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21 February 2010


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COL, I agree, the ROEs are astonishing.

I've been following the battle through photography that's being released. Equally astonishing is how well equipped every fighting man is in the field (every rifle is equipped with a telescopic sight), and the highly specialized armored vehicles being employed are amazing.

For a fight on this scale, the published casualties are on a (low) level unthinkable for the first half of the past decade. These ROEs and applied battle tactics are almost more in the realm of law enforcement than they are traditional warfare.

By comparison, viewing the photos of the captured Taliban weapon stocks, ISAF is combatting a vastly inferior force. The weapon stocks are even a far cry less than Iraqi insurgent "standards."

Even so, in the ensuing Battle of Marjah, the small unit fighting capabilities of the USMC are, on their own, as overpowering as Alexander's (Skandar in Pashto) were over two millennium ago.

Sven Ortmann

To ignore the mission is probably betrayal, to risk the life of subordinates in a war is - well, war.

I understand the disagreement about the relevance of civilian deaths to the mission, but I disagree with the assertion that keeping arty ammo expenditure low is betrayal considering the Geneva Conventions and the open question about which strategy would produce what result.

William R. Cumming

ARE ROE's approved above the "Country Team"? Does STATE have a say in ROEs?
What is the guidance on how they are developed?

I guess H&I fire is not being utilized in AF-PAK or IRAQ?

Patrick Lang


In re ROEs, I think not unless Washington intervenes, and then you might as well fire the commander. pl

Patrick Lang


The "Geneva Convention?" What planet do you live on? Have you ever been shot at? Troops in contact have every right to be supported with artillery against their adversaries. A commander who denies his men that support has betrayed them. pl


I'd say it's more tactical incompetence. The smart thing to do is just surround Marja and force the Taliban to either fight or sneak their way out.

That way McCrystal practices his coin doctrine effectively. That is without killing civilians and without wrecking the city.

Doesn't a marine battalion have a weapons company containing a mortar platoon that provides enough indirect fire?


I don't understand this whole concept either. I thought the point of the exercise is to stop taliban asap, with whatever tools at hand. Of course avoiding civilian casualty is important, but is this even a question worth entertaining knowing how limited most taliban battles are? It's

we know:

1. taliban main transport is "walking", maybe few trucks here and there or horses. at most good natural camouflage. They are not going to hop on humvee, call in air support while retreating.

Their maximum speed retreating from battle is 4-5 miles per hour. (that would be what? few degrees of electro optical sensor input? Most mall security camera has faster tracking ability than that.)

2. Why is "accuracy" or hitting wrong target even a question? I bet the map is within few inch accuracy. taliban does not have long distance fire capability. Park artillery/fire support cells 8-10 miles out of town, and no one is going to bother them. (or whatever the team practice accuracy record is) They can hit whatever they want while munching on tostitos. They can't possibly miss by more than 5 feet unless somebody is tweetering on iPhone while launching the ordinance. They have all the time in the world to set up and calibrate their gear to within millimiter accuracy, and no one is hassling them. And that's for primitive mortar instead of artillery gun or digital bombing gadget. Do they even need calling air drop in case of marja? They should have near complete population census and estimate enemy fighters. Since it's pretty small town, they coulnd't possibly not ready for any fancy bombing occassion strickly on mortar.

3. taliban does not have information on US artillery capability, nor able to come near artillery cell, or call in counter move.

4. The air is cool and calm. Camera is running continuously streaming up fresh images. About 15 miles from laskar gah (big base)

It's perfect bombing exercise. The troops should be able to carve their initial using mortar patterning when they want to. what's up? Flawed new prototype device being field tested?

map of Marja. (perfectly FLAT with clear landmarks)


Patrick Lang


The issue I raised with regard to combat intelligence at Marja' has to do with my incredulity at the thought that the marines' staff intelligence people did not identify these buildings or describe them correctly. pl


ooops, the accuracy number is wrong by factor of 2. nevermind. I guess UAV that can drop mortar size ordinance is still needed.

Patrick Lang


You don't need fancy technology for this kind of thing. What we are talking about is firing tube artillery at enemy combatants attacking your troops. You do that to achieve fire superiority and restore mobility to the fight in your favor. pl


Ridiculous. We have GPS guided, vehicle mounted mortars that can register in one round RELIABLY. That means nothing to most of the civilians here, I know. Let's just say that indirect fire is a misnomer and there is no excuse for basing a denial on fear of civilian casualties.

Colonel, did you ever go to Mortar Leadership Course? I'm sure that you wouldn't have a problem calling in 4 inch guns for troops in contact with a graphite pencil and a plotting board.

Why is the command so scared when it has satelite guided indirect?

Patrick Lang


What an opportunity for self-referential nostalgia! I did 60mm and 81 mm mortars in the NG and Regular Army Inf. (2/2 Inf), then I learned to do 4.2inch and 105 how in SF. The heavy weapons sergeants taught me how to do the bigger guns with plotting board, charts or over iron sights.

I think your point is exactly right. This level of skittishness by the command is self destructive and seems to indicate a basic lack of knowledge and skill.

I am here to bitch about this because others were not so skittish. pl

Clifford Kiracofe

1. As a civilian, I share the sentiment that this lack of proper fire support (and whatever else we may find out about) for our troops is shocking and disgraceful and more.

In addition to incompetence is the command impacted by considerations of "the media"??? by "political correctness"??? by "Neoconism"/"COINISM"??? ... political ambition???

2. On the matter of the mis-identified building, just why the problem with overhead and "national technical means"???

And just why not some basic ground intelligence using "humans" for recon...Kim, for example or one of his friends....that horse trader for example.

Mike C

I hesitate to say anything, because I agree with your conclusion. The video report that runs with this story is the same one Landay filed when the attack happened last year, and at the time he believed the ROE was the issue. The Ganjgal report was released last week in redacted form and blames absent senior officers, incompetence, and confusion for the ineffective fire support. Here's a story that contains a link to the report:



I fail to see how caring about the deaths of allies in addition to deaths of Americans is "heartless".

We've already definitively killed far more Afghan civilians in the Marja campaign than the number of American troops who've died, so there's no question the equation is still

Amer. > Afgh.

McChrystal has dialed the knob back a bit. That's constructive.

The Twisted Genius

I'm all for self-referential nostalgia! I fondly remember the older 81 mm mortars in the rifle companies. At that time the forward observer section was still organic to the company mortar section. This allowed all members of the organic indirect fire team to learn each other’s idiosyncrasies and function as a "family of artists" resulting in effective fire support available to the company commander. As an example of our artistry, my mortar section plotted and fired a perfect "E" in illumination rounds one night that my son, Erik, could see from the lanai of our government quarters down in Honolulu. We also had 90 mm recoiless rifles at the platoon level... outmoded as anti-tank weapons, but effective bunker busters. All this in a light infantry company in the "hollow Army" days.

We all thought moving the rifle company forward observers to the artillery battalions was a loss for the rifle companies... only slightly more deleterious than the consolidation of the company mess teams to the battalion dining facilities. We also weren't that thrilled about replacing the recoiless rifles with the Dragon ATM.

Will all the advances in weapons technology, it's a shame that our troops in contact in Afghanistan don't appear to have this level of organic fire support available to them. My guess is that this is mostly due to the consolidation of fire support decisions at higher levels. Sounds like another example of “Artists versus Bureaucrats.”

Patrick Lang


Are you really this clueless about military affairs or is this just another provocation?

"the deaths of allies"

Nobody is talking about the deaths of allies. What we are dicussing is the appropriate use of field artillery in support of troops in contact with the enemy.

Can you wrap your brain around that. pl

Sven Ortmann

The Afghan state is an ally and its citizens should be considered as allies until proven otherwise.

I think you're not really up to date and prefer some hawkish gung ho crap over a clear look at the mission.

It's appropriate for enlisted personnel and NCOs to value their comrade's lives above almost everything else (not above the mission, for example). Every officer is supposed to think beyond that and to grasp a greater share of the war.

Death and destruction alone coupled with zero own casualties is unlikely to accomplish the mission.

McChrystal knows that - his general direction is OK, maybe his fine tuning isn't OK.

Well, I anticipate a rant about civilians, so I'll drop in advance that I was a soldier a while ago.

Patrick Lang


Thanks for the lecture. What army was that in and what was your rank? pl

Patrick Lang


Can you give me the library citation for the source of your views on battlefield survival?

"Every officer is supposed to think beyond that..."

Sounds like maybe something Sam Huntington might have written... but then, he never fought anyone either. pl

John Minnerath

ROE that deny our troops the means for their own defense, that allow the enemy to escape, regroup, and fight another day.
Incredible blunders in intelligence and operations from the command levels.
It’s become so bad I can barely stand to read these articles and reports anymore!
Where is this unending supply of incompetents coming from? It seems no one above about company level can get their act together. Senior command remains above and blameless for their mistakes, instead sacrificing lower level field commanders for “poor performance” with career ending reprimands. What shameful behavior by our military leaders.
Your essay “Artists versus Bureaucrats” explains much of the problem.
Change it to describe the “group think” of every agency at the Federal, State, and Local level. Plus private business bigger than the small locally owned operation. It’s always the same scenario.
No one at any level of supervision can be held responsible because there is a sacrificial layer below them for protection.
Can it be fixed? Sure. But, the people with the ideas and the will to do it are too far down the food chain to have any effect. Their “Committee of Incompetence” just above them will protect the leadership at the next level.
It’s a scary and troubling situation we’re in.


Having listened to Landry's astonishing report I note the following:

1. The report states that the force he accompanied was promised artillery support, that when requested was denied "citing new rules to reduce civilian casualties".

2. The US/Afghan force came under heavy fire, was partially pinned down and had taken serious casualties requiring helicopter med evacuation.

3. From the photos and Landry's report, it appears that some elements of ambush forces were manouevering through open terrain on adjacent ridges in an attempt to flank the pinned-down forces.

In this situation, even with 40 year old artillery technology effective (and rapidly available) artillery (or mortar) fire support against the flanking forces with little to no risk of civilian casualties would appear to have ben a "no brainer".

4. Landry's report states that the initial ambush force was located located on the "outskirts of the village". While fire support against this portion of the enemy force would raise some risk of civilian casualties, having placed the US/Afghan group in this situation it is unimaginable that promised fire support would be denied -regardless of such risk.

I strongly agree with Colonel Lang that whoever denied this fire support should be prosecuted, along with whoever promised rapid artillery and helicopter fire support to those planning and leading this mission. If higher ups understood before this mission that they would deny fire support if it were requested, the mission should never have been undertaken.

Patrick Lang


Turns out that Sven Ortmann spent a couple fo years in the peacetime Buhdeswehr and has no experience of war.

He's out as are a couple more like Payrouz and one of the Andy's. Life is too short. I judge them to be ideological or substantively too deficient for this space. Some of these people argue that we are cowardly for using bigger guns than the enemy and Sven baby lives out the cultural stereoptype about Germans by telling me that officers have a duty to carry out the letter and intent of the theater commander's stated policy, period. In fact, the Kriegs Akademie trained officers of the Wehrmacht were inculcated with the need to use maximum initiative and to improvise. Decent German officers in the Heer often ignored Hitler's orders.

Any "officers" who do not understand that troops in contact require fire support to prevail and destroy hostile forces are fools. What do you think this is, a game?

ROE that seek to prevent attacks by fire or air on non-combatants are one thing.

ROE that deny air or artillery support to infantry in a fire fight are simply criminal. pl

Patrick Lang


The "Andy" guy has subsequently written to tell me that he never actually saw, himself, any dead people but he has seen lots of pictures. He also says sadly that he had thought better of me. Sadly, I have not. pl

Patrick Lang


Oh, yes, the Svenster also says that my attitude is indicative of a "psychological condition." Undoubtedly. pl

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