Lack of Air Support for USMC in Afghan Ambush Investigated

#1
This story is picking up steam in US and is a graphic reminder that air assets are stretched thin for all coalition forces

Ambushed Marines' Aid Call 'Rejected'[/size]
September 10, 2009
Agence France-Presse


Ambushed Marines' Aid Call 'Rejected'

NATO-led forces are investigating the death of four Marines in eastern Afghanistan after their commanders reportedly rejected requests for artillery fire in a battle with insurgents, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Tuesday's incident was "under investigation" and details remained unclear, press secretary Geoff Morrell told a news conference.

A McClatchy newspapers' journalist who witnessed the battle reported that a team of Marine trainers made repeated appeals for air and artillery support after being pinned down by insurgents in the village of Ganjgal in eastern Kunar province.

The U.S. troops had to wait more than an hour for attack helicopters to come to their aid and their appeal for artillery fire was rejected, with commanders citing new rules designed to avoid civilian casualties, the report said.

Morrell said the helicopters were not hampered by any restrictions on air power but had to travel a long distance to reach the Marines at the remote location near the Pakistan border.

"I think that it did take some time for close air support to arrive in this case, but this is not a result of more restrictive conditions in which it can be used," he said.

"It was the result, as is often the case in Afghanistan, of the fact that there are great distances often between bases where such assets are located and where our troops are out operating."

Morrell could not confirm whether appeals for artillery fire were denied by commanders.

According to the McClatchy report by Jonathan Landay, the U.S. advisors assisting Afghan forces had been assured before the operation that "air cover would be five minutes away."

The incident comes after the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, issued new restrictions on the use of military force and air raids in a bid to prevent civilian deaths.

McChrystal has warned that civilian casualties caused by the NATO-led force risk alienating the Afghan population and jeopardizing the war effort.

But the general and other top military officials have insisted air support and fire power would not be restricted when U.S. troops were under direct threat.

Bombing runs by coalition forces have declined sharply since McChrystal took over command in June, U.S.A Today reported on Wednesday, citing military statistics.

Tuesday's firefight in eastern Afghanistan involved a 13-member team of U.S. Marine and Army trainers assigned to the Afghan national army, the report said.

Eight Afghan soldiers and police and an Afghan interpreter also died in the battle, which lasted for hours with insurgents unleashing a barrage of gunfire and rockets from mountain positions, the report said.

When an Afghan soldier demanded helicopter gunships, U.S. Major Kevin Williams replied through an interpreter: "We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We've lost today."

The Americans were assisting Afghan forces in an operation that called for Afghans searching the hamlet for weapons and then meeting village elders to plan police patrols.

But U.S. officers suspected insurgents were tipped off about the operation beforehand, as the coalition and Afghan forces were ambushed as they approached the outskirts of the hamlet at dawn, the report said.
http://www.military.com/news/article/ambushed-marines-aid-call-rejected.html?ESRC=eb.nl
 
#2
I believe this story has little to do with air and fire support availability and more to do with permissions to use such assets. Politicians (and maybe senior officers)not satisfied with budget cuts, have now decided that too many innocents are dying as part of this campaign. The knock-on effect is that the use of air and fire support is nicely wrapped up in several layers of red tape, whilst shouting over a crackly radio.

All that said, modern doctrine has come to rely heavily on air and fire support and with that comes a lack of training and application of such ideas such as an orderly (laughs) withdrawl under fire. If air and fire support is something that can not be relied on anymore, then the old keep your head down until the A-10's get here is no longer a valid method to stay alive. "The Apaches aren't coming sir, any chance you can get us out of here in one piece?"

"Two's up, bags of smoke!!"
 
#3
DummyRound said:
I believe this story has little to do with air and fire support availability and more to do with permissions to use such assets. Politicians (and maybe senior officers)not satisfied with budget cuts, have now decided that too many innocents are dying as part of this campaign. The knock-on effect is that the use of air and fire support is nicely wrapped up in several layers of red tape, whilst shouting over a crackly radio.

All that said, modern doctrine has come to rely heavily on air and fire support and with that comes a lack of training and application of such ideas such as an orderly (laughs) withdrawl under fire. If air and fire support is something that can not be relied on anymore, then the old keep your head down until the A-10's get here is no longer a valid method to stay alive. "The Apaches aren't coming sir, any chance you can get us out of here in one piece?"

"Two's up, bags of smoke!!"
Very astute observation.
 
#4
RMAS instructors always said that Withdrawal in Contact was one of the most difficult things to accomplish successfully.
 
#5
Is not the real story that the US and Afghan forces involved were outgunned by the opposition ? If you can't win the firefight then it really is time to go home.

There's a reason the Red Army went round in tanks, BMPs and BTRs, there's a reason they used manpack 82mm mortars, AGS-17, 12.7 NSV, RPO etc at section level when they were in AFG. Perhaps we need to upgun our organic firepower to match Soviet levels ?
 
#6
One_of_the_strange said:
Is not the real story that the US and Afghan forces involved were outgunned by the opposition ? If you can't win the firefight then it really is time to go home.

There's a reason the Red Army went round in tanks, BMPs and BTRs, there's a reason they used manpack 82mm mortars, AGS-17, 12.7 NSV, RPO etc at section level when they were in AFG. Perhaps we need to upgun our organic firepower to match Soviet levels ?
A good point. They also used the 240mm SP mortar (Tulpan) with laser designated fuzes. It ain't high tech but it does what it says on the label :twisted:
 
#7
rickshaw-major said:
One_of_the_strange said:
Is not the real story that the US and Afghan forces involved were outgunned by the opposition ? If you can't win the firefight then it really is time to go home.

There's a reason the Red Army went round in tanks, BMPs and BTRs, there's a reason they used manpack 82mm mortars, AGS-17, 12.7 NSV, RPO etc at section level when they were in AFG. Perhaps we need to upgun our organic firepower to match Soviet levels ?
A good point. They also used the 240mm SP mortar (Tulpan) with laser designated fuzes. It ain't high tech but it does what it says on the label :twisted:
The 2S4, nicknamed "Tulip". (Why the Sovs gave their tube arty flower names escapes me, but they did.) If memory serves Smelchak was the laser guided round.

AFG is also where the TOS-1 direct fire thermobaric rocket system first got an airing, it's why the Mi-8 was uprated to the Mi-17 to cope with Afghan hot and high conditions, and many other innovations beside. All between 1979 and 1989.
 
#8
We keep being told that Afghanistan is an "asymmetrical" conflict. And indeed it is. However, asymmetry has more than one flavour. On the onehand, NATO is still bound to (often rigid) 'conventional' doctrine, tactics, equipment and ROE whilist its opponents are using increasingly flexible levels of 'insurgent' and 'terror' tactics. On the otherhand, NATO forces rely on high tech stand-off weaponry to 'win' the fire fight whilst the opponent is still using Mk1 eyeball contact.

It's a worrying sign that when the asymmetry is removed, and two groups of human flesh are left to duel it out on 'level' terms, one side has to resort to a blame game and bemoans the loss of their asymmetric advantage. More worryingly, it's 'our' side that came off worst.
 
#9
whitecity said:
We keep being told that Afghanistan is an "asymmetrical" conflict. And indeed it is. However, asymmetry has more than one flavour. On the onehand, NATO is still bound to (often rigid) 'conventional' doctrine, tactics, equipment and ROE whilist its opponents are using increasingly flexible levels of 'insurgent' and 'terror' tactics. On the otherhand, NATO forces rely on high tech stand-off weaponry to 'win' the fire fight whilst the opponent is still using Mk1 eyeball contact.

It's a worrying sign that when the asymmetry is removed, and two groups of human flesh are left to duel it out on 'level' terms, one side has to resort to a blame game and bemoans the loss of their asymmetric advantage. More worryingly, it's 'our' side that came off worst.
That may be so at the force level (or higher) in terms of blame gaming etc. I think you will find, however, that to his credit the Marine leader in the fight did no such thing--
"We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We've lost today," Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, 37, said through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latter's repeated demands for helicopters.
Also, it is worth mentioning in the context of your good points that this was from all indications not a "combat patrol" per se but one more oriented to the "hearts and minds" aspect. Nevertheless, any "group" of our forces going into indian country should be able to protect itself against the reasonably anticipated threats.
 
#10
jumpinjarhead said:
whitecity said:
We keep being told that Afghanistan is an "asymmetrical" conflict. And indeed it is. However, asymmetry has more than one flavour. On the onehand, NATO is still bound to (often rigid) 'conventional' doctrine, tactics, equipment and ROE whilist its opponents are using increasingly flexible levels of 'insurgent' and 'terror' tactics. On the otherhand, NATO forces rely on high tech stand-off weaponry to 'win' the fire fight whilst the opponent is still using Mk1 eyeball contact.

It's a worrying sign that when the asymmetry is removed, and two groups of human flesh are left to duel it out on 'level' terms, one side has to resort to a blame game and bemoans the loss of their asymmetric advantage. More worryingly, it's 'our' side that came off worst.
That may be so at the force level (or higher) in terms of blame gaming etc. I think you will find, however, that to his credit the Marine leader in the fight did no such thing--
"We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We've lost today," Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, 37, said through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latter's repeated demands for helicopters.
Also, it is worth mentioning in the context of your good points that this was from all indications not a "combat patrol" per se but one more oriented to the "hearts and minds" aspect. Nevertheless, any "group" of our forces going into indian country should be able to protect itself against the reasonably anticipated threats.
USMC troops were 'trainers' accompanying 'our' Afghan troops. It appears they were ambushed by 'their' Afghan troops. Irrespective of the specific type of mission, location or numbers involved on each side, 'our' side were unable to defeat 'their' side man-to-man and resorted to calling for asymmetric support. Indeed, it seems they were only confident about going out in the knowledge that "air cover would be five minutes away." What does that say about doctrine, tactics, mentality and the overall situation in Afghanistan?

I have three points to make:

1) 'Our' side seems all too keen to resort to asymmetric advantages when it suits - whilst decrying 'their' efforts of asymmetry - and are unable to hold ground in a non-asymmetric encounter.

2) 'Our' side still hasn't grasped the way to 'win' an insurgency. Namely, to dominate the battlespace in terms of territorial 'control' and moral/social supremacy. In otherwords, lots and LOTS of boots are needed for human contact not high-tech gadgets that make big (and often indescriminate) bangs.

3) Almost 8 years into the Afghanistan adventure, none of 'our' policymakers seem to have learned anything and think winning the bodycount is the only indicator worth watching.
 
#11
agree with the above ..dominate and HOLD the ground which means boots on the ground and staying there ...very simple and obvious ...terry is not stupid he knows the flight times from sending the initial TIC to target area and how long air assets can remain on station providing top cover
 
#12
whitecity said:
jumpinjarhead said:
whitecity said:
We keep being told that Afghanistan is an "asymmetrical" conflict. And indeed it is. However, asymmetry has more than one flavour. On the onehand, NATO is still bound to (often rigid) 'conventional' doctrine, tactics, equipment and ROE whilist its opponents are using increasingly flexible levels of 'insurgent' and 'terror' tactics. On the otherhand, NATO forces rely on high tech stand-off weaponry to 'win' the fire fight whilst the opponent is still using Mk1 eyeball contact.

It's a worrying sign that when the asymmetry is removed, and two groups of human flesh are left to duel it out on 'level' terms, one side has to resort to a blame game and bemoans the loss of their asymmetric advantage. More worryingly, it's 'our' side that came off worst.
That may be so at the force level (or higher) in terms of blame gaming etc. I think you will find, however, that to his credit the Marine leader in the fight did no such thing--
"We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We've lost today," Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, 37, said through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latter's repeated demands for helicopters.
Also, it is worth mentioning in the context of your good points that this was from all indications not a "combat patrol" per se but one more oriented to the "hearts and minds" aspect. Nevertheless, any "group" of our forces going into indian country should be able to protect itself against the reasonably anticipated threats.
USMC troops were 'trainers' accompanying 'our' Afghan troops. It appears they were ambushed by 'their' Afghan troops. Irrespective of the specific type of mission, location or numbers involved on each side, 'our' side were unable to defeat 'their' side man-to-man and resorted to calling for asymmetric support. Indeed, it seems they were only confident about going out in the knowledge that "air cover would be five minutes away." What does that say about doctrine, tactics, mentality and the overall situation in Afghanistan?

I have three points to make:

1) 'Our' side seems all too keen to resort to asymmetric advantages when it suits - whilst decrying 'their' efforts of asymmetry - and are unable to hold ground in a non-asymmetric encounter.

2) 'Our' side still hasn't grasped the way to 'win' an insurgency. Namely, to dominate the battlespace in terms of territorial 'control' and moral/social supremacy. In otherwords, lots and LOTS of boots are needed for human contact not high-tech gadgets that make big (and often indescriminate) bangs.

3) Almost 8 years into the Afghanistan adventure, none of 'our' policymakers seem to have learned anything and think winning the bodycount is the only indicator worth watching.
No argument from me--I was trying to make the distinction though between those at higher levels (policy wonks) and the warriors who have acknowledged the tenacity and capability of their foes. To underestimate them at any level, but especially at the tactical (to use your parlance Mk1 eyeball) level is bound to end badly.

We have seen this phenomenon elsewhere--pick your spot--Somalia comes to mind where even our vaunted special operators were ultimately overcome, killed and mutilated by a determined, numerically superior but presumably "inferior" (training, equipment etc.) force. In the same conflict, we learned at great cost that such "inferior" forces were eminently adaptable, losing several helicopters to RPGs that had theretofore only been thought capable of ground-ground employment).

It is a natural, and to some extent encouraged, attitude for a COIN force to regard itself as "better" than the insurgent force. While this may be necessary to ensure aggressive and confident operations, COIN leaders must be careful not to believe their own propaganda to the point they allow the force to become cocksure or smug either among the indiv8idual warriors or more systemically in failing to employ sufficient forces (personnel, weapons, supporting arms etc.) to ensure clear tactical dominance at all times.
 
#13
jumpinjarhead said:
No argument from me--I was trying to make the distinction though between those at higher levels (policy wonks) and the warriors who have acknowledged the tenacity and capability of their foes. To underestimate them at any level, but especially at the tactical (to use your parlance Mk1 eyeball) level is bound to end badly.

We have seen this phenomenon elsewhere--pick your spot--Somalia comes to mind where even our vaunted special operators were ultimately overcome, killed and mutilated by a determined, numerically superior but presumably "inferior" (training, equipment etc.) force. In the same conflict, we learned at great cost that such "inferior" forces were eminently adaptable, losing several helicopters to RPGs that had theretofore only been thought capable of ground-ground employment).

It is a natural, and to some extent encouraged, attitude for a COIN force to regard itself as "better" than the insurgent force. While this may be necessary to ensure aggressive and confident operations, COIN leaders must be careful not to believe their own propaganda to the point they allow the force to become cocksure or smug either among the indiv8idual warriors or more systemically in failing to employ sufficient forces (personnel, weapons, supporting arms etc.) to ensure clear tactical dominance at all times.
I do not think we are disageeing at all. We are simply adding further points to the larger context of the problem. More to follow later as I must dash out on a prior engagement.
 
#14
whitecity said:
jumpinjarhead said:
No argument from me--I was trying to make the distinction though between those at higher levels (policy wonks) and the warriors who have acknowledged the tenacity and capability of their foes. To underestimate them at any level, but especially at the tactical (to use your parlance Mk1 eyeball) level is bound to end badly.

We have seen this phenomenon elsewhere--pick your spot--Somalia comes to mind where even our vaunted special operators were ultimately overcome, killed and mutilated by a determined, numerically superior but presumably "inferior" (training, equipment etc.) force. In the same conflict, we learned at great cost that such "inferior" forces were eminently adaptable, losing several helicopters to RPGs that had theretofore only been thought capable of ground-ground employment).

It is a natural, and to some extent encouraged, attitude for a COIN force to regard itself as "better" than the insurgent force. While this may be necessary to ensure aggressive and confident operations, COIN leaders must be careful not to believe their own propaganda to the point they allow the force to become cocksure or smug either among the indiv8idual warriors or more systemically in failing to employ sufficient forces (personnel, weapons, supporting arms etc.) to ensure clear tactical dominance at all times.
I do not think we are disageeing at all. We are simply adding further points to the larger context of the problem. More to follow later as I must dash out on a prior engagement.
Ta!
 
#15
I don't believe the policymakers have a clue who 'we' are fighting in Afghanistan and why 'they' are fighting 'us'. If they do know, and are deliberately spinning an alternative mendacious narrative for selfish political interest, then they should be collective hung, drawn and quartered for their treachery.

Until they truely grasp the nature of this conflict, they will never resource the operation satisfactorily nor set realistic, coherent and achievable goals. In the absence of this, the military will continue floundering around trying to make the best of a bad job. 'Cracking on,' as we say this side of the pond. 'Victory' in Afghanistan is assured. All that needs to be done is to construct a form of words and apparent policy aims that have been met for it all to end. That's where we're heading, sadly. A selfish political victory not a 'just' victory.

General Petraeus' operational plan in Iraq achieved a remarkable turnaround for a number of key reasons. The increase in boot numbers helped. The change in allegience of Sunni tribes and al-Sadr's ceasefire also played their part. However, in my opinion, the most important element to the rapid and clear change in the security situation was that the US military finally (after 4 years) actually started to deal with the 'real' problems. Petreaus correctly judged, and (most importantly) convinced his political bosses, that the root problem was inter-ethnic violence. To turn around the security situation, they had to snuff out that Iraqi-on-Iraqi blood-letting instead of exhausting excessively disproportionate effort chasing non-existant al-Qaeda shadows. It worked.

Afghanistan needs somebody to convince Obama, Brown and Co. that a similar sea change in understanding is needed and a corresponding refocussing of effort is the only way to bring about a 'just' victory. I'm not sure such a person exists as too many policymakers have too much riding on their deluded proclamations.

Stepping down a level or three, your average Tom, Hat or Grunt, has been lead to believe that Terry is an Islamo-fascist hell bent on creating a caliphate stretching from Beijing to Seattle the long way round. Moreover, as you point out, he feels Terry is "inferior" to him and the best thing is a quick end at the end of a 500lb LGB. I mean, why risk one's own skin engaging "inferiors" face to face? For now, that gives Tom, Hat or Grunt a slight edge. The Wehrmacht also convinced themselves they were superior in ALL departments. They ruled continental Europe - for a while - until that 'edge' was proved to be, shall we say, deluded and false. How long for our belief in "superiority" (moral, legal and actual) to wear off?

In reality, Terry is generally an average sort of guy simply trying to protect his land and people from a foreign invader. Some may rally under the Taleban banner - probably pushed there by 'our' counter-productive efforts - but many are far more localised militia bands of tribesmen who have NOTHING better to do than take a pop at the enemy. NATO just happens to be the current enemy!

If things carry on as they are, the Afghan will 'win' the 'war' as he has far more at stake personally than any Tom, Hat or Grunt deployed there as part of his professional duty. The Afghans are fighting a war of survival, Tom, Hat or Grunt is merely on an operational tour. Professional military training and doctrine can be as much a hinderance as a help in such circumstances.

Personally, I feel 'we' lost Afghanistan in early to mid-2002. And 'victory' will be whatever clever words the policymakers feel the public can stomach as a justification to pull out.
 
#16
jumpinjarhead said:
We have seen this phenomenon elsewhere--pick your spot--Somalia comes to mind where even our vaunted special operators were ultimately overcome, killed and mutilated by a determined, numerically superior but presumably "inferior" (training, equipment etc.) force. In the same conflict, we learned at great cost that such "inferior" forces were eminently adaptable, losing several helicopters to RPGs that had theretofore only been thought capable of ground-ground employment).
However I am sure the USMC instructors from the Viet Nam era KNEW that the RPG Monocular sight had the anti-helicopter graticules and that the RPG had been used against US air in Viet Nam (and Crab Air in NI). Which sort of backs up Whitecity in a way because had the fighting been against the Soviets this info would have been disseminated very quickly!
 
#18
rickshaw-major said:
jumpinjarhead said:
We have seen this phenomenon elsewhere--pick your spot--Somalia comes to mind where even our vaunted special operators were ultimately overcome, killed and mutilated by a determined, numerically superior but presumably "inferior" (training, equipment etc.) force. In the same conflict, we learned at great cost that such "inferior" forces were eminently adaptable, losing several helicopters to RPGs that had theretofore only been thought capable of ground-ground employment).
However I am sure the USMC instructors from the Viet Nam era KNEW that the RPG Monocular sight had the anti-helicopter graticules and that the RPG had been used against US air in Viet Nam (and Crab Air in NI). Which sort of backs up Whitecity in a way because had the fighting been against the Soviets this info would have been disseminated very quickly!
Great points to you and Whitecity. It seems we learn lessons over an over--usually at the cost of lives, and even worse in the sense that the lives are "wasted", mission accomplishment.
 
#19
jumpinjarhead said:
rickshaw-major said:
jumpinjarhead said:
We have seen this phenomenon elsewhere--pick your spot--Somalia comes to mind where even our vaunted special operators were ultimately overcome, killed and mutilated by a determined, numerically superior but presumably "inferior" (training, equipment etc.) force. In the same conflict, we learned at great cost that such "inferior" forces were eminently adaptable, losing several helicopters to RPGs that had theretofore only been thought capable of ground-ground employment).
However I am sure the USMC instructors from the Viet Nam era KNEW that the RPG Monocular sight had the anti-helicopter graticules and that the RPG had been used against US air in Viet Nam (and Crab Air in NI). Which sort of backs up Whitecity in a way because had the fighting been against the Soviets this info would have been disseminated very quickly!
Great points to you and Whitecity. It seems we learn lessons over an over--usually at the cost of lives, and even worse in the sense that the lives are "wasted", mission accomplishment.
Is unfortunately the correct answer. Cold warriors were quite adept in BAOR at the Withdrawal in Contact and Break Contact drills - because that was the battle we were expecting to fight. Then we statrted doing expeditionary stuff in 1990.
 
#20
rickshaw-major said:
Is unfortunately the correct answer. Cold warriors were quite adept in BAOR at the Withdrawal in Contact and Break Contact drills - because that was the battle we were expecting to fight. Then we statrted doing expeditionary stuff in 1990.
Or to put it another way, we started doing Gendarme missions for which we were neither trained nor properly equipped. And when those missions started to turn more lively, into something we can handle a little better, we find ourselves under-resourced, non-resourced, or bound by Gendame-like ROE. Let's put to one side an almost complete absence of coherent mission policy and strategy...

2 decades or skills-fade is the outcome of bad, incoherent and inappropriate policy.

Crack on....

But, please don't die in such numbers that it makes the political class feel a little temporary embarrasment or uncomfortability.
 

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