11
Oct
08

Have we learned nothing?

The testing is done here, for my platoon at Ft. Huachuca. We have only a 9 day field training exercise to overcome before we move onto a short vacation and then to our duty-stations.

Last week in class we participated in a wargame called “Red Vs. Blue.” The class was split in half and one side was assigned blue (American Forces) the other, red (insurgents). The diceless wargame simulated American forces conducting stability operations in the town of Sierra Vista, where Ft. Huachuca is located.

I won’t go into needless detail abut what happened, but know that I was assigned to the American side and then assigned as the 101st Airborne targeting analyst. My job was to non-lethally or lethally target high value targets as they appeared through recon and surveillance assets. This could be done in a number of ways.

One of the students is an E-5 Sergeant. He is re-classing his MOS to become a Intel Analyst. Though I’m student class leader, the Sergeant is the actual class leader, being a permanent party member and of course, out-ranking me. We are very different kinds of people, he and I. He’s OCD in the extreme. I’m messy. He’s a liberal Democrat from New York. I’m a conservative from Maine. He’s reluctant to use force in situations that I believe it’s needed.

The final round of our wargame had commenced. As an analyst, I’ve been trained by a former Marine Captain to give my superiors my educated opinion on what needs to be done, even if I know he won’t want to hear it. In the previous turns, Red Cell had managed to assassinate a city council member and blow up Wal-Mart, while we’d managed to kill several insurgents and capture one of them for interrogation at a traffic control point. Blue Cell (us) was conducting what is called phase IV operations, or stability ops. In other words, the primary full-spectrum military assault was over and our mission was to stabilize the local government and encourage rule of law.

The insurgent controlled areas had been identified on the map and we’d narrowed the possible location of the insurgent safehouse to a 2 square kilomter area at the south-eastern portion of Sierra Vista.

I knew what had to be done this late in the game. We had to kill and capture the terrorists, not sit back and hope that we’d deployed security forces at the right locations each turn, while the terrorists picked targets of opportunity. It was only logical and in line with military doctrine of seizing the initiative–and never giving it back.

The Sergeant didn’t see things my way. He was afraid of friendly casualties. I explained to him that it was the Army’s job to fight the insurgents, and thus gain the trust of the local populace by protecting them from harm. To do this we had to place troops in harms way so that we could win the fight the only way it can be won: By inflicting more pain on the enemy than he inflicts on you.

I knew I was in for a fight not only with Red Cell, but with my Democrat Sergeant and one other analyst who didn’t get it. The other analyst advised that we place traffic control points away from the border of the insurgent controlled area of the city. Originally, I had placed them along the border of a neutral area and the insurgent’s zone. I knew that we had to gain the trust of the populace in the neutral zone–because as the saying goes in counter-insurgency ops: The populace is key terrain. By moving the TCPs away from the insurgent controlled border, we would allow the insurgents to freely move into the neutral area, bend the populace to their will and then conduct ops from their new terrain into the area that we controlled.

I argued my case, and the Sergeant reluctantly agreed to go with my plan.

Last turn: I advised that we organized a door-to-door sweep of all populated areas in the insurgent controlled zone. I pointed to the map and noted that there were only about ten small streets in the 2×2 Km area and that 2 battalions of infantry with Stryker infantry fighting vehicles and Humvees could clear each house in about 6 hours. That was 300 men, going to each house, kicking the doors if they had to and verifying the location of the terrorist safehouse.

The Sergeant really hated this. He said he wouldn’t put the soldier’s lives in danger. I argued that it had to be done, and that this kind of straight-up fight was the last thing insurgents want. They prefer hit and run tactics because of inferior training and numbers. The Sergeant said that we’d make enemies of the local populace by invading their homes. I told him that they were already our enemies, hence the insurgent controlled label the area had. We had already established marshal law, and in order to make the populace in that area ours we needed to control it. Most importantly we needed to kill or capture those conducting the attacks. We would deal with the populace’s opinion later, but for now we had to show that we were in control.

It wasn’t to be. Our team played for the tie and that’s exactly what we got in the last turn according to the game’s arbiters.

Lesson: This is exactly what happened in Iraq after the invasion and things went to hell as we allowed insurgents free reign in places like Fallujah. We were afraid of CNN and Newsweek, even as terroists continued to bomb us and the Iraqi government until the camels came home. Then came Patraeus, who knew that the war had to be fought on every level. You do hand out soccer balls and candy, but you also continue killing the enemy. Things will get broken, but as we’ve seen, it works.

The hearts and minds campaign got headlines in this war. War hasn’t changed though. There were several reasons that Patraeus’ surge worked, not the least of which was more infantry with more guns… please admit that Mr. Obama.

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2 Responses to “Have we learned nothing?”


  1. November 1, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    Although i myself never served, I got nothing but respect for those of you that did. It’s hard as a civillian to understand the military at times – the media darned sure doesn’t represent it fairly. reading firsthand accounts, particularly on strategy are very enlightening (I saw your new blog and it looks like something I’ll be reading religiously). I’ve been a reader for a while, lurking – but I just wanted to say I a appreciate what you do – for our Country and this blog.


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