Afghanistan AARs

A fascinating series of After Action Reports from Afghanistan.

Bottom line seems to be this is a much, much tougher war than Iraq. Some interesting quotes:
[li]Iraq has allowed us to become tactically sloppy as the majority of fighters there are unorganized and poorly trained. This is not the case in Afghanistan. The enemy combatants here will exploit any mistake made by coalition forces with catastrophic results.
[/li][li]The average enemy fighter in Afghanistan has been fighting continuously for the last thirty years.
[/li][li]The bait and ambush attack is one of the most common ambush techniques used by the enemy. The enemy is very observant and has noticed how aggressive Marines are compared to other coalition forces. They have use this to their advantage on several occasions and have drawn Marines into complex ambushes with catastrophic results.
[/li][li]The mud walls of the Afghani houses are very resistant to heavy machineguns and small arms fire and provide excellent cover for enemy fighters. 50 cal, MK 19 and even 20mm Vulcan will not penetrate the 18 inch thick walls.
[/li][li]Fire Discipline: The enemy has been extremely disciplined with their fire and only engaged targets who were within the effective range of their weapon systems. Enemy forces normally utilized RPGs on mounted forces and small arms on dismounted troops. They also generally fired their AKs on single shot. All enemy fire was well aimed and very effective. Machineguns were well aimed and fired in bursts in order to conserve ammunition.
[/li][li]Combined arms: The enemy demonstrated an advanced understanding of combined arms. Most of their attacks on the platoon combined machine gun fire with RPGs, rockets and mortars. Enemy forces used their PK machine guns to suppress turret gunners while several RPG gunners would engage vehicles with volleys of RPGs. They also attempted to fix the vehicles using RPGs and machinegun fire for attacks with rockets and mortars.
[/li][li]Fire and Maneuver: The enemy proved to be very adept at fire and maneuver. The enemy would fix Marines with RPG and machine gun fire and attempt to maneuver to the flanks. This happened with every engagement. If elements of the platoon were attacked from one direction, they could expect further attacks to come from the flanks. This occurred both with mounted and dismounted elements of the platoon.
[/li][li]Defense in Depth: The enemy plans their defenses with depth and mutual support in mind. In one ambush the enemy engaged the platoon from a tree line that was supported by fighting position to the north that were tied into the defense and prevented us from flanking the ambush site. These machine gun positions had excellent fields of fire and machine guns were set in on the avenues of approach.

That really is fascinating. CAS seems to need more of a preemptive dimension, since it is the only way to deliver the firepower necessary. The relative scarcity of human intelligence and what must be a very challenging environment for tech intelligence go against that, to be sure. I wonder what an in depth comparison of the experiences of a battalion like mine that was in Afghanistan in 04 and again in the current climate would demonstrate in terms of constants and variables…My (fairly obvious) guess would be the biggest change is not their physical ability to inflict casualties but the amount of political leverage they are able to bring behind it.

Jesus. Replace the references to modern weapons to references to ancient weapons and you pretty much have an AAR for Alexander the Great’s campaign there. I remember reading about Alexander’s forces using bows in the mountains, for example, where the constant high winds made arrows useless, while in the meantime the Afghans used slings to hurl rocks unaffacted by wind into their enemies’ foreheads. Lots of stories about elaborate ambushes and misdirection, too.

Seems nothing’s changed since then (or even before then).

I missed this quote on the first pass:

“High Explosives: The enemy is not intimidated by crew served machineguns but is unnerved by HE. The M2, and M240 typically do not dislodge enemy fighters from their positions. 40mm HE, mortars, and CAS will.”

I would make a piss-poor soldier, because mortars and CAS would do a bit more than “unnerve” me :)

Yeah, why stop at 30 years of fighting experience, these guys have been excellent fighters for untold generations.

I’m pretty sure that each guy can, at most, be an excellent fighter for one generation, but perhaps the Afghani have special abilities I was heretofore unaware of. I’m hoping not, though - there’s no way we’ll ever beat Vampire Taliban.

Sure we will, we just have to find Cain and kill him to end the curse.

They seem to be very determined and know what they are doing, but the AAR writer also notes weaknesses. They concentrate on vehicles and often don’t notice dismounted elements. They are not politically monolithic. For instance once some commanders were killed in one battle, they didn’t continue to cooperate and fell apart.

Also, the Marines seem to have some serious advantages in terms of training, vehicles, weapons and air support. In some of those vignettes the Marines do pretty darn well for being outnumbered 10-to-1 or more.

Just imagine if a great power of equal or better military tech were giving the Taliban their top-of-the-line anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

One odd element that shows up in two of the events described was that the Afghanis apparently focus all their attention on vehicles, allowing dismounted elements to approach almost unnoticed.

In one example, the Marines approached to within 70m of an ambush site before being fired on, despite the regular engagement range being 200-300m because a vehicle patrol was also moving around somewhat further away and in a different location.

In the last event, the Marines were able to destroy an enemy force ten times their size by walking half their platoon around behind the enemy and chasing them off (WARNING – THIS IS A GROSS SIMPLIFICATION). And despite the large numerical advantage the Afghanis had, they were the ones who felt surrounded.

Pretty strange.

I’m disappointed that this wasn’t the 2nd post.

You mean like what we did when the Soviets were there? What was it, something like 300+ Hinds shot down after the SAMs were “introduced”? They knew the value of CAS there as well, and when it went they were completely screwed.

Stingers forced the Soviets to adopt very consertive movements and take measurable losses when they exposed their helicopters. If you were flying into Bagram, nominally safe territory, you’d approach at high altitude and spiral down to the airbase in violent corkscrew.

That loss of freedom was critical.

Actually that was in the original presentation. I just shortened the quote, so y’all didn’t see so much of a wall of text.

The average enemy fighter in Afghanistan has been fighting continuously for the last thirty years. As a nation, the people of Afghanistan have been fighting for thousands of years. It should come as no surprise that the enemy has developed very effective tactics, techniques and procedures to combat a technologically superior enemy that relies on armored vehicles for transport.

So, can someone explain to me why we’re fighting in Afghanistan in 2009?

I can’t answer that, per se, but in 2002, I think, that summer IIRC, the summer after we went into Afganistan, I was at a conference at Rome AFB in NY. The conference was called Connections, and it’s an annual thing for military simulation pros (with a cross-over to civilian wargaming enthusiasts, albeit at a kinda wonky level). One of the presenters was a group of contractors who had a glossy dog and pony PowerPoint/slide show about our recent efforts in Afganistan.

These guys painted a very rosy picture–how in a few weeks with a handful of SpecOps types we had done what the Soviets had failed to do in eight years, etc. The war was over, we’d won, and it was a model of how to do things right. While I’m sure there were a lot of things done well, especially by folks on the sharp end, even in 2002 a lot of us in the audience were skeptical, especially those with any background in history or awareness of the complexities of the region. The folks doing the presentation came off as cocky, arrogant, and dismissive of questions. Many of us were simply uneasy–it seemed lilke there had to be another shoe to drop somewhere.

And of course it did, and we’re still there. I suppose we’re there because it’s too costly in many ways to leave. Apparently we have a lot better handle on how to fight there, now, than we did in Iraq; according to Ricks in his new book The Gamble, anyhow (his Fiasco is excellent, I haven’t read the latest, just hear Ricks on NPR) Petraeus and co. have a good handle on counter-insurgency there.

Well, I think largely because that’s where Al Qaeda really is, and that’s where we should have been fighting since 2001 instead of this Iraq BS that’s sapped our energy and cost us prestige.

Its funny to hear that. The Soviets took Kabul in a night and the country almost as quickly. Keeping it, that was the problem.

Michael Scheuer’s “Imperial Hubris” (aka Anonymous) did a very good job of taking apart how the invasion of Afghanistan was handled with even more reckless abandon than Iraq. Once you take into account the amount of potential assets and experience we could have mobilized (according to Scheuer), it’s a travesty.

Yeah, I haven’t kept up with Afghanistan lately; all I’ve heard is that in the last year things have improved. But it’s very disheartening to see the disconnect between the quality of the men and women on the ground, and that of the leadership, civilian and military, that puts them there in these places.

What I’m wondering is why the Afghani rebel factions, flush with heroin money as they are, haven’t been buying up portable anti-air weapons to keep the pesky US CAS at bay.