a unit walking to a village (where elders had "announced over the weekend that they were accepting the authority of the local government") at a pre-arranged time to meet, greet, and conduct searches of homes that we haven't delved deeply into.

    Meanwhile
    Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that it did take “some time” for air support to arrive, but the delay was due to distance, not the rules of engagement.

    He said the deaths are under investigation, adding, “We will hopefully get to the bottom and figure out if everything operated according to protocol.”

    Honestly, I'm glad the attention is being paid. Clarity is a good thing.

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    From the newly id'd blogsite: http://www.quattozone.com/ by a US PAO in Afghanistan on the ambush and ROE: http://www.quattozone.com/2009/09/ru...nragement.htmldavidbfpo
    From the article:

    Eight years of less restrictive ROE have not prevented tragedies such as the ambush in Ganjgal. In fact, more permissive use of firepower may have contributed to the murderous rage of those responsible for the attack
    I think there is a problem with causation in this argument. It's like the Army football team saying the only reason the have had losing seasons for the past decade is because they only had a running game so they were going to go to a strickly passing game and no longer run. This argument minimizes and overlooks many other factors most strikingly the long-standing history of Pashtun resistance to central government and propensity to engage in fighting.

    In Mike's world, there are a couple of things that I would consider common sense.

    1. Bombs dropped from a UAV with no ground observation is mutually exclusive to troops in contact.

    2. Dropping precision munitions to close with and destroy the enemy does not equal a scorched earth policy.

    Had the troops caught in the ambush been able to level the village - or if Lance Corporal Bernard had been able to summon the full military wrath of his country to his aid - we might be mourning fewer dead Americans today. Tomorrow, though, we would mourn those killed by a larger, stronger insurgency in the next village. The new ROE in Afghanistan rely on a hard but sound calculus: greater risk to our troops now means less risk and a greater chance of success for our troops later
    Did the US PAO ask the Taliban if they took this math class?

    v/r

    Mike

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I'd comment on all this but I don't have enough information

    to make a sensible comment. It has been my experience that newspersons accompanying troops rarely get the story straight, are not generally filled in precisely on what constituted the radio traffic and that firefights are chaotic and stories on what happened vary among participants -- even those who were right next to each other. I've also noted that each passing hour changes most stories...

    Though I am still curious about the alleged dichotomy that support was denied and yet WP was fired...

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    Default Hilltop hamlet ?

    Here is a factoid from the McClatchy article cited by Niel:

    The worst single loss of U.S. military trainers of the war brought out the deep bitterness with which many soldiers view the new rules. They feel unfairly handcuffed, especially in the case of Ganjgal, where women and children were seen running ammunition and weapons to gunmen firing from inside the hilltop hamlet.
    IF (and this is an important word - see Ken's comment) this factoid is correct, it cuts both ways: fire coming from an inhabited place (hilltop hamlet) and women and children present; but men, women and children all engaged in combat or combat support.

    One wonders if the "specific conditions" (which we rightly do not know as Greyhawk points out) cover this kind of situation.

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    Council Member Greyhawk's Avatar
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    Default Probably worth noting...

    ...the PAO site is his personal, unofficial site, views expressed do not reflect the official policy, etc. (Full disclaimer on site.)

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default That PAO Dude is also relying on the McCltachy article

    which IMO becomes suspect by introducing obtuse foolishness like this:
    The lack of timely air support...was a consequence of the manpower and equipment shortages bequeathed by the Bush administration's failure to secure Afghanistan against a resurgence of the Taliban, al Qaida and allied groups before turning to invade Iraq.
    ...
    The denial of heavy artillery fire to those trapped in Ganjgal also has roots in the Bush administration's decision to divert resources to Iraq and the resulting stress on the U.S. military.
    Those comments would seem to questionably accurate at best, politically motivated (understandable given his background) and tangentially if at all related to the story. They discredit the rest of his reporting in my view.

    More sensible is this comment:
    There are a limited number of U.S. helicopters in Kunar, a stretch of craggy mountains and serpentine valleys bordering Pakistan where airpower gives a vital edge to overstretched U.S. troops fighting guerrillas who know every nook and trail of the area. Unbeknownst to those trapped in the Ganjgal kill zone, however, the available aircraft were tied up in the Shiryak Valley to the north in a battle in which two pilots were wounded, U.S. commanders said.
    Though I'd suggest that air power does not give a vital edge, it merely offsets the opponents vital edge in terrain knowledge, local support and agility to a slight extent. A very slight extent...

    I can give kudos to the guy for going out with the troops -- and still decry the politicization and the lack of rudimentary military knowledge by too many in the media.

    And while I can comment on the reporting, I still don't know enough to comment on the incident.

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    Council Member J Wolfsberger's Avatar
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    Mike, you raise some good points, but...

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeF View Post
    Did the US PAO ask the Taliban if they took this math class?
    I'm sure they didn't, but we're not the Taliban, so we have to.
    John Wolfsberger, Jr.

    An unruffled person with some useful skills.

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Early morning

    Quote Originally Posted by J Wolfsberger View Post
    Mike, you raise some good points, but...
    I'm sure they didn't, but we're not the Taliban, so we have to.
    I was still on my first cup of coffee with that post.

    I think Niel and Ken are more on the mark.

    v/r

    Mike

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Actually, my mark is close to J Wolfsberger's...

    My objection to the COIN Religion is that it DOES require lopsided math like that. We have to play fair, the other guys do not.

    Moreover, in playing fair and "doing COIN right" with the GPF increased casualties are a given. Add those increased casualties to the impatience of the American public (and Armed Forces...) for tangible results quickly, generally an impossible task in COIN like operations and you have a recipe for a screw up. Those are historical facts.

    Thus I contend that COIN situations that might require GPF commitment are to be rigorously avoided unless there is no other option. I can think of no US operation of any size since WW II where GPF commitment to COIN efforts could not have been avoided. Nor can I think of one that has seen the GPF committed that was truly successful as opposed to ending with only a marginally decent outcome at best. One that probably was not worth the cost. While our commitment to Afghanistan is not complete, I doubt it will change that assessment.

    So called COIN operations teach bad habits -- the Army today still has a number of residual Viet Nam induced problems -- and are ferociously expensive in all terms for the benefit derived. People that go around looking for places to deploy and do this stuff need to replace Bob's World's Intel weenies on point.

    The Army and Marines need to be prepared for them, no question. However the policy folks need to understand that it will not be easy, will not be pretty and will likely not solve the problem they should have addressed earlier through other means. The Army and Marines should avoid these things like the Plague -- not least because that's what they are. Like the plague, they're equal opportunity killers, no slack for either side, no benefit except lowering the overpopulation counter a tad...

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
    I think Niel makes some very good points, along with others on this thread, especially Schmedlap's caution about establishing facts before making sweeping conclusions.

    But to Niel, it is very possible that what drove the actions and decisions in this whole affair was in fact the General's recent guidance to avoid civilian casualties. So on the one hand say you support it, but on the other and very understandable one you are viscerally upset that these men didnt get the fire support they needed.

    At least for me this is a tough contradiction (to which your post does not resolve) to let stand.

    thanks

    gian
    Sir,

    I see where my own conflicts may muddy what I was trying to express.

    On one level, GEN McCrystal had to tamp down on the excessive use of indirect assets, that despite earlier guidance, was still being employed in ways that strengthened the insurgent's ability to mobilize the use of force.

    My fear, articulated better by Ken, was that such guidance falls prey to the bureaucratic imperative and does not contain sufficent flexibility/guidance as to what situations are exceptions to the rule.

    No set of rules can ever compensate for every forseeable situation, which is why draconian measures such as the CG's guidance provide opportunities for incidents like this one (if description is accurate) to happen. It is odd, but in effect many are more willing to let others suffer/die than endure a (potentially career ending) reprimand.

    In the end, leaders are paid to make hard choices and take responsibility for them.

    The greater question is why such draconian guidance was required in the first place - which indicates a greater flaw in our leader development system and lack of understanding of the dynamics present in the Afghanistan operating environment.

    Hope this clarifies.

    Niel
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
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