Listen to Jonathan Landay's account of the action he was in. It is contained in the video that accompanies my earlier post. At one point you will hear him say that a request for artillery fire support for US troops in contact with the enemy was denied by higher headquarters on the basis of the Rules of Engagement (ROE) laid down by General Stanley McChrystal. These rules favor Stanley's crude theorizing under the influence of the COIN fanatics here in Washington. In Stanley's "thinking" possible casualties among Afghan civilians are more important than death and wounds among our people. To hell with that! To deny troops in contact fire support is to contribute to their deaths. Is McChrystal so heartless or driven by ambition or delusion as to not understand this?
McChrystal or whomever made this decision should be relieved and prosecuted for betrayal of our troops. pl
COL, I agree, the ROEs are astonishing.
I’ve been following the battle through photography that’s being released. Equally astonishing is how well equipped every fighting man is in the field (every rifle is equipped with a telescopic sight), and the highly specialized armored vehicles being employed are amazing.
For a fight on this scale, the published casualties are on a (low) level unthinkable for the first half of the past decade. These ROEs and applied battle tactics are almost more in the realm of law enforcement than they are traditional warfare.
By comparison, viewing the photos of the captured Taliban weapon stocks, ISAF is combatting a vastly inferior force. The weapon stocks are even a far cry less than Iraqi insurgent “standards.”
Even so, in the ensuing Battle of Marjah, the small unit fighting capabilities of the USMC are, on their own, as overpowering as Alexander’s (Skandar in Pashto) were over two millennium ago.
To ignore the mission is probably betrayal, to risk the life of subordinates in a war is – well, war.
I understand the disagreement about the relevance of civilian deaths to the mission, but I disagree with the assertion that keeping arty ammo expenditure low is betrayal considering the Geneva Conventions and the open question about which strategy would produce what result.
ARE ROE’s approved above the “Country Team”? Does STATE have a say in ROEs?
What is the guidance on how they are developed?
I guess H&I fire is not being utilized in AF-PAK or IRAQ?
In re ROEs, I think not unless Washington intervenes, and then you might as well fire the commander. pl
The “Geneva Convention?” What planet do you live on? Have you ever been shot at? Troops in contact have every right to be supported with artillery against their adversaries. A commander who denies his men that support has betrayed them. pl
I’d say it’s more tactical incompetence. The smart thing to do is just surround Marja and force the Taliban to either fight or sneak their way out.
That way McCrystal practices his coin doctrine effectively. That is without killing civilians and without wrecking the city.
Doesn’t a marine battalion have a weapons company containing a mortar platoon that provides enough indirect fire?
I don’t understand this whole concept either. I thought the point of the exercise is to stop taliban asap, with whatever tools at hand. Of course avoiding civilian casualty is important, but is this even a question worth entertaining knowing how limited most taliban battles are? It’s
1. taliban main transport is “walking”, maybe few trucks here and there or horses. at most good natural camouflage. They are not going to hop on humvee, call in air support while retreating.
Their maximum speed retreating from battle is 4-5 miles per hour. (that would be what? few degrees of electro optical sensor input? Most mall security camera has faster tracking ability than that.)
2. Why is “accuracy” or hitting wrong target even a question? I bet the map is within few inch accuracy. taliban does not have long distance fire capability. Park artillery/fire support cells 8-10 miles out of town, and no one is going to bother them. (or whatever the team practice accuracy record is) They can hit whatever they want while munching on tostitos. They can’t possibly miss by more than 5 feet unless somebody is tweetering on iPhone while launching the ordinance. They have all the time in the world to set up and calibrate their gear to within millimiter accuracy, and no one is hassling them. And that’s for primitive mortar instead of artillery gun or digital bombing gadget. Do they even need calling air drop in case of marja? They should have near complete population census and estimate enemy fighters. Since it’s pretty small town, they coulnd’t possibly not ready for any fancy bombing occassion strickly on mortar.
3. taliban does not have information on US artillery capability, nor able to come near artillery cell, or call in counter move.
4. The air is cool and calm. Camera is running continuously streaming up fresh images. About 15 miles from laskar gah (big base)
It’s perfect bombing exercise. The troops should be able to carve their initial using mortar patterning when they want to. what’s up? Flawed new prototype device being field tested?
map of Marja. (perfectly FLAT with clear landmarks)
The issue I raised with regard to combat intelligence at Marja’ has to do with my incredulity at the thought that the marines’ staff intelligence people did not identify these buildings or describe them correctly. pl
ooops, the accuracy number is wrong by factor of 2. nevermind. I guess UAV that can drop mortar size ordinance is still needed.
You don’t need fancy technology for this kind of thing. What we are talking about is firing tube artillery at enemy combatants attacking your troops. You do that to achieve fire superiority and restore mobility to the fight in your favor. pl
Ridiculous. We have GPS guided, vehicle mounted mortars that can register in one round RELIABLY. That means nothing to most of the civilians here, I know. Let’s just say that indirect fire is a misnomer and there is no excuse for basing a denial on fear of civilian casualties.
Colonel, did you ever go to Mortar Leadership Course? I’m sure that you wouldn’t have a problem calling in 4 inch guns for troops in contact with a graphite pencil and a plotting board.
Why is the command so scared when it has satelite guided indirect?
What an opportunity for self-referential nostalgia! I did 60mm and 81 mm mortars in the NG and Regular Army Inf. (2/2 Inf), then I learned to do 4.2inch and 105 how in SF. The heavy weapons sergeants taught me how to do the bigger guns with plotting board, charts or over iron sights.
I think your point is exactly right. This level of skittishness by the command is self destructive and seems to indicate a basic lack of knowledge and skill.
I am here to bitch about this because others were not so skittish. pl
1. As a civilian, I share the sentiment that this lack of proper fire support (and whatever else we may find out about) for our troops is shocking and disgraceful and more.
In addition to incompetence is the command impacted by considerations of “the media”??? by “political correctness”??? by “Neoconism”/”COINISM”??? … political ambition???
2. On the matter of the mis-identified building, just why the problem with overhead and “national technical means”???
And just why not some basic ground intelligence using “humans” for recon…Kim, for example or one of his friends….that horse trader for example.
I hesitate to say anything, because I agree with your conclusion. The video report that runs with this story is the same one Landay filed when the attack happened last year, and at the time he believed the ROE was the issue. The Ganjgal report was released last week in redacted form and blames absent senior officers, incompetence, and confusion for the ineffective fire support. Here’s a story that contains a link to the report:
I fail to see how caring about the deaths of allies in addition to deaths of Americans is “heartless”.
We’ve already definitively killed far more Afghan civilians in the Marja campaign than the number of American troops who’ve died, so there’s no question the equation is still
Amer. > Afgh.
McChrystal has dialed the knob back a bit. That’s constructive.
I’m all for self-referential nostalgia! I fondly remember the older 81 mm mortars in the rifle companies. At that time the forward observer section was still organic to the company mortar section. This allowed all members of the organic indirect fire team to learn each other’s idiosyncrasies and function as a “family of artists” resulting in effective fire support available to the company commander. As an example of our artistry, my mortar section plotted and fired a perfect “E” in illumination rounds one night that my son, Erik, could see from the lanai of our government quarters down in Honolulu. We also had 90 mm recoiless rifles at the platoon level… outmoded as anti-tank weapons, but effective bunker busters. All this in a light infantry company in the “hollow Army” days.
We all thought moving the rifle company forward observers to the artillery battalions was a loss for the rifle companies… only slightly more deleterious than the consolidation of the company mess teams to the battalion dining facilities. We also weren’t that thrilled about replacing the recoiless rifles with the Dragon ATM.
Will all the advances in weapons technology, it’s a shame that our troops in contact in Afghanistan don’t appear to have this level of organic fire support available to them. My guess is that this is mostly due to the consolidation of fire support decisions at higher levels. Sounds like another example of “Artists versus Bureaucrats.”
Are you really this clueless about military affairs or is this just another provocation?
“the deaths of allies”
Nobody is talking about the deaths of allies. What we are dicussing is the appropriate use of field artillery in support of troops in contact with the enemy.
Can you wrap your brain around that. pl
The Afghan state is an ally and its citizens should be considered as allies until proven otherwise.
I think you’re not really up to date and prefer some hawkish gung ho crap over a clear look at the mission.
It’s appropriate for enlisted personnel and NCOs to value their comrade’s lives above almost everything else (not above the mission, for example). Every officer is supposed to think beyond that and to grasp a greater share of the war.
Death and destruction alone coupled with zero own casualties is unlikely to accomplish the mission.
McChrystal knows that – his general direction is OK, maybe his fine tuning isn’t OK.
Well, I anticipate a rant about civilians, so I’ll drop in advance that I was a soldier a while ago.
Thanks for the lecture. What army was that in and what was your rank? pl
Can you give me the library citation for the source of your views on battlefield survival?
“Every officer is supposed to think beyond that…”
Sounds like maybe something Sam Huntington might have written… but then, he never fought anyone either. pl
ROE that deny our troops the means for their own defense, that allow the enemy to escape, regroup, and fight another day.
Incredible blunders in intelligence and operations from the command levels.
It’s become so bad I can barely stand to read these articles and reports anymore!
Where is this unending supply of incompetents coming from? It seems no one above about company level can get their act together. Senior command remains above and blameless for their mistakes, instead sacrificing lower level field commanders for “poor performance” with career ending reprimands. What shameful behavior by our military leaders.
Your essay “Artists versus Bureaucrats” explains much of the problem.
Change it to describe the “group think” of every agency at the Federal, State, and Local level. Plus private business bigger than the small locally owned operation. It’s always the same scenario.
No one at any level of supervision can be held responsible because there is a sacrificial layer below them for protection.
Can it be fixed? Sure. But, the people with the ideas and the will to do it are too far down the food chain to have any effect. Their “Committee of Incompetence” just above them will protect the leadership at the next level.
It’s a scary and troubling situation we’re in.
Having listened to Landry’s astonishing report I note the following:
1. The report states that the force he accompanied was promised artillery support, that when requested was denied “citing new rules to reduce civilian casualties”.
2. The US/Afghan force came under heavy fire, was partially pinned down and had taken serious casualties requiring helicopter med evacuation.
3. From the photos and Landry’s report, it appears that some elements of ambush forces were manouevering through open terrain on adjacent ridges in an attempt to flank the pinned-down forces.
In this situation, even with 40 year old artillery technology effective (and rapidly available) artillery (or mortar) fire support against the flanking forces with little to no risk of civilian casualties would appear to have ben a “no brainer”.
4. Landry’s report states that the initial ambush force was located located on the “outskirts of the village”. While fire support against this portion of the enemy force would raise some risk of civilian casualties, having placed the US/Afghan group in this situation it is unimaginable that promised fire support would be denied -regardless of such risk.
I strongly agree with Colonel Lang that whoever denied this fire support should be prosecuted, along with whoever promised rapid artillery and helicopter fire support to those planning and leading this mission. If higher ups understood before this mission that they would deny fire support if it were requested, the mission should never have been undertaken.
Turns out that Sven Ortmann spent a couple fo years in the peacetime Buhdeswehr and has no experience of war.
He’s out as are a couple more like Payrouz and one of the Andy’s. Life is too short. I judge them to be ideological or substantively too deficient for this space. Some of these people argue that we are cowardly for using bigger guns than the enemy and Sven baby lives out the cultural stereoptype about Germans by telling me that officers have a duty to carry out the letter and intent of the theater commander’s stated policy, period. In fact, the Kriegs Akademie trained officers of the Wehrmacht were inculcated with the need to use maximum initiative and to improvise. Decent German officers in the Heer often ignored Hitler’s orders.
Any “officers” who do not understand that troops in contact require fire support to prevail and destroy hostile forces are fools. What do you think this is, a game?
ROE that seek to prevent attacks by fire or air on non-combatants are one thing.
ROE that deny air or artillery support to infantry in a fire fight are simply criminal. pl
The “Andy” guy has subsequently written to tell me that he never actually saw, himself, any dead people but he has seen lots of pictures. He also says sadly that he had thought better of me. Sadly, I have not. pl
Oh, yes, the Svenster also says that my attitude is indicative of a “psychological condition.” Undoubtedly. pl
Sir, the discussion is drifting 3 incidents together, Sept 8 Ganjgal Valley is what Landay wrote about. The AR 15-6 is pdf attached to the right of his article and worth a read. One concludes as the author of that report did, that there was incompetence and dereliction between Major and Colonel levels.
The next incident was OP Keating which was nearly overrun in a repeat of failure to support.
The current Marja attack is another matter.
As to the effectiveness of indirect fire, I offer the following: Nothing puts the damper on the spirit of the offense quicker than being bracket by five inch naval gun fire. I know from the experience of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
OK, well my remarks in that post were completely focussed on the incident that Landay described.
The Marja intel screw up is another matter. I suspect that the cult of OPSEC contributed to that. pl
I normally read your articles with interest Mr Lang, however it seems to me that the choice is dead children or threatened US troops (who are far better armed and protected than any civilian)
I’m sure troops would take the risk if those were American civilians in those buildings, but of course are merely Afghands.
You are an idiot or a propagandist. That is not the choice at all. Once again, what we are talking about is fire support for troops in contact in a fire fight. You are banned. pl
If a commander knows that “taking that hill” he will likely suffer 5-10 casualties, does that make him wrong to do it?
Once we agree that a commander can send men out to achieve an objective in which some of them will be killed, then the question is – what are legitimate military objectives? Don’t SWAT teams rescuing hostages face similar constraints in the firepower they can use, and thus increase the risk to themselves? So, what is the military objective here that caused the rules of engagement to be modified? Are the means adequate to the ends? Saying that they were denied XYZ support and that is a betrayal is not quite right – if XYZ support causes the military objective to be lost.
It makes a difference to have been there. I think war is difficult to discuss abstractly – which probably was a major factor in how we got engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan to begin with.
After I posted last night I watched a BBC TV piece by their pentagon correspondent explaining that the current Afghanistan ROE requires that US forces disengage from a firefight if there is any chance of civilian casualties – apparently with no exceptions.
Just glad I am not in combat under such rules. I wonder what this is doing for troop morale.
Taking the Ostrich view of of own fire superiority will only prolong the battle and result in more U.S. Casualties and Afghan civilian deaths.
Any analogy between policemen and infantry in action is wrong. SWAT teams are limited in what they can do because they are in the business of “policing,” Their job is to arrest people so that they can be brought to trial under due process. To that end limited force is used. Criminals are usually episodic in their resistance to the law. Hostile forces on the battlefield are unlimited in their application of firepower with unlimited intent. In the specific instance which you people can’t seem to focus on, the insurgents maneuvered against the marine and Afghsn force with the apparent intention of encircling them. If that had occurred, a major disaster might have occurred. Somebody wrote to disparage danger on the battlefield as a mere “threat.” Yes! Custer was threatened by the Sioux and Cheyenne on the Little Big Horn. The British were threatened by the Zulu at Isandhlwana. Is that the kind of outcome that you want?
You raise the issue of the acceptability of friendly casualties. You don’t understand this. It is acceptable that a commander should lose men in accomplishing a mission. It is not acceptable that a commander should lose men foolishly and uselessly in doing anything. I have seen commanders relieved on the battlefield for this, and rightly so. There is a social contract between the soldiers and the service in which it is understood that their lives can be expended but not uselessly and especially not for someone’s theorizing.
With regard to ROE, anyone who thinks that Stanley is not the driving force as COCOM behind ROE which openly espouse the idea that American troops should “assume more risk” to serve the COIN theory is just not paying attention. These ROE are his creation. Washington has merely concurred. Gates agrees? So what? A long ago background as a lieutenant in USAF intelligence does not make Gates an operational genius. Mullen agrees? What a joke! Mcchrystal has set a policy in which troops are to be denied permission to use heavy weapons. Officers in the chain of command know that they are likely to be punished of they decide to approve fire missions.
Enemy troops engaged in a fire fight are legitimate targets. They should be captured or killed. How hard is that to understand? pl
Not sure which side you taking? pl
Last night, on the News Hour, there was another piece about Afgan civilian casualties, further tightening of the ROE, and Kharzai’s railing against NATO and especially the US.
Every civilian injury or death, that can possibly be connected to US military action, is splashed across every news media. The impression being given, that the US military forces are ruthlessly pounding any location they think there may be enemy with no regard to the civil population.
The latest was that it’s SOF that are running amuck and going by their own ROE.
DOD and the Joint Chiefs have decided the ROE aren’t restrictive enough. Now if our troops are under fire, they better not return fire unless they can see an identifiable enemy standing in front of them shooting, and probably better be sure the guy is trying to hit them. Otherwise, withdraw and let the Taliban go about their business.
What are we doing? Do we have an objective to accomplish in these military operations?
Our troops are told to engage and destroy the Taliban, but when they make contact they’re told OK, you can engage in limited small arms exchanges but if you come under heavier fire you better back off because we aren’t going to give you any support.
Now McChrystal is making a public apology on Afgan TV. What’s next? Will he dress himself in rags and sit in a village square dumping ashes on his head?
Ours and the rest of the Western worlds relationship with the people of that part of the world has always been and always will be shaky. Our so called allies are just barely that and as changeable as the weather in those remote mountains.
We continue to pour our blood and treasure on the ground to settle personal and tribal vendettas while none of the local populace wants us there in the first place.
How long can we continue to place our troops in such impossible situations?
Give them a task to accomplish, but then tell them they can’t do what they were trained to do to or use their weaponry to accomplish the goal.
Sorry for this disjointed comment, but this old guy was in uniform almost 50 years ago and I find our current military operations, especially in Afghanistan, impossible to understand.
A time line regarding McChrystal’s ROE:
– May 4, 2009 at Garani in Farah province, a B-1B dropped several 500 & 2000lb bombs in support of pinned-down Afghan National forces and US Marine advisers. The strikes were aimed at massing Taliban forces, but also killed anywhere from 26 (US estimate) to over 150 civilians. This drew considerable press coverage. Street protests and admonishments from the Karzai government followed. The Afghan presidential election was 3 1/2 months away.
– On May 6, SecDef Gates met with ISAF commander McKiernan. On May 11, it was announced McKiernan was being replaced (not that the CAS strikes and the firing were related, but I remember thinking that couldn’t be good for McKiernan).
– On June 2 Gen. McChrystal pledged to review the ROE at a Senate hearing. He took command on June 10. Press and milblog references to the new ROE start showing up about June 22. The central idea of the new ROE was to limit the chance for civilian casualties like those at Garani.
– The Ganjgal ambush involving reporter Jonathan Landay occurred Sept 8. Landay reported that the enemy was attacking from the town and being resupplied by women and children.
“The Afghan state is an ally and its citizens should be considered as allies until proven otherwise.
I think you’re not really up to date and prefer some hawkish gung ho crap over a clear look at the mission.”
The first rule of combat is to survive. I don’t think one needs a further explanation considering your military experience. I’m rather surprised that you’d refer to the Geneva Conventions given that you supposedly served in the Bundeswehr during the Cold War. I too spent some time defending the FRG and one thing that had been made clear for decades was that the West German government had been willing to expend civilian lives as they’d insisted on a forward defense posture going back to the days of Adenauer. Every town was to be defended and that meant there would’ve been plenty of civilian casualties if the Soviets ever invaded. (Personally, I’d have preferred a defense in depth as Bad Kissingen was within spitting distance of the 8th Guards Army. But then again since you seem to be an expert on the Conventions, who am I to argue?) I don’t know what your branch was during the time of service, but I had a chance to work with 5th Panzer as a liason decades ago, and believe me they didn’t have any qualms about certain techniques such as recon by fire during movement to contact and the last time I’d checked those would’ve been citizens of the FRG who’d have suffered.
As for a clear look at the mission, perhaps you might also want to look to your own country’s participation in Afghanistan (aside from KSK). Why is there such a set of ludicrous ROEs and from the German civilian leadership? Unless one is blind, the simple reason is force protection as the deployment has been unpopular for some time. What is “the mission” in your view? Is it the creation of a democratically viable Afghan state? If that’s the case then you’re either dreaming or worse hold a convenient double standard as the Heer contingent in ISAF has been a free rider in this endeavor. However, if you agree that the mission is to reduce the al-Qaeda strength (and one goal is to convince enough of Taliban leadership that the cost would outweigh benefits), then you are naive in the extreme. As you might’ve guessed, democratic states have trouble supporting long wars because high tolerance for casualties are limited to conflicts where national survival is at stake. As US casualties mount, the call for withdrawal would increase.
“It’s appropriate for enlisted personnel and NCOs to value their comrade’s lives above almost everything else (not above the mission, for example). Every officer is supposed to think beyond that and to grasp a greater share of the war.”
Wow. That is profound. Is that some sort of Auftragsstrategie? I must’ve missed this new fad within the Heer. You know General Krulak coined the term “The Strategic Corporal.” I would think that given your background, you’d approve this as it was the Marine Corps homage to Auftragstaktik. Maybe things have changed a lot since my time in West Germany, but I seem to remember the Heer doing things a bit differently. When command micromanages like this, needless casualties mount. My background is cavalry and we in the US Army entrust our people on the ground who are in contact with the enemy to make decisions because they would know the situation best. Way back during the days of Boeselager competitions, I thought West Germans knew that as well.
“Death and destruction alone coupled with zero own casualties is unlikely to accomplish the mission.”
I might also add that death and destruction couple with mounting casualties would likely end the mission a lot sooner with a different result than what you had in mind. I don’t foresee the German government picking up the slack if the US, UK, Canadian, Dutch, Danish forces leave. Do you?
The Army is fast tracking a GPS guided 120mm mortar round to Afghanistan in response to an urgent request for precision mortar fire from commanders on the ground there, and should be fielded by the end of the year. Called the Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative (APMI), it improves upon the current round’s 136-meter Circular Error Probable (CEP) reducing it to about 10-meters.
To continue this story……a young Marine has now received the Medal of Honor for not leaving anyone behind…five times he went and retrieved the pinned down, the injured and the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Two other Marines, a LT and SGT received the Navy Cross for similar actions…..but the Army Captain who also participated and served heroically that day has yet to receive an award for valor possibly due to his lack of political correctness in calling out his superiors who did not respond to his requests for air/artillery fire in a timely manner. Unfortunately this young officer has retired after an honorable career so say his subordinates.
Fortunately a Marine General has reopened the files and nominated the Captain for a MOH.
What is wrong in the Army as this stinks to high heaven.