Disciplinary Measures in Afghanistan

 Last year I wrote a couple of posts concerning the disastrous engagements that had occurred in Nuristan at Wanat and a few other places.  The picture above is the Special Forces camp at Plei Djereng on the border with Laos.  a lot bigger thanWanat but you get the idea..  This patrol base camp would have had double apron barbed wire around it, many .30 caliber and .50 caliber M-2 machine guns, 81mm and 4.2 inch mortars, fougasse, mines.  Bu Dop Camp had a 105mm howitzer that they had traded for or stolen. Ah, the good old days.

At the risk of further endangering the Green Berets from the jealousy of line officers, I would say that any good SF sergeant could have done a much better job of planning this than all these captains, majors and colonels.

After looking at the available evidence I reached the conclusion that the planning for the creation and support of these platoon sized outposts had been incompetent.  The posts were poorly situated for defense.  Fire support for defense was inadequate and the positions themselves were not well built, not enough barbed wire, inadequate shelters and fighting positions.

Ridiculous.  At the risk of succumbing to a fit of nostalgia, I will say that we used to do this a lot better.

After a long set of investigations, the military evidently agrees and officers at company, battalion and brigade levels of command face punishment in the form of letters of reprimand, etc.  In the military such letters are normally career enders.

How did such a display of incompetence come to pass?  

Too much grad school, not enough emphasis from the high command of the armed forces on basic skills as a determinant of career progress for officers.  pl 


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13 Responses to Disciplinary Measures in Afghanistan

  1. VietnamVet says:

    You analysis is correct.
    However, being a onetime “snake on the ground” looking up at DI’s and their officers way up there on top of everything, it seems to me that military leaders are in an untenable position unless they believe in what they are doing.
    That has to have made Afghanistan, in the past, a hard posting with inadequate troops and supplies in a secondary war. But, at least the officers could believe they were killing Bad Guys.
    Yet, since the Obama Administration handover, everything has changed. It is no longer a secondary war. The Taliban are resurgent. On the other hand, troops and supplies are still inadequate. Even worse, the strategic plan has changed from killing bad guys to negotiation. With the reprimands and the change in the goals for the war, I can’t imagine the rationales that the line officers use to continue on the job.
    In the years ahead with the current economic difficulties, two lost wars and a broken federal government, the USA could easily be in a very similar situation to Germany after WWI.

  2. Ael says:

    I notice that the lower commanders got letters of reprimand, but the higher one got a letter of admonishment.
    That clearly implies that only those mentioned outposts were inadequate.
    Otherwise, if outpost inadequacy was systemic, then the superior officers would have been given the harsher discipline.

  3. Patrick Lang says:

    That would be logical but I wonder if the tendency to favot senior officers does not play a part here. pl

  4. Andy says:

    “Harsher discipline” is very subjective. When I was junior NCO we called this “different spanks for different ranks.” Senior officers are usually just forced into retirement. The really bad ones get an article 15 and then retirement at a reduced rank while others who commit similar crimes usually get court martialed, jail along with a dishonorable discharge/dismissal.
    The sad reality is that senior officers protect their own.

  5. joe brand says:

    Courtney Massengale won.

  6. Patrick Lang says:

    Joe Brand
    Don’t they always? No. Grant and Marshall won. pl

  7. Neil Richardson says:

    Dear Col. Lang,
    From what I understand there was another “Captains Crisis” after 2005. Based on anecdotal evidence as well as numbers, I don’t think 0-4 is the filter that separated out the bottom quarter of the officer corps these days. IIRC more than 98 percent of 0-3s are promoted to 0-4.

  8. Patrick Lang says:

    I hear you but I think that the colonels and generals set the standards. pl

  9. It was always of great interest to me in Field Artillery OCS in 1968 how much time was spent on fortification of your firing batteries and use of the flechette round if facing being overrun. Two classmates won Silver Stars for defending their firing batteries from being overrun. Lessons learned were coming back from those in the war zone. Fortunately did not see combat there.

  10. John Adamson says:

    Col Lang
    I read a Wash. Post article on this subject and my thought was, “Can it be that bad?” My second thought was to come here and see if you covered it – right at the top.
    You’re the best.
    Good Luck!

  11. Eric says:

    It doesn’t help that the majority of the COPs in Nurstan are located in the low ground. Most have OPs for overwatch but, it just isn’t good placement. The terrain is nearly vertical in many of the locations which is waht necessitates them building on the river and valley floor. Tactically horrible.

  12. Patrick Lang says:

    OPs are good but defensible positions are what count. pl

  13. JoeC says:

    Col. Lang –
    Could the difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan competence in establishing defensible positions have something to do with the serious ground combat experience from Korea and WWII of senior NCOs and senior (field grade and above) at the beginning of the Vietnam war vs. the lack of serious ground combat experience (except for the 2-3 days of Desert Storm) of the NCOs and senior officers (with a possible exception of some SF/special ops types) at the beginnings of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars??

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