Military News Highlights: January 26, 2011

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Number of U.S. casualties from roadside bombs in Afghanistan skyrocketed from 2009 to 2010

The SFTT news team has been reporting IED lethal effects, propensity/increase of attacks, lack of effective equipment/tactics, and the claims of denial by JIEDDO since early 2010.  In fact, LTG Oates, Commander JIEDDO, predicted this past summer that by winter, IED attacks (and effects) would be marginal.  What the cold hard facts tell us is that in 2010, the number of troops killed by IED’s increased by 60% from 2009, and that the number of wounded troops almost tripled.  Fact: 268 US troops KIA by IED.  Fact:  3,360 US troops WIA by IED.  Those numbers equal an Army Brigade Combat Team or a USMC Regiment.  A BCT or a Regiment.  A BCT or a Regiment.  Marginal?   So a private with a thumbdrive downloads classified information and shares it with some Australian non-sequiter and he’s in the brig on rations, but a three-banger whose singular mission is to figure out this threat and DEFEAT it will probably be promoted.  Where is the accountability?

Report: 35% of warrior-unit soldiers face addiction

The SFTT news team and CLOSE/HOLD has reported on the failure of leadership at Warrior Transition Units in regard to improving the quality of life for our wounded, injured, and diseased troops assigned to Warrior Transition Units.  This new report that details up to 35% of soldiers assigned are addicted to prescription pain-killers is nothing new to SFTT sources – as related to us, “it’s the tip of the iceberg.”    Where is the accountability?

Petraeus Skips Drawdown Talk in New Letter to Troops

A three-page ComISAF missive  by General “Happy Talk” Petreaus failed to mention that US troops will actually begin redeploying home from Afghanistan this July.  Problem is that the Commander in Chief, you know, the POTUS, said this: “This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead [for security]. And, this July we will begin to bring our troops home.”  Now we have been here before, told one thing, then told another – so who knows how many troops will in fact begin the withdrawal process, but what bothers the SFTT news team and our readers is that the Commander, ISAF and the Commander in Chief are not in sync.  More “happy talk” with no straight talk…

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Military News Highlights: January 24, 2011

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Karzai Agrees to Seat New Afghan Parliament

Afghanistan’s fragile government still stands after President Karzai’s decision this past weekend to inaugurate the newly elected Afghan government this Wednesday, January 26, 2011.  Karzai stepped back from the precipice he created after “intense pressure from legislators and the international community.”  During the crisis, not much happy talked leaked out of US/NATO in Kabul, and it took a UN inspired rally of Western allies to “break the silence on the crisis.”

Now this one is not over yet – anything can (and does) still happen to reverse or amend Karzai’s latest pronouncement.  In fact, the candidates that lost the election and claim fraud have constituents who have been marginalized since the election; very sizable ethnic constituencies that now will have limited representation.  “There are already too many people who have gone to the mountains to fight…this will make more distance with the government, and send more people up to the mountains.”

So, again, when a Joe is about to leave the wire on his umpteenth patrol and climb another mountain, what reason do you tell him he’s fighting for?

Marines pay a price trying to secure an Afghan hot spot

The SFTT news team has previously highlighted US/NATO operations in Sangin, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – specifically the high casualty rates, tactics, and the deployment of additional firepower (i.e. USMC M-1 Abrams tank company).

To recap Sangin, the LA Times features three Marines and the price they paid while trying to secure Sangin during continuous combat operations.

Some key highlights for the scorecard:

  • In four years in Sangin, the British had lost more than 100 soldiers, about a third of all their nation’s losses in the war.
  • In four months, 24 Marines with the Camp Pendleton-based Three-Five have been killed.
  • More than 140 others have been wounded, some of them catastrophically, losing limbs and the futures they had imagined for themselves.
  • 3/5 Marines (“Get Some”) has been in more than 408 firefights and found 434 buried roadside bombs.
  • An additional 122 bombs exploded before they could be discovered, in many instances killing or injuring Afghan civilians who travel the same roads as the Marines.
  • US military hospitals in Landstuhl, Germany; Bethesda; and San Diego have seen a steady stream of wounded Marines and sailors from the Three-Five, including at least four triple-amputees.
  • Less severely wounded Marines have been sent to the Wounded Warrior Battalion West barracks at Camp Pendleton. Still others among the 3/5 Marines injured have been transferred to the Veterans Affairs facility in Palo Alto, which specializes in traumatic brain injuries.
  • Fifty-six replacements have been rushed from Camp Pendleton to Afghanistan to take the places of the dead and severely wounded.
  • Many of the volunteers were Marines from other battalions who had been wounded in Afghanistan.

“We don’t know who we’re fighting over there, who’s friendly and who isn’t,” Lance Cpl. Juan Dominguez said. “They’re always watching us. We’re basically fighting blind.”

IG says weak planning puts Afghan projects at risk

The current special inspector general for Afghanistan, Arnold Fields informed the Commission on Wartime Contracting what the SFTT news team has been tracking, that the effort to build up Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) was fraught with “poor planning and weak management.”  As we have said along, billions of US tax dollars are at risk and being misspent.

What is revealing about Fields’ testimony was that he (i.e. the special inspector general) is not clear how in fact US/NATO would be able to construct enough bases and training facilities by the end of 2013, when ANSF capacity and capability are supposed to be ready to fully assume security in 2014.

What is staggering is that less than 20 percent of the more than 800 projects, which are valued at over $11 billion, and planned for completion over the next 2 years, are finished.   While more than 65% of the pending projects have not even been started.  Not a very good rate of return.  Complicating any progress is whether or not the Afghans will be capable to maintain the few projects that have been completed thus far.

“These issues place the entire U.S. investment of $11.4 billion in (Afghan security force) facilities construction at risk of not meeting Afghan needs of intended purposes and resulting in a large degree of waste,” Fields said.

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Military News Highlights: January 4, 2011

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U.S.-funded infrastructure deteriorates once under Afghan control, report says

Since 2001, the Commanders Emergency Relief Program (CERP) in Afghanistan has provided commanders quick and readily available resources to fund projects – to build schools, to build local government facilities, purchase generators, pave roads, etc.  And because Afghanistan is a target rich environment for CERP related projects given the effects of over 30 years of war and the lack of government capacity to provide services, CERP is sometimes the only means in which a small village or neglected district can survive.  Key to success of any CERP project, and the first question that is answered in doling out funds is whether the Afghans at the local, district, or provincial level will be able to maintain the project (i.e. maintenance and repair, sustainability, inspections, ensuring that the people benefit versus a power broker) after the US hands it off.   Ask any trooper with repetitive deployments to Afghanistan and ask him/her if the projects they put in place are still standing after their return and nine-times-out-of-ten the response will be no.  Numerous GAO reports, IG investigations, commanders inquiries, Afghan government inspections all produce the same response – deterioration.  Why is that?  And why does that matter?  The causes for deterioration are many – standard neglect, Afghans not trained to maintain the infrastructure, shoddy contractor construction, attacks by the Taliban, and/or the populace unwilling to use/maintain in fear of Taliban reprisal for US support.  And it matters because of the billions of dollars already expended and the fact that in the COIN narrative, effective and efficient maintenance of these projects is a metric to gauge how prepared Afghanistan is to take on governance on their own.   It appears that the 2014 goalposts could be moved back a little further back since local Afghans are incapable of maintaining the infrastructure put in place at the cost of untold blood and treasure.  If we the US/NATO can’t responsibly shift these projects to the Afghans, then how will they be able to hand off security responsibilities in the near future? 

 U.S. Marines report peace deal with tribe in Afghan hot spot (McClatchy Newspapers)

After 25 days of negotiations, the Marines in Helmand Province have agreed to a “peace deal” with the Alokozai Tribe.  The tribe has agreed to rein in Taliban confederates and cease attacks in exchange for the release of a religious leader being held by US/NATO, and funding for projects in the affected district (i.e. Sarwan Qala – 30 villages in Sangin District).  The tribe will expel foreign fighters, allow US/Afghan patrols, and provide intel on IED locations.  Question is what prompted the deal?  Steep US/NATO casualty rates?

Policy puts troops at risk for identity theft

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that US servicemembers are certainly at risk for identify theft, especially if their social security number is plastered on every document and identification card that they carry.  So yes, it is true, that in the digital age, anytime you pony up your social security number onto the spectrum you quickly become a target.  Really?  

And if military cultural norms and outdated reporting procedures are perpetuating this, then it’s time to adjust fire.  And doing it quick, very quick.  

So let me get this straight, an Army Private with a Secret Clearance downloads and exports thousands of classified reports and cables resulting in investigations, criminal charges, changes in policies, Pentagon edicts on no-access to “that site”; all of which is instituted in a matter of weeks and months. 

 But changing a policy so that individual social security numbers are no longer part of a servicemembers digital profile (and subjecting him/her to these risks) takes more time?   

Priority?

 From the Pentagon to the private sector

In the last two decades alone, most of the 750 generals and flag officers who have retired have entered the “rent-a-general” business.  Conflict of interests?  Sure, but they get a pass on “pitting his/her duty to the US military against the interests of his employers.  “Sprinting” to the door?  Don’t let the door hit your fourth point of contact.  Anything being done about this revolving door syndrome where generals and admirals get tucked in bed by the defense-private sector?  Unfortunately not, and the rate of the turnstile has only increased over the past few years in comparison to the boom years from 1994 to 1998.  Good times for those lucky enough to cash in.  Good times indeed.

Weight hikes prompt uniform, armor review

During the past few years the Army has reissued an improved Army Combat Uniform, female-cut Army Combat Uniforms, a medium-sized rucksack, enhanced Night Vision Goggles, a second generation Improved Outer Tactical Vest, and an Enhanced Combat Helmet.  All of which did not have the benefit of updated data regarding the size and composition of the force that ultimately would (and are) using/wearing this gear.  A new review has been ordered that will collect the proper data of the size, weight, and body composition of a set sample of surveyed troops with the goal of upgrading the data used to develop new equipment and uniform items.  Glad to hear that they are finally getting their act together, you know, the proverbial cart behind the horse thingy.

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Military News Highlights: December 30, 2010

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Busy With Afghanistan, the U.S. Military Has No Time to Train for Big Wars

Clearly the US military, and especially our infantry-centric units, are on the “margins” when only one brigade combat team has been able to break away from COIN focused training this past decade and conduct full-spectrum operations type training necessary to maintain current and future US strategic interests.  Further, the capability to conduct forcible entry operations has atrophied and “takes practice, and we don’t get a lot of practice.”

The tip of the spear, needed to respond to certain crisis, has dulled from the grueling focus of COIN, the perpetuity of Afghanistan deployments, the decade long wear and tear of equipment, and lack of strategic reserves.  While the US military remains preeminent, the sad fact of the matter is that the longer the US military focuses on COIN with endless deployments, the higher the probability that it will not be prepared for future contingencies.

Let no man’s soul cry out “had I the proper training.”

Aid groups in Afghanistan question U.S. claim of Taliban setbacks

While the happy talk on the progress and positive trends resulting from COIN and the “surge” in Afghanistan continues, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), aid groups, and notable security analysts are citing evidence to the contrary.  The most startling claim that insurgents now control less territory than they did in 2009 is being seriously challenged. While it may be true many Taliban insurgents and confederate strongholds in southern Afghanistan have been driven out, their ability to increase operational control and influence in the rest of the country, most notably in the west and north (non-traditional Taliban areas), has increased at a larger pace than they were driven out of their strongholds.  When NCO’s and aid groups can’t operate throughout Afghanistan, a reality check that COIN has not “had any impact on the five-year trajectory” on security is needed.  In fact, a 20 percent increase in civilian casualties and the highest coalition death toll since Operation Enduring Freedom began is not happy talk (i.e. “The surge in coalition military and civilian resources … has reduced overall Taliban influence and arrested the momentum they had achieved in recent years in key parts of the country.”)

“Thundering Third” Victories Come at Huge Cost

A revealing account on one Marine squad from Weapons Company, 3/1 Marines during their seven-month slugfest to control a 3×5 mile strip of poppy and wheatfields in Garmsir (southern Afghanistan).  Close-in hand grenade exchanges, four-day fire fights, IED encounters, refusal of extended medical care in order to stay in the fight, and the death of warrior while carrying a wounded comrade to a medevac bird.  The grind continues…

The CBS embed’s blogs can be read here:

Marines Push Taliban Back from Base

“Thundering Third” Meet with Local Afghan Leaders

“Thundering Third” Adapts to IED Threat

Basic Military Pay Effective January 1, 2011

Monthly Basic Military Pay for an E-1 (Private): $1,467.60

Monthly Basic Pay for an O-10/General (4-Stars):  $14,975.10

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Military News Highlights: December 10, 2010

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Report: Growing mental health problems in military

Never knew that the Department of Defense publishes a Medical Surveillance report , but even without the findings everyone knows that mental health problems are the number one health issue facing our troops.  That’s a no-brainer. The November report highlighted in this story by CNN points out the fact that mental health issues send male troops to the hospital than any other cause, and are the second highest for hospitalization amongst women troopers. “The Army was relatively most affected (based on lost duty time) by mental disorder-related hospitalizations overall; and in 2009, the loss of manpower to the Army was more than twice that to the Marine Corps and more than three times that to the other Services,” the report says. “The Army has had many more deployers to Afghanistan and Iraq and many more combat-specific casualties; it is not surprising, therefore, that the Army has endured more mental disorder-related casualties and larger manpower losses than the other services.”

 With some patience you can navigate to the MS Report site and review a decades worth of reports – rather startling data.  Consider that there is data that tracks the numbers of deaths (and by cause) within two years after

 Insecurity and Violence Spreads to Northern Afghanistan

Whack-a-mole.  Surge in the south, leave open the north.  Whack-a-mole. Reposition in the north, enemy withdraws south.  Whack-a-mole. NATO has called this “an extreme escalation” of militant activity.  Actually, it’s a simple supply and demand problem and an economy of force issue.  What was once a gunfight that only involved the Afghan provinces in the east to the south in Afghanistan is now a 360 degree fight, where all areas  require more US/NATO forces are evident to the threat and being exploited.  Coupled with criminality and a lackluster Afghan government, the northern (and western) provinces in Afghanistan have become a vacuum for the enemy to operate in with impunity.  Limiting their operations outside of major urban centers the Taliban and their confederates have been able to provide an alternative to the local populace for services, justice, and security, which “allows the instability to spread.”

 Sad to say that the only real option without any operational or strategic effect is to “whack-a-mole”.  In other words hit the enemy wherever and whenever they emerge – problem is, it’s apparent that there are insufficient US/NATO troops to cover and respond to the threat, and Afghan National Security Forces lack the capability to respond in kind as well.

 Following Up: When A Crew Chief Fights With His Rifle

 Warms your heart when you get to read about courage amidst the carnage, especially when these humble acts are by combat medic crew chiefs.

The award recommendation is below:

SGT Grayson Colby, United States Army, distinguished himself by extraordinary courage and dedication to the MEDEVAC mission on 01 June 2010, in support of Regional Combat Team 7 in Regional Command Southwest during Operation Enduring Freedom 10.

While performing MEDEVAC duty at Camp Dwyer, the crew of DUSTOFF 56 (Pilot in Command CW2 Deric Sempsrott, Pilot CPT Matthew Stewart, Crew Chief SGT Colby, and Flight Medic SGT Ian Bugh) conducted MEDEVAC mission 06-01R in central Marjeh. A dismounted patrol of Marines had come under fire, and one Marine was shot in the upper thigh. Within minutes DO56 launched from Camp Dwyer, knowing they were headed for a high threat area. No escort was available due to the multiple troops-in-contact ongoing across Helmand. The Marine would surely die if not evacuated quickly, so the crews acknowledged the risk and were authorized to launch.

As DO56 approached the point of injury, a firefight erupted on three sides of the aircraft. With no aircraft providing cover, the crew continued to the ground without hesitation, determined not to abandon the wounded. Seeing the location from which the friendly forces were engaging the enemy, SGT Bugh and SGT Colby exited the aircraft from the right door where the largest contingent of the Marine patrol was engaging the enemy.

As the two crewmembers egressed from the aircraft, a Marine came out of the tree line in front of them and signaled for them to stay low. SGT Bugh and SGT Colby sprinted 50 meters across the open field toward the Marine’s position where the patrol was locked in an engagement with the enemy. Reaching the raised road where the Marines were taking cover, SGT Bugh found that the unit had no means to transport the injured Marine and returned to the aircraft for a litter. SGT Colby immediately took a defensive position alongside the Marines and began to engage the enemy. With rounds cracking above his head and hitting the dirt around him, SGT Colby returned fire to the muzzle flashes that were approximately 200 to 300 feet in front of him.

When SGT Bugh returned to where SGT Colby was providing covering fire, they bounded as a team down the raised road with the firefight continuing around them. Reaching the wounded Marine, SGT Colby took his place in the line of Marines, replacing one who had left his position to aid his buddy. Again, SGT Colby returned fire with enemy rounds hitting around him. SGT Bugh and three other Marines carried the litter while SGT Colby remained in his position until they were clear of the road. He than followed them down the road providing rear security until reaching the aircraft. With the patient loaded and SGT Bugh and SGT Colby secure, DO56 departed towards Camp Dwyer. Once airborne, SGT Colby assisted SGT Bugh by starting oxygen on the wounded Marine as the aircraft raced back to the Dwyer Role II Hospital. The Marine went through intensive surgery at the hospital prior to being transferred to a higher level of care.

SGT Colby’s disregard for his own safety as he left the security of the aircraft to provide cover for SGT Bugh embodies the Warrior Ethos. His bravery resulted in a Marine’s life being saved. SGT Colby’s actions reflect great credit on himself, TF Shadow, TF Destiny, and the United States Army.

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Military News Highlights: December 7, 2010

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War’s Progress Measured By Commanders In Afghanistan

Two points of interest in this interview with Major General John Campbell, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division and Regional Command East – Afghanistan:

[The interview is timed at 7 minutes, 48 seconds; the points of interest are at 5:38 and 6:15 respectively]

5:35 of 7:48  “Cricket?” “Roger that Sir…and we suck sir…” (A young captain’s remark to General Campbell on his units attempt to bridge the cultural Afghan gap and play cricket with the locals) and;

6:15 of 7:48 General Campbell’s view on the likely adjustments and troop dispositions (i.e. refocusing where the 101st can protect the populace) and the withdrawal of forces from the Pech River Valley [vicinity of Korengal Valley].

Infantry automatic rifle is Afghan-bound

Designated Marine Corps units will be issued the new M27 infantry automatic rifle which fires a 5.56mm round from a 30 round magazine.  The M249 SAW may see its final days if the M27 performs as advertised.  Problem is, it’s tough to go “automatic” at the cyclic rate when you have to change magazines every 30 rounds.  Kind of defeats the purpose of establishing fire superiority, and if the plan goes forward there will be less light machine guns in a rifle company limiting tactical options.  Go figure.

For Invaders, A Well-Worn Path Out Of Afghanistan

National Public Radio has posted a handy online report of Afghanistan for reference.

Key highlights:

  • Many observers remain pessimistic about the administration strategy. History does not offer encouragement. What do the armies of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British Empire, the Soviet Union and now the United States all have in common? They all shed blood and tears in the indomitable mountains of Afghanistan.
  • Afghanistan became a “bleeding wound” for the Soviets, as President Mikhail Gorbachev said in 1986. He decided to pull his country’s troops out, a process that took another three years. “All foreign forces invading must learn it’s easy to enter Afghanistan,” Seraj says. “It’s very difficult to leave Afghanistan.”
  • Population: 28.4 million; Religion: 80% Sunni Muslim, 19% Shiite Muslim, 1% other; Literacy: 43% male, 12% female; GDP per capita: $800; Population 14 and under: 44%; Population 65 and older: 2.4%; Life expectancy: 44.7 years
  • Karzai has proven to be a problematic ally for the U.S., with his administration widely accused of corruption and mismanagement. Karzai, in turn, has criticized U.S. strategy and methods with increasing frequency in recent months. Diplomats who have encountered him and others who know him say Karzai has a conspiratorial streak, can be emotional and lashes out when he feels he is being criticized.
  • A year ago, President Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan, committing 30,000 additional troops to the effort. Those were on top of a 21,000-troop increase he’d announced shortly after taking office, bringing total U.S. force levels above 100,000.Obama’s strategy calls for the beginning of troop withdrawals in July 2011. In recent weeks, the administration said it will maintain a major military presence in Afghanistan until 2014 — more than a dozen years after the initial invasion.
  • Obama and his generals are arguing that the more engaged and aggressive strategy put in place a year ago needs more time to succeed. In recent weeks, the administration has laid out a new timetable, which calls for a continuing Western military presence in Afghanistan until 2014. In an interview with ABC on Monday (12/6/10), Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Afghanistan, refused to say that he is “confident” that the Afghan army will be prepared to take over control by 2014.
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Talking to Troops in Airport Terminals during the Holidays

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Try this one on for size if you find yourself in an airport terminal during this holiday season – introduce yourself to a servicemember in uniform, thank them their service, and ask if there is anything you can do for them.  Most will be surprised, nod humbly, and refuse.  And off they’ll go on the way to or from a flight.  But if you want to know what it’s like in Iraq and Afghanistan, be persistent and engage them in discussion – you’d be surprised what you might find out.

Here is what I learned at the airport:

A 20-year old Private First Class serving in the Army had just completed his mid-tour two-week leave and is already seven months into a twelve-month Afghanistan deployment and his next stop was Atlanta, then Manas Airbase, and finally Bagram; he looked miserable.  The leave period ended too early and he never really had a chance to wind down or relax. Hailing from no-where Missouri he joined as a sense of duty, to “see the world”, and get out of the rut and cycle of unemployment, “… it was a dead-end street.”   “I’m a cherry rifleman and my squad’s mission is to patrol for IED’s while the platoon leadership works with the locals trying to convince them not to emplace IED’s.  We normally find three to four on every patrol.  We lost two squad members since we deployed.  The MRAP’s we have can’t operate in the sector we are assigned.  So we ride them as far as we can on the trails after they’ve been cleared of mines and then we dismount and walk.  And walk like forever.  The kit we wear is way too heavy, so we scrap half of it before we leave the wire.  I spent almost two hundred bucks before we deployed for M-4 magazines, because the one’s we have issued to us, jam.  The springs in the standard issue magazines suck.  But chow ain’t too bad, we get one hot meal a day in the COP, no real complaints there.  But, we all stink though because we only get to shower about once a week, but hey that’s the Infantry.”

A 31-year old Sergeant First Class serving in the Army was on the way home from Iraq due to an emergency leave situation.  This being his fourth tour, third in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, he seemed non-pulsed when I offered him my thanks for his service.  Getting him to say much more than what he did reveal is understandable given the circumstances and the anxieties he faced. “Since we got to Iraq, we’ve been sitting around on our hands.  The Iraqi’s we are partnered with never call on us, even when there has been an up-tick in bombings and attacks against the public and security forces.  It’s crazy. We can help. There are still bad guys outside the wire that are doing harm, but we just monitor the situation.  So why are we there?  Don’t know. Send us home or let us join some of our division units deployed to Afghanistan and get into the fight.  My guys are getting in trouble on the FOB, and now getting fat and out of shape.  Everyone has cell phones they buy from local vendors and try to keep in touch with loved ones back home – but that “tether” makes it worse.  Everyone is on at least their third deployment and their home situation, if they have one, is awful.  After I get back from this leave, back to Iraq and only nine months to go.  I’m going to try to keep my guys focused so that no one does anything too stupid.  Gotta go, thanks for the Starbucks.”

A 23-year Marine Lieutenant (out of uniform, but his high-and-tight haircut gave him away, and I asked him if he served) recently redeployed from Afghanistan and heading home for some “turkey and fixings”.   I had two questions for him, one “did your unit make a difference during its seven-month tour in southern Afghanistan?”  And two, “what would have improved your unit’s performance?”  “On your first question, definitely yes.  It was tough to get the Afghan Security Forces to lead, but slowly, and with pressure, they did and are becoming better.  But, it was, and still is a very tough slog.  I was part of the second set of Marines that cycled in and out of the area we were assigned to.  It was rougher for the first battalion on the ground.  They set us up for success and I think we did the same thing for the Marines that followed us.  Time will tell, but I think we are running out of time.  On your second question, probably maintenance, especially servicing the MRAP’s.  We can’t turn wrenches fast enough to keep them in the fight outside of the wire.  We have a huge graveyard of destroyed and inoperable vehicles and MRAP’s in Camp Leatherneck that we use as a junkyard looking for parts.  Bet you didn’t know that for every MRAP deployed in theater you need three contractors to service and maintain an MRAP.  And if you have to recover an MRAP outside of the wire, which happens all of the time, forget about getting a contractor out of the wire to recover the damn thing (it’s not in their contract), so we have to call the Army.  But at the end of the day, if we don’t have enough MRAP’s for the mission, which is often the case, well then, I tell my Marines to march, and so we do.”

Well what did I learn?  For starters, not much has changed for a grunt – too much heavy equipment to hump, out-of-pocket expenses to purchase reliable equipment, food is marginal, and showers are non-existent.  Second, senior NCO’s have deployed to the point of being numb, and want their troops to be either gainfully employed, re-missioned to the fight in Afghanistan, or redeployed home because FOB life in Iraq is sapping morale and increasing the odds of indiscipline. Third, while Marines are making a marginal difference in a small slice of Afghanistan, Afghans are still hesitant to lead.  And finally, the MRAP actually requires a sustained maintenance and logistics tail, an effort which is currently under-resourced (i.e. lack of parts, recovery assets, contractor umbilical cord) and as a result negatively impacts the mission.

Still curious about what, if anything, you can do during your holiday travels when you see someone in uniform, and you don’t have time to engage them and thank them for their service? Stand there and clap they at least deserve your applause.

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Military News Highlights: December 2, 2010

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‘Progress Made’ In Afghanistan’s Helmand Province

When interviewed by . Generic drugs that do so should have the same therapeutic effect and therefore the same benefits as their brand-name counterparts, but at less cost.

“But let’s talk a little bit about Marja, because I know that’s one you’ve been following. If you could come over and visit today I would take you down to the district center, where across the street is a very nice restaurant that’s opened up – two dining rooms. You can get a really nice chicken dinner there. There’s three major bazaars in town, all three flourishing. All of the activity now – all the enemy activity in Marja’s been pushed to the perimeter, where a few lone insurgents creep back, usually at night, and try to intimidate some of the locals. And have not done a very good job of it.”

When asked to comment on Sanjin, heartland of the current bloodbath that has claimed the lives of at least 14 Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment since mid-September, General Mills made no mention of this sacrifice but commented that, “It’s been tough fighting. It continues to be tough fighting. I think that Sangin is Marja, perhaps five months ago. And we are going to remain focused on that mission up there, and we will win.”

When they start serving chicken dinners in Sangin, I guess the General can claim victory.

The following two news reports from the New York Times add to SFTT’s recent discussion on combat related and sports related head injuries and trauma and the stark difference between the actions taken by the sports industry and lack of action and non-prioritization of these type injuries taken by the Congress, DoD, and the Services.

Scans Could Aid Diagnosis of Brain Trauma in Living

If athletes are subject to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CET) as a result of sustained head trauma, then it’s obvious that US troops are prone to CET in the future as well due to combat related head trauma.   In fact, Boston-based researchers have developed new imaging techniques that confirmed CET in athletes brains with a history of head trauma.  Currently, CET can only be confirmed through a specialized brain tissue examination after death.  So imagine if you can monitor CET and its symptoms and treat these injuries effectively.  Why wait until you are on the morticians slab to confirm the obvious?  While there is more work to be done with the initial positive results of this new type of imagining and study, the question that remains is whether or not this type of sports/medical science will ever transfer over to DoD and its medical services as it identifies, monitors, and treats troops suffering from TBI. Probably not given their track record.

Ward Calls League Hypocritical on Safety

Maybe Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is onto something in his criticism of the National Football League’s recent call and emphasis on safety.  Ward’s take is that the league only toughened its stance because of a pending desire to extend the season to 18 games.   If DoD, the services, and Congress ever wake up and start addressing combat related head injuries and trauma properly maybe it’s because they want to extend the time spent on the battlefield as well.  Nah, just because 2011 turned into 2014 and beyond in Afghanistan doesn’t mean that there is going to be new emphasis placed on improving helmets and reducing head injuries and traumas.  In Afghanistan, its all systems forward without these types of safety and quality of life considerations.  Why should we kid ourselves and believe there was a purpose for “extending the season”.

Department of Defense Headquarters Staff Comparisons (2000-2010)

Senator James Webb requested a pre-and post-9/11 staff comparison of Department of Defense, Services, and Combat Command Headquarter as he studies the Department’s recent decision to axe Joint Forces Command.   After nearly a decade, of the 17 reporting headquarters there has been approximately 11,000 civilian/military staff personnel billets added.  If you only take uniform personnel back into the fold you could man at least two Brigade Combat Teams – imagine that!  Read more from Tom Ricks.

Dragon EOD Squad Leader Sergeant First Class “William”

Just in time for the holidays.  Your very own toy-set of body armor, Advanced Combat Helmet, and an M-4 carbine!  Enjoy!

  • The set is outfitted in the newer ACH, with older style Interceptor body armor in woodland camouflage, and helmet with woodland camouflage cloth cover.
  • Weapon: M4 Assault Rifle or M4 Carbine with Infrared Pointer / Illuminator, Aimpoint optic sight, Forward Hand Grip, tactical light attached under the barrel, retractable / extendable butt stock and removable magazine.
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Military News Highlights: November 19, 2010

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U.S. deploying heavily armored battle tanks for first time in Afghan war

Let’s be frank about why a company of M1 Abrams tanks are being added to the fight in Helmand province – because of their survivability and the firepower they bring to the fight against the current threat in Helmand (i.e. IED’s that disrupt lines of communications, concentrated enemy positions supported by complex IED/minefields, lack of local support).  The reality on the ground is that in order to gain an upper hand requires a new combination of light and heavy armor to defeat it.  In simple terms we must escalate to de-escalate.

The Washington Post does not discuss the timing of the M1 Abrams tank deployment or in otherwords when they will be put into action.  But if you really wanted to surprise the enemy, the M1 tanks would be flown in one-by-one on C17 cargo aircraft into Kandarhar Airfield under the cover of night, and then quickly added to the fight.  But, CNN has confirmed that the M1 tanks will not be deployed until early spring.  Really?  Next spring?  Here is the CNN report, read it yourself.

“The U.S. Marine Corps plans to use a company of M1A1 Abrams tanks in restive Helmand province by early spring, said Marine Maj. Gabrielle Chapin.”

I don’t get it.  On one hand the US telegraphs to the world and the Taliban that the US is in a hurtbox in Helmand and requires heavy armor like yesterday to secure victory, but then on the other hand announces that they tanks will not arrive until spring.   If you need tanks in Afghanistan, you can get them there in relatively short order – delaying their deployment until next spring makes no sense.

Details given on attack that killed 5 soldiers

Last weekend was a particularly bloody day for one unit in Afghanistan as it conducted a series of missions in support of Operation Bulldog Bite. Six US soldiers were killed, five of them in a six-hour gunfight, details of which are just being reported.  The firefight was so intense that medical evacuation of the wounded (a figure not released) was not successful until late in the evening.  The commanding general stated that, “this is a huge blow to the enemy” and had broken the morale of Taliban in the area.

U.S. Army to Weigh Buying More FCS Gear

The Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aircraft System, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and the Network Integration Kit are the remaining components of the failed Future Combat System.  In short order, top Army officials will decide whether to outfit one Army Brigade in 2012 with these systems.  The systems scored poorly in recent evaluations and were not considered reliable, there are unknown costs, and most importantly a  potential a lack of operational utility.  Given these circumstances, you can bet that Boeing will secure the contract.

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Military News Highlights for November 10, 2010

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235th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps!

To all the Devil Dogs out there today, congratulations on the 235th Birthday of the Marine Corps!

M4 Carbine and Accessories

Mark Fingar M4 Carbine Poster

If there was any question as to whether the M4 Carbine currently issued to Soldiers and Marines will be replaced for a more durable and lethal carbine or not, one only needs to look at the accompanying layout of the M4 Carbine and Accessories to see  how difficult this proposition will be to carry out.  It is not going to be a simple task considering all of the accessories and associated equipment that will be replaced as well.  In fact the M4 Carbine has become a complex system that is modified and tailored to meet individual and unit requirements requiring a dedicated logistics and maintenance support system that oftentimes is not sufficiently responsive on today’s battlefield.  Ultimately the debate to replace the M4 Carbine must take the “accessories”, the logistics and maintenance tail, and the increasing contractor support base into account.  Hopefully this “poster” featured on Mark Fingar’s Blog brings this issue into perspective.

The list of accessories includes the following:

  • Colt M4 (SOPMOD STYLE) with KAC RAS Handguard & KAC Vertical Grip.
  • Optics & Iron Sights:  ACOG; EOTech 552; Aimpoint COMPM2 & 3X Magnifier; Leupold CQ/T MK4; Nightforce NXS Riflescope; Trijicon AccuPoint; Trijicon Reflex; Colt C-MORE Tactical Sight; A3 Detachable Carry Handle; LaRue Tactical IronDot; Troy BUIS; Matech BUIS; A.R.M.S. #40 BUIS; LaRue BUIS; LMT BUIS; Troy Front Sight; PRI Front Sight
  • Lasers:  PEQ-2A; PAQ-4C; DBAL-A2; OTAL; VITAL-2
  • Lights: Surefire L72; Surefire M910; Insight M6; Surefire Millennium; Surefire Scout
  • Silencers & DD’s: Knight’s Armament M4QD; YHM Phantom, and QD Flash Hider; GemTech M496D; Surefire M4FA556-BK; Ops Inc CQB 15th Model
  • M203 Grenade Launcher with AN/PSQ-18A Day/Night Sight
  • Night Vision: PVS-22; PVS-14 & Magnifier; PVS-17
  • Misc Hardware: LMT SOPMOD Stock; Magpul CTR Stock; Colt M4Stock; LaRue Tactical Free-Floating Handguard; TangoDown Vertical Grip; TangoDown Battle Grip; Magpul MIAD Grip; Magpul Magazine Pull; Harris Bipod with LaRue QD mount

Gates: U.S. Open to Talks on Post-2011 Presence in Iraq

Secretary of Defense Gates said yesterday in a news conference in Malaysia that the United States is open to the idea of maintaining a troop presence in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline to leave, but only if Iraq were to make such a request.  Secretary Gates stated that the required conditions for these discussions to take place include: the Iraqis forming an inclusive and non-sectarian government; selection of a president, prime minister, a speaker of the council of representatives; and ministerial-level appointments.  No mention of improving security, no mention of countering Iran’s ascendancy, and no mention of defeating a reemerging AQ in Mesopotamia.

Obviously the US is committed to a strategic partnership with Iraq in the future, but we also know that the Iraqi’s voted on and approved the deadline for all US troops to withdraw from Iraq no later than December 31, 2011.  Any signals contrary to remaining resolute on the deadline will only increase the growing sense of instability and the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi’s to govern.  Further, the 50,000 US troops currently deployed in Iraq (and subsequent replacements that will serve there until December 31, 2011) contribute to the more than 250,000 US troops deployed in the region.  Maintaining this troop end-strength to allow the Iraqi’s to continue dithering with “democracy” will not increase “dwell time” for the rest of the Army as the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Casey recently asserted whereby the 50,000 troops in Iraq that would no longer be required for Iraq as of December 31, 2011 would provide relief to troop deployment requirements.

Review Will Influence U.S. Troop Pullout

There will be an increasingly mixed bag of reporting on the pending Afghanistan review this December – shift in strategy; increase of resources; metrics of success; the genius of COIN; the lethality of CT; the increase in casualties; influencing US pullout, etc…as this Reuters news report provides.

What would be useful to keep in mind during this period is to recall exactly what President Obama stated on December 1, 2009 when he announced his decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

“These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”

The intent is pretty clear: the increase of troops would allow for accelerating the handing over of responsibility; the transfer of forces begins in July 2011; the transition will be executed responsibly and be conditions based.

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