Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tactical Tidbits from Afghanistan

U.S. Marines shielding an Afghan father and child

The war in Afghanistan has burned in a sporadic fashion, bursting on the news scene whenever a suicide or car bomb explodes in crowded streets killing dozens. The butcher's bill for soldiers and Marines lost in combat has been at a level that only the loss of several at the same time garners any attention by the MSM. Only the most tuned in to military and strategic affairs are aware of the daily efforts of those we ask to step into harm's way.

A few years ago, General David Petraeus coined the most famous phrase of the Iraq War, "Tell me how this ends." when he made an off hand comment in 2003, to author Rick Atkinson who included it in his book, In The Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat. Those words were partially answered this week by a no less critical forum of the war than Newsweek magazine, when they declared Rebirth of a Nation: Something that looks an awful lot like democracy is beginning to take hold in Iraq. It may not be 'mission accomplished'—but it's a start. What does this then mean for Afghanistan? The war is of a different scale; and tactics that worked in Iraq may not work in what many continue to argue, is a template of tribal culture, unbending to the efforts of conquerors for thousands of years.

U.S. Marines meeting with tribal elders

One recent article posted by the editors of the difinitive go to source for information Small Wars Journal who linked this article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, of the Washington Post, At Afghan outpost, Marines gone rogue or leading the fight against counterinsurgency?
The Marines are pushing into previously ignored Taliban enclaves. They have set up a first-of-its-kind school to train police officers. They have brought in a Muslim chaplain to pray with local mullahs and deployed teams of female Marines to reach out to Afghan women.
The Marine approach -- creative, aggressive and, at times, unorthodox -- has won many admirers within the military. The Marine emphasis on patrolling by foot and interacting with the population, which has helped to turn former insurgent strongholds along the Helmand River valley into reasonably stable communities with thriving bazaars and functioning schools, is hailed as a model of how U.S. forces should implement counterinsurgency strategy.
The Marines have so upset the Army centric chain of command that some are calling their area of operations, "Marineistan." This has prompted retired U.S. Army General and current Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry to declare that, "The international security force in Afghanistan feels as if it comprises 42 nations instead of 41 because the Marines act so independently from other U.S. forces." It seems from this old ex-soldiers prospective that the old interservice rivalry is alive and kicking in 2010. One only has to possess a smiggen of histoical memory to remember how General William Westmoreland put the U.S. Marines up in I Corps as a static blocking force against the DMZ, instead of down in the Meokong Delta where the Marines amphib experience would have paid major dividends. Istead Westmoreland deployed his beloved 9th Infantry Division to turn itself into a riverine force working alongside the U.S. Navy.

TAO for US Marines in I Corp Vietnam
US Military Rifles 1873-2010

Coupled with this story is another post from SMJ, that raises real concerns that the infantry is having trouble reaching out and touching the enemy. "Increasing Small Arms Lethality in Afghanistan: Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer" by by MAJ Thomas P. Ehrhart.

Operations in Afghanistan frequently require United States ground forces to engage and destroy the enemy at ranges beyond 300 meters. These operations occur in rugged terrain and in situations where traditional supporting fires are limited due to range or risk of collateral damage. With these limitations, the infantry in Afghanistan require a precise, lethal fire capability that exists only in a properly trained and equipped infantryman. While the infantryman is ideally suited for combat in Afghanistan, his current weapons, doctrine, and marksmanship training do not provide a precise, lethal fire capability to 500 meters and are therefore inappropriate.
Comments from returning non-commissioned officers and officers reveal that about fifty percent of engagements occur past 300 meters. The enemy tactics are to engage United States forces from high ground with medium and heavy weapons, often including mortars, knowing that we are restricted by our equipment limitations and the inability of our overburdened soldiers to maneuver at elevations exceeding 6000 feet. Current equipment, training, and doctrine are optimized for engagements under 300 meters and on level terrain

This is an interesting series of recommendations that clearly states that if you are going to fight at long distances, you need to adapt by resurrecting the lost art of "marksmanship" along with weapons that can kill the enemy. Imbedded in this report are references and a hat tip to the Marines for teaching not only distance shooting, but for using the heavier and more accurate M16A2 rifle.
The Marines are the only service that still qualifies to a distance of 500 meters, though not under realistic conditions.91 They also retained the full size M16A2 rifle when others adopted the M4 carbine. Though it is more lethal, its overall length makes it less practical.
The article is a good source of historical data recounting the "Capability of the Infantry from 1917 to 2003."
Stepping further back in history one can review the tactics and efforts of General Nelson Miles who led the 5th Infantry armed with the long range Springfield Model 1873 Rifle in the Infantry in the Indian Wars:1876-1891.
Closing out this foray into tactics and strategies in Afghanistan is this remarkable series of reports coming from author, historian and good blog friend, Steven Pressfield who recently returned from Afghanistan where he accompanied Marine General James Mattis on an inspection tour. Steve's vivid description of his journey places the reader right alongside him and gives a fresh prospective. Downrange: An Informal Report on a trip to Afghanistan with Marine Gen. James N. Mattis. I urge all to read it and follow the rest of the four posts.
Part Two, Part Three.

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