Saturday, September 28, 2013

Starry, Starry Night

--A simple game of chess

Our crusade was such madness 
that only a real idealist could have thought it up
--The Seventh Seal (1957)

Ranger will draw connections among three fights: Lang Vei (Vietnam, Feb. '68), Mogadishu - Black Hawk Down (Oct. '93) and the Battle of Kamdesh at Command Outpost Keating in Afghanistan (Oct. 2009).

The key devolution over 40+ years is that the U.S. is no longer fighting enemy armies but simple assemblies of enemy fighters variously described as militias, militants, insurgents, etc., and while U.S. forces are arrayed to fight battles, they instead get roughly handled by simple street thugs ... people for whom soldierly behavior does not apply.

So, why do we fight for hills, towns and terrains which are disposable and not of worth to anyone except those squatting on that particular grid square, and then pull up stakes and leave? Have the principles of war lost their relevance? This is the Day of the Jackal; you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Has Clausewitz had his day? If so, what will direct and constrain our present and future conflicts?

From his personal discussions with battle survivor (Lt.) Paul Longgrear, the Battle of Lang Vei was the death of the United States Special Forces A-Camps, which were small and remote fighting camps with mission augmentation. The fall of Lang Vei showed that the US Army could not hold a camp if the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was determined to expend the operational assets to destroy their objective.

If the  NVA could do this at LV with USMC assets a 105 Howitzer distance away, then any SF fighting camp in VN was a potential death trap. The LV Battle was a knock-down fight between two determined armies; after LV and Tet '68, the outcome of the American war in Vietnam was sealed.

And yet, despite that death knell the U.S. continues 40 years on to emplace its soldiers in indefensible outposts which suffer the same dire fate.

Like LV, the Mogadishu battle [Black Hawk Down - "BHD'] was conducted by the finest Special Operations Forces (SOF) -- the 75th Ranger Battalion assets teamed up with SOF Delta operatives. The difference in the BHD scenario was that the enemy was an unorganized opponent lacking a detailed Table of Organization and Equipment (TO& E) and order of battle; in short, they functioned as militias lacking state apparatus. They probably lacked mission objectives beyond killing soldiers and controlling the countryside and cities by armed violence.

But BHD demonstrated that militias with platoon-level weapons (including RPG2 and 7's) could engage and kill prime US war fighting assets IF the militias were willing to take the casualties. It was estimated in BHD that the U.S. killed 1,000+ militia fighters, yet the U.S. mission was ultimately frustrated and abandoned. Somalia is still the same sewer 20 years on.

The book and the movie were an awe-inspiring view of a world-class infantry, but insurgents and militias world-wide re-learned that they can fight any army to standstill if willing to take the casualties. The lessons taken from the '79 Russo-Afghan war have been re-imagined in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2001 onward.

The Battle at Kamdesh in '09 for which SSG Clinton Romesha earned the Medal of Honor earlier this year occurred 20 miles away from a similar failure the previous year in the Battle of Wanat. While the U.S. soldiers supposedly killed 100 enemy militants, that is immaterial since the 4th Division no longer occupies any terrain in the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.

An old Counterinsurgency (COIN) metric goes, if we are killing 10:1 of ours, then we are being successful. It is doubtful the U.S. met that metric in LV and it assuredly did not in BHD. And in Kamdesh, with a kill ratio of 8:100 ... ? Did we win?

The New York Times reported the Americans following Kamdesh "declared the outpost closed and departed — so quickly that they did not carry out all of their stored ammunition. The outpost’s depot was promptly looted by the insurgents and bombed by American planes in an effort to destroy the lethal munitions left behind" ("Strategic Plans Spawn Bitter End for Lonely Outpost.")

COP Keating was not a win, and they left like Lee slinking out of Gettysburg in July 1863. The difference was that instead of withdrawing under an enemy army's pressure, they faced a rag-tag group of militia fighters who may have been simple bandits or warlord fighters. Though not a Waterloo or Liepzig, it was a total failure nonetheless.

If U.S. forces were to kill 100:1, they would still be losing in a Low-intensity conflict (LIC) or COIN environment. We no longer talk of LIC, instead pretending that we fight battles, but LIC is the order of the day, and reality demands that understanding. However, that understanding would threaten to upend the profitable military complex as we know it.

 Ranger's unit in RVN, Studies and Observations Group (SOG), is reported to have had a kill ratio of 150:1, but we still lost control of the Ho Chi Minh Trail since we never controlled the key terrain on the ground. An army can hold ground, but that is not equal to controlling the ground.

In the last 43 years, the U.S. Army has lost the ability to control the ground. It may have conquered Kabul and Baghdad, but it never controlled the ground, nor the hearts and minds of the locals. This is the fallow result of phony wars.

The latest wars prove the inability of the U.S. Army to destroy and force U.S. will on insurgencies and militia-inspired insurgencies. They are continuations of LV and BHD on another chessboard. What should we have learned?

Time is not on our side.

[cross-posted @ rangeragainstwar]


  1. jim-

    "Has Clausewitz had his day?"

    Ok, I'll bite. . . .

    To ask that question is to ignore the political context . . .

    1. I do like Pepe's reportage, if it means you occasionally need to wade through his difficult writing.

    2. True, since he's been talking so loud for so long that sometimes he's hard to read, still not a bad analysis . . . to be taken with other stuff, other sources . . . along with the systems, limits, confusions, tangled interests and all the rest . . . in order to come to a hopelessly incomplete view of the political relations at this point in time.

  2. You ask good questions.

    I don't have the answers. Your answers are better than anything I could opine on. I know next to nothing of Lang Vei except what you have written about previously.. And I also know very little about the Battle of Mogadishu. Zero at all about Romesha’s fight at Outpost Keating.

    But ignorance never stopped me before from sticking my foot in my mouth before. So here are my thoughts: All three fights you mention the guys on the ground were bait. The trap was supposed to be sprung with massive US firepower to attrit the enemy forces going for the bait. There never was an intent to hold the ground long term.

    In the case of Lang Vei, even Khe Sanh next door was part of Westmoreland's bait. But Giap outfoxed him and used our focus on LV and KS to launch simultaneous attacks on Hue, Danang, Hoi An, Quang Tri City, Saigon and ~30 other cities.

    Blackhawk Down did not start out as a baited trap operation but isn't that what it turned into. And it worked against us as much as it worked for us. But as you point out Aidid's guys were plentiful enough to lose a thousand men w/o blinking. Whoever said that ". . . quantity has a quality of its own . . ." knew what they were talking about. Where did Stalin borrow that phrase from?

    As far as Outpost Keating, my theory is on shakier ground without more info. Was it a baited trap, maybe not? But the similarities to LV and KS are significant. The outpost was placed in a very remote area close to the border of the Talib sanctuary of Pakistan. It was surrounded by high terrain on at least three sides. The overt intent as I understood it was to interdict Talib/AQ reinforcement from Pakistan. Smells like a baited trap to me.

    IMHO we make a big mistake when we allow the brass to substitute brute firepower and attrition theory for stategy.

  3. Mike and Seydlitz.
    My point is that fighting for something that has no meaning is a meaningless venture. In any kind of war or conflict to include LIC etc. I also believe that whatever the situation NO US SOLDIER in a maneuver unit should be outside an artillery fan when operational.. Also at least 1 btry should be DS, and mortars should be in defilade and within proper supporting distance. Also the en should not control the pace of the battle nor occupy key terrain.Also it would be helpful if the defensive position not be a beaten zone.
    In all three examples these elements were ignored , hence i tie the fights together.
    In all 3 examples the engaged US units lost the initiative and lacked the ability to control the battle , and worse none could be relieved in a timely manner.
    How do disasters like this happen?
    Yeah a CDR can hang out a unit as a tethered goat BUT if you can't reinforce or apply reserve forces then things are jack leg at best.Will the fight develope future operations?
    My point also is that the same rules apply no matter who the enemy is or what you claim that the war is all about.
    US Army isn't there to fight insurgencies against host nations , but rather there to protect America. That's what i must believe or the deaths of all are meaningless.If my contention is true then we must treat EVERY US action as a significant event rather than accepting garbage like -they were bait.No Slam on Mike, because we have come to accept such thinking.
    If an Army fights a battle that can't be exploited then it's a butchers ball. Same for any war.
    WHAT DO WE GAIN FROM THE VIOLENCE? We seem to have lost this concept and never ask this at any analysis that i read.
    Now for attriting the enemy.
    We killed millions of NVN/VN/NFL/VC. We killed the hell out of MOGS and maybe killed 10;1 at Keating.
    So What?? As Springsteen sang- they're still there and we're long gone, and worse the conditions were not improved by the killing. So why fight?.
    As an aside at LV the SF was not permitted to put out anti personnel mines or protective minefields , but i'll guess the Marines at KS had them beaucoop. Why have a fighting camp that can't use all the tools of defense?.I don't know if Keating had mines to channelize and cover aves of approach, but i guess they didn't.
    All the valor of the fighters was wasted in all 3 of these fights.
    Now for insurgency- why do we only support corrupt govt's that the people obviously do not support. Why do we fight mafia types here in the states and prop them up and give them govt's to corrupt OCONUS??
    I write off BHD as spec op hubris but the fight is instructive and still relevant.

    1. Alvin Toffler's paraphrased pathology in Anti-War:

      First we make wealth, then we make war to grow or protect our wealth, then we make war to make wealth, then we make war to make war.

  4. Principles of War is more Liddell-Hart than CvC.

    CvC is actually the guy whose ideas help to navigate out of ranger's depression:

    KIA during an occupation (COIN) mission are so very little tolerated in part because they're so useless. To trade a hundred insurgents for one soldier accomplishes nothing. The sacrifice would be easily deemed acceptable is there was a real, sizeable reward.

    Insurgents define the intensity of the conflict. They may suffer atrocious losses, but this would merely mean they'll adjust their martial activity (exposure) down to a level which allows them to recover strength. You buy time (and thus increase your bills and waste more of your time) if you kill many (but not all) insurgents.

    This was the plan during the first years of ISAF; buy time for the Karzai gang to build a government with a sufficient fist to keep the country under centralised control and clean.
    The Karzai gang didn't even try seriously; the longer the occupation lasted, the more foreign money would flow into their racket government and thus into their pockets. It was like telling the Mafia to build a government in Sicily and giving it subsidies and foreign troops to keep the country in check as long as they didn't accomplish their mission.

    So basically, there's nothing to be gained by sacrificing troops, as even stellar kill ratios don't matter.

    Back in the 20's the major European armies had to figure out how to exploit a breakthrough through an entrenched front-line decisively.
    Today's small wars folks in Western armies need to figure out how to exploit suppressed insurgent activity decisively.

    I suppose the answer lies either in allowing indigenous behaviour patterns (~Northern Alliance manners and organisation of winter 01/02) to rule or it lies in diplomacy and diplomats:
    Next time, try to make an irresistible offer to your imaginary arch-enemy precisely at the moment when dumb people think he's on his knees (but in reality merely gathering strength for his comeback).

  5. SO,
    These wars are so disconnected from reality that one fells mentally ill just thinking about them.
    Forget logic and everything we learned as cadets through the higher military schools.
    I think the disconnect is that war is no longer a crime , it's now white collar crime. Also there are no real issues of importance involved so-WHAT ME WORRY????!
    Since u are of a certain viewpoint i'd say philosophically speaking most Amis don't value a soldier as do Europeans.
    The French, Bitish etc to include the Germans saw their soldiers actually defending their homelands.
    This gave euro peoples respect and reverence to their fighting men.

  6. "The French, Bitish etc to include the Germans saw their soldiers actually defending their homelands.
    This gave euro peoples respect and reverence to their fighting men."

    These countries and Russia mobilised their people for war to a degree only surpassed by Paraguay in modern times.
    The distinction between soldier and civilian has -especially in Germany - been blended away at the latest by the bombing horror of WW2.
    To Europeans, a (real) war in Europe is a war of the entire country. Nobody would be safe, and the distinction between civilians safe at home and deployed troops at risk was not strong. Decades of expecting World War 3 to kill you and your family if it happens play into this as well.

    I don't think this respect and reverence thing is a good description of European attitudes either.

    To the contrary, I suppose especially in the comparison of the U.S. and Germany the Americans focus much more on the individual soldiers while in Germany war as an abstract thing still (luckily) represents destruction and danger.
    There are no "in memoriam" displays with ranks, names and photos of fallen soldiers in Germany, for example. There was the occasional news of one, two or once 16 dead soldiers - but it all remained rather abstract.
    And our minister of defence got ridiculed for his statement that the Bundeswehr defends Germany in the Hindukush.

  7. jim

    Europe is most decidedly going to have a different view of war. First of all, WWII was a "home game" here, not an "away game" as his been the case for the US since 1865. Second, the impact on the population of Europe during WWII was more profound in both military and civilian terms than on the us.

    Here's the death rates as a % of national population for WWII. An ** means more civilians than military in the total:

    USSR - 13 - 14% **
    Poland - 16% **
    Germany - 7.9 - 10 % (almost equally split between mil and civ)
    Yugoslavia - 6.7% **
    Greece - 4.5% **
    Netherlands - 3.45% **
    France - 1.35% **
    Italy - 1.03%
    UK - 0.94%
    US - 0.32% (1,700 civilians in total)

    That's just fatalities, not wounded nor devastation to property.

    Since then:

    Korea - 0.02% (military only)
    Viet Nam - 0.03% (military only)
    GWOT - 0.002% and if you add the fatalities on 9/11 - 0.0025%

    Obviously there will be different viewpoints.

  8. "Like LV, the Mogadishu battle [Black Hawk Down - "BHD'] was conducted by the finest Special Operations Forces (SOF) -- the 75th Ranger Battalion assets teamed up with SOF Delta operatives. "

    Commanded by a prime f*ck-up. From reading 'Blackhawk Down', what happened was that this group did a series of raids on some guys in a city, with pretty much the same pattern, and on raid #6 the bad guys had figured out the pattern, and had a whooooooole bunch of guys with guns on alert. The Rangers/Delta Force did another raid as the same old same old, and found out that their enemy was ready.

  9. Barry,
    Indeed you are correct, but tactically the soldiers were still the finest available.It's not the riflemans fault that the opn was conceived in ignorance. The Rangers should be faulted for a command decision to separate the unit from visual contact thereby reducing mutual support.In such cases it's wise to pull in your perimeter rather than expanding it.
    As i stated the plan was filled with hubris and faulty assumptions.This differs little from lets say the Battle of the Bulge.
    IMO the US soldier always does what he's supposed to do IF GIVEN 1/2 a chance to do so.
    The BHD /LV/COP Keating all FAILED to realize the levels or circles of security that both conventional and milita type forces employ for their safety. These security zones are important especially unconventional ops. I've never seen or heard of a en base camp without far security. Usually the outeer zones are simple trail watchers like herders or wood cutters.
    In BHD the US tried to enter a central zone that was ready to fight. The Germans in Yugoslavia lost a Bn trying to do the same thing in WW2.
    The times change but the song remains the same. Custers forces encountered far security at the Crows nest.

  10. I guess I read jim's post differently . . .

    It seemed to do with questions of tactical effectiveness. Kill ratios of 100+:1 against national armies (WWI & WWII) would have been devastating in terms of strategic effect, yet we see these same ratios in the various cases that jim presents and there is no strategic effect . . . so what gives?

    The distinction for me is the political context, which of course if we throw out Clausewitz, we disregard as well. This reminds me in turn of the recent WashPost article by the new president of Iran . . . where he talks about "identity" . . . which of course is political identity . . . . The Iraq war was so much about imposing a political identity (recall the new white-blue-yellow flag they were expected to march under?). How could it have ended up any other way? What could the neo-cons have been thinking . . . ?

    Yet, as in the financial meltdown of 2008, nobody has had to pay any price at all for their folly . . . well at least as long as they had friends in Washington . . . instead the people "pay" . . .

    The confusion becomes more intense the closer you get to the real problem since there are soooo many interests involved. Today, in America, we are engulfed by an ocean of self-serving lies.

    If war is a test of wills, how can a political community formulate its will in an atmosphere of lies and deceit generated by our own political/economic elite . . . ?

  11. Camp Bastion in Afghanistan was another fork-up. Lots of internal security but zero against an external attack. But at least there has eventually been some accountability. Marine Commandant Amos asked two generals (MajGen Gurganus and MajGen Surdevant) to retire in wake of that attack.

    "Amos also recommended that Gurganus’ nomination to the rank of lieutenant general be rescinded and that Sturdevant receive a letter of censure from the secretary of the Navy."

    1. We used to joke at some of the larger main bases (Freedom, Liberty, Bagram) that there's a problem when the security towers are empty and the MPs are mostly enforcing internal order (issuing tickets for speeding)

  12. Seydlitz.
    I am not a strategist. I write as a simple Infantry type who wore a green beret.
    Your points are more than valid, and as usual we must ask- if a group of guys at a web site understand this stuff then why not the 4 bangers? Or do they not think?
    All the fights in RVN?Pwot and in between are similar acts of violence with no discernible purpose other than killing folks.
    I talk grunt stuff and fortunately have guys like you to put it into perspective, and i'm thankful for this.
    We started by a comment on the Prin of war V. KvC.
    I guess i'm more inclined by training to look at the prin of war as my template.This discussion confirms that point.
    AS for paying for folly I think of Snowden and Manning. They are outcast outlaws but the NCA WILL NOT EVER ANSWER in court for their illegal or unconstitutional actions. This may seem OT, but I think it fits into the discussion.

    1. "4 bangers" were appointed by the people who want to have the unchallenged authority to use US military violence wherever and whenever they see fit. I think Shinseki's de facto relief was evidence of how risky it was to inject inconvenient strategic competence. As I'm sure you have seen, the military promotion system does not screen for strategic competence. As Rick's has expertly pointed out via "General Failure" the multi-decade period of flabby largess that the DoD enjoyed left us with caretaker generals who will not rock the boat by meaningfully rejecting the poor practices of the past, and who cultivate replacements who will likewise curate the forces they leave behind. I've known some of this caste and many of them feel like they're in a tough situation, the nation is likely to ask the military to do things which are not really in our wheelhouse, that may mean we commit some effort towards the current action while pining to return to the good old Powell-Weinberger days ("ahh decisive victory"), and many feel like it is better to remain in position and self-censor whatever criticism of the task itself they may believe because they can do more good in the position of power than by using a public resignation as an honorable means of dissent. Adm Wheeler wrote long after Vietnam that had he to do it again, he would have resigned in protest of the way the military was enabling the executive to miss-run the war, but at the time he was swept up in the heady (literally) rationalization that he could do more good through his presence than via his departure. I believe that was wrong. Few generals are so personally impactful that they "must" stay the course for the good of the nation. Much as I may need to ask a troop to make a sacrifice, Generals may need to cultivate a willingness to let themselves be a sacrifice on the field of political strife (think Lamachus at the First Battle of Syracuse). Unfortunately, I think that the promotion system largely breeds that out.

  13. MIke,
    I'm unaware of the USMC machinations of which you refer, BUT as you say-this will not keep me from commenting.
    Using a general template lets discuss security and rings of security.
    In Beirut the Marines put a task force in a threat environment in a big building with inadequate inner security not to mention outer security.
    We in AFGH see the 14th cav get 2 MOH's for a static defensive fight that did not equate to any cav misn since they didn't deny/delay/disorganize/destroy much of anything, nor did their heroic but futile fight lead t0 developing future operations or maintaining contact with an en. after the meeting engagement.NOR DID THEIR PRESENCE ADD any cred to the ANA or the AFGH gov't.
    Now to my point about your Marine gen'ls.
    Why were ITAF Cav assets not screening or providing far security to the locations you discussed? This is what go'S GET PAID TO DO.
    Active patrolling with stand by forces to exploit and develop the situation
    Answer as I see it- because we don't have the slightest idea what we are trying to do in our TAORS. It's all a shell game.
    A very serious game.
    WE can't fight conventional and we surely don't fight UW well either- so why do we bother?
    Let me harken back to the days of old that are happily gone- in RVN SF was commanded by a 06 and had 1 group spread over the entire country. SOG was commanded by a 06.
    My point? 4 bangers don't add anything to the game that seems as an improvement.
    Mike Healy was more a soldier at 06 than Petraeus and McChrystal were as o 10's.
    I hope this addressed your comment.
    If not i'll bend my dogtags .

  14. jim-

    Keep in mind that in RVN, Westy only had an interest in large unit operations, such "search and destroy". Everything else was a side show, or "baiting the trap" as noted above. Small unit operations were "noise" to Westy.

    In fact, Westy had no tolerance at all for the USMC programs in civic action pacification, internal stability, or the "Combined Action Program", all of which were being done "out of hide" while attending to the large unit tasks assigned from MACV. In fact, Westy said on many occasions that the Corp's small unit programs were a sign of "timidity", and finally, in Feb 1968, he established "MACV Forward" at Phu Bai to be able to exercise a greater degree of control over III MAF, to get them to invest more in the large unit operations so common of the Army further south.

    Trying to generalize the reasoning behind the conduct of the Viet Nam War is stifled by the three major players, Westy, LBJ and MacNamara, in that order. All of whom had no idea of what they were doing, and all of whom had no training or experience in operational art or strategic concerns of war. (Westy attended neither CGSC nor a War College).

    While Army C of S Harold Johnson as well as other service chiefs were seriously questioning Westy's conduct of the War, the CJCS, Earle Wheeler was a "true believer", and thus their concerns never made it on to the POTUS.

    In summary, painting all 4 bangers with the same brush, particularly over RVN, doesn't hunt. Westy was a self centered, self promoting, less than truthful man of great ambition - to the point where he was able to drown out saner minds.

  15. "Why were ITAF Cav assets not screening or providing far security to the locations you discussed? This is what go'S GET PAID TO DO.
    Active patrolling with stand by forces to exploit and develop the situation"

    That's actually quite simple:
    (1) Almost all troops in AFG are already in bases, doing base business. Now subtract from the few venturing combat and recce troops the pickets you want and all that ISAF/OEF does would be about bases, with near-zero effect on the country itself.
    (2) Screening would boil down to stationary pickets, as you would burn too much precious fuel if you moved a lot. The pickets would be on the hills/ridgelines in such terrain, and the pickets would either be unmanned (AFAIK unmanned ground sensors are already in use) or manned. The latter would merely be an smaller and easier target.

    The insistence on more outpost/base security smells as does extreme risk aversion, while the readiness to expose few to increase the security of most smells as does a major war setting. Your expectation looks inconsistent to me.

  16. Al,
    Comments noted.
    How am i inconsistent?

  17. Pickets = more security for people in the base, but greater exposure for people in picket position / on roving patrol than in case without pickets.


    1. I suppose that wasn't clear enough.

      My point is that the troops in AFG and Iraq were already too base-bound, too defensive, too stationary. To put even more effort into the bases (even only by adding an outer layer of defences) would have been an effort to minimize the remaining very few casualties which happened in the bases.
      That's extremely casualty-averse.

      The proposed tactic on the other hand - exposing some outside to the benefit of those inside - was not casualty averse and would likely actually increase the overall casualty count while diminishing the forces available for other missions than securing bases or supply convoys.

  18. Jim -

    I doubt a cavalry screen would have helped at Camp Bastion. Aptly named isn't it? Per Webster's Third Edition it means a well fortified position, an impregnable stronghold. But it took only 15 Talib sappers to sneak in thru the wire, which was not alarmed and near a watchtower that was unmanned. These guys were well disguised in US Army uniforms and should have easily got by a loose cavalry screen. They were snooping and pooping when they got close to the wire.

    End result: Six fighter jets destroyed and two others badly damaged, one C-130 destroyed, three refueling stations destroyed, six hangars damaged, two Americans KIA nine wounded. All for the paltry cost of 14 Talib martyrs KIA, one WIA and captured.

    The reported whiny excuse was that the Marine air field was just a corner of Camp Bastion which was a British base with the British Commonwealth troops (Tongans) in charge of security. General Gurganus had just recently cut the Marine security detachment by more than half. The whining was probably what got these two yahoos in trouble, not the death and destruction.

    Both men will retire honorably and with full benefits. Amazing!!!

    1. It was as if the Talib had decided to vindicate Poole's NVA sapper-ninja fixation.

  19. Sven -

    Please excuse my provincialism. I do come from a small backwater ( a slough we call it [pronounced slew] ). Who and what is the Poole fixation? Sapper-Ninjas?

    I also got lost back on your comment re: ". . . mobilised their people for war to a degree only surpassed by Paraguay in modern times". Are we talking modern times of the 1860s or the Oil Company wars of the 1930s?

    1. 1860s.


  20. Mike, the troops are not and were not intended to be "bait". Their mission was, originally, to be engaged as support for and part of a provincial reconstruction team. That mission reflects the COIN concept of winning hearts and minds as well as pointing to fulfilling the messianic need to save third worlders. At any rate, by 2009 the PRT mission was either completed or had dissolved and there were plans to close Keating that summer. However, assets dedicated to closing Keating were diverted to some other mission; a mission chosen by Karzai himself and agreed to, by the brass and Washington, in the spirit of "cooperation" with the Afghan govt. Meanwhile, Keating was devolving into a largely defensive posture. Attacks in 2009 were increased three fold over the prior year, same period. However, the attacks were still brief and ineffective; a few inaccurate mortar rounds lobbed from long range and a few bursts from a machine gun and then contact being broken off. US intel. had begun warning of the danger of more serious massed attacks on the COP, but this became perceived as a "crying wolf" scenario every time the ensuing attack was one of minimal nature. Result: the troops at Keating would have to hold out until Karzai's mission was complete. Karzai's mission ended up taking longer than expected and Keating was attacked by a larger and more determined force (as US intel feared).

    Q1; Was Karzai's diversion of assets merely an unfortunate coincidence?

    The T's small attacks during early to mid 2009 were deliberately designed to a) probe US defenses, reaction times, etc and b) to induce a false sense of security and this was recognized by US intel, but ignored by higher ups due to political concerns. This culpability by brass and Karzai is, I suspect, why MOHs came out of the battle.

    Keating, like most COPs was placed on the beaten/low ground b/c that is where armor and trucks can go. These cannot drive up the rugged terrain to the high ground. If you're going to have COPs they will be down low.

    60mm and 120mm mortars were compromised by the T's well planned avenues of attack and attacks on the mortar positions themselves. You just can't cover them all when you have limited resources at your disposal. Furthermore, the T's took out the generator in the opening minute of battle and thus neutered the US tactical ops center.

    US close air support did respond timely and positively effected the outcome of the battle.

    Bottom line - military strategy has little to nothing to do with this. This is all politics - and bad politics at that. We went into A-stan in part as a punitive raid and in part b/c we thought it necessary to deny T's a base of operations. We believed - just knew - that the good muslims from the North would kick the T's out and help the not so good muslims in the South become good ones too, under our beneficence of course. Since the Afghans would be doing the heavy lifting, we wouldn't need to dedicate much troop or resource-wise. This was the mission for the first few years. Grandiose and simpleminded at the same time, but not totally lacking in merit. When it didn't work out so well, gutless US politicians couldn't decide what to do. Withdrawal would look weak they feared. The mission deteriorated into confusion.

    IMO, everyone is overthinking the situation at Keating. At bottom, what happened there is the result of politicians in Washington being clueless and Army careerists going along to get along.

    Then we have an American messianic complex that leads us to get involved in these adventures in the first place, but also clouds our judgment with an undue and unrealistic optimism.

    Next we have, on the part of both the politicians and Army brass, an underestimation of the enemy's capabilities and generally of their intelligence and adaptability.

    Finally, it's a war. At least sometimes the enemy is going to get something right.

  21. Also, it seems to me that VN and, especially, Mog. can be chalked up to the same POLITICAL and CULURAL/PSYCHOLOGICAL problems in Washington.

    Short of resigning commissions and refusing to follow orders from the CiC, I don't see how any of the blame can be placed on the military.

  22. No one,
    There is plenty of doo doo that sticks to the military cdrs at all levels.
    A Cdr is responsible for all that happens or fails to happen independent of political leadership.
    The Chairman JCS to Sqd ldr are tied to this principle.
    I know of only 1 officer that played you bet your bars and he got relieved and sent home an involuntarily released from Active duty. His replacement was KIA amongst others.
    I still admire his actions and often wonder why more O's didn't do the same.
    H K Johnson resigned in 69 as protest of policies in RVN and other areas such as general defense policy.
    Now having said that it is generally accepted that we all have the right and responsibility to question anything UNTIL the CDR makes the final decision and orders are issued.

  23. Yep, what jim said; having a fucked up geopolitical situation doesn't relieve the maneuver commander of his responsibility to do a good job of collecting intelligence and mission planning.

    In all three cases the individuals and organizations involved on the tactical side made significant errors, either of omission or commission, that led directly to the failures in combat.

    As jim points out, the leaders involved could have and probably should have questioned the overall political justifications for wars (or deployments, in the Mogadishu case...). But once they were given their orders their job was to plan the individual missions successfully.

    In the case of Lang Vei, my understanding is that MAC-V had reason to believe that the PAVN was capable of massing both large maneuver elements including armor against these small CIDG camps. The I Corps higher could have done a number of things; evacuated the camp and centralized these CIDG outposts, reinforced the camp, or prepared a sizeable QRF to counterattack a PAVN/NVA move against it.

    They did none of the above, and A-101 and the 'yards paid for it.

    Mogadishu was just a clusterfuck, pure and simple. Poor planning, no go-to-hell plan, underestimation of the threat to the helos from RPGs, piss-poor tactical integration between the 75th and SFOD-Delta, ignorance of conditions on the ground, failure to coordinate a heavy relief element and pathetic operation of the element that was finally name it, if it was present in Mogadishu in October 1993 it was fairly screwed.

    And I'd say the same applies to the Afghan fight. Poor siting for the defensive position, lack of coordination with indirect fire assets, intel failures, failure of the "quick" reaction force...

    No argument that the geopolitical rationales for all the conflicts are pretty questionable. The VN civil war wasn't recognized as such at the time because of the Cold War Commie-Fighting Beer Goggles, Somalia was a classic example of mission creep, and the vast ignorance of 100 years of British experience in the Hindu Kush that allowed putatively-smart people to assume that we could hustle the East because of our tactical awesomeness...yeah, all those were pretty dumb.

    But...that doesn't let the commander of troops off the hook. Jim is spot-on.

  24. Svenn -

    Thanks. I have not read his work. Should I, what is your opinion?

    As far as the sapper fixation, I think I understand where he is coming from. Perhaps I have one myself. The NVA sappers were d@mn good soldiers. Many American unit logos advertized themselves as swift, silent, and deadly. Maybe so or maybe just bragging, but NVA sappers were for sure. Their tactics of moving in small groups, infiltrating through enemy lines under cover of darkness, moving forward rapidly to the enemy rear rear, and using shock and surprise were similar to your WW1 Stoßtruppen. I always suspected that Giap, or whoever it was in his organization that put together those sapper units, studied Rommel or maybe Rohr or von Hutier.

    Sappers were used successfully at Lang Vei, Firebase Mary Ann, LZ Ross (to my former unit), Cu Chi (where they destroyed about ten of Al's beloved Chinook helicopters), and hundreds of other places. They tried but failed at the American Embassy in Saigon.

    They may not have been a decisive arm. But their ability to get through the wire and cause damage on supposedly secure ARVN and American bases were food for the press and contributed greatly to the malaise in the homeland. Many historians claim Tet put the nail in the coffin of American involvement. And they are probably right, but those sapper attacks before, during, and after Tet strengthened the yearning of the public to end the war.

  25. I am probably wrong about my comment on Keating being "bait". I hope so. The original intent of COP Keating was possibly to establish a center for PRT works. But that idea was discarded due to the danger in that area. It was just too close to the border and was on an infiltration route for Pakistani fighters.

    Yes politicians were to blame but so were some generals. The attack and later abandonment of COP Keating happened in October 2009. General McChrystal was CG of ISAF at that time. But McChrystal and his staff were too busy dissing and mocking Joe Biden to pay attention to remote bases. General Petraeus was CG at CentCOM. But he was too love-puggled by the pretty Paula B. The troops took the hits.

  26. jim-

    Slight historical correction.

    Harold K Johnson was CSA from Jul 1964 to Jul 1968, a full term. He considered resigning "in protest" over the poor handling of the war, but Omar Bradley convinced him to try to "bring change from the inside". Unfortunately, CJCS Earle Wheeler stifled any attempts by Johnson to inject rational thought "from within" into the mix.

    no one-

    You seem to be oblivious to the role Westy played in VN. "Washington" was far too tied up in their micromanagement of the air war against the North to bother with Westy and his totally inaccurate assessment of intel and inappropriate operational (Westy's intellect could barely rise above tactical, no less approach strategic) approach to the war.

  27. Jim,

    Solid post. I have some familiarity with the Battle of Kamdesh and since it's 4 years to the day when it happened, I'll respond a bit.

    COP Keating might have had a COIN related birth, but in less than a year it and its sister COP, COP Lowell, turned into something completely different. Attacks increased to the point that it would make more sense to consider these bases under siege. Choppers got shot down in numbers significant enough to prevent resupply of these bases on a consistent basis. In a war where most bases see resupply at least once a day, the bases on the KAMGOW route were notorious for going weeks without seeing a bird. The roads were impassable and to call it a valley is a mistake. This place was more like a canyon.

    By the time my unit entered Afghanistan, the whole situation was fucked. We were told by the locals that the plan was to force us out from day 1. A month before our arrival, an OP was overrun and destroyed about 30-40km south of this position but still in the SQDN AO. The Taliban in the north were bold, organized, used to winning, and well armed. They responded to setbacks and escalations with escalations of their own. Amongst the many idiot teenagers and local yahoos were dedicated professionals.

    What "no one" was referring to obliquely was Karzai's request to secure a polling station at Barg-e-Matal 50 km north of Kamdesh which itself was 30+km from the nearest FOB with artillery. The Taliban chose to overrun that location during the summer instead of trying to fight it out at the US bases in Kamdesh for one reason or another. The US reinforced this insanely impossible position instead of retiring from the province as was planned.

    We stayed in Kamdesh province for the election. It was an incredibly violent day. That day saw more violence than any other in the war. Even during the surge. Karzai carried the vote in the district by close to the entire population of the district. From the Americans I talked to, less than 100 Afghans ever made it to the polling stations.

    Still that was late August, and Barg-e-Matal took weeks to disengage afterwards. No one could tell for sure what the plan was, but we were told more than once we'd be there the whole tour and more than once that our departure was imminent.

    In late September, the BDE commander and SQDN commander made a visit to the base and told the locals that US forces were leaving. I heard that the local commander was approached by some locals a few days later with him somehow knowing the exact time and date of the scheduled departure. They attacked a few days before that was supposed to start.

    COP Keating was not in any position to actually pull out. The soldiers there were in little position to do more than sit on their dicks. Air support took an hour to arrive. And that was a damn good reaction time. They dropped the full payload of two B1 bombers that day. Initial estimates for enemy KIA were 75 dead but quickly expanded to 300.

    At COP Lowell, which was abandoned several weeks later, another chopper got shot down but further debacle was prevented by an influx of SOF and their Afghan partners.

    The Kamdesh river valley was the most miserable place I've ever seen. It wasn't worth the life of a single US or Afghan soldier, but close to 30 died there in less than 3 years. Only about 400-500 soldiers served there for an extended amount of time.

    One of the LTs that served there called our bases bullet sponges. He said we were there to kill insurgents and prevent their movement further south. But that wasn't true. Bullet sponges get assets allocated with which to defend themselves. The bases in the Korengal were bullet sponges. They could do things there. The Kamdesh was an afterthought. We were waiting for someone to die before they would be able to muster the courage to pull us out of that canyon. It was such a fucking waste.

    PF Khans

  28. Al,
    thanks for the correction.
    Yep, i'm gettin' old.
    I write totally from open sources and i find your comments compelling and supportive of my over all themes.I'm so glad that you are part of this group.
    A writer , Richard Engel has written some good stuff on the Kamdesh that is outside of the propaganda cycle. He googles on this fight.
    It actually is painful to read your analysis.Also i imagine this is hard for you to deal with personally, so i am thankful for your sharing the key points.It's hard to admit that good men died for showplace elections and illusory policy, but there it is.
    The Army in 11 reprimanded or took some sort of admin action against 4 unnamed O's.

  29. PF Khans, My son (now a former Army 1st Lt) was in Paktika Province on an ISAF mission last year at COP Borris. They took rocket and mortar fire every day. Damn near every time they went outside the wire they got shot at, fire fights, etc. He went over to COP Tillman to help close it down (it had been deemed indefensible) and, while in the shut down process, it was partially overrun, with the Ts, at one point, occupying a portion of Tillman including the Afghan Police building/CP. US and ANA forces were able to repel the Ts after a hard fought battle.

    My point - which I didn't make well enough - re; politics is that while the US Cmdrs are, as Jim and Chief say, responsible for competent mission planning, there is only so much that can be done given the limited resources allocated by the civilian govt and given the reality on the ground (which the civilian gov't is keeping from us); to wit, that the Ts are still in control - or capable of exercising control when desired - over large swaths of the countryside.

    Furthermore, the politics dictate that the ANA troops are to be counted as dedicated resources in mission planning. The reality is that most of the ANA sucks. These people are often more of a liability than a force multiplier.

    Just a perspective that, IMO, should be factored in to some extent.

  30. I should add, that, lest anyone think it strange or inappropriate that I am making comments, quoting my son and he is not directly speaking himself, that he is not ready to talk about the war. He does talk about it, when he feels the need to me and our VN vet neighbor, but to nobody else. Yet. It's still too fresh and too raw in his mind and heart.

    The truth is - I'm curious if PFK would agree - that the war was lost several years ago; perhaps un-winnable in the first place. That's what I am driving at. Politicians have asked Cmdrs to do the impossible with scant resources. The war has degenerated into killing and death for killing and death's sake. There is no mission, from the troop's perspective, but to kill and stay alive and, at this point, there's no BS thick enough to get them conned into believing otherwise.

    1. Politicians have asked Cmdrs to do the impossible with scant resources.

      The story back in 2008/10 was that Obama asked the military if it can accomplish the mission within 18 months and Petraeus lied, saying yes. So Obama gave them more resources, expecting them to accomplish the mission.

      The GWB administration on the other hand was plain incompetent, moved on to play their games in the Med East instead of concluding the Afghanistan conflict early (by saying "mission accomplished" THERE and leaving).

  31. To paraphrase Mr Rumsnamara, all too often those in the higher echelons think along the lines of:

    "We want to fight the kind of war we want, not the kind of war we need".

    1. Aviator, I've never heard hims say that. I've heard him say "you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might need or wish to have." I've never heard him impugn the services so blatantly as your quote suggests.

  32. To all,
    My essay is about the parallels between 3 generations of actions seperated by space and time but similar in nature.
    Pls remember that we're discussing more than AFGH here.
    I'm trying to show the longitudinal ineptness of the fighting and planning for the fighting. Also after ther fighting what ensued?
    In all cases i can write off the o3's to a certain extent because they are young and all that follows being young. Same for LT's. Often they just don't know b/c their KSA's are only ranger tab deep.
    Here's the big but....but a o5 or above should know or he shouldn't be there. Certainly this should be true or we might as well start selling commissions to the highest bidders. (maybe this would help balance the budget and get some rich folks in the ranks)
    Without a doubt a e6 /7 can't control the flow of events. The concept of initiative isn't a sqd/plat program. The old rule of thumb was that 05's thru o10 get the troops to the battlefield with all that implies and CPT'S fight the battles. That's what we were taught in IN ofcr adv crs in 74.
    And so it goes.

  33. "there is only so much that can be done given the limited resources allocated by the civilian govt and given the reality on the ground (which the civilian gov't is keeping from us); to wit, that the Ts are still in control - or capable of exercising control when desired - over large swaths of the countryside."

    I can't think of a military leader in history (and I just finished Atkinson's Guns at Last Light about the European Campaign of 1944-45) that felt that they had 1) sufficient resources, and 2) adequate intelligence, and 3) decent cooperation from the locals.

    I'll be the first one to say that Afghanistan is as fucked up as a football bat and has been ever since 1980. But even before that the British, who fought in the Afghan hill country for about sixty years, never tried to do more than prop up a compliant dummy on the gaddi in Kabul and then go out and kill enough tribesmen to keep them quiet until the NEXT time.

    Any military officer who is tasked with "pacifying" Afghanistan should turn to his political master and tell them that 1) that is not a possible task, and 2) that if that task is required of him he will resign and recommend to the officer appointed in his place to resign, too.

    The U.S. Army has been trained not to do that; as Al pointed out, the whole mindset is to "stay in your lane", to "change things from the inside". We salute and move out smartly, because we're taught that is how a military that is subordinate to the civilian government does things.

    Unfortunately, it has the nasty side effect of allowing the civilians directing the military to ask it to do something that is not and never has been do-able - like "pacifying" Afghanistan - and not hear a strong enough dissent (based on the military parameters that make it un-do-able) to affect that civilian decision-making.

    And that's assuming that the decision CAN be changed. I don't have a good feel for Obama's foreign policy people, but I don't get a sense that they're any smarter about the Middle East than Bush's were, and those fucking idiots could have fucked up sex under the Christmas Tree.

    "Furthermore, the politics dictate that the ANA troops are to be counted as dedicated resources in mission planning. The reality is that most of the ANA sucks. These people are often more of a liability than a force multiplier."

    And my question to that would be: why isn't that a show-stopper right there?

    Afghans as a people are among the fightingest people on Earth. If you can't make a fighting force out of "your" Afghans that should tell you right there that something - something in your political calculus, something in your military or economic or social analysis of the situation - is desperately, hopelessly, completely, utterly un-un-fuckably wrong.

    Now my understanding is that you're right, and that the ANA is mostly about worthless. But that IMO isn't a reason for failure. It should have been a reason for examining what the hell our underlying assumptions - both military and political - were and are.

    That doesn't seem to have been the case for the past 12 years, and the phrase "hope is not a plan" is what that brings to mind.

  34. Jim, in all three engagements success (or survival) was dependent on the enemy not doing what he was clearly capable of doing.

    That's where I was going with my most of my comments.

    Why would mission planning be based on such an idiotic dependency?

    a) Political decisions that leave the brass with no other choice than to proceed with insufficient resources and a prayer.
    b) Cultural hubris that holds that third world wogs aren't going to exploit opportunities for reason that they are stupid third world wogs.

    Do you think that if we had been fighting the Soviets we'd have left our troops hanging like that?

  35. FDChief-

    It should have been a reason for examining what the hell our underlying assumptions - both military and political - were and are.

    I think you have touched upon a very significant contributor, deeply embedded in human nature: The elevation of assumptions to the level where they are regarded as immutable fact.

    Assumptions do not "exist in nature". Assumptions are the result of human intellect "filling in blanks" to be able to organize their environment. An assumption may very well be necessary for the initial formulation or selection of a plan of action, as very often all facts are not known.

    My "Management 101" prof was the first person in my training to rigorously address the whole issue of "assumption" in decision making. In brief, he said that in the absence of "fact", it may well, indeed, be necessary to make an assumption. He added three caveats:

    1. Assumptions are made in order to reach the optimal decision, not to justify a decision. In other words, necessary assumptions might need to be made during the information gathering process and must be defined as such, then used to "war game" competing courses of actions to select the best one. One does NOT select a desired course of action, and then select supporting assumptions.

    2. Assumptions should be "reasonable". That is, they should be based upon a reasonably high probability of accuracy. Failing that high probability, then it is more prudent to accept that you are dealing with an "unknown" and make your course of action one that accommodates the need to respond to such unknown.

    3. Assumptions are "constructs", not fact, and thus subject to refutation. The implementation of a course of action is the acid test of any and all assumptions. Any course of action based on assumptions must be subject to modification should the assumptions prove faulty. Thus, as one evaluates the success of any course of action (or lack thereof), re-evaluation of assumptions is critical, as they were weak links to begin with. Thus, assumptions critical to the success of a given course of action demand contingency plans at the outset.

    Assumptions must have "authors" and with "authorship" goes the risk of "pride of authorship". Thus, the all too common human frailty of refusing to admit to the fallacy of an assumption that is proved false in the final application.

  36. no one: "Do you think that if we had been fighting the Soviets we'd have left our troops hanging like that"

    The 1970's doctrine of "Active Defense" effectively did exactly that.

  37. "The 1970's doctrine of "Active Defense" effectively did exactly that."

    Aviator you are comparing pineapples to hand grenades.

    With AD the Soviets were NOT actually engaged in *combat* with us. More importantly, there was MAD/nuclear option and all of that backing up AD. Arguably, our troops in West Germany were a sort of bait. However, if they were attacked, the response would have been up to and including nuclear.

    Also, the Soviets had something to loose - a well structured civilization.

    The NVA, Somali wogs and Taliban were already shooting at us. Their intention to kill US troops was made repeatedly. They were actively engaged in a "hot" war with us. That changes everything. They all fought (fight) on their home turf (unlike the Soviets had they tried to come through the gap or some such). Arguably, neither the NVA, wogs nor Ts had anything to loose. Their countries were already invaded. We had already bombed the hell out of them in the case of the NVA and the Ts by the time of Lang Vie and Keating, respectively.

    A soviet attack on US troops would have been a surprise against logic given deterrence. An attack against Lang Vie, Rangers in Somali or COP Keating should have been expected.

  38. Al-

    Your comment on assumptions deserves a post of its own . . .

  39. no one: With AD the Soviets were NOT actually engaged in *combat* with us

    Not sure what notion of "Active Defense you are speaking of.

    The TRADOC doctrine of "Active Defense" that we were taught and trained to was the maneuver doctrine adopted to deal with a Soviet invasion of Europe. Mercifully, it was replaced by "AirLand Battle Doctrine" in the early 80's.

  40. Aviator,
    i used to call US mil policy in Nato-THE FIELD ARMY IN THE AMBUSH.
    To my memory we used active defense in the ALB.

  41. To all,
    Heroism wasted is insanity. Going back to the ideas of KvC or prin of war.
    I don't imagine that either system espouses wasting soldiers lives or energies pursuing unattainable objectives.
    Maybe we need another prin stating this explicitly.
    In my 3 examples all had a MOH recipient or double recipients.All that valor and for what?
    The dead of both sides are the point of my essay.
    What did we achieve?I know i'm a broken record but why or how does this longitudinal insanity and abject professionalism keep biting our soldiers on the ass?
    Where is the breaking point between reality and illusion in staff planning at any level of command.?
    In my early essays i discuss assumptions v reality.

  42. jim- Where is the breaking point between reality and illusion in staff planning at any level of command.?

    An old boating buddy of mine, the late RADM Jack Christiansen, might have offered the answer to your question.

    "There is a world of difference in the skills and thinking required to charge into combat, lead troops into combat and ultimately send troops into combat. It is that last category where we seem to be losing the requisite mindset and skill. If those of us who send troops into combat merely think as we did when charging and leading into combat, our troops are going to suffer horribly."

    Jack was a Navy Enlisted Pilot in WWII, where he was awarded the Navy Cross. He never forgot his humble beginnings.

  43. So I think the really critical lack of understanding that afflicts US actions throughout the latest fights (not sure about Vietnam) is that we fail to understand that "no one" is both right and wrong simultaneously.

    We are at war with the entire Afghan or Somali or Iraqi population, but not always. The possibility exists at any of our bases that the locals are fed up and are willing to go to the mat over it.

    Who's expecting a mob of thousands of Somalis to come to the defense of a warlord? Why should we expect people to go up against gunships and artillery when they aren't really going to benefit from doing so?

    If I have "good" (read stable, non-hostile) relations with the locals, why should we expect a total break?

    I think that's what Black Hawk Down and Kamdesh really represented. A total bridge burn. We offered a hand (although really it was a mailed fist) and they attempted to bite it off.

    You don't win in those scenarios. The best you can do is remove yourself or kill the person. Neither of which wins a "hearts and minds"/"nation building" operation.

    But, the reality, is that these events are not "out of the blue" or surprising in their occurring, only in their fury. Threats of massed insurgents were very common. We knew that a big attack was coming, we all had intel suggesting an attack was imminent, but the biggest in the area had been 30-50 guys previously.
    I think that as Americans we have a tendency to try and tackle a problem from a variety of view points. If an obstacle occurs, we attack it from one angle and then another in the hopes of overcoming it. We are taught to get back up if knocked down, always attempt to overcome. But we also are taught never to give into rage or to lash out against the obstacle. We forget that's an option. It surprises me because that's how the South used to act against blacks in the Jim Crow era. Lynch mobs are a poor approximation because of the vast difference in power that their victims had in comparison with the world's most powerful military. But the same rage fuels their actions. The same switch that holds society together gets switched off for some short bout of violent madness.

    It's hard to plan for that. But planning for that misses the point. Someone was going to die at that base even if it wasn't an overwhelming attack. No one was benefiting from us being their besides some generals and presidents, and since they were all claiming it was for the people, it was wrong to keep us there until someone died. Jim's right that there were huge breaking point in reality and the plan and truth be told, the aftermath of Keating is nauseatingly demonstrative of that fact. But anticipating that the guy who smiled at you one day will send his whole family to try and kill you the next day despite knowing you'll destroy it all is really really hard.

    That's not to say that the only thing to consider is that Afghans/Somalis/Vietnamese/Iraqis/whoever all hate us more than life itself. But given the right conditions, they might just try to take your head off. And the right conditions involve a large cadre of militants and the perception that there is an opportunity to make the Americans pay.

    PF Khans

  44. PF Khans, " why should we expect a total break?"

    I agree that, on any given day, I am wrong. However, in the long run, in the meta-analysis, I am right.

    I confess I have little appreciation for the strategic perspective of infantry types (OTOH, their courage and commitment, absolutely). To me they are just order following drones surfeit with displaced courage. Defend Lang Vie, Defend Keating, go into the city and grab a skinny.......aye aye Sir! Perhaps this is another way of saying what Jim has already stated.

    Your question is the exact reason for my own perspective. Commanders should expect - and prepare for - the "total break" you speak of b/c the total breaks always happen. Furthermore, The variables associated with such breaks are not not understood nor unobservable.

    Analysis/intelligence is not as "sexy" as the sands of Iwo Jima or, I suppose, the Army's equivalent, perhaps Bastogne or Normandy, so it tends to get ignored.

    Notice that actions with soldiers/Marines prevailing against almost impossible odds, with great casualties, is what's idolized by the mil/media establishment. There's a mindset there that needs to be called into question b/c it's insidious and pervasive.

    Why were the bluffs above Omaha beach not napalmed and otherwise neutralized by close air support/naval gunnery as assault troops moved in? Napalm, delivered by Thunderbolts and Mustangs, which was being used at that time in the Pacific would have effectively destroyed German defenses without risking Naval assets. Why were those troops left naked on the beach to be slaughtered by a few machine gun nests and gun emplacements? Why is this failure almost never mentioned? It's just another example.

    Commander are at least 50% politician and they and their 100% politician bedfellows just don't care about what kind of valor is wasted.

  45. no one - Why were the bluffs above Omaha beach not napalmed and otherwise neutralized by close air support/naval gunnery as assault troops moved in?

    The naval and air bombardment of the Normandy Beaches was extensive. Close air support of the beaches was hampered by low ceilings and poor visibility, not to mention the low max ord of the naval gunfire. A major concern of fire support planners was fratricide - CAS being shot down by naval gunfire, and troops on the beach being hit by CAS. With low ceilings and haze, the use of napalm "close in" on cliff situated point targets would have been excessively risky. Nape, at the time, was more appropriate for area targets, not point targets, and any "short rounds" would have cascaded down the cliff face onto the assault force.
    Overall, there was insufficient daylight for fighter bomber napalm operations to take place in the AO before the landings, particularly with the low ceilings and haze, and too much risk after the landings began.

    Additionally, the invasion was more than just the beach landings and was being fought in depth - the kind of depth only air assets could provide. Thus, after the initial air bombardment of the beaches, air assets were shifted inland to block and disrupt reinforcing the defending forces.

  46. Aviator, Nonsense. There were 300 yards from the water's edge to the machine gun nests and pill boxes on the bluffs. Ample distance between friend and foe for close air support. Sectors on Omaha Beach were untouched by pre-landing prep. In fact there was little to no pre-landing prep on several sectors. Low cloud ceiling and concerns about own fire casualties would disallow use of the big bombers, but smaller birds acting in a dive bomber type role could have delivered close air support of the type I call for. They could have been - should have been - in the air and ready on a moment's notice and they would have been effective against the German positions. This didn't happen not b/c it wasn't feasible, but b/c commanders did not believe it possible that Omaha was strongly defended by crack German units. A lack of imagination. Imagination not shaped by concerns for the lives of the brave men going into harm's way. A point in common with Lang Vie, Mog and Keating.

  47. "Additionally, the invasion was more than just the beach landings and was being fought in depth - the kind of depth only air assets could provide. Thus, after the initial air bombardment of the beaches, air assets were shifted inland to block and disrupt reinforcing the defending forces."

    Here you are making one of points for me. Brave men die for lack of assets.

    If you don't have enough airplanes to fight an in depth action and provide CAS for the men on the beach, then you don't jump off the invasion.

  48. One more, by June 1944 it should have been obvious from ample prior experience that naval bombardment alone would not sufficiently disrupt well dug in beach defenses. Napalm, OTOH, would.

    Commanders thought little of spending infantry blood on the beaches as long as there was enough fresh meat in reserve to keep invasions moving inland.

  49. no one: "Low cloud ceiling and concerns about own fire casualties would disallow use of the big bombers, but smaller birds acting in a dive bomber type role could have delivered close air support of the type I call for.

    When you have had a chance to fly at 175 kts with no more than 1,500 ft ceilings and 1/4 to 1/2 mile visibility (without the smoke of the naval bombardment) in the early dawn, come back and discuss this claim again.

    Might also visit the CEP (based on angle of dive) of WWII "dive bombers", normal release altitudes and the like. Kinda hard to "dive" from 1,500 ft clouds.

    A bomb 100 feet off to the seaward from those emplacements on the buff would have been devastating to any troops moving forward. For the low level bombers to be able to approach the targets, all naval gunfire would have to be ceased. It's called a tradeoff. Planners knew that naval gunfire was "all weather" and could deliver steel on target. The weather was known to be questionable from a long time in advance. They chose a "bird in hand", and it worked.

  50. PFK,
    I think that you are touching a key point of all mil opns, and of personal life as well, which is missing in our present opns.
    The pwot was a shoestring opn from day 1 and was based on pie in the sky assumptions and mission planning. War on the cheap and all that bloviation.
    I cite Tillmans death and the cowboy way that op was run as a fine example.
    WE as milmen (thats a new word i just minted) should ALWAYS WORSE CASE PLAN. To discuss Als and no 1's discussion even OVERLORD was a worse case plan.
    WE have lost that ability because we actually believe that we are exceptional and that god is on our side.Also we believe the sole superpower crap when a bunch of NVA/Somalis/Bandits or what ever atk'd Keating knock our d--ks in the dirt.
    The first thing i ALWAYS look at is my escape plan if and when things go wrong. This is another way of saying contingency but we forget what the words mean.
    I appreciate your input , all of you.
    Just don't bunch up.

  51. jim- "The pwot was a shoestring opn from day 1 and was based on pie in the sky assumptions and mission planning. War on the cheap and all that bloviation."

    This is probably very close to the heart of the current day problem. Not just strategic and operational ignorance a la Westy, but the very limiting nature of "war on the cheap". In a mindset where contingency is heresy, everything that can go wrong will. Sadly, that mindset was doctrine throughout the Rumsnamara years, and lingers on. In his case, he was far too arrogant to consider that things may not go exactly as he planned, to include the actions of the opposing forces or indigenous population. In other players' cases, that has been the prevalent notion long enough to have become institutionalized.

    There is a big difference between thinking you have planned for every possible contingency, and being alert to respond to emerging and unexpected changes.

  52. Aviator, I don't know the first thing about piloting an aircraft. Also, I don't want to argue a tangent. I would just point out that CAS was used extensively in the Pacific going back as far as Tarawa, where strafing and bombing runs were conducted with some success danger close to Marines pinned down on the beach. By Peleliu, napalm was being dropped from a few hundred feet elevation on Jap caves a couple hundred yards to Marine assault troops' front. These are facts of the historic record. I have always wondered why, if Marine and Navy pilots could accomplish this, Army pilots supporting Overlord could not. Especially when Army pilots were busting up German columns inland with strafing, rocket and 100lb bomb attacks, on D-Day and, presumably with the same cloud cover/weather conditions. I always attributed the failure of CAS for the troops on the beach to the topics of this thread. Maybe I have missed some technical aspect.

  53. no one

    I am well aware of the record of the Marine Air/Ground operations in WWII. I am also aware that there were days when the weather precluded air operations. Comparing 6 Jun 44 to every USMC landing and or total campaign in the Pacific, without looking at the weather is simply a non-starter. Air delivered napalm at Peleliu, BTW, did not commence until several days after the landings.

    As to inland clouds and ceilings on D-Day, the fighters were equally hindered until later in the day, as were the bombers.

    CAS was included in the plans for the D-Day landings. However, as is the case with all battles, actual circumstances sometimes trump plans.

    And, yes, USAAF forces in the ETO did not use napalm. At any time. I cannot provide an answer for that, other than there not having been a need prior to 6 Jun 44, so it was not a "normal" weapon in their arsenal. Napalm became common in the Pacific primarily due to the nature of the terrain, the Japanese defensive positions and the tenacity of Japanese defenders, who neither retreated nor surrendered.

  54. I stand corrected, Allied bombers did use napalm in the ETO once during the siege of La Rochelle, two weeks prior to the end of the war.

  55. no one,

    The thing you are forgetting is that in Somalia and Afghanistan, our mission was not to "win" through war but to "win" by nation building. You cannot win that fight through planning for a total break.

    Just imagine if our police force behaved as though their precinct buildings might at any point in time might get besieged. You can't actually police under those conditions.

    As I see it, jim is very right in how the gwot is the pwot. We can't conduct nation building because we are/were besieged/in conflict/fighting hordes, but we are still committed to that model. America's sin here was not trying and failing. It was not changing course once it was obvious we had failed.

    PF Khans

  56. "That's not to say that the only thing to consider is that Afghans/Somalis/Vietnamese/Iraqis/whoever all hate us more than life itself. But given the right conditions, they might just try to take your head off. And the right conditions involve a large cadre of militants and the perception that there is an opportunity to make the Americans pay."

    That's been the dilemma of imperial troops since the Athenians tried to bushwhack Syracuse, PFK, and, I would add, the story of imperial adventures since the first Sumerian god-king marched his troops through the mud-brick walls to add some "barbarian" province to his little empire.

    We miss the point here talking about Normandy and the "big wars". It didn't and doesn't matter what we did in Europe in '44 or even in Vietnam in '68; these wars weren't like those wars. The recent venues for the "war on terror", phony or otherwise, are all in the style of the older, earlier "little wars", the sort the U.S. used to fight in places like the Philippines, Haiti, and Guatemala. Read about those and you'll be amazed by two things:

    1) The degree to which they, too, were fought "on a shoestring" just as underfunded and under-analyzed as the current ones, and

    2) The degree to which they were fought with unremitting savagery. We're talking about all the old Roman methods; butchery, burning, "making a wasteland and calling it peace" combined with new bright ideas like concentration camps (for the PI).

    The thing was that, repugnant as those little wars were, they "worked" in the sense that they accomplished the U.S. objectives. And for the same reasons that those methods "worked" for the British, and before them every other successful imperialists like the Russians, the Spanish, and the Romans themselves; the lesson of guerrilla wars is if you are brutal enough, long enough, and are strong enough, you win.

    So I'd argue, rather, that "America's sin" was in beginning by pretending that rebellion suppression could be done and HAD been done using less-than-brutal methods.

    It wasn't that we didn't change course once that our "COIN" tactics/techniques had been proven to fail; it was that we knew before starting out that there was only one sure way to suppress a rebellion...and pretending otherwise.

    We're still pretending that, too, since to stop kidding ourselves and other people about how do-able these little imperial wars are without outright butchery, chicanery, and callous pragmatism would be to admit that we really only have two choices; go Full Roman, or get out of the imperial business (largely) altogether.

    We don't want to do the first (at least, nobody outside Dick Cheney's gun club does...) and we seem unwilling or unable to do the second. So...WASF.

  57. Chief,
    I disagree that the VN war does not apply to PWOT.
    WE had nation building, containment of Commies or Islamists,conbined with conventional fights backed up by UW/GW campaigns. This seems pretty simple to me.
    WW2 could also apply as OSS was the UW/GW arm of the conventional commanders campaign plan just as it was in RVN and PWOT although to a lesser degree. The template was there.

  58. jim- WW2 could also apply as OSS was the UW/GW arm of the conventional commanders campaign plan just as it was in RVN and PWOT although to a lesser degree.

    I would be hard pressed to compare the UW of WWII to PWOT, and for that matter, RVN. In WWII, we were primarily assisting "resistance" movements of indigenous populations that wanted to throw off the mantle of the foreign occupier PRIOR TO applying conventional forces on the ground. Far cry from the mix of conventional and unconventional forces we are using to accomplish internal regime change or nation building.

    There was another operational reason for supporting resistance movements, and that was the German maneuver forces that were tied up dealing with the pesky partisans, and thus unavailable at the conventional fronts.

  59. "We're still pretending that, too, since to stop kidding ourselves and other people about how do-able these little imperial wars are without outright butchery, chicanery, and callous pragmatism would be to admit that we really only have two choices; go Full Roman, or get out of the imperial business (largely) altogether."

    Right, Chief. This is where I blame the civilian leadership. It is they who have all of the squishy ideas about how these things can be done and they who impose the squishy ROE and nation building type tactics on the military.

    I have a theory that I'm working on that the growth of the CIA plays a role in all of this as well.

    I see the thinking behind the plan to arm Syrian rebels even after it is known that a substantial % of them - a controlling % - are jihadists as a the sine quo non of this stupidity.

    Yes. Kill them all, raise their villages and plow their earth with salt or stay home (I prefer stay home). If this was understood then there would not be units left with their asses hanging in the wind at places like Keating or Lang Vie.

  60. Al,
    Wasn't Stilwell nation building in China ,India and Burma?
    You are correct , of course, but any point is arguable in these wars.
    I've decided and started a 2nd art on the Starry Night thread.
    I'm going to do the macro rather than the micro approach used in this thread.
    I think the whole thing boils down to the dynamic tension between mil and pol imperatives.
    The UW of the WW2 variety like the pwot did NOT benefit the longer range strategic interests of the USA. The OSS worked with Communists largely in the ETO which was a tactical imperative that later led to left wing gov'ts gaining ascendancy. In the pwot we did the same short sighted approach with local thugs.
    If we had zero UW/GW /OSS/SOE/ETO efforts we still would have won the maneuver war. Germany was slap played out.If we grounded our USAF after 1Jan 45 we still would have won, napalm or not.
    All the uw stuff just gave the post war communists street cred.
    I've always doubted that the French resistance was anything as wide spread as post war writings try to convince us.

  61. jim-

    Hell, we worked with Joe, The Communist, Stalin. The objective was the defeat of Nazi Germany. Without the Soviets, the outcome could have been quite different.

    When I speak of partisans in the ETO, I am referring to pre D-Day activities, which tied down significant German forces. Disproportionately so, as Herr Hitler liked to go Roman, and restless natives were met with increased occupation forces.

  62. Al,
    I figured you were talking assets usually trained by the OSS.
    On the eastern front the partisan units were usu under soviet guidance. Usually.