USNI Blog: The Real Loss in Afghanistan

USNI has posted the command philosophy of LtCol Christopher Raible, USMC. The CO of Marine Attack Squadron 211, he was KIA in Afghanistan on 14 Sept. at Camp Bastion.

After noting the loss of Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Atwellt in the attack a week ago, it is natural for many to point out the irreplaceable nature of the AV-8B+ Harriers that were destroyed – our greatest loss of aircraft since the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

While true, that is just the background. It is also true that every loss of life is significant, but in time except for those who know them – losses become a number or perhaps a thumbnail picture.

It is helpful when the opportunity presents itself to look a little deeper in to a loss. What was the character of those lost? What did they represent? What impact did they have on those they served with, the organizations they led, the services they were members of, and the nation that they gave the ultimate sacrifice?

Thanks to our friends over at SLD – we have a copy of Lt. Col Raible’s Command Guidance. Read it. Ponder it. Compare it to your own. If you are someone soon to take Command and are working on one; here is your benchmark.

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Found this article with the most information about the attack to date. The article implies that it was a Haqqani attack that asked for suicidal volunteers:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/bastion-raid-signals-birth-of...

Apparently, the Brits were charged with security and dispatched an APC and squad within 12 minutes. Apparently there were fence area motion detectors but a hotel and cement plant were in relatively close proximity to the east perimeter fence which simplified the approach. The Harriers were inside tent hangars on the same side of the airfield as the fence and the insurgents got around runway barriers and were engaging Marine maintainers turned infantry inside the maintenance hangars.

It appears the above Australian paper link is behind a pay wall now. I found it using google and if you type in Camp Bastion attack and click on the map image on the far right of the four images shown, there is another captioned discussion of the rather extraordinary security that existed if the caption is accurate. Something about blowing a hole in a 30' tall concrete wall!

Michael Yon also has a good article about night vision devices and their lack of infallibility, particularly since there was low NVG visibility that night. However, I read that an Apache and Reaper did show up perhaps from Leatherneck, and Kandahar which is only 99 miles away. In other words, Harriers could reach south Helmand in nearly the same time from Kandahar that it takes from Bastion. Does Bastion have an aerostat or tower sensors? The last paragraph hints that Bastion will be more vulnerable as Brit forces depart...the same reason why Helmand improved when the Marines showed up...far more resources.

There is no doubt that this commander was a hero as were his men that responded. However, several key questions remain that someone must take responsibility for and that cast doubt on the viability of separate Marine facilities away from the rest of the joint force.

Who was responsible for defense of the airfield? Why when every Marine was armed because of green-on-blue wasn't there more of base cluster defense? Who was guarding the perimeter on that side and how could three groups of five insurgents make their way to the fence undetected to cut their way through without being challenged and engaged? No aerostats or military security? I know it was night but was it Afghan security or U.S.? Would this have happened if at nearby Kandahar or Shindand with presumed USAF security forces?

Second, if these Harriers were that vulnerable and cheap at $30 million each, imagine trying to put that many $150 million F-35B on an austere field with minimal security. Was the security minimized by reduced forces following the surge redeployment? Was there HESCO around the aircraft and how far were they from the fence?

While there certainly is value in doubling the number of carriers with the F-35B and its ability to support the MV-22's speed and operate against radar air defenses, why couldn't the Marines operate as part of the joint force instead of in their own newly created RC-Southwest area. Didn't the Brits operate as part of RC-South without the need to control their own area?

Exactly...

Why was security so lax for such a high value target?

Was there a force protection plan in place? If so, it needs to be reviewed and the Antiterrorism Officer held accountable.

Where was the QRF?

This reeks of amateur hour to the max...not an unusual occurence in this day and age.

In the end, LtCol RAIBLE and Sergeant ATWELLT did what had to be done.

"Every Marine a rifleman" - The battlefield is a place of final simplicity.

Semper Fidelis

Thank you for locating the command guidance, simply superb.

Hat tips to Second Line of Defense for bringing us LtCol Raible's command guidance and to our old friends at the USNI blog for pointing us in the right direction (not the first time).