Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Irresponsible Speculation Who is Responsible for the Hospital Bombing

There are a number of sources speculating wildly about the basic facts of the hospital bombing.
There are a number of sources that have noted the holes in the story that NATO and the Afghan government have spun a number of times.

I have not heard/read anything about who, ultimately, is going to own this potato (if anyone).

Here's my two cents.
There's a Fire Direction Chief (sorry FDChief) that's got an AFATDS computer which should have had all hospitals/other sensitive areas restricted, so that you are warned if you are shooting there.  Someone has to manually enter that data, was that data input into the system?  Was the hospital in this AFATDS computer?

I don't see a reason that it wouldn't/shouldn't have been.  I get that an AC-130 gunship may have to cover a lot of territory, but it's the 14th year of the war.  Someone has managed this data.  Someone spent a boring deployment porting this data to all the systems.  This should have been done by now, that hospital didn't spring up when the Taliban attacked.

So if that wasn't there, the FDC is in trouble.
If it was there and the FDC overruled it without higher approval, the FDC is in trouble.
It's ultimately on them for each shot fired, unless...

If the warning was in the system and the FDC saw it, who gave approval for the shot? Ground Commander could have overruled it, but then the buck is on him.
If it was an Afghan Ground Commander who conveyed his desires to a SF Forward Observer, and the FO relayed, is the Afghan responsible or the FO because the US is ultimately responsible here?

My guess is there are some nervous SF NCOs, but a strong possibility that this gets pinned on an Afghan COL.



  1. Go look at the hospital on Google Earth.
    36°43'04.65" N 68°51'43.08" E

    It is very distinctive and targeting by mistake seems extremely unlikely. If you add to that the fact that the bombardment went on for over an hour, then it being approved by higher authority despite it being a hospital seems the most likely explanation.

    The problem is that nobody in the chain of command would have thought about how articulate and politically powerful MSF could be. The hunt for a scape goat is now in full swing and a mere SF NCO won't cut it (neither will an Afghan COL)

  2. Since when does the Air Force use AFATDS? But they do have their own systems which should have had restricted areas such as hospitals and stuff marked clearly and give out automatic alarms if anyone called for ordnance within that NFZ.

  3. "American officials now acknowledge, for instance, that the hospital was on a “protected list” of specially designated buildings like mosques or schools, to avoid the very kind of strike that happened. But investigators are still trying to determine why the Afghans, the American Special Forces and the gunship crew apparently were not aware of that."

    From the NY Times:

  4. I'm fine with the word "bombardment", not so fine with "bombing" in this context; wasn't the aircraft in question a gunship, and the munitions expended were 40 and 105 mm rounds? A "shelling" would explain how the attacks lasted for so long, since a "bombing" wouldn't.

    It's much easier to block coordinates for GPS-guided munitions or electronic artillery fire control systems with an exclusion list than it is to do the same with guns or missiles fired from moving aircraft or helicopter.

    Personally, I'm more appalled by the widespread destruction in Kobane that appeared to follow the Vietnam recipe of destroying a village in order to save it and I'm also more appalled by the repeated bombing of Afghan weddings where F-16 jocks pretended to "self-defend" against AK fire as if they hadn't to turn and return to the scene to "self defend" after they had been in safety in the meantime (even if the threat were ManPADS) already.

    That had the smell of the USS Vincennes' "self-defense" against a supposed F-14 (which would have had no ship attack capability).

    The Kunduz hospital incident looks like a honest mistake of the "shit happens in war, thus try to avoid war!" kind.

  5. I think Sven has got the right of it. War is not, and can never be, a predictable process. The best way to avoid mistakes like this is to avoid military force to solve all of your problems. Something the US has sadly been unable to do for the last 14 years.

  6. I'd like to add to my Kobane comment:
    who did it?

    "It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it."
    -- An American major after the destruction of the Vietnamese Village Ben Tre

  7. Not sure how fire control was run in that AO PF, or what ground-air coordination was in place at the time. But here's the worms-eye battery/battalion FDC view, FWIW.

    Air fires are neither controlled nor coordinated thru the FA direct support elements. That includes the firing battery and battalion FDCs as well as both the FO elements attached to the maneuver platoons and the FSEs at the maneuver company and battalion HQs. The FSEs may liase w USAF control teams to clear potential CAS target areas of friendly forces but have no role in CAS missions beyond that

    So the responsibility for CAS mission direction would be on the USAF FACP (forward air control party - at least that was the term when I was still in ten years ago...). The FAC should have, as has been noted above, been advised of NFAs ("no fire areas") as well as RFZs ("restricted fire zones") established by the maneuver commander.

    Now...that's all well and good. understanding is that the supported elements here were ANA, a well-known clusterfuck. Is it possible that the FAC was unfamiliar with both the AO and the ANA unit? Sure it is. Could the SF advisors have fucked up and missed the CAS request as on a no-fire area? Sure. I talked about over at my joint; that's all reeeeally not important and just a symptom of how we make tactics a goal instead of strategies. What's important here is the appearances; the overall impression of carelessness and random use of force...


  8. So Sven's is the really critical point. In war shit happens. civil war you have two options; the Roman/Sri Lankan Way (make a desert and call it peace) or the Western COIN way.

    If you're gonna do it "our" way you need to go about the whole business of killing selectively - John Paul Vann's striction about the best weapon being a knife comes immediately to mind. Shelling and bombing the shit out of random groups of the locals you're trying to co-opt? NOT a good idea.

    So the question I'd ask here isn't "who fucked up and pasted the hospital" but, rather, "if we really give a shit about the "hearts and minds" like our PR apparatus claims we do...why haven't we picked out a convenient scapegoat and hanged him/her higher than Haman to convince the locals that #Afghanlivesmatter?"

    1. I've been looking at armed services as normal bureaucracies for years on my blog, and to do so can answer your question easily.
      The armed service's self-interest of protecting its own prestige, its own executives and maybe indirectly even its own budget can easily overrule its ambition to accomplish a mission if that's not the key factor to prestige etc.
      The American public still appears to consider the military as exceptions, as worthy of reverence etc - late aftereffects of the one "won" war in 1991 and Hollywood propaganda since "Top Gun". To constantly fail to "win" wars or to fuck up one training mission after another, to fail to develop a new suitable platform after another - this doesn't really hurt the military. Mission non-accomplishment by the U.S. armed services will be forgiven in the U.S..
      Without sanctions for mission failure the overriding self-interests are about protecting prestige, reputation and careers. In fact, a quick mission accomplishment may even be detrimental to bureaucratic self-interests; less medals, less campaign ribbons, less budget, less new toys, less ability to maintain bogeymen that justify the military's prominence...

      To consider a military as a mere armed bureaucracy is a hugely powerful tool for explaining what happens all around the world in military affairs!
      I suppose nobody who ever served in an armed service can reject the notion that it's a bureaucracy!

  9. "So the question I'd ask here isn't "who fucked up and pasted the hospital" but, rather, "if we really give a shit about the "hearts and minds" like our PR apparatus claims we do..."

    It is not just the hearts and minds in Afghanistan. We need to understand that this incident:

    1] likely doubled or tripled Jihadi recruitment figures worldwide; and
    2] has put some serious doubt in the minds of our allies; and
    3] loses us any legitimate basis for sanctioning the Russians/Syrians for doing similar in Syria where three hospitals were recently hit by airstrikes:

    1. 1) and 2) disagree, we've become used to expect such news.
      3) Sanctioning? How? Russia is a veto power, it gets away with whatever it does, just like the US and UK.

      I suppose Putin is brazen in part because he has little to lose at this point. The West is already determined to sanction Russia through domestic laws because of the Ukraine affair.

    2. Official 'sanctioning' or an embargo was not my intent. Condemning or censuring may have been better word choices

  10. The excuse that "shit happens" counts exactly as it would in the case of a coal mine fire (I.e.: it is no excuse at all)

    Fire control and coal mining are both complicated technical undertakings with established procedures to maintain safety. However, the safety procedures can be operationally cumbersome and most of the time ignoring them has no grave consequences. It is therefore almost invariably a leadership failure when "shit happens".

    This aligns well with Sven's analysis of looking at armed organizations in the same manner as other large bureaucratic organizations.

    Given that it is a management failure, you can expect the organization to exercise every trick in the book to protect their asses, just like every other management failure in history.

  11. Actually, I'd say that Sven's most salient point is that there is no "penalty" for this sort of tactical screwup.

    I have no real idea how damaging the political fallout from something like this is. Could be trivial, could be significant, but clearly it can't help the guys on the ground. To kill a half dozen muj everyone involved in this goatrope managed to piss off a half-dozen-times-x other Afghans. That's just stupid.

    But - as Sven points out - in any bureaucratic organization (and don't kid yourself, Sven - nobody appreciates the Byzantine complexity of the US military so much as those of us in the belly of the beast) the the Prime Directive kicks in; CYA.

    So in that sense my question was purely rhetorical. I know perfectly well why nobody's ass got hung for this. Because to the Green (and Blue) Machine Afghan lives DON'T matter - at least, they matter a hell of a lot less than American careers and infinitely less than American lives.

    CYA, baby!

  12. I see that I left an important point out of the comment above, which is that, absent a 1949 China or 1975 RVN type collapse in Afghanistan there will not be a domestic constituency for punishing failure. That collapse, if it comes, is far enough down the road that the Idiot Public cannot connect the dots between this and the Kunduz sorts of thing and the eventual defenestration of the local proxy. penalty for this sort of error.

    And...without pressure to provide a scapegoat the services will go into self-defense and denial mode - CYA.

    So my guess is that even that ANA O-6's job is safe, PF...

  13. Thanks for the feedback, couple things:

    1) I was taught there was a FDC in AC-130 handling the 105mm from inside. OBC mentioned that some 'lucky' SSG was running that gun, but there was no mention of AFATDS, that's my own assumptions at play. suggests that the bigger issue is with a FSCC, but my experience in Afghanistan is that it is just as likely that the bird was commanded directly by the ground commander through a local controller.

    2) the military as bureaucracy is a truth, and this is an example of how that model breaks down. We have rules that should cover and handle all events, except those under extreme pressure and duress, which is most of combat, and so our plan fails and our bureaucracy fails but it remains valid and useful and the best case scenario. The problem is that when no one is held responsible for a failure, the bar is lowered and lowered and it quickly devolves to a situation where the bureaucracy is only an outer crust to protect from outside observation and a cudgel for ensuring discipline within the ranks and not useful for operations.

    3) This will bite us in the ass when someone else starts bombing our hospitals and ignoring our pleas to stop. While we have the upper hand, there will be no peace and no true accountability. We have rules in war because it makes it possible to stop fighting and control the amount of misery dished out. America's elite don't benefit from stopping fighting and misery dished out to Afghans is not enough to make anyone change things.

    We add up events like this slowly, but when the other shoe drops and America is no longer dishing out lots of cash and dropping lots of bombs, the reverses and abandonment of our nation will be swift. What's clear to me is no one will miss us that much when we're done being the world's empire.

  14. PFK,
    The standard assumption that the US has benevolent intentions just may be false.
    Why do we assume that this was a blunder?
    This all reminds me of the Herman Hesse story about a priest finding the devil lying in a ditch and in need of help, if he is to survive. To make a short story shorter the priest realizes that the devil is essential to the idea of priesthood and religion.
    He saves the devil because they are both in the same business.
    I hope you see my point.
    jim hruska

  15. The gunners onboard an AC-130 are the direct equivalent of a cannon battery gun crew, PF . In battery the gun chief has what is called a Gun Data Unit or GDU. While it is linked to the FDC through the AFATADS it has no "fire control" capacity (

    In the aircraft, tho, I suspect that the situation is more similar to what in cannon artillery we'd call "direct lay"; the gunner can actually see the target and puts the crosshairs of his reticle on it.

    So my guess is that calling for fire from the AC-130 is more like directing fire from a tank cannon; "That tree to the left of the blue house! Gimme two rounds of HE quick!"

    So...technically the responsibility is on the maneuver commander in charge of the FO who.called in the mission and corrected the gun rounds.

  16. As Jim points out, there's no real reason to assume this was a "mistake". It may very well be that the MSF hospital had a bad reputation among the ANA hierarchy for treating wounded muj . I wouldn't put it past some ANA colonel to think "Sweet. Perfect excuse to get rid of those Talib-loving bastards..."

  17. And...I hate to even say this, but...morality is for people, not for nations. No nation, or empire, in history has been "loved" for its justice and mercy. Rome didn't last 500 years because it was "just" and it didn't fall because it was "unjust".

    Like any and all Great Powers the U.S. does what it can and those it acts on - if they cannot resist - suffer what they must.

    As will we when we are the weak. I could wish otherwise, but that fate is likely to have very little to do with "justice"...

  18. The United States Military is not a bureaucracy. It is a hierarchical organization that uses bureaucratic structures and procedures to manage some of its activities. You can bureaucratize supply and administrative activities, for example. You cannot bureaucratize combat operations. You lead them. Been there, done that, from Marine Rifleman to Fire Team Leader, up to and including Brigade Command in the Army. When the chips are down, the actual delivery of steel on target is human endeavor requiring leadership.

    Now let's address the modern day bullshit concept of "the heat of battle". Been there, done that, both from the air and on the ground. There is a totally different "heat" impacting your decision making when involved in the direct exchange of relatively effective fires versus providing supporting fires versus simply coming under fire. Whilst the officer of the day in charge of a section of our base's defensive perimeter, what I had to do when Charlie decided we needed to be attacked on the ground by charging hordes was a far different "heat" than when he was simply hitting us with rocket and mortar fire. Similarly, delivering 2.75 in folding fin rockets on bad guys pinned down in direct combat with our forces is still another "heat" - they were too busy with our grunts to effectively engage a moving gunship a few hundred meters away.

    However, with the "Warrior" crap the Bushites so effectively ingrained in everyone, to include a significant portion of the military, way too much latitude for bad decisions has been granted to those delivering steel on target. After all, it's done in "the heat of battle". Again, I can tell you from experience, the "heat" I observed on an FDC and gun crews providing supporting fires to a firefight some kms away is a far cry from that when those same folks are in a night defensive position and employing muzzle burst and canister fires to hold their perimeter.

    Thing is, we've convinced ourselves, and the general public, that one's mere presence in the theater is having to operate in "the heat of combat". Yup, everyone in uniform is a Warrior". And thus, we excuse away serious human failure at both the operator and leader level, needing only a scapegoat to set the scales back into balance. Shit doesn't just happen. It is caused, by commission and omission. Yes, an unforeseen situation requires a non-bureaucratic approach, but that's where leadership comes in, and the burden of leadership simply increases as you go up the hierarchy.

    Of course, the weak or cowardly leader loves the bureaucratic approach. For everything, he wants a "rule", and regardless of whether or not the outcome of that rule delivers an acceptable result, he can confidently use the Eichmann Defense, "I was only following orders". And, the cowardly issuer of those orders can also use the "He should have known better", or "who could have anticipated" defense. Neither the bureaucratic superior nor subordinate wants the responsibility for "guidelines", as that entails decision making responsibility.

    So, do a bureaucratically based investigation, and limit damages for a poor choice to a convenient scapegoat, or no one at all.

    More to come.....

  19. During his tour as CSA, GEN Carl Vuono expressed his view of how to determine where and why something went wrong. You start at the top, and work your way down, using a guilty until proven innocent methodology.

    1. Was it a "Standards Failure"?. In short, were the Standards correct and sufficient to properly execute the task that failed? If not, go no further. Correct the Standard and take appropriate action with those who failed to establish the proper standard.

    2. If the Standards passed muster, was it a "Training Failure"? Was the training adequate to impart full understanding of the standard, and was confirmation of learning properly made? If not, then go no further, etc.

    3. If the Standards and Training pass muster, was it a "Leader Failure"? Did Leadership, at every level, enforce the Standard fully and consistently. If not, then go no further down than the highest level of leadership that failed to enforce the Standard, etc.

    4. If Standards, Training and Leadership all pass muster, then you have "Individual Failure", and appropriate disciplinary action is to be considered. Of course, that individual can be anyone from Joe Snuffy Private right up to the CSA.

    No what you normally expect, is it? Surely not the command climate arising from the Rumsnamara days nor the 24/7 news cycle.

  20. I think the question here, Al, is "do the "authorities" consider this a failure in any real sense other than "we failed to keep this out of the news"..?

    I have never gotten the sense that the people supposedly directing the military campaign in Afghanistan have any sort of clue how to use that force to get to the presumed political endstate (Western-friendly regime in Kabul firmly in political control of the country) so I'm not sure that they have a grasp of whether this is a real failure or not, whether this will hurt the larger effort to strengthen the Kabul regime, or not, and if so how much.

    The US has always seemed to me remarkably "tone-deaf" in SW Asia, really, really poor at understanding what helps and what doesn't defuse the anti-Western and jihadist Islamic movement. I think it's very likely that most of the chain involved...all the way to the theater commander...may see this as an irritating PR failure over a couple of stray rounds on a bunch of interfering bleeding hearts who shouldn't even have been there in the first place.

    1. You may be quite right, Chief. Been 20 years since I hung up my spurs. I have no idea of the current ethos of the US military, but the very existence of people like Tommy Franks and the "warrior" shit does not sit well with me. I had fine colleagues who were in the flag ranks by Rummy's time, and they weren't comfortable with the direction the ethos was going, and simply retired, rather than "go along to get along".

  21. Much of military doctrine and standards were written in blood, especially those that deal with control of ordinance. Override them at risk.

    1. I wrestle with this often, mike. Are we Luddites or simply bearing the painful knowledge of experience. When the wrestling ends, the latter is always on top. Change for the sake of change, as well as seduction by technology is often fatal. As a neighbor said a while back about the Israelis in Gaza, "A smart bomb may be smart, but is it also wise?"

  22. Speaking of nervous SF NCOs...

    Something seems odd to me about this "IS prison raid" story.

    The guy who DOW was a Delta operator. SFOD-Delta isn’t “Special Forces” in the classic sense (not that a hell of a lot of the USASF community is anymore…); they’re SuperRangers, gold-plated door kickers, Charlie Beckwith’s SAS.

    Delta doesn’t work with indigs; they’re not out there leading Mike Forces. They do their thing either alone or as a separate part of a conventional mission.

    So apparently the idea was to execute an air assault/airmobile raid using two separate maneuver elements; some sort of Peshmerga outfit and Delta. Why both? The Pesh are a pretty good outfit – I highly doubt that they needed Delta to kill Sunni muj; they’ve been doing it for a generation.

    So what the hell was Delta doing? Was this ALSO some sort of high-speed intel-gathering mission either along with or smokescreened behind the prison raid? Did the Delta guys go along to snatch some IS bigwig? Are we heading back into the days when US outfits would do night raids in Iraq snatching up who-the-hell-knew to waterboard them for phone numbers?

    Very peculiar…

  23. Chief/Al,
    I'm still hung up on portions of Bengazi.
    Delta captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah, reported on jun 17/2014, and this was never mentioned in the recent committee investigation.
    Also he has not been to court yet.He's been grand juried , but like KSM still hasn't seen the inside of a federal court trial.
    What do these guys know that the US taxpaying public can't be told?
    jim hruska

  24. My money's on the secret bin Laden wormed out of the House of Saud - that chemtrails are real, and that Dick Cheney is a chaos demon that drinks the blood of infants under the full moon...

  25. Al -

    Luddite, me? Maybe, but I prefer to think of myself as an old-fashioned, by-the-book kind of guy. I realize that sometimes the book does not catch up in time with new high tech stuff and therefore doctrine has to be short circuited. But that should be documented, disseminated and judged by others than the advocate-of-change who may be looking only at a small portion of the scenario.

    Is there time to do that in todays fast-paced world? Maybe not?

    1. Not making accusations, mike. The question is not new. In 1983, at CGSC, we wrestled with whether doctrine should drive technology or visa versa. We pretty much agreed that technology can become a "hammer looking for a nail" far more easily than doctrine, although Dear David Petraeus proved that is not necessarily always the case. But then, was Petraeus trying to be "revolutionary", which is what often makes technology pervert doctrine?

    2. Technology advances merely alter the freedom of action for doctrines. Some things are rendered obsolete by OPFOR technology advances (as well as by OPFOR tactics advances) and some things become feasible.

      The struggle of the last 15 years was that entirely different sets of OPFOR capabilities and political circumstances lead to entirely different optimal doctrines. The move from Fulda Gap doctrine towards occupation doctrine was never completed for real, and now they need to re-learn a conventional warfare doctrine with about 20 years worth of technological progress already.

    3. Sven- Occupation doctrine (or Phase IV Operations) has been well developed and in place for decades. It was tossed in the dustbin by Mr Rumsfeld in 2003, and since then, the US has not had the military force structure to perform a proper occupation, without a massive, long term mobilization of the Reserve Components, no less the force structure changes necessary to field an occupation force. As it was, for Iraq, all kinds of units, such as Artillery, had to be retrained to form force protection formations as part of Rummy's make it up as you go along approach.

  26. If you believe this Associated Press story, the US intel community may have leaped at the opportunity to destroy what they considered a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and considered a couple of dead stray wogs acceptable;

    ""The AP has reported that American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on the Doctors without Borders hospital, including indications it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity. The intelligence gathering occurred as the U.S. was supporting the Afghan effort to retake Kunduz, which included heavy fighting by Green Berets.

    The Green Berets had asked for Air Force intelligence-gathering flights over the hospital, and both Green Berets and Air Force personnel were aware it was a protected medical facility, the records show, according to the two people who have seen the documents.

    The analysts' dossier included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative and activity reports based on overhead surveillance, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons.

    After the attack, some U.S. analysts assessed it was justified, the records show, and one report said 16 enemies had been killed, the two sources say. Those deaths were said to include the Pakistani, who the U.S. believed was working for his country's Inter-Service Intelligence directorate."

  27. Chief,
    I know i'm preaching to the choir.
    "heavy fighting by Green Berets"
    What's wrong with that sentence?
    Next-16 enemies had been killed.
    And exactly how did/do they define enemies?
    jim hruska

    1. Simple, jim. The US troops asked the dead guys to raise their hand if they were friendlies, and no one raised their hand.

    2. Well, we've known for a long time that the green beanie just means supergrunt, jim. The SF of your time is as dead as the dodo. I'm betting that none of the team guys in this fight would recognize a Mike Force if it bit him on the ass.

      And recognizing dead muj is even easier than that; if they're dead, they're muj.