I suspect the British conducted some sort of psyop during the Revolutionary War on us or put something in the water before they left. It seems everyone I know (including me) has this Pavlovian reaction to assume that if someone has a British accent they must know what they’re talking about and I should probably quit screwing around and make them tea or something before they tell the Queen and I get sent to a penal colony. It’s even worse when the speaker actually makes sense. My brain starts to fry and I start thinking that maybe taxation without representation isn’t such a bad thing after all.
All of that leads me to the notes from LTC. Rupert Jones of the UK. You know the deal by now. My comments are in italics. Now excuse me while I make some tea and learn the words to God Save the Queen.
Nobody in the U.S. or the UK (or anywhere else) actually reads their doctrine. The same applies to COIN doctrine. A very common refrain during the conference. It seems almost no one has actually read 3-24 but we all just kind of know what’s in it. Some people regarded this as a major problem and others didn’t.
General McChrystal’s tactical guidance (link here – Read it if you haven’t already. It’s all of about 7 pages and worth your time, especially if you have no intention of reading FM 3-24) shouldn’t have been anything new. It was a recap of COIN doctrine and didn’t break any new ground. Yet, its release resulted in so much activity throughout the theater that it points to a big gap between doctrine and action (Put that in your pipe and smoke it Col Gentile!).
Is our training really preparing our soldiers to operate in a COIN environment? We can talk about it just fine but it’s not at all clear we’ve actually internalized it, especially when the chips are down and we’ve got to make immediate decisions with possible life or death consequences. Do we train soldiers to think about the 2nd or 3rd order consequences of their actions? This was the first of innumerable mentions of this point by tons of speakers and audience members. The need to see what will happen as a result of what decisions and actions all soldiers make. Update: (well, not really an update since I’m writing this before it’s been published but this is after parts 1-4 have been) The comments in response to some of the earlier COIN symposium recaps have indicated that this is a controversial point as well. I have to admit that I was of this opinion before and so hearing it just reinforced my beliefs but I’m getting the impression that there are a number of people that are arguing that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about and just about everyone does, in fact, ‘get it’ about COIN and the lessons have been internalized. We haven’t given junior soldiers an understanding of the complex environment of COIN operations or helped them to assimilate such an understanding with their soldier skills.
The UK (and a lot of other countries) are going through some tough economic times and military budgets can expect to get cut in the future. Despite that, waste in theater is endemic. We need to be much more cognizant of financial issues and their effect on military operations and budgets. While this was remarked on more commonly by the coalition members at the conference it seemed there was a growing realization, even among the U.S. military personnel, that the gravy train days were coming to an end and cuts in the military budget (perhaps steep cuts) were inevitable at some point in the future. Everyone seemed resigned to the fact and indicated we just need to factor that into our future plans.
In addition, the way money is allocated needs to be examined for greatest impact. An example:
In Helmand province during 2009, British forces had a lack of CERP funds. During one five month period, company commanders had only $4,000 to spend on projects in their area of operations. Not a lot of money to spread around if you’re trying to make immediate impact in the lives of locals.
During the same time, the most junior soldiers were free to expend $100,000 at will by firing their javelin missile. Do we have the right financial priorities? Is there no cheaper weapon system that will do the same thing in Afghanistan as missiles designed to destroy top of the line battle tanks? During one six month period, the British forces fired 254 javelin missiles @ $100,000 each (that’s 25.4 million dollars!)
(LTC Cabaniss) Later made a good point in his presentation. Commanders need to decide on weapons packages before units go out. Give a soldier a big, honking rocket that he’s got to lug around with him everywhere and he’ll be pretty likely to use it if given a chance. After all, it might make a difference and in any case he won’t have to carry it around any more. If you don’t want soldiers popping off ordnance like that, you either don’t give it to them or only allow it to be fired by a leader (the more restrictive the fire the higher up the chain you go – squad leader, platoon, etc…)
Intelligence is a very poor process. It doesn’t feed into any sort of usable long term product. There are very poor IT systems and databases in use. Ah, glad to see somethings haven’t changed since I was there six years ago. More about this sort of think in a future post. If I happen to forget about it, please remind me, I think I may have some interesting things to say on the topic.
The Tyranny of Fires
We have become seduced by the easy availability of air and artillery support. Commanders are giving up maneuver in favor of fire support. Successive ISAF commanders have worked to reduce civilian casualties but we’ve made very little progress and the issue is a strategic threat. We need to break our dependence on fires.
Our reliance on fires creates a toxic psychological dynamic. Among insurgents, the domestic population AND our forces it is assumed that we can’t win without fires and technology.
Assets cost big money to move and maintain in theater. Every asset owner wants to prove their usefulness and contribute to the mission. We’ve got a ‘I’ve got it, I’ll use it’ mentality.
Junior leaders need to accept short term tactical risk and apply the skills they’ve learned when in contact with the enemy. This was seconded by other officers that commanded combat troops in theater. Leaders up the chain need to know when to tell their junior leaders ‘No, I’m not sending you a couple of F-16s to drop some bombs. Maneuver and destroy the enemy. You’ve got more than enough firepower and capabilities in your formation.’ Junior leaders need to be freed from the idea that they can hunker down and just wait for close air support. They need to actively go at the enemy. I don’t want to give the impression that junior leaders were portrayed as not being aggressive. Every officer expressed a great deal of pride and confidence in their troops (genuine gushing would be an appropriate phrase). It was more like they were saying that senior leaders needed to do a better (? – maybe not the right phrasing-) job of mentoring junior leaders for reacting to combat and breaking down the psychological dynamic mentioned above. Still, one could imagine the headlines from an operation where a soldier died and a senior commander did not approve supportive fires. Ugh…
We need to get much better at basic marksmanship. Five well placed shots are better than 50 poorly placed ones. I’m sure he wasn’t talking about support types like me but I have to second this thought. I fire no more than 58 rounds per year in order to maintain my proficiency with my M-16. I get no practice with optics, coordinating fires, night fire, urban terrain, closed quarters, or alternate firing positions. I also get no familiarization with any other weapon system. I find that just shocking considering the party line over the past (at least) 5 years is that given the nature of the conflicts we’re in, the notion of ‘combat troops’ is fading and all soldiers can expect to find themselves in the fight.
We need to get better at demonstrating progress and explaining metrics. That being said, things have improved in Helmand over the past year.