More incompetence, this time the US Marines

"On the satellite photographs of Marja that Marines scrutinized before launching a massive assault against the Taliban a week ago, what they assumed was the municipal government center appeared to be a large, rectangular building, cater-cornered from the main police station.

Seizing that intersection became a key objective, one deemed essential to imposing authority and beginning reconstruction in this part of Helmand province once U.S. and Afghan troops have flushed out the insurgents.

But when Marine officers reached the area, they discovered that two-dimensional images can be deceiving. What they had thought was the flat roof of the municipal building turned out to be a concrete foundation, and the police station was a bombed-out schoolhouse." Rajiv Chandrasekaran


I criticized the US Army for failures in competence in an earlier post  today.  Now it the turn of the US Marine Corps.

Long ago, before I drifted off into the world of strategic intelligence, I was a combat intelligence officer.   In that long ago and far away time there was such a thing as "oblique photography."  (seen above)  Satellites generally, but not always, deliver images taken from a point of view directly above.  Aircraft, manned and not, can be flown off to one side to deliver images (radar or optical) from a slanted point of view.  This process of "oblique" imaging started in WW1.  And then, there are always human eyeballs peering out of the aircraft.  That is also a possibility.  That was not done?  The 6th Marine Regiment arrived in Marja' believing that a foundation was actually a roof?   I will not dwell on the obvious fact that a scout or two (spy) was not sent into the town to report on the layout of the place and these "buildings."  After all, the brigade commander planned to make these structures the center for the renewed Afghan government in the area, the one that is to be presided over by a district head that Karzai does not want.

More incompetence.  pl

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14 Responses to More incompetence, this time the US Marines

  1. N. M. Salamon says:

    an analysis of Barg-eMaal outpost vs General McChrystal 15 min video:

  2. walrus says:

    Not only oblique images, but I guess stereography has gone out of fashion as well. I still have my viewer somewhere. Some skilled air photo interpreters didn’t even need the viewer and could simply hold up the Two images side by side.
    Then of course there is the obvious question of time of day and shadow position and length.

  3. Patrick Lang says:

    walrus et al
    There are so many indicators of bad practice in this Marja story that I had to restrict my comments, but you are right. A cheap pair of stereo viewers and two photographs would have revealed the elevations. Disgraceful.
    We had a one year war ten or twelve times in VN but we were a lot better at this. pl

  4. Sven Ortmann says:

    Stereography (a British technique from WW2 iirc) was already mentioned, but SAR (synthetic aperture radar) imagery would also have told the MI guys that there’s no 3D object.
    On the other hand, it’s quite unavoidable that shit happens in big projects, no matter what kind of project.

  5. VietnamVet says:

    The incompetence arises because DOD’s goal is not winning the wars but awarding more Contracts to ones “Friends” and having a proficiency at sound bites and PowerPoint presentations.
    Nine Years In.
    The troopers are now talking the COIN Talk. Sure, the Marines and Brits will “conquer” Marja. Personally, I don’t think the ANA is more or less competent than the ARVIN. Both are doing the Puppet Government’s job. The quandary is that Marja will be pacified as long as there are Marines or Brits on patrol in the area. Just as soon as they are withdrawn due to political or economic crisis in their homeland, the Taliban or another nationalist tribal movement will take control of Helmand Province.

  6. Patrick Lang says:

    ARVN. There were some very good units. I advised one. pl

  7. Patrick Lang says:

    “Friction?” Oh, come on. incompetence is just that. pl

  8. BillWade, NH says:

    Laughing here really, I can’t imagine any comparison of the ARVN or VNAF to the ANA. I doubt there could ever be a ANAF.

  9. BruceR says:

    Col: There are some very good Afghan officers. I advised one. I suggest that neither your experience nor mine refutes the overall observation that there are some strong ARVN-ANA symmetries.

  10. fasteddies says:

    A few thoughts:
    1–Where were the Squints (photo imagery people)?
    -Were They burning shitters on a Fob?
    -Do they still burn shitters?
    -If so, do contractors burn same?
    2–Recon people used to get close to to a targeted area to take ground truth photos, among other duties; Is this still the case?
    -Were the Recon people manning a roadside checkpoint instead? — Don’t laugh, I saw a video of same on the Hitler channel of this kind of activity in Iraq, starring a division recon (not Force).
    Does anyone here know how to play this game?

  11. fasteddies says:

    On my last
    should read: division recon unit.

  12. crf says:

    Expect more!
    The goal of any bureaucracy today is for two or three people to run the operation from their computers in the nation’s capital, using information passed ONE WAY up the chain, with orders conveyed DOWN THE CHAIN, often in oblique ways to avoid accountability (eg: using the telephone (no paper), or through political attaches). Feedback and ideas from down the chain are not wanted (except every month, typed into an Excel spreadsheet template form).
    Giving commanders a broad objective, making it clear what resources they have, and letting them use their intellect and training to provide the method, with a shared understanding of what they will be held accountable for: that is the old way.

  13. Allen Thomson says:

    Walrus’ comment about shadows is spot on. Most satellites that image in the visible spectrum have mid-mornining or mid-afternoon passes that, by design, give good shadows. If the PIs/IAs who did the Marines’ work in the present instance didn’t check for them, they need some remedial training.

  14. Mike C says:

    The first thing I thought of when I read this was the Allied recon pilots (no guns, just cameras) in the spring of 1944 zooming down the French coastline a few feet above the beach obstacles to make the maps that much more accurate. Different times.
    What I find truly baffling about this nonsense in Marja is the extreme compartmentalization that had to happen for an error like this to occur. There have been allied operations there prior to this. We’d been telegraphing our attack for weeks or months already, it’s not like a drone doing a few orbits would have given it away.
    I’m a civilian, I don’t have direct knowledge of how these operations get put together. Is there anything about that process that can explain this?

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