Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rick's Endorsement of Chivers and a Critique of the Ambush

Tom Rick's has a blog entry about C.J. Chivers and his two NY Times articles. Follow the link to those two Times stories. They are well worth reading. The abu muqawama posting has at least one really insightful comment by someone called "Old Grunt".

Can we talk about how NOT to run an ambush? I read that article with my mouth hanging open. Just a few basic points:

1) If you're patrolling in daylight, you don't move into your ambush position until after dark in case the bad guys are observing or following you.

2) You certainly don't dig in on an ambush. Stealth is more important than protection. Sound carries far and wide, and the noise you make digging negates any advantage. And digging in before dark identifies your position to anyone who might be passing by.

3) What happens if the Taliban get between your main body and the 3-man listening post 100 years away? Or your ambush goes bad and more Taliban counterattack you? The 3-man listening post is screwed.

4) After you emplace your Claymore mines and settle into the ambush site, why aren't weapons off safe and fingers are out of the trigger guards? This way you don't give away the game when some dumbass private clicks his weapon off safe with the Taliban six feet away. If the Taliban had been on the ball, right after that click they would have immediately assaulted and overrrun those guys.

5) The leader DOES NOT initiate an ambush with a radio call or verbal order to open fire. The leader opens fire himself with either his rifle or blowing a Claymore. The first sound has to kill someone, to give the enemy no chance to react. An ambush MUST be initiated with a massive simultaneous volley of fire from the entire force, to gain and maintain fire superiority. Otherwise you risk everyone opening up one by one, giving the enemy time to hit the dirt. And if the enemy has time to hit the dirt, they're either going to crawl away unharmed or wait until your fire slackens as you change magazines, and assault you.

6) After an ambush, if you're going to search the bodies of your victims, one man covers while the other searches. That way no one has to stab a bad guy playing possum.

To sum up, this is all Ambushing 101. I'm shocked that a U.S. infantry unit would be so badly trained. They were very, very lucky that the Taliban was very, very careless. The worst part is, that 2nd Lt will probably get a medal, when what he really needs is a good talking-to. Makes me wonder about the state of the Army at this stage of the war.

Old Grunt's critique that U.S. Army training quality has diminished is dismaying considering that we've been fighting a war in Afghanistan for seven years against guerilla fighters who know how to stage ambushes. One would think we'd have not only COIN down pat, but the basics in staging ambushes and avoiding the enemies' ambushes down as well. Alternatively, maybe this 2nd Lt. slept through that part of the course, but NCOs are supposed to make up for their officers' shortcomings. The Army should have noticed these problems long ago and fixed them. This is worrisome in that the Army is a martial institution whose purpose is to fight and win the war at hand, not the war they wish they had to fight. If they aren't preparing their soldiers for combat deployments properly at this late date, what else is wrong? Is this a systemic problem? If the generals don't care or won't fix these deficiencies, then how will our soldiers prevail in this guerilla campaign? Have we lost more men because of these training deficiencies than we should have? In other words, were some deaths preventable had the troops received proper instructions and training? Are American combat infantry too dependent upon air support and artillery, rather than basic infantry tactics and skills? Has the U.S. Army gone senile as an institution?


This is really warry stuff. Old Grunt's recipe is accurate.

From what I've seen/heard the US militay has improved out of sight compared to their performance in Vietnam. Part of it is having a just war (arguably Afghanistan) that officers and men believe in while Vietnam was widely seen by the Army as a suckers war that was best left ASAP.

In Vietnam Australian units did not want to camp near American units in the field because American units were so noisy, smoking, stoned and trigger happy that they were unsafe.

I've heard no such problems about US units in Iraq or Afghanistaan.


There were two problems with Vietnam, a lack of leadership and discipline. If one considers disciplining troops to be a subset of leadership, then the failure of Vietnam comes down to an inability of officers and NCOs to fully lead and discipline troops. Your comment addresses the lack of discipline and sidesteps the failure of the leaders. Old Grunt's observations suggest that there's still plenty of room for improvement for training troops and officers to fight properly. It may be that the Army is still training troops to fight an urban conflict in Iraq, while neglecting moutain warfare training and ambush for Afghanistan. This would be a serious oversight considering that Afghanistan was attacked and overrun before Iraq by a coalition that was bankrolled by the CIA. Air support was provided by the US. It took the Army a while to move in ground troops to hold the territory gained by the Northern coalition, and we appear to be losing the peace in Afghanistan and unravelling Pakistan across the border, not unlike Vietnam and Cambodia.

I think the unit leaders in Vietnam from platoon Lieutenant to Colonel realized the war was propaganda and political - that's why they didn't lead effectively.

About Pakistan - it has been unravelled since independence in 1947. The planning, inspiration, and personnel for the Taliban came from Pakistan around 20 years ago. Pakistan has been the puppet master for Afghanistan.

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