In The Graveyard of Fuel Tankers
For the first time in this conflict it appears that Taliban fighters are moving out of the “Southern Triangle” of Nangarhar Province and attempting to interdict the road to Kabul. The latest attack was on 6 August and it occurred much further east than the series of attacks last summer which we think emanated out of Laghman Province and features the impressive shooting of The RPG Mechanic. The 6 August attack happened in broad daylight at around 0800 in the morning (I just missed it having left that day for Kabul at 0700) and the ambush team stayed on scene to fight with the ANP for around an hour pulling out only after American soldiers arrived on scene.
Shem Bot with the able assistance of Canadian John went out to have a look see and he reports the following: 20 or so bad guys moved into a refugee settlement from the ridge line of the Tor Ghar mountains (Black Mountains.) They dug hasty fighting positions and whacked a fuel tanker then stayed around to fight with the ANP who have been set up along the road living in poorly made fighting holes since last fall. This kind of thing causes the traffic to halt and back up which essentially blocks the road and isolates the fight. Afghans always fill all lanes and road shoulders to push up as close as humanly possible to a road blockage knowing full well that by doing so they will extend the length and time of the blockage. It is some sort of congenital reaction to orderly lines or the concept of waiting ones turn. I have seen Afghans jumping a 100 person line at the Dubai airport look mystified when they are forced to go to the back of the line to wait their turn. Anyway an ambush like this will normally make the movement of reinforcements into the fight impossible. But somehow within an hour the American Army had worked its way through the jam and was able to join the fight with their mortars and heavy machineguns which forced the bad guys to retreat.
There is a problem with this whole scenario and that is how the hell do a squad of Taliban move over the Tor Ghar mountains, dig in and ambush a fuel tanker, break contact when the Americans show up and withdraw back over the mountains without being hit by 300 to 400 rounds of 30mm cannon fire by an Apache? I think I found out the answer inadvertently when I was down south with the Marines last week. The Marines are shooting rockets – a lot of them and I was chatting up the 3 who told me he has been meeting with spacemen. Pray tell why? I asked and he told me the new generation of the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) goes so high that you have to de-conflict the missile track with satellites and other stuff hanging out in space. I then asked why shoot rockets and he said because we cannot get clearance to use Tac Air fast enough given the new ROE put in place by Gen McChrystal.
It seems to me that the Taliban understands this ROE change and know that as long as they are operating near civilians we will not whack them. How else do you explain 20 armed guys moving several kilometers in broad daylight through the densely populated, strategically important Kabul river delta? A year ago there would have been so many attack birds stacked over these deadbeats they would have needed an airborne controller to keep them from hitting each other.
This cannot be considered good news and it will make it much easier for the Taliban to actually backup some of the BS they have been spouting lately about cutting the roads during the upcoming presidential elections. Air-power is how we fight when we want to be asymmetrical and we are good at it. However our FOB bound operational mindset has created opportunities for Afghan score settling which is how we have been tricked into bombing wedding parties or warning the only physician in Nuristan to flee his clinic and then killing him and all the nurses and midwife too as they pulled out in their vehicle. Due to our over reliance on technology and local informants we have created a more level playing field for the bad guys who clearly understand they are, for now, safe from our ground attack aviation assets. Just in time for the elections too….unbelievable.
The way forward is not allowing the very same senior military and civilian leaders directly responsible for creating the Big Box FOB method of warfare to place even great constraints on the junior men doing the fighting. They are not changing the Rules of Engagement (ROE) because those rules proved ineffective at protecting men in contact by pounding the bad guys to parade rest. They are changing the rules based on pressure concerning civilian casualties and in doing so they use statistics which are completely wrong. Let me provide a quick example to prove what I say is true. A convoy of fuel trucks are attacked by Talib fighters and in that attack 20 PSC guards and 15 tanker drivers are killed. Are they civilian casualties or military combatants who have fallen in the good fight? Under current polices (which are not standardized among the UN, military, ANSO or Afghan security forces) they are civilians. Looking at the same dynamic from our perspective an isolated village provides food, shelter, safe haven, weapons and ammo storage and grade A hashish to Taliban fighters. Those fighters later attack an Afghan police checkpoint and a predator follows them back to their local safe harbor allowing it’s controllers to call in fast movers and light the place up. The compound owner, his wife and kids are killed in the ensuing air strike….are they civilians or fighters?
I have been a consistent and harsh critic of the way we have used air strikes which have resulted in the killing of innocent civilians and only innocent civilians. That stems directly from the over reliance on technology and “trusted” government officials which can be traced directly to senior officers practicing the risk avoidance paradigm which serves them so well in the peacetime military. That is bad tactics and bad tactics offend me as I am a purist and also a realist when it comes to the art of war. Riskless war is the fools gold of our high tech era. The Captains Journal, using excerpts from Vampire Six and the FRI blog has the best write up on the topic I have seen right here.
In war people die; the currency spent by battle commanders is blood. Many of those who perish are innocents which is why the professional does not enjoy war, seek combat or prolong conflict. Our leaders are prolonging conflict by restricting the use of our decisive combat arm. They say they are doing this to avoid civilian casualties yet we know from history that this is a consideration to which we pay lip service only when it is convenient to do so. Do you think those same commanders were worried about civilian casualties when they had an American platoon surround and in danger of being overrun at Wanat last year? Of course not – they leveled that village and I’m glad they did because those cats were all combatants in my eyes. Of course the children inside that village were innocents and no military professional wants to be forced into killing innocents but the enemy has a vote in how battles turn out too. In war people die; that is why it is called war. It is in everyone’s best interest to get this shit over quickly and to beat the enemy decisivly. It is not important how wars start; how the end is critical. When the enemy is beaten and knows he is beaten wars end. Until we reach that point we will spend blood, our blood, their blood and the blood of innocents. The longer this is allowed to continue the more we are going to bleed….it is now as it always has been which is why we need to finish it. And the only way to finish it is to kill the Big T Taliban when and where we find them regardless of how many innocents are in the blast radius.