Finishing Firefights Difficult in Afghanistan

In response to e-mails referencing the fighting cited in my Afghanistan trip report at SWJ and Westwrite, here is a video of three firefights. They illustrate why adding more US troops is separate from imposing more casualties and lowering Taliban morale.

This video shows why coalition and Afghan battalions inflict few Taliban casualties. Causes include terrain, Taliban maneuver, heavy coalition armor and risk aversion to minimize casualties, while doing a professional job and returning in one piece.

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Realize this is an old thread, but...

With the exception of the Army in the North clip, the footage shows infantry squads and platoons in action with no supporting arms. Understand these forces are very spread out - but even the best trained troops are not going to press a hasty attack to close with and destroy the enemy without sufficient fire superiority or a mobility advantage. The COIN attitude - taken too far is "we don't need no stinkin' tanks or artillery" (or attack helicopters) This ain't the way the Soviets approached the problem in their Afghan war. Looking at this footage, one wonders how much a difference a light mortar section, an artillery battery, even an infantry fighting vehicle would make. Instead the bad guys are shooting RPGs at friendly dismounts...you have the advantage of superior standoff and dialup firepower in not such horrid ground and the goal is to get the bad guys to retire a few thousand yards ? Hmmh...looks like penny wise and pound foolish economy of force. And yeah, the fire discipline is great as long as the bad guys can't hit the broad side of a barn.

Speed. And Power.

I have to agree with Mike F. While there is truth to the claim that we have decreased capabilities for the higher end of the "full spectrum operations" since the majority of forces have come through Iraq multiple times, it is also true that all it takes is a good 18 months of reset with core METL tasks as the focus to go back. I am planning one right now.

COL Gentile - Leavenworth is still teaching the things that you would recognize from a fight in Korea or anyplace else that might require large unit (brigade and division) combined arms warfare - river crossings, large scale air assaults, long LOCs over tenuous terrain (no deliberate defense, though).

What Phil Ridderhof said (I would support that a broad and enduring education program (which would have to include an officer corps who wants to educate itself, and not wait for the institution to educate it and to learn about warfare in its broadest sense, not just the current conflict) will help the transition from one type of war to another. However, we will go into conflict with the force we have at the time, however its trained, organized and equipped. If we got it "too wrong" it will be a wrenching process to correct.)

is so true - that's what it has always been about. Not getting it too wrong. The interwar period is a great example of those who did and those who didn't. How about the Schlieffen Plan or Plan XVII? Same thing. Population Centric COIN Theory - same.

There are a lot of us, Phil, on this site (and others) that spend a lot of time trying to do just that. It's 0125 here in Iraq and that's what I am doing. I suspect that there are a lot more doing the same.

It has always been about not getting it too wrong - and that's the beauty of differing opinions like LTC Yingling's and COL Gentile's.

Scott

Mike Landers,

Tracking Teams- great suggestion, very brilliant.

As to this statement, "You have to take the fight to him and it appears todays combat soldier is not allowed to do that."

Not true. On the ground level, no one is stopping the combat solider from taking the fight to the enemy. In war, small units are constrained only by their imagination, creativity, and initiative. For many commanders and leaders, they wait and wait and wait for higher to tell them what to do while their bosses are waiting for them to figure out solutions.

The best mentality is a pro-active one to "get 'er done." This involves decentralized maneuver with specific commanders intent, task, and purpose combined with small leader's ingenuity. It's amazing to be a part of such units. You walk away thinking, "that was easy and common-sense."

Mike Few

If your enemy initiates and breaks off engagements at will, you have to ask your self what are your options. You take the fight to him, but where did he go.
Although I have been retired for twenty years from active duty, when we could not find the enemy after contact in Vietnam we employed Tracker Teams, five men and a dog all trained to track visually and by scent. The enemy has to leave sign no matter where they go, and that sign is used to follow him. I have led tracker teams right into the enemies home and pulled him from his bed and there was no doubt he was the last man of the group we we tracking, we turned him over to the Police who then arrested the other three. You have to take the fight to him and it appears todays combat soldier is not allowed to do that.

"One can find many other cases in history where Armies that had focused
almost completely on irregular warfare ran into serious trouble when
confronted with an enemy who fought in a sophisticated and organized way.
The British Army in the second Boer War comes to mind, along with the French
Army on the eve of the Franco Prussian War." Gian P Gentile.

--Absolutely. Focusing entirely on any one type of warfare is a bad idea.
Also, it does not have to be the way. I reference the USMC in the Banana
Wars. USMC forces spent most of their time in the inter war period
(WWI-WWII) fighting these small COIN fights. While at the same time they
were developing the tools and skills of Amphibious Warfare. Two doctrinal
publications arose together- The amphibious warfare doctrine and the small
wars manual.

In my previous post I referenced a quote from Col Gentile in which he states
that in order to focus on one type of war we must sacrifice focus on
another. Specifically if we focus on COIN then we cannot focus on future
conflict. I think we all agree that this is a difficult scenario. We are
faced with a fight on our hands which we intend to win. To do so we must
focus on it. However, by placing our focus entirely on COIN we are also
limiting our capacity to respond to face future challengers.

The fight at hand is easier to fathom, it is tangible, and we can evaluate
it and break it down. We can develop a means to fight it. I believe we have
done this. The way ahead is somewhat set. It will still be difficult and
costly and the end result as with any conflict is still in doubt.

What is the future of warfare? Now this is contentious. Here you have to
make some educated guesses. Truly the best example of this was the inter-war
period WWI-WWII. The new technologies, the changes in mindset, the expanse
of the war, the industrial base, the economies-these had changed so
dramatically that it is hard for us today to grasp.

The motorization of war changed everything. Tanks, airplanes, and trucks,
these were the revolutionary weapons of the day. What are the revolutionary
weapons today? The computer, the shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles, cbrn,
and suicide bombers? I do not know. We cannot claim certain knowledge of
the future. But we are stuck attempting to plan for it.

Of course this thread is about Mr. West's article. Here he expresses concern
with our modern infantry's capability to engage the enemy decisively.

Col Gentile added:
"When was the last time that a combat brigade in the American Army conducted
a sustained combat operation involving the close synchronization and
coordination of its maneuver battalions, fires, other supporting fires, and
intelligence in the face of a hostile enemy force who fights along the lines
that Hiz did in south Lebanon in 2006?"

--I counter with when was the last time it was necessary for brigades to
conduct sustained combined arms combat? Perhaps it was the initial OIF 1
Iraq invasion. Yes, the Iraqi's were a shadow of there former selves but
they attempted to fight in a conventional manner and we responded with
combined arms. True they were second rate (Perhaps third rate or fifth) but
the planning, preparation and execution was done in a combined arms manner.
The opportunity to conduct combined arms warfare at the brigade and higher
level does not arise that often. You could have had this argument in the
80's before the Gulf War. All we had was theory, training and history and no
practice to show combined arms in action. Yet we make it work because we
must.

Col Gentile also added:
"Granted that infantry platoons and companies in Afghanistan are able to
make contact, hold their own, then bring in overwhelming fires in order to
break contact (this was essentially what the West report focused on). In
that sense, sure, one can argue rightly that we are still proficient in
combined arms and fire and maneuver: But what about their battalions,
brigades, divisions?"

--The objective is not the enemy forces. The objective is the influence they
exert. Breaking contact is not the only end result of our fire fights. I can
cite numerous occasions at all levels squad to regimental where contact was
not broken, where the target people and the target terrain was retained.
The capture of Nawa, Gamsir, and Now Zad in the Helmand Valley region are
good examples. These areas did not involve huge amounts of fighting, mainly
the rough skirmishing seen by Mr. West and others. The initial assault was a
well planned and executed combined arms heliborne assault. The end result
was/is Coalition control of the region. The intent of the mission was
achieved. Overwhelming fire was prepared but not needed as the enemy was
forced to vacate. The skirmishing now experienced in the region is
countering infiltration as Marine forces continue to push their control
outwards.

We are never going to be at the peak of efficiency when a war breaks out.
Some of our best officers of WWII were bush warriors from the Caribbean.
They adapted so can we. What is needed is an appreciation and understanding
of war, and a willingness to flex to meet new opponents. Some of our
assumptions for the future will be wrong. Some of what we do in the fights
on hand today will not translate to the next war. Perhaps the best that we
get from our current conflict is that we proved we can still rapidly retool
and field new equipment, skills and tactics to meet changing operations.

Are we viewing hindsight with beer goggles?

"Granted that infantry platoons and companies in Afghanistan are able to make contact, hold their own, then bring in overwhelming fires in order to break contact (this was essentially what the West report focused on). In that sense, sure, one can argue rightly that we are still proficient in combined arms and fire and maneuver: But what about their battalions, brigades, divisions?"

I'm thinking of the training that we did prior to 9/11. I did rotations at JRTC, NTC, and CMTC prior to 9/11. And as I look back on those rotations, I am not impressed by the capabilities that were demonstrated by any unit - light or heavy. I shudder to think of how battles would have unfolded in Mar/Apr 2003 if we had faced a more formidable enemy. On the other hand, I think there is a lot to be said for having companies and platoons that are not merely "still proficient" but are far more lethal and experienced.

I agree that Gentile's concern is one that we should keep in mind but, in my opinion, it hasn't materialized.

Col Gentile,

"When was the last time that a combat brigade in the American Army conducted a sustained combat operation involving the close synchronization and coordination of its maneuver battalions, fires, other supporting fires, and intelligence in the face of a hostile enemy force who fights along the lines that Hiz did in south Lebanon in 2006?"

Sir, collectively, you're probably right about the Army's decreased capabilities, but it does not have to be that way. I've seen both. In the units that I was assigned to, every daily operation was planned and executed as a combined arms operation- nesting tactical tasks, defining main efforts, coordinating CAS, conducting resupply, conducting medivac, etc... With good leadership, a unit will perform well in any type of war- big, medium, or small.

Now, we definitely have some atrophy in specialized skills particularly fire support as artillerymen transition to infantry and cops, but that can be handled in a year with a reset.

I just don't see a dillema between having an Army that can fight and win wars of various sizes.

"Some argue that the way of war in the future (David Ucko, John Nagl, for example) will be mostly irregular warfare and therefore the army must reorient and optimize itself toward that form of war."

My limited study of history tells me that would be a very bad assumption.

Mike

I agree with Gian here. We cannot avoid the fact that we are making choices, or "accepting risk" in the DoD parlance. While there are overlaps, Army and Marine battalions, regiments, brigades, divisions, corps and MEFs that are well trained and oriented on COIN, or "irregular" operations, will not be equally competent at major combat operations. What the exact detriment will be, Im not sure, but we need to stop making claims that ability to do one can translate into ability to do the other. It is also unhelpful to make claims that one type of warfare is more complex, or the "graduate level"--thus implying that the other is something simple. They are both complex in their own way. I would support that a broad and enduring education program (which would have to include an officer corps who wants to educate itself, and not wait for the institution to educate it and to learn about warfare in its broadest sense, not just the current conflict) will help the transition from one type of war to another. However, we will go into conflict with the force we have at the time, however its trained, organized and equipped. If we got it "too wrong" it will be a wrenching process to correct.

As a last point, our claims of conventional superiority have only the experiential base of fighting what are really 5th rate armies in the Middle East. Many of the characteristics we assign to hybrid enemies such as Hezbollah, or potentially the Taliban in the future, are part and parcel of the threat we actually fought in eastern Asia, against competent forces, such as the Chinese, North Koreans or North Vietnamese, that would stand and fight, in their own manner, and accept casualties beyond our estimations. This is not to say that the insurgents we face today arent tough adversaries, but from the larger conventional sense, we cant be smug in our conventional capabilities to fight competent foes, whoever they may be.

Phil Ridderhof USMC

When was the last time that a combat brigade in the American Army conducted a sustained combat operation involving the close synchronization and coordination of its maneuver battalions, fires, other supporting fires, and intelligence in the face of a hostile enemy force who fights along the lines that Hiz did in south Lebanon in 2006?

Granted that infantry platoons and companies in Afghanistan are able to make contact, hold their own, then bring in overwhelming fires in order to break contact (this was essentially what the West report focused on). In that sense, sure, one can argue rightly that we are still proficient in combined arms and fire and maneuver: But what about their battalions, brigades, divisions?

Go read any of the number of analyses produced about the Israeli Army in summer 2006 and what had happened to them. Since the near only focus prior to 2006 was conducting Coin operations in the territories it has become an accepted fact through these analyses and accounts by Israeli officers who were on the ground that their combined arms skills especially at higher level organizations had atrophied. One can find many other cases in history where Armies that had focused almost completely on irregular warfare ran into serious trouble when confronted with an enemy who fought in a sophisticated and organized way. The British Army in the second Boer War comes to mind, along with the French Army on the eve of the Franco Prussian War.

Some argue that the way of war in the future (David Ucko, John Nagl, for example) will be mostly irregular warfare and therefore the army must reorient and optimize itself toward that form of war. If they are right about the future then there is logic to doing so, but in their correctness one also has to accept therefore that competencies at combined arms warfare will naturally atrophy in order to allow the re-optimization toward Coin and irregular war. Afghanistan today is a microcosm of this greater theoretical construct and a reflection of the practical effects of this theory when put into action.

Why do folks find this very possibility happening to the American Army today so hard to accept? It is what it is, perhaps it is right for it to be happening, but it seems to me to be like seeing clothes on the King that are not really there to deny it.

I found the below quote to be some what off.

"If you believe that the operational method of population centric coin (aka
nation building) can work in a place like Afghanistan then I imagine you
would have the concomitant belief that a reduction in combined arms skills
is a necessary and detrimental effect that must be accepted."

---Gian P Gentile Col USA, SWJ thread- blog comments Posted by Gian P
Gentile | November 5, 2009 10:26
http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2009/11/finishing-firefights-difficult/...
ment-5375

Understanding COIN and utilizing COIN methods is just another way of doing business. The basic block and tackle techniques of fire and movement, and combined arms are still required. A good soldier can be an expert in combined arkms and still be expert in COIN. I do not see these as mutually exclusive.

Of note, In afghanistan there is often what appears to be a slow reaction to firefights. Generally it stems from understanding the threat. The Taliban and thier supporters will not often attack unless they are in a position of superiority. Meaning a well sited position with IED minefields protecting the avenues of approach. When a US patrol encounters an ambush or deliberate attack the first reaction cannot be to assault through the objective. The leaders must evaluate and counter the enemy through precision fire (rifle on up). It is slow.

In actions initiated by US or allied forces, in places were we can force a fight, and there are many, the classics of fire and manuever are performed well. The best advice I have heard & seen is to make good use of precision rifle fire. Nothing has greater effect on the insurgents than a well aimed shot. Once effected then bring in the combined arms to destroy the enemy as we always train to- through closing with the enemy and applying fire and close combat. Just becuase you may have just been conducting a shura a valley away does nt make this any less important.

Col Gentile,

"I personally think that 3-24 was discredited in Iraq; but then to accept that argument one would have to jettison the Surge triumph narrative."

Sir, I'm gonna disagree on that. Ultimately, we may both prove wrong, b/c it's darn hard to be objective when you're emotionally invested into the conflict. I'd submit that FM 3-24 provides a way to establish security, and that is it's limit. During the Surge, depending on one's "interpretation," we conducted triage on two fronts:

1. Political- somehow, Crocker/Patraeus put the squeeze on the Maliki gov't.

2. Military- a combined, systematic, overwhelming application of violence by the CF broke the enemy's will to resist.

Yes, this is rather simplistic and there were many other factors, but it's true nonetheless. Now, it's up to the Iraqis to either build or destroy themselves. Thank you for the links. They'll be very helpful as I continue to sort this out.

Schmedlep- your humility underwhelms me :).

Mike

Col. Gentile,

I see nothing in this piece that indicates units in these fights are not sufficiently capable of fire and maneuver. The enemy only conducted harassing fires and he only conducted them in situations when he knew that he could escape. Furthermore, he seems to understand our ROE and exploits it.

The point of this piece seems to be that we're not decisively concluding minor skirmishes. I think it is an irrelevant concern and it doesn't speak at all to whether we are competent warfighters. Perhaps one could make that case (though I would disagree). But it is neither asserted nor supported by this piece from what I can tell.

MikeF's post at 10:24AM is brilliant.

Mike:

Right, Exum with that statement is drawing on a criticism of 3-24 that Steve Biddle made in the journal "Perspective on Politics" from last year that contained a set of critical reviews of 3-24 of which Biddle had one. To be sure it is an important critique but the more telling review in the set I thought was the one by Stathis Kalyvas which essentially argued that FM 3-24 was nothing more than a rehashing of the counter-Maoist approach of the early 60s. So we are attempting to build a new Afghani nation with an approach to Coin that was devised in the late 1950s and early 1960s to counter Mao's purported methods.

I personally think that 3-24 was discredited in Iraq; but then to accept that argument one would have to jettison the Surge triumph narrative.

gian

COL Gentile,

Andrew Exum made this statement the other day on his blog,

"What happens when the interests of the host nation government don't line up with the interests of the counterinsurgent force is famously absent from FM 3-24"

This quote maybe the understatement of this decade. It addresses my biggest concern with the implementation of COIN as a foreign policy-we are not the host nation. It's like having a car with no engine or tires. I guess if the car is pretty enough, it can make a good lawn decoration.

A'stan may prove the ultimate test of FM 3-24.

Mike

Carl, send me an email off line and I will send you the slides that I am referring to. After you read them it will be clear who I am "arguing with." It is the power and dominance of the mentality of population centric counterinsurgency. Of course Galula, Kilcullen, Nagl, Exum, 3-24 always acknowledge that at times the enemy needs to be killed. But my argument all along is that in the theory of population centric coin the enemy is moved to the fringes and the population is made the "center of gravity" or focus, or "prize" or whatever term you want to use. Once that happens, according to the theory, then programs and processes of nation building can inject themselves, the people will be one over to our side, and they will then tell us where the insurgents are at, and then we can get after killing them. I think that the current situation in Afghanistan blows this theory right out of the water. If the guidance from the top all the way down is to focus on the population, win their hearts and minds through better pop centric coin then the imperative to do fire and maneuver becomes a secondary priority to embedding with the local population to win them over. It is this mentality that permeates its way throughout ISAF which ends up producing policies, procedures, rules, etc that direct efforts toward "population" protection but also have the more deleterious effect of reducing American combat units ability to fight through fire and maneuver. This was the teaching point that I took away from Colonel Wests report. If you believe that the operational method of population centric coin (aka nation building) can work in a place like Afghanistan then I imagine you would have the concomitant belief that a reduction in combined arms skills is a necessary and detrimental effect that must be accepted. I, however, think the notion that Coin can actually work in Astan is a chimera and that there are alternative operational tools to be used to attain the presidents policy objective that require the American Army to be proficient at combined arms. So for me, Colonel Wests report is especially troubling.

Carl-

I know right. When I first read this thread, I had to ask myself, "Did I write that?" Maybe I'll have to start posting like Miami and be "THE MikeF."

Schmedlap has an excellent post about this topic on his blog.

http://www.schmedlap.com/weblog/post.aspx?id=091104-1

Mike

MikeF: my comment to Mike was directed to the other Mike. (we're going to have to give you guys numbers)

At the outset of his piece, COL West states that the Taliban starts the fights when they want, and break off when they want. They have the initiative. I have always read that your side should have the initiative, not their side. If they got it and you don't something is wrong.

My take on the importance of us finishing the fight comes from a police perspective. If somebody starts a fight with the cops, the cops have to finish it in order to retain the psychological advantage. If the crooks think they can toy with the police with impunity, they will gain confidence and do it more often. If the cops don't retain the upper hand, they lose confidence and have to actually fight more often. That psychological dominance is extremely important, if it wasn't there little mini-officers like I used to be wouldn't stand much of a chance. This is not to mention the opinion of the citizens who watch all this. They are affected by that psychological dynamic too.

If the Taliban get to go out and have sport with our guys and not pay a price, like any other crook, they will keep it up, and more will want to join the party. Why shouldn't they? It is fun and they get to brag a lot. I can't see how our guys can keep morale up if they are Taliban objects of amusement. The villagers see all this and act accordingly. This is what I believe. I have no military experience so judge me accordingly.

Schmedlap: My take on killing those guys comes from a police point of view again. When crooks are taken down, their family will say evil things about you. But most of them don't do much. That uncle may curse you when he sees you but he may be thinking "that stupid little twit deserved it and I'm glad I made that phone call." The neighbors are all glad you got him, but they won't say it in public. The crook has to go down and on balance it is for the good.

Mike: I am a little confused by your comment regarding the book "The Village." That book recounted fight after fight after ambush after ambush that the Marines and PFs mostly won. They protected the village by killing so many VC that they were afraid to go near the place. That seems to me in line with the position taken in the video.

Gian: Sometimes I wonder who you are arguing with. The small wars advocates and thinkers all recognize the importance of killing the bad guys. When Galula worked his town they always set multiple ambushes. Kilcullen is right up front saying the hard cases have to be killed. "The Village", the best small wars book around, is one fight after another. Nobody advocated letting infantry skills go by the wayside. If, as COL West suggests, for whatever reason they have; the explanation is to be found elsewhere.

COL West- another great dispatch. Please keep them coming.

I disagree with Mike. COL Gentile is right on this one. I've watched too many units that were sloppy with tactics. Sometimes, we think to much in a one-dimensional fight, and we forget to think deep. Fire and maneuver is more rugby than football.

Here's the advice that I offer over and over to young leaders.

-Send covert OPs out at night to expand your perimeter.
-If you are not compromised, then you can watch and learn the enemies infil/egress routes.
-If you are compromised, then you immediately let everyone know that you wanted to be seen. You wanted to set the tone that you can be anywhere at anytime. That's your initial "good news" and influence operation.
-The enemy does not appear out of thin air. Furthermore, if they perceive you as static, they will get lazy and set patterns. It is human nature, and you have to learn to take advantage of it.
-Once you figure out the patterns, counter-ambush.

This tactic is so suprisingly simple, and it works. There is no security until you become the biggest tribe. Period. I think someone wrote a book on that. Oh wait, it was COL West. This is what I have learned. Killing bad dudes and dominating your terrain attempting to influence the illusion of control is mutually exclusive to killing innocent civilians. If you aren't the biggest tribe, then you are the patsy, and you will not be respected.

This is not rocket science.

Mike

Mike:

I disagree. In fact last year two infantry Lieutenants and a SFC returned from Afghanistan after serving in a rifle company there for a year. They made an argument on a set of slides that basically said that the American Army's ability to do combined arms at the small unit level in Astan in the face of a hostile enemy force had atrophied severely. Their argument was a call to get back to the basics of fire and maneuver since from their perspective the American Army had lost the initiative tactically in Astan. Their report was directly in line with Colonel West's!

What good does it do to pursue the tactics of pop centric coin if we have completely lost the initiative to the enemy and can no longer do combined arms maneuver at the platoon and company level? Moreover, how can we expect our combat outfits in Afghanistan to pursue an operational approach of pop centric coin if we dont have the tactical initiative against the enemy? Doesnt it make sense, therefore, to focus on killing the enemy through better fire and maneuver in order to gain the tactical initiative thereby producing some breathing space at the operational level for nation building to proceed? Or does such thinking violate the dictums of the religion?

Anon,

I think those are valid points and they remind me of my sentiments in Iraq in 2005, when some of us were operating from patrol bases, fighting daily, undermanned, overtasked, and wondering why seemingly every other unit was being ordered to vacate its patrol base and relocate to a super-FOB.

I would just say that my previous comment spoke narrowly to the sentiments conveyed by West. I see no significance to the outcome of minor skirmishes. I don't equate winning skirmishes to killing Taliban. Not everyone who shoots at you is Taliban. Furthermore, I don't think we need to be the ones who do all of the killing.

Really, I don't have any major disagreement with what you wrote. Maybe some minor quibbles on wording and details.

Mike and Schmedlap, I can't speak directly to your comments lacking first hand experience this go around. Though closing with the enemy is not an unknown to me...in the distant past.

But by extension of my Son serving with 1/6 in the Helmand at the moment, this is indirectly my war and I must tell you both, more than a few Marines have a fatalistic attitude that when they leave there will be very little, to no backfill. And many also feel, if they can't kill the Taliban, they'll surely return, and would like nothing better than to see larger offensive operations supported with combined arms.

I'm further told, operational intelligence is severely lacking as it was in my day, and that's part and parcel why patrols stumble around upon leaving the line of departure.

Again my Son, who also served in Iraq, saw we were making a difference over time, but in Afghanistan he and others aren't so sure.

I am wondering if your statements are based on past experience in Iraq and if they are valid toward what Francis West (we're passingly aquainted) is presenting, and if it may stick in Mike's craw that Bing isn't reporting through rose tinted glasses? Frankly, it reminded me of that distant past I mentioned.

I also found the translator's remarks amusing, since as a former Marine myself, I always thought the Corps practiced being miserable, but slightly more tactical, while the Army loaded themselves with creature comforts. But then, that's just some old fashioned good natured inter-service rivalry!

In closing, thank you both for your commitment to service and accept my comments as none-confrontational. And with that I'll go back to being an ardent listener.

I'm not advocating anything at the operational level, but just making an observation based on experience at the small-unit level...

I do not fear for the mission because guerrillas initiate harassing fires, US forces return fire, and the skirmish ends with no casualties to either side. Haven't been there, but I've done it elsewhere. The guy that you kill often has a family that doesn't care why you killed him. They just know that he's dead and they blame you. That's not victory at the tactical level or any other level. You just increased the number of folks whom you're fighting against.

The way to attack the Taliban is to attack his strengths. That Taliban's strength is his ability to control the population. That doesn't mean that we seek to control the population, it just means that we destroy the Taliban's ability to. The Taliban are able to control an area because if someone shoots at them, they can go into the village and find out who it was. If that is not the case, it is certainly a fear among the Afghans. If someone tries to undermine the Taliban, they can find out who, and how, and punish him. Likewise, if that is not the case, it is certainly a fear. Perhaps we should try to figure out how to address those fears and how to instill fear and paranoia into the Taliban.

I don't understand what ensuring a decisive outcome to skirmishes will accomplish - other than a guarantee of more skirmishes with more experienced and angrier fighters, with no significant degradation of Taliban influence.

I believe this is largely another misguided and uninformed message from Mr. West. His focus, though valid in a respect, is buried in a lack of understanding of the real problems we are facing. I guarantee every unit portrayed, save for the Army COP, if given the leeway would be able to maneuver and "finish" the enemy. A weapons free rifle squad / platoon against what is estimated to be a team reinforced at best is on paper and nine times out of ten in reality a win. The real issues that seem to be at a loss for our administration seem to be at a loss for Mr. West as well. There is a distinct reason why a lack of lethality was demonstrated by the forces portrayed; as frustrating as it is the second and third order effects of the kinetic efforts of killing six Taliban will have an exponential effect on the three elders pictured and will most likely effect that same squad in the same fashion. Congrats Mr. West, you obviously have the same understanding as the 22 yo Sergeant who was asking the local to step on the IED for them. Instead, use the obvious media clout you have to deliver a positive message about the success we have seen, particularly in Helmand instead of focusing on the lack of body count. I thought we learned this already. I will caveat this whole comment with an admission that there is a tactical problem to solve at the level he is discussing. Sure, our forces are having trouble closing; we are decentralizing units to the point of platoons operating 30-40 km or more from parent companies compounded with an enemy that can and will maneuver on us, place IED's on most probable avenues of approach for dismounted maneuver, utilize combined arms at the team and squad level, and tactically withdraw to cause the strategic casualty another day. I won't even delve into the myriad of issues dealing with ISAF ROE and munitions restrictions. Give them credit. In essence, we may be fighting smarter. None of those points were mentioned. Mr. West wants to drop a GBU on each position. I do too, trust me. There is a time and place, and given the chance of having minimal to no collateral damage and civilian impact, both soldiers and Marines have killed a good deal of enemy. Our media, to include you, just chooses to publicize whatever else will garner the attention. The small units are doing it right.
As for the comment portrayed by the terp, the luxury that we all enjoyed in Iraq at BIAP, ITC, and Camp Fallujah, to name a few, was not all it was cracked up to be. Yes, the Marines do not have A/C, thanks for putting that on YouTube and wasting band-with. How about some good I/O from our media; that the austere posture our operating forces have taken in Helmand have allowed us to reclaim terrain and reach out and make contact with the enemy that has not been sustained since 2001. How about that, Mr. West? It may be time for you to revisit some of you own history (The Village) and re-learn some of the lessons you attempt to teach here.