Outpost “Margha”

Sm_afghanistan309 "Corsi is hampered in what he can do – with only 18 soldiers, he cannot allow his men to patrol the vicinity. There are several reconstruction projects ongoing, but the Americans are largely unable to protect them. All Corsi can do is radio headquarters and ask for air support if he hears of an attack. But in such mountainous terrain reports of incidents can take hours to filter through, by which time the Taliban are long gone.

And with military helicopters and jets stretched to the limit on other operations, support is not guaranteed. Margha is resupplied by private contractors using civilian aircraft. Supplies are parachuted into the base by light aircraft or dropped off by a Ukrainian crew using an old Russian helicopter, flying at high altitude to avoid enemy fire."  Telegraph


Sm_afghanistan409 Half a platoon on a hilltop resupplied by civilian contractors in light planes and Ukrainians using an old Russian helicopter?  This is a "shoestring" operation.  Clearly there are not enough coalition troops in Afghanistan.  What is the mission for Outpost "Margha?"  Border surveillance?  The officer in charge does not have enough men or fire support to patrol or ambush toward the nearby border.  One "heavy" mortar?  The miniaturization of this effort is disturbing.

In Vietnam, an equivalent position, similarly sited, was Bu Dop Special Forces Camp in Phuoc Long Province.   It was two miles from Cambodia and the rear base area of North Vietnamese Army units that, depending on circumstance, numbered several thousand at any given time. 

Bu Dop Camp had about 30 US and Vietnamese Special Forces soldiers and several hundred Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) militia IN THE CAMP.  These CIDG "strikers" were full timers who had been recruited from all over the country.  The camp covered a couple of acres, was star or triangle shaped ( I forget which), had two concentric lines of defenses, both heavily dug in, underground tunnels running everywhere, underground living facilities and massive fire support available within the camp.  This consisted of half a dozen 4.2 inch and 81mm mortars in dug in positions and a 105mm howitzer.  There were M2 .50 caliber machine guns in positions all over the inner perimeter and .30 caliber Brownings in similar positions in the outer perimeter.  Everything was deeply entrenched with double apron barbed wire fences all around the outside and between the two lines of defense.  Anchored concertina wire was piled up between the fences.  The wire was booby trapped.  Fougasse and claymore mines abounded in the wire obstacle as well as aircraft flares situated to use their cylindrical metal shipping container halves as reflectors to shine 25 million candlepower in the faces of an assault force when needed.  In addition to this, the place sometimes had available the fires of American artillery temporarily in the area.  Then there was available air support, especially the ubiquitous AC-47 "Spooky" gunships with their gatling guns.  A formidable place, but not all that unusual.  In spite of this the North Vietnamese tried several times to capture the post.  They tried with regimental size attacks backed by a lot of artillery and rockets.  They failed although it was a close thing at times.

What was Bu Dop’s mission?  It was surveillance of the border and North Vietnamese infiltration and supply of their forces in South Vietnam.  To that end the garrison of Bu Dop patrolled and ambushed right up to the border across a wide swath of border country.  It was dangerous work.  A secondary mission was the protection of the nearby district town of Bo Duc and the Vietnamese government apparatus there.  These were reasonable missions given the resources available.

Outpost "Margha" is ridiculously under-resourced.  Not enough men, very little readily available fire support for the protection of either the outpost or any civilians who could be persuaded to become friendly.  The junior officer in command has a thankless task.  All he can do is hold on, try not to be over run and pray for his relief to show up.

Air power is lovely as a source of logistical and fire support, but "Margha" is resupplied by civilian contractors and has one mortar as its available indirect fire support?  There is obviously not enough US air power available for either job.

Men living on combat rations for months at a time?  Constipation must be a problem.

Both the foreground ridge in the picture and the one behind it should be covered with pre-registered artillery and mortar fires so that every attack by fire will be answered so rapidly that it will be extremely dangerous to fire from those positions.  Dare I think of an aggressive program of ambush patrols on the part of these paratroops?  There would have to be a lot more of them.  They are now now more or less pent up in their little fort.  The Taliban must think they have already died and gone to paradise.  This is eerily reminiscent of old British experience in this same area.

A counter-battery mortar radar would be a good idea at "Margha" if they do not already have one.  There should be US artillery positioned to support places like this, but in today’s army that kind of thinking seems to have gone away.

Too little, too much risk, disaster waiting to happen.  pl


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30 Responses to Outpost “Margha”

  1. JohnH says:

    I have to admit you were right, Colonel. Oil markets are rigged by “market makers.” There is no other explanation.
    Last Wednesday, the BTC pipeline, carrying a million bpd, got bombed in eastern Turkey. Last weekend Russia invaded Georgia and dropped bombs near the BTC. YET THE PRICE OF OIL IS NOT RISING. No additional risk premium for a new zone of instability threatening supplies.

  2. frogspawn says:

    Too little, too much risk, disaster waiting to happen. pl
    And if/when it does happen, nobody could’ve anticipated it.

  3. Cold War Zoomie says:

    God bless ’em.
    Hope they all get home.

  4. JfM says:

    Often modern technology can be a force multiplier. True, robust communications has the effect of quickly mustering firepower from afar. But, even with the most potent fire available, one man or a reinforced squad on a remote hilltop regrettably does not mean they own the terrain. It is probably still best said in the words of T.R.Fehrenbach from his 1963 history of the Korean War, This Kind of War, “ You may fly over a land forever, you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life–but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud. His blunt but eloquently expressed assessment is, if anything, more pertinent today.

  5. jose says:

    Why would the military allow such a story to be published?
    Unless these men are bait to spring a trap, someone in the chain of command has really screwed-up.

  6. b says:

    Poor guys – there is absolutely no use in such a position – cannon fodder.
    But now the CinC will help them by cutting the U.S. supply lines through Russia (those were negotiated in April/May).
    Not that the supply line through Pakistan is getting anymore stable …
    Supply through Iran? Nice try …

  7. David Habakkuk says:

    Exactly right.
    The Bush Administration handed the jihadists a golden opportunity in Iraq.
    They managed to blow it — through their reckless fanaticism and cruelty.
    But then — just as the knife is at their neck — the Bush Administration produces the perfect rabbit out of the hat.
    They do their absolute best to antagonise the two most determined opponents of the Sunni jihadists: the Shia clerics in Tehran and the Russian government.
    And then they do everything possible to antagonise the population of Pakistan.
    The result is that — in a totally gratuitous own goal — they are removing the knife from the jihadists’ throats, where the jihadists had very kindly placed it.

  8. drauz says:

    It’s pretty clear – the reason they are under-resourced & over-committed is that they are not performing an important task, nor are they themselves particularly valuable. Sad.

  9. VietnamVet says:

    The pictures of my old Brigade 38 years later does bring it back, all over again. Strange, much is the same, the helicopters, the same pointless strategy of killing them all; but, also so different; no barbed wire defense in depth, no screened plywood hooches; 15 month tours, over and over again.
    Twenty three years ago I listened to General Westmoreland speak at the 20th anniversary of the Brigade’s deployment from Okinawa to South Vietnam. He really didn’t get what happened. The most striking point was his boast that every square foot of South Vietnam could within minutes be hit by artillery fired from Landing Zones (LZs) strategically placed throughout the country. It didn’t matter.
    The only way to defeat the Afghans is to do the exact same thing the USA did to the Nez Perce; place them in reservations. Otherwise as long as they survive and raise new warriors, the Afghans will harass the Invaders till they finally leave.
    By rejecting diplomacy and the rule of law, in favor military force, the USA is has no tools left to influence events; its military force and good standing in the world was spent in the sands of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan for nothing.
    Note the lack of effective counter efforts to stop the war in Georgia and Putin’s recognition of America’s weakness. A Bully’s bluff was called.

  10. Paul says:

    Outpost Margha is indeed risky; it might even be classified as negligent depending on other factors that are not disclosed in the piece. If that group is wiped out there must be an investigation to place blame to those responsible. That Afghanistan is risky is directly related to the alleged victory of the “surge” of ground troops in Iraq. One wonders why military planners would risk those soldiers given the ever-rising threats in Afghanistan.
    The NY Times says that cash has become the choice weapon in many parts of Iraq. Everyone seems to be on the dole. What happens when the money stops?
    Little is published in the main stream media about the fuss in Georgia. It appears, however, that the Georgians have been led to believe that we would “be there for them” in times of distress. Those who know Bush (French, British, Germans – and now the Poles) don’t trust him as far as they can throw him. The Russians are acting because they claim to be protecting their interests. I don’t know enough of the detail to agree or disagree. But the Russians went into Georgia with a vengeance and with enough troops and firepower to accomplish whatever they intended. Cheney intones: “this will not go unanswered!” What will he hit them with, a wet noodle?
    And now we have McCain talking tough about Russia, and Kristol states that “we owe the Georgians”. What are they thinking? Their followers – every one of them a sheep of one sort or other – mistakenly think that America intimidates potential foes, Muslim or otherwise. America has been hollowed out and has to be protected from itself.
    Meanwhile, “W” lives his children dream: hanging around Beijing sniffing sweaty jock-straps. Now, there’s a real leader.

  11. jonst says:

    “Often modern technology can be a force multiplier”. Yeah, but can it help with constipation? Does it make ya blow things out your ass faster? Some things about nature, and warfare, can’t be massaged.

  12. jonst says:

    Hey JfM….just wanted to say my comments were not directed to you. You more than get it. I was shaking my fist at the sky, so to speak. And especially to the voices now calling on us to ‘protect the territorial integrity of Georgia’ and all the while those brave men sit on the top of hill. And wait.

  13. jr786 says:

    Respect for local culture and traditions can be the greatest force multiplier of all, and certainly would have been in Afghanistan where people had already suffered so much.
    Accidental killing of civilians in tribal areas through misguided jdams has done more to hurt the effort in Afghanistan than anything else. That and the fact that Afghanistan was a deeply conservative country before Taliban. Except for the educated elite who had already fled the country anyway at the outbreak of the Catastrophe, most Afghans would be more than happy with a traditional, conservative Muslim life.
    What has modernity brought them?

  14. fasteddiez says:

    The wire defenses are sad; this place would seem to be easy to breach if the defenses/lighting on the main building can be suppressed. This would be fairly easily achieved, since this post is at the bottom of a soup bowl with the proximate high ground overlooking the inside of the camp. This is probably similar to the OP setups in the Korengal valley and that Nuristan location that was breached recently (9 US KIA).
    Jose, The military would allow this to be published because the PAO types see nothing wrong with this sad sack POS (since they are professional sycophants and liars, war is not their métier). Additionally, The MSM does not know any better; as is the case with ninety percent of the microcephallic, oxygen thieving audience of said media.
    Le plus ça change … le plus c’est la même chose!

  15. Mark Johnson says:

    I had two buddies at Bu Dop in 1969, Paul Fager and Mike Parks. When Mike got hit he had to key the mic on the prc-25 and call in his own dustoff because the VN’s did not know how.

  16. Mark Johnson says:

    Here’s a shot of a hook at Bu Dop

  17. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    “They do their absolute best to antagonise the two most determined opponents of the Sunni jihadists: the Shia clerics in Tehran and the Russian government.”
    b and David Habbakuk,
    Agree. And it is the Israel Lobby (Jewish and Christian) that is the underlying problem. I argue in my book that it is a structural problem not only in US domestic politics but also in international politics.
    A normal American foreign policy — say from the multipolar world of the 19th century — would be constructive relations with Russia (as we had) and Iran (as we had). What has changed? Back then we did not have an Israel Lobby.
    But this did arrive in the 20th century in the wake of the 1905 Russo-Japanese War in which the New York Kuhn Loeb group financed the Japanese against Russia. This is not something new in American politics, NOT repeat NOT 1948, more like a century old. It is a structural problem of significant magnitude as the Iraq War, the potential Iran War, the war in Georgia, and the New Cold War demonstrate.
    It is not just about the “Neocons.” The issue is much bigger than the Neocons…..and at much more rarified levels.

  18. Marcus says:

    Is there a strategy here? Is there an overarching vision of where the execs want to see this place ten years from now? Has anyone defined “The War on Terror?
    If not then I submit this is just the craven throes in the last months of The Incompetents, and how can you expect smart tactics under these circumstances?

  19. JfM says:

    Because of the misguided and stupid adventure in Iraq leaving us with very little in the quiver, we are almost powerless to react against Russia in defense of a threatened ally, Georgia. Truly this episode has our national interests at risk. Thus is the cost of folly. And, no, jonst, I understand your comment and stand here under the lovely darkening Virginia sky and shake my fist at the heavens in disgust and frustration of what resides within the nearby Beltway. Meanwhile Cheney continues to mutter promises of reaction to the Russians and threaten to act with capability we simply do not have.

  20. Mike Parks says:

    I was on the team at Budop, A 341, from Aug 68-Feb 70.
    We usually only had 8 or 10 Americans and about the same number or VNSF.
    There were around 250 strikers and most all were locals.
    Viets, Montagnards and Cambodians.
    The camp was completely over run in ’67 and rebuilt after that.
    It was basically square.
    In 1970 it was turned over to the ARVN rangers.
    Exciting times for a young man off the farm.
    The SF guys in Afghanistan were and continue to do a great job in spite of meddling from the conventional military.
    We are trained to integrate with populations to a much greater extent than conventional folks.
    There was quite a lot of problems over this.
    My .02, anyways

  21. MTJ says:

    Col – Outpost “Margha” is an example of 4th Gen. Warfare. 5th Gen would be one paratrooper manning the outpost.

  22. Jose says:

    “The military would allow this to be published because the PAO types see nothing wrong with this sad sack POS (since they are professional sycophants and liars, war is not their métier).”
    Fasteddiez, you reminded of a certain Battalion Commander that was the final straw…

  23. Old Bogus says:

    I remember flying over hills near Pleiku and seeing SOLITARY ARVN scouts below. With dusk approaching and them in a known position, I wondered how many “converted” to being VC on the spot! Even with artillery support, they were obviously expendable. I felt so sorry for them as individuals. But our pilot wouldn’t stop and give them a ride home!

  24. Patrick Lang says:

    That sounds pretty bogus. pl

  25. Patrick Lang says:

    Mike Parks
    I was at song be in 1969 and 1969. I must have met you at Bu Dop the times I visited there. pl

  26. walrus says:

    Reading this story reminds me of a goat tethered to attract the Tiger.

  27. Oh, just by looking at that you can see the “institutional knowledge” of the US Army has vanished. They have retained nothing–nothing–of what was learned in Vietnam.
    Those are brave men, physically fit men, and they are making a huge sacrifice, but they are not the dug-in killers of the Vietnam era. Why is there this vast gap between what that base should look like and what the base in Vietnam was described as? Was the base that was overrun recently as poorly situated and defended as this one appears to be? Who is relieving for cause and incompetence the officer who situated this post BELOW the high ground? Where are the NCOs to get everyone working their butts off to make every aspect of this post as tactically sound as possible?
    Coincidentally, those “firebases” and areas in Vietnam are likely still in use, albeit in another capacity and with different purposes. Has anyone visited the country and gone back over their old stomping grounds in the last decade or so?

  28. Tyler says:

    “Where are the NCOs to get everyone working their butts off to make every aspect of this post as tactically sound as possible?”
    Consider the recent manning issues plaguing the US Army. Many of its NCOs, seeing the writing on the wall (constant deployment for the next decade or so), opted to get out upon expiration of their contract or ASAP in the case of indefinite re-enlistments.
    When I was in you had more than a few NCOs who had made a career of the Army with anywhere from 12-17 years in deciding to leave. Those that did not often suffered the complete disintegration of any sort of family life they had built. Base housing in Alaska for senior NCOs was overwhelmed by the demand of suddenly single E6s, E7s, and E8s looking for a place to live.
    You only had so many E4s who had been overlooked for promotion even though they were excellent soldiers. Once that small supply was gone, the Army’s leaders at the team and squad levels are men who simply happen to have the most time in before someone pins a corporal’s stripes on them and hopes for the best.
    Obviously, something is lacking in the transition.

  29. B says:

    huh. you know whats funny? we had a countermortar radar at Margha for the fifteen months prior to this blog post. it was sitting on top of the TOC on the north side of the COP when I last saw it in July 08. fat load of good it did though, it never picked up any incoming, didn’t even peep when we got shellacked with WP 82mm mortars on 25 April 08. Overall, Margha COP was a pretty entertaining place to be, our hooches were all 30 foot milvans buried under the bases of the guard towers so we kept nice and cool during the day, and a killer view. plus, monkeys and dogs would come to raid our trash pit, so we’d get a little target practice in every night.
    Still doesn’t change the tactical and strategic lunacy of placing that base on Hill 2142. When my old outfit got there, Margha COP was three kilometers north by northwest of 2142, right next to the bazaar. it was perfect for counterinsurgency- we would patrol constantly in town, established a rapport with the locals and everything was hunky-dory. but we took something like 20 wounded in 5 months because we were in the low ground and they’d just dump plunging fire into us. but we spent the whole time fortifying the position, and getting better after each hit. Then Colonel Fenzel’s brain cadre over in Orgun-E came up with a “Brilliant” Idea- let’s build a new one on top of a mountain nearby. Clearly they were in a HIC mindset-dominate key terrain features and plunge fire down on your enemy. However comma our mission was not to be the king of the hill. our mission was to live beside the locals, provide them with security, and facilitate the local government. So millions of dollars later, we were left sitting on top of that hill away from the population. it was a recipe for disaster, the ACM no longer feared collateral damage, and the easiest target in the world to hit is a position on the crest of a hill. so we got mortared constantly, and accomplished nothing for the rest of the deployment.
    Thats what worrying about casualties too much gets you. But I tell you what, best chicken-fried steak I ever had was at that place.

  30. jayme says:

    I spent 15 months in that post in 2007. The author fails to mention the 2 155s on the FOB that provides fire support. He also forgets to mention the 2 companies of soldiers that conduct missions into the area while the platoon at the outpost holds the position. We were attacked on a nightly basis and air and fire support was available within 15 min.

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