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Thread: Frontline in Afghanistan

  1. #1
    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Frontline in Afghanistan

    Video is posted here. It is a much watch. Here are some of my initial thoughts from Mike's world of Coin. My comments are not to criticize/critique those Marines working their butts off. Rather, it is to provide some of my lessons learned for the group on the tactical level of COIN. I'd like to hear from the group to see if they concur or have better tips to offer.

    A couple of thoughts on engaging the populace:

    1. The squad leader should take off his body armor, helmet, glasses, and gloves when talking to the locals. Yes, one assumes some risks, but his men can pull perimeter.

    2. I always tried to mimick everything my locals did from the way they sit, to how they hold their cigarettes, to how they laugh. It just helps you fit in. In this case, he may need to start squatting instead of standing up lecturing. He's not talking to his joes.

    3. I doubt the interpreter issue is one the Marines are happy with. It's probably more of a resource problem (i.e. they can't find enough willing to venture to Helmand Province).

    4. Is the commander going out? One of his many roles is to patrol with his boys and find out who's in charge and start to engage him.

    On the tactical side (this is more speculation as I'm just monday-morning quarterbacking a video and not on the ground),

    1. The squad is throwing down a lot of suppressive fire often without seeing the enemy. It's often better to wait and try to positively identify rather than to spray a mad minute. Listening to the incoming rate of fire, they're probably facing 2 guys with AKs and 1 with a PKM. Just 3 dudes, not 50.

    2. Frequency/variation of patrols. In a limited space, it is challenge to NOT get into a routine. When my troop averaged 12 patrols a day at the peak of the Surge, I found myself planning the same patrols at the same time so I switched it. I made my 1SGT, PLs, and PSGs responsible for making the patrol schedule. Then, I could spot check it and ensure we maintained the frequency but kept up the variance. It worked.

    3. Ambushes. I'd start having men covertly infiltrate into the treeline at night, dig in, and wait for the Taliban to occupy their ambush position the next day. A second option is to have preplanned indirect targets in known ambush positions. If the Taliban is going there, the locals will stay away, and one does not risk civilian casualties. A third option is to send recce patrols past the treeline to start observing the Taliban's infiltration. They ain't appearing out of thin air.

    v/r

    Mike
    Last edited by MikeF; 10-02-2009 at 02:42 PM.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Good lessons, Mike, and it's interesting to me (as a historian) how many of them should not be new. Quite a bit of it is classic Vietnam (circa about 1968-69, but was being done earlier in some places). Not knocking your lessons at all, which are hard-earned, but more observing that we could/should do a better job of preserving those lessons. And on a possibly related note, many of them could have been pulled directly from the old Small Wars Manual.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    Good lessons, Mike, and it's interesting to me (as a historian) how many of them should not be new. Quite a bit of it is classic Vietnam (circa about 1968-69, but was being done earlier in some places). Not knocking your lessons at all, which are hard-earned, but more observing that we could/should do a better job of preserving those lessons. And on a possibly related note, many of them could have been pulled directly from the old Small Wars Manual.
    You're right Steve. None of that is new. At USMA, I studied mostly the Revolutionary War to the Korea War. In my army schools, we studied the Fulda Gap. Small wars were glossed over. I hope that's changing.

    v/r

    Mike

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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeF View Post
    1. The squad is throwing down a lot of suppressive fire often without seeing the enemy. It's often better to wait and try to positively identify rather than to spray a mad minute. Listening to the incoming rate of fire, they're probably facing 2 guys with AKs and 1 with a PKM. Just 3 dudes, not 50.
    They're probably not going to kill the attackers either way. To look at this from an IO angle - Firing back a few rounds can be interpreted as weakness or hesitation. Throwing down a hail of gunfire creates a "holy crap!" effect. A lot of Iraqis got frustrated at us for using well-aimed fire. As they saw it, the local terrorist cell was firing 6 magazines at us while we shot back with 10 rounds. To them, this demonstrated an unwillingness to protect them. Once we relaxed our fire control measures and encouraged more forceful responses, the people were more content. We did not fare any better or worse against adversaries - we did not kill them any more often - but the locals were reassured because they heard more barking from our guns.

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    I saw the preview over at Noah S' Danger Room.

    The two things that struck me in the 24 minutes of preview:

    1) the contrast between the footage in D.C. and the footage of the Marines fighting to secure the population
    2) the lack of USG civilians and GIRoA security forces (there were some ANA - I did not see any USG civilians.

    I think I'll have to see the whoe thing.

    It seemed to me they were geared up appropriately. It may be worth considering what message it might send if they took more than the one casualty they did, and what effect that might have on the Marines themselves - before, during and after. Its hard to tell where one event left off and another ocurred given what you can do with film.

    While the ammount of fire recorded may have indicated only a few enemy, it may be wrong to assume that is all there were. I've been in a few fights where it started slow and then more showed up, and I've been in a few where it started intense than everyone seemed to decided they had other things to do.

    Just hard to tell, and the footage may not tell the whole story.

    On the leader side, it looks like the Echo leaders from team leader up were doing the right things as best they could given the conditions

    I do look forward to the Frontine piece though, it seems to be well done judging the preview. The clip that sticks out is the one where it looks likeeither an RPG or a light mortar hit the berm and left the dirt cloud hanging in the air while still in contact and a few Marines sorting their selves out. ANother is the contact that put the camera man and the reporter on the ground. Both remind me of the struggle you go through when you are reacting to contact and have responsibilities.

    Best, Rob

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeF View Post
    You're right Steve. None of that is new. At USMA, I studied mostly the Revolutionary War to the Korea War. In my army schools, we studied the Fulda Gap. Small wars were glossed over. I hope that's changing.

    v/r

    Mike
    I hope so as well. That's actually been my biggest concern with all this...how long it would take the institution to "re-lose" all its "new" lessons.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Schmedlap brings up a good point that I didn't consider. I guess that just shows you there are many ways to skin the cat as long as it's within the reasonable application of METT-TC.

    Rob,

    Lately, I've observed several commentators on other mil blogs explaining that what we're doing in A'stan is FID. If this footage is accurate, we're doing what I thought- a unilateral clearance to occupy (with a few A'stan soldiers along to put an A'stan face on the mission). Now if the ratios were reversed (1 Astan company with a few SF advisors), then I'd call that FID. If the ratios were equal (1 Marine company with 1 A'stan company, then I'd call that SFA.

    Is my terminology doctrinally correct?

    v/r

    Mike

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    Default Hey Mike

    I don't know if your terms are doctrinally correct but they should be

    Rob, if they aren't can you get folk to change them?

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Sure John,

    The short answer:

    When the U.S. helps a Host Nation Government prevent or defeat insurgency, lawlessness or subversion, DOD calls it FID.

    It does not specify who does it - so, in this case the purpose defines the activity - so I'd say both of Mike's examples are FID.

    SFA equates to those activities (organize, Train, Equip, Rebuild/Build and Advise) that support the development of FSF capability and capacity.

    Note there is no purpose here, just activities. There is no taxonomy, there is an ontology.

    If there is no development and no advising occurring, then its pretty much a combined action - e.g. two security forces from different countries working together against an enemy.

    All of those actions may be part of a broader COIN effort, or part of some other effort.

    Unlike other restrictive terms such as Security Assistance (Title 22 programs only) or Security Cooperation (DoD only), SFA is intended to enable all the agencies and organizations involved in developing FSF capabilities and capacities to coordinate, plan, synchronize and integrate all their FSF developmental activities in order to avoid gaps and to increase efficiency and effectiveness of those efforts. Policy and strategy has to determine where, when and why, and how much the U.S. should invest in developing FSF capabilities.

    The attached image may help.

    The longer answer with historical examples and a methodology to go about assessing and developing FSF capabilities in their operating and generating forces is in the forthcoming JCISFA SFA Planner's Guide for FSF Force Development. It will take the user though the process with examples and also discuss how organizations conducting OTERA can define their own requirements and develop or resource capabilities.

    We are just waiting on the new Deputy Director to do his review so he can then send it up to the Director.

    Best, Rob
    Attached Images Attached Images

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Simple retort

    I noted in the conversation between the USMC (NCO?) and a group of male villagers (not exact words):

    USMC Why don't you do something about the Taliban?
    Villager You have the helicopters and tanks we have nothing, just a sword.

    I am not convinced nor advocate arming the locals is an option, especially when several hundred Taliban are nearby - are they locally recruited?

    Yes, good footage.

    davidbfpo

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    The record of "arming the locals" is generally a poor one in Afghanistan.

    Where local institutions (i.e. tribal institutions) are still strong, i.e. the Mangal in Loya Paktia, this may have some usefulness. But the Taliban are themselves a non-tribal organization which grew out of the breakdown of the tribal structures in the wake of the Soviet war and the civil war of the 1990s. Areas where the local structures remain strong are unlikely to be areas vulnerable to Taliban power in the first place.

    Those villages most under threat by the Taliban are not going to be strong enough to fight off Taliban forces on their own, as those forces can leverage manpower and firepower greater than a village can withstand. Already many experiments in such have failed disastrously, as the village forces either made truces with the Taliban to avoid death, or went over to them with their weapons.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Don't know if this can be answered but has anyone ever tried surrounding the village and watching it for several days before they go patrolling through it?

    Also the guy that drives off on the tractor.....where did he go? how does he know how to avoid the land mines/IED's?

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Tractor man

    Yes, note his tractor-mounted carrier is stacked with (yellow) sacks. Are these fertilser bags and in the UK sector there are report(s) of fertiliser-based IEDs. It would be an item for patrols, where is the fertiliser stored and any signs of discarded bags?

    davidbfpo

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    Default Interesting Video

    Some thoughts on the video and comments in response to previous posts:

    The NCO getting frustrated in his questioning of villagers was set up for failure. That task should have been left to a CA NCO or Officer, or a civilian. It's asking too much for an infantry squad leader to have the cultural sensitivity to see the situation from the perspective of Afghan villagers. Maybe the COINtras are right in their argument that population-centric COIN is not appropriate for GPF, even Marines?

    Arming the population does have a bad track record in Afghanistan but I still think it is has to be considered as an answer to the force ratio problem. It could work if somebody - SF ODAs? - provided the required supervision, logistic support, and in-extremis reinforcement. Maybe it could take the form of a hybrid of the CIDG program? There is a SF Field Manual (I don't remember which one) that has an appendix on support to CIDG-type groups. I wanted to show it to my Canadian colleagues but couldn't do so since the material had a NOFORN designation. I suspect the Marines would have already formed some sort of group if they had been able to gain permission to do so (unlikely since when it comes to Security Force Assistance issues we share the Kabul-centric viewpoint of the Afghan Government).

    One of the biggest complaints of the Marines in Helmand and Farah Provinces is a lack of ANA and ANP partners. There are not enough ANSF personnel for true partnering with the Marines, thus they become a token presence in most operations. As for USG civilians, it is not realistic to expect them to be present on patrols unless they are given infantry training. The leadership of the State Department (and probably most other agencies) is opposed to providing its personnel with weapons, let alone tactical training. It would probably also be a hard sell for most of the personnel of these agencies. During my tour I did have the opportunity to go out with an SF ODA on a couple of missions but my prior service as an 11B probably helped, and the Embassy in Kabul likely would have a strongly adverse reaction if they knew what it actually entailed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pol-Mil FSO View Post
    The NCO getting frustrated in his questioning of villagers was set up for failure. That task should have been left to a CA NCO or Officer, or a civilian. It's asking too much for an infantry squad leader to have the cultural sensitivity to see the situation from the perspective of Afghan villagers.
    Disagree on two levels.
    First - that NCO is talking to the locals because there are so many of them to talk to. You're not going to have nearly enough CA or civilians to do that. Also, this wasn't some big meeting - it was just a routine interaction by a patrol with the populace from what I saw.
    Second - I don't think it's asking too much for an infantryman - especially a leader - to have sufficient cultural sensitivity. I wouldn't even call it that. I'd just call it people skills. I've seen lots of NCOs whose only training in dealing with people was whatever interpersonal skills one acquires through the normal course of one's life. Backgrounds, education, and training didn't seem to have any correllation. Of course, this is an anecdotal observation, and I'm a data point of one.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pol-Mil FSO View Post
    Maybe the COINtras are right in their argument that population-centric COIN is not appropriate for GPF, even Marines?
    I guess the argument is that pop-COIN requires a level of participation from all government agencies that we currently lack the ability to provide - and that we will continue to lack the ability to provide for the next decade. Not a real useful concept, imo.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I agree with Schmedlap. That's an NCO function pure and simple.

    The problem is that our training got dumbed down in the 1970s and 80s and we stopped teaching NCOs how to talk to people. I saw dozens if not hundreds of on NCOsS doing what that guy was doing on presence patrols in three countries. Most, not all doing it pretty well.

    His only problem is that no one bothered to give him a ten minute class in people skills and then let him practice them for a grade for forty minutes. That i8s the fault of the USMC (the Army is little better). That also is done better in good units even today. Problem is, by definition, half the units are less good, half are more gooder...

    Also, his comment:
    I guess the argument is that pop-COIN requires a level of participation from all government agencies that we currently lack the ability to provide - and that we will continue to lack the ability to provide for the next decade. Not a real useful concept, imo.
    and your observation both illustrate the major flaws in 'Population centric COIN.' Resources and timing. We cannot afford to keep the civilian structure and military training regimens required for population centric COIN so each occurrence will be a from scratch exercise that will take entirely too long to get rolling. The effort will flounder before it gets going, literally. It is a badly flawed concept much loved by people whose desire to fix the rest of the world overwhelms their common sense. Great theory, won't work. We keep proving that -- and forgetting that we proved it...

    That said, we can and must better train our entering enlisted persons and officers and better educate our leaders so that some COIN like efforts and capabilities are built into the structure while remembering that the GPF will never do better than marginally well at the job.

    Back to the here and now -- that NCO is exemplary of a minor system glitch, not a major uncorrectable flaw.

    Good job for going out with the guys. Been my observation here and there that all embassies, like all units in the services, are not equal. Some are more active than others and more tolerant of weapons and patrols and getting jobs done versus bureaucratic safety (All FSOs aren't equal, either, as I'm sure you know ). Though I admit to being away from the bureaucracy for about 15 years, doubt things have changed so much as to greatly modify that.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    It's asking too much for an infantry squad leader to have the cultural sensitivity to see the situation from the perspective of Afghan villagers. Maybe the COINtras are right in their argument that population-centric COIN is not appropriate for GPF, even Marines?
    To add to the dogpile , your start early, and you do it often, and you start making that NCO think outside the box, wayyyy before you go to the MRX, and before the advon departs, and definitely before the first main body ULN gets on deck to start RIP. We have been at this stuff for 7 years now, and there are few NCOs who have not known war along the way.

    If he doesn't "get it", you get another squad leader, plain and simple.

    We all get frustrated in routine dealings with civilians at the pointy end of things. For most, it is not an issue of lacking cultural sensitivity. The ones who have issues are more often carefully weeded out.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Where is the Afghan Political Cadre that would follow the village elders everywhere they go 24/7? I say forget all this doctrine stuff......fight like a Guerrilla. Where is the Afghan Revolution? Where is the PSYOP Radio stations that should be broadcasting White Propaganda through the radios you handed out. Where is the Afghan Puff Daddy and The Real Slim Shady? You goota have some MoJo going on or ain't nobody gonna follow you anywhere

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_3gHVRtX0U

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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeF View Post
    3. Ambushes. I'd start having men covertly infiltrate into the treeline at night, dig in, and wait for the Taliban to occupy their ambush position the next day. A second option is to have preplanned indirect targets in known ambush positions. If the Taliban is going there, the locals will stay away, and one does not risk civilian casualties. A third option is to send recce patrols past the treeline to start observing the Taliban's infiltration. They ain't appearing out of thin air.
    The way COIN is supposed to work is first you control the population, then the population tells you where the Taliban and are setting up the ambushes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
    I wouldn't even call it that. I'd just call it people skills.
    I was going to make the same point. The guy in the video appears to be doing the equivalent of walking up to a girl and saying, "Why aren't you willing to have sex with me." It takes time, patience, there has to be something in it for her and you need to prove yourself worthy of trust.
    Last edited by Rank amateur; 10-03-2009 at 04:10 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

  20. #20
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default That's why COIN does not work...

    Quote Originally Posted by Rank amateur View Post
    The way COIN is supposed to work is first you control the population, then the population tells you where the Taliban and are setting up the ambushes.
    'Cause you cannot control populations without draconian measures and we are not going to use those...

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