KRUMM REPORT: Why the Marines are In Afghanistan

December 1, 2001

Comment: #434

Discussion Thread - Comment #s - 81, 183, 288, 342, 348, 372

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Attached References:

[1] Katherine McIntire Peters, "Marine deployment irks soldiers," Daily Briefing, GovExec.Com, November 29, 2001 (Attached)

[2] STEVEN LEE MYERS, "Marines Dig In, but They Find Little to Battle," New York Times, December 1, 2001. (Attached)

The end of the Cold War in 1990 plunged the Army into a lasting identity crisis - a state of cognitive dissonance really -- because its most useful forces are the low-cost forces its leadership hates. The realities of Afghanistan bring this murky crisis into a sharper focus (see Reference 1 below).

More than any service, the Army tied itself culturally to the theory and practice of Second-Generation War. This focus centers on requirements to mobilize heavy forces for massive land wars of attrition in Western Europe - what the Germans used to call Materialschlacht. The fact that most of the Army's fighting since WWII has taken place in Asia and the Middle East has little or no effect on this fixation.

[New readers might refer to here for one description of the changing character of war.]

In the best of times, heavy forces will always take longer to assemble and deploy that light forces; they have more machinery and require a far more massive logistics tail. But for the Army, these are the worst of times. The obsessive bias to equip U.S. heavy forces with ever-more complex, high-cost hardware has converted a general logistics phenomenon into a nightmare. [See, for example, Comment #81, Reference 1 of Comment #183, and Comment #342] Consequently, the army is struggling - floundering -- to prove its relevance in the post-Cold War era, particularly against emerging Fourth Generation threats, like those that attacked the World Trade Center and plopped the United States into a war in Afghanistan, one of the most remote and inhospitable countries in the world.

Today, the Army's only easily deployed combat forces are its culturally-estranged, low-budget, special forces -- AKA, "the snake eaters," (who, by the way, appear to be doing a bang up job in the Hindu Kush, spotting targets and saving airpower's bacon, a subject for another blaster) or elements of its light divisions, like the 10th Mountain Division or the 82nd Airborne, which have little hitting power, and almost no organic ability to sustain offensive operations in austere expeditionary environments - AKA, "the defensive speed bumps." On the other hand, the Army's high-cost offensive crown jewels - armor and mechanized infantry units - have trouble getting out of Fulda Gap - psychologically as well as physically.

One Army wag recently summed up the current situation to me: "We have the world's fastest strategically immobile Army."

It took five months, for example, to assemble five heavy divisions to fight the Gulf War, even though those divisions debarked administratively from high-speed sealift ships through the world-class harbor facilities of Saudi Arabia. In 1950, despite being demobilized after World War II and unready for war, an Army infantry division followed the Marines ashore in a amphibious assault on Inchon, only two and a half months after North Korea invaded South Korea. This dicey combat operation was accomplished brilliantly despite the far more threatening circumstances than those of 1990, coming on top of the Army's headlong retreat into the Pusan Perimeter, now immortalized by the rallying cry of "No More Task Force Smiths."

The sluggish deployment of the Army's mechanized peace-keeping forces overland from Germany to Bosnia in the mid 1990s was an embarrassment, but despite this lesson, the Army outdid itself with a debacle in 1999 -- the now infamous deployment of Task Force Hawk to Albania, where a corps-level headquarters (commanded by a Lt General) was needed to supervise the deployment and training operations of a battalion of Apache helicopters (commanded by a Lt Col) and its force protection package [See Comments #288 and #342].

To his credit, General Shinseki, the current Chief of Staff, is trying to make the Army more deployable. But his transformation plan to convert four existing light brigades and two heavy brigades into six medium-weight brigades will actually increase the overall weight of the Army. Moreover, these medium brigades will be organized around wheeled armored vehicles similar to those used by Marines. So, the Army's medium brigade will look very similar to the ground combat element of a Marine expeditionary brigade, but it will not have the comparable organic air and combat services support capabilities that enables Marines to operate autonomously (at least in theory) on expeditionary operations (see Steven Myers' report in the New York Times in Reference 2 below for a general description of the marine deployment to Afghanistan.)

Perhaps more importantly, the Army's transformation plan is mechanical not cultural - technology and hardware will take precedence over people and ideas. New technologies - like the robotic Future Combat System -- will equip a force that remains organized into same cumbersome divisional structure Napoleon perfected for the conduct of First Generation War. There is no plan to transform the over-controlling, self-replicating hierarchy of bloated staff headquarters that has dominated the Army's planning for a war in Europe. A growing number of Army officers believe this bureaucratic structure is real core of its crisis, because it requires the pathological personnel policies aimed at maintaining the hierarchy of bloated staffs rather than nurturing troop leaders. They believe these policies create a hidebound institutional culture that impedes a true transformation to the human-centered qualities of quickness and adaptability now so obviously needed to cope with Third and Fourth Generation threats. [See Sayen Report, Comment #372, for example].

With the Soviet Union a distant memory and the American Indians safely sequestered on reservations, some wags are beginning to wonder why we have an Army at all - let the "speed bumps" and "snake eaters" merge with the Marines into an high-initiative expeditionary force, transfer some members of the Army to the Border Patrol, and place the rest of the Army into cadre status or reserves, so that they can be mobilized, should conventional ground threat emerge in the distant future.

The attached report by Bob Krumm, an active duty Army captain, touches on many of these points. But more importantly, he illustrates the human dimension of the Army's crisis. He expresses the frustration now felt by those junior officers who joined the Army to lead troops in the field but are trapped in an obsolete, staff-heavy, organizational structure.

-----[Begin Krumm Report]-----

Krumm Report: Why the Marines are In Afghanistan

Captain Bob Krumm

November 29, 2001

Captain Krumm graduated from West Point in 1990 and has served in cavalry squadrons in Germany, Texas, and Kuwait. He is currently an analyst in Headquarters, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). The views expressed below are his alone do not reflect the view of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense


Does it bother anyone else that the Marines are the first "regular" forces in land-locked Afghanistan?

Let me begin by clearly stating my bias: I am an unapologetic regimentalist. I have served in two cavalry regiments and two divisional cavalry squadrons. I have seen firsthand that such organizations are far superior, and more flexible fighting forces than standard battalions/brigades.

The very nature of the cavalry organization pushes authority down: troop commanders own both Bradleys and tanks, as well as their own mortars; maneuver squadron commanders own an artillery battery or aviation troop; regimental commanders own an entire aviation squadron, and routinely receive an MLRS battalion, attached, not DS. Cavalry's missions also push authority down.

Cavalry units generally conduct four types of missions. The first two, attack and defend, are the same as are assigned armor or infantry battalions. The next two, however, are unique to cavalry. Reconnaissance: find an enemy of unknown strength, organization, and location. Security: prevent a much larger enemy force from interfering with the friendly main body-and do so with little support from the main body, because the main body is busy getting ready to attack or defend. The very nature of these latter two missions requires flexibility and inspires ingenuity in cavalry units.

Cavalry is not without its drawbacks. Chief among them is the higher level of competence required of its leaders.

From platoon to regiment, cavalry leaders command larger numbers of troops, and operate more and varied types of equipment than their armor or infantry brethren. A significant obstacle, especially given our Army's anachronistic fixation with high personnel turnover, is training leaders to be ready to operate in a cavalry organization. The bottom line is that pushing more authority down requires that the leaders must be competent enough to assume that increased authority.

Enter the United States Marine Corps. The Marines presciently reactivated the Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) in 1999. The MEB is more like a regiment than a brigade. The MEB looks like a typical 3 infantry/1 armor Army brigade, but with some important additions. The MEB is assigned both fixed and rotary wing aircraft, an artillery battalion, an engineer company, and a reconnaissance battalion. Perhaps just as importantly, an MEB has enough organic support assets for 30 days.

The MEB is not perfect. The Marines have an even greater personnel turnover problem than does the Army. Company commanders command for one year-not a day more. They get around this however, by training up to a deployment. When the MEB goes afloat for months on end it is kept together until the end of the mission.

Compare that with the typical Army unit. We train for the National Training Center (NTC) or the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). At the conclusion of that training event, the best trained brigade in the Army is gutted of its leadership. It is at that point that the unit assumes Division Reaction Brigade (DRB) status.

A quick example of how reality tends to interfere with the DRB plan: in May 1996 the 2nd Bde/1st Cav Div completed a training rotation through NTC. The unit then went through a massive personnel turnover and assumed DRB. 3rd BDE meanwhile trained up for a January NTC rotation. That September Saddam rattled his sabre and the 1st Cavalry Division was ordered to send a brigade to Kuwait in 96 hours. Guess which one went? It wasn't the DRB! The division's leadership quickly knew that a half-trained 3rd Bde was better trained than the notional DRB. I saw nothing over the next three years to indicate that the Division had changed its cavalier attitude toward DRB. Instead, the Army tends to treat real-world contingency operations as a training distracter, while the Marines plan for it and build up to it.

[Note to Readers: A Senate Staff Trip report describing these centers can be found at here. Comment #348 describes an analysis of deteriorating performance at the NTC]

All of this is prologue to my original question: "Does it bother anyone else that the Marines are the first "regular" forces in Afghanistan?" If it doesn't bother you then think about this. The CINC is an Army officer, yet the first ground force in country is not the Army. Afghanistan has no littoral access, and yet that is the bread and butter of the USMC. Marine Corps doctrine states that the capabilities of the MEB "will help lighten the load for the Army." Instead the Marine Corps' foresight seems to have eliminated the need for the Army.

The Marines are doing what needs to be done in an ever changing world-adapting. The Army, meanwhile is simply content to build a smaller version of its former self. General Franks' decision to deploy the Marines to Afghanistan should look an awful lot like the unfortunate conclusion to General Shinseki's admonition: "If you dislike change, you're going to dislike irrelevance even more." Please don't misinterpret my complaint to mean that I am asking for some kind of force structure affirmative action in Afghanistan by giving the Army a token force quota and mission. I am complaining about my Army's leadership that has led us down this path.

More bad news: our procurement procedures are one of the locomotives driving the train down this path.

A Quick story illustrates the point. Exactly ten years ago this month I was in the 2nd ACR when we were ordered to draw down. The plan was to re-flag the unit at Fort Lewis, then transfer entire unit to Fort Polk in 1994, where it would be fielded with the fabled armored gun system (AGS). Obviously that didn't happen, but for a long time afterwards the new 2nd ACR operated at half step because it was waiting for new equipment that would never arrive. I point this out to say that for ten years my little corner of the Army has acted like a farmer unwilling to plow his own field because any day now he intends to move across the fence. Meanwhile ten harvest seasons have come and gone, the greener grass across the fence is still just that: across the fence, and we have nothing in the silo to show for the past decade.

The Marines' example is instructive. An MEB, just like a cavalry regiment, is far more flexible force than is a brigade. Sure, a brigade can be made to look like a regiment, but the sheer fact that it must be task-organized into that configuration is its downfall. Both the MEB and the regiment are organically robust. As for the bread-and-butter missions of a brigade, attack and defend against a like force, a standard Army brigade can arguably perform that mission better than can a regiment or a MEB. But what if you can't get there, and what if that's not the fight the enemy is willing to fight. What good is it to have an Army full of brigades and divisions that are "one-size fits one"?

So here is the bitter pill I've been chewing on. My Army is operating equipment designed to fight Soviets in the Fulda Gap, and the stuff in the pipeline is just a more expensive version of the same. My Army has a personnel system that was built to defeat the Kaiser. My Army is structured with an organization designed to defeat Lord Wellington. My Army trains to fight fictional forces in make-believe lands instead of focusing on real-world enemies and missions. My Army has one-half the number of generals as we did at the height of WWII, even though the force is one-tenth the size. The resultant leadership inertia bogs decision-making down in a bureaucratic morass, as more chiefs fight to protect their hallowed turf. The end result of all this is we get to watch the Marines perform Army missions because they can do them better.

My prescription for the future: First and foremost, line up behind Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary White, and General Shinseki. Whatever they decide to do will be better than the status quo. And besides, they are probably the best we have had in those positions since General Marshall left to become the Secretary of State. To echo a line from John Mellencamp, "If you're not part of the future, then get out of the way."

Second, start building a force structure along the lines of the one advocated by Colonel Douglas MacGregor. It is both flexible and feasible, as well as adaptable to future change.

Third, Major Donald Vandergriff tells us how we can overcome the competence obstacle that will block Colonel MacGregor's reorganization, if left unaddressed. The Marine Corps has shown us that such a brigade-size unit is both deployable and sustainable. What are we waiting for? It is time to stop arguing about what the IBCT is going to look like, what the objective force is going to look like, and start building something (anything) for today.

Fourth, train to deploy. NTC and JRTC are means, contingency operations are the ends; our training and personnel policies must reflect that reality. Mandate no personnel turnover between a brigade's training center rotations and the completion of that unit's DRB mission.

Finally, I am tired of hearing "transformation" referred to as if it were a discrete project. It is not a finite event, but an omnipresent phenomenon. At the DA level we need to figure out how the Army will be able to sustain transformation indefinitely. That is a mindset that is hard to comprehend-but that's why we get paid the big bucks.

If you've read this far, I apologize for the length of my rambling musings. Lately I've felt the frustration of a Cincinnati Bengal after the new year: he works just as hard as anyone else in the NFL, but the only way to watch January football is on television.

Wishing I and my Army could once again be "Toujours Pret",

Captain Bob Krumm

Fort Monroe

-----[end Krumm report]---

Of course, the U.S. Army is not going away, but unless it truly reorients itself to the changed conditions, it will mutate insensibly into a reactive peacekeeping constabulary with the mission of cleaning up the messes left by the Second Generation strategic bombers in the Air Forces and the Navy. Then the irking question of "why the Marines?" will mutuate into one of "Why is it always the Marines?"

I love the Marines but giving the Marines a monopoly on ground warfare is not the answer to our country's requirements. Let us hope the institutional Army learns to listen to its real reformers, before they are consumed by the Power Point-fueled fires of a bloated bureaucracy. .

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

Marine deployment irks soldiers

By Katherine McIntire Peters

Daily Briefing, GovExec.Com,  November 29, 2001 

The Army is either unable or unwilling to do its job. That's the message some mid-grade officers are getting from the deployment of hundreds of Marines to landlocked Afghanistan this week.

The seizure of an airfield near Kandahar is a textbook Army mission, yet it was Marines, who usually operate near shorelines, who performed it.

The mission was "a tremendous showcase of new capabilities," said Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joe Kloppel. "It shows you how far the Marines can extend when they need to."

The fact that the Marine Corps was needed to extend into what most Army officers consider their service's territory had some of them wondering where Army leaders were when the mission planning decisions were being made.

"If this doesn't raise questions about Army relevance then I don't know what would," said one infantry captain who says he is beginning to think he might feel more at home in the Marine Corps than in the Army.

"It's a big slap in the face," said Maj. Don Vandergriff, an armor officer who teaches military science at Georgetown University.

The fact that the Marines have the first sizeable contingent of conventional ground troops on the battlefield in a theater of operations far from any shoreline sparked fury among many mid-grade officers. The fact that the theater commander in chief is an Army officer--Gen. Tommy Franks--only adds insult to the injury.

"The Marine Corps foresight seems to have eliminated the need for the Army," one Army captain complained in an online forum. "Here's the bitter pill I've been chewing on. My Army is operating equipment designed to fight Soviets in the Fulda Gap, and the stuff in the pipeline is just a more expensive version of the same. My Army has a personnel system that was build to defeat the Kaiser. My Army trains to fight fictional forces in make-believe lands instead of focusing on real-world missions. My Army has one-half the number of generals as we did at the height of World War II, even though the force is one-tenth the size. The resultant leadership inertia bogs decision-making down in a bureaucratic morass, as more chiefs fight to protect their hallowed turf. The end result of all this is we get to watch the Marines perform Army missions because they can do them better," he wrote.

"You've got to give the Marine Corps credit for trying to make themselves useful," said Thomas Donnelly, deputy executive director of the Project for a New American Century and a former staffer on the House Armed Services Committee. "At least they're making some attempt to respond to what the country needs to have done. The Army just seems to be spending most of its intellectual effort trying to find ways to stay out of it."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki has been pushing a plan to transform the Army's conventional forces into more easily deployed forces capable of a greater range of missions. But change isn't coming fast enough for many younger officers, if Internet chat rooms and e-mails are any indication.

In a November speech, Shinseki said, "The Army must change because the nation cannot afford to have an Army that is irrelevant." The Army may need to change more quickly than many senior leaders now realize.

Katherine McIntire Peters can be reached at  

Reference #2

Marines Dig In, but They Find Little to Battle

By STEVEN LEE MYERS, New York Times, December 1, 2001

WITH THE 15TH MARINE EXPEDITIONARY UNIT, in Southern Afghanistan, Nov. 30 - From a dry, isolated lake bed here in the high Afghan desert, American helicopter gunships and armored vehicles are probing the last military strongholds of Afghanistan's crumbling Taliban government.

But the Americans have encountered no enemy resistance since attacking a convoy of military vehicles four days ago, officers said tonight.

Hundreds of marines from three amphibious assault ships have steadily flowed into a former military compound in what was once Taliban-controlled territory and turned it into a heavily fortified base, making it the largest concentration of American forces on the ground since the war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7.

American C-130 cargo planes and even larger C-17 jets continue to land, including one jet tonight that churned up such a cloud of pale sand that it obscured the nearly full moon. Those aircraft are expected to ferry in still more weapons, supplies and troops, including forces from other allied nations.

Spokesmen here declined to discuss the marines' reconnaissance probes, conducted from the air in Huey and Super Cobra helicopters and on the ground in roving armored patrols. But the fact that they have not clashed with Taliban or Al Qaeda forces since Monday suggests that the Taliban's effective control of southern Afghanistan has shrunk to little more than its ideological and spiritual capital, Kandahar.

The marines' forward base - whose exact location cannot be disclosed under restrictions imposed on journalists now working here - is intended to intensify military pressure on the Taliban, especially in Kandahar and the mountains near Pakistan, as the war in Afghanistan enters its endgame.

The commander of American forces in the war, Gen. Tommy R. Franks of the Army, and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld have said the marines here would block lines of escape for Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, provide a base for Special Operations forces assisting Pashtun tribal leaders opposing the Taliban and, ultimately, act as a funnel for food and other humanitarian relief.

Other senior officials in Washington have suggested that the marines could launch lightning raids, but said they were not likely to mount cave- to-cave searches for Osama bin Laden or his lieutenants.

"The original mission was accomplished - to seize a forward operating base - and right now we're awaiting further orders," Capt. Stewart T. Upton, a Marine Corps spokesman, said tonight. "Once we receive those, we will accomplish them with a vengeance."

For political and diplomatic reasons, Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials have avoided calling this an occupying force whose mission is to take Afghan territory, but there is no question that the marines have a firm grip on the base and dominate the open desert terrain for miles around it.

Little is visible from the base except for one looming, pyramid- shaped sand dune. At night, no light from villages or towns can be seen.

Even as they patrol the area, marines and Navy Seabees have begun to fortify their expansive base. Squads of marines, armed with heavy machine guns and mortars, have dug foxholes in a wide ring around a rudimentary airstrip and a central white-walled compound with imposing guard towers on each corner. In the compound itself are several barracks, warehouses, a large vehicle-maintenance shop and a mosque, which is cordoned off by white tape to keep everyone out.

The marines here, commanded by Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, came with tons of heavy equipment and weapons, including attack helicopters and troop transports, as well as mortars, antitank weapons and armored personnel carriers in company-size units.

The spokesmen declined to discuss the number of marines here or their exact weaponry, saying it was information that could aid the Taliban. In an interview this week at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., General Franks said that more than 1,000 marines had already arrived at the base, which he put at roughly 80 miles from Kandahar, and added that more were expected in the days ahead.

Like all marine expeditionary units, the force is designed to sustain itself for at least 30 days ashore. Another marine expeditionary unit, the 26th, remains aboard its amphibious assault ships in the northern Arabian Sea and could very well join those ashore, replace them or establish another forward base, something General Franks said was being considered as the war, now in its 54th day, progressed.

So far the operation, which marines consider an amphibious assault even though Afghanistan is landlocked, appears to have gone without any significant hitches.

"The Marine Corps has convincingly demonstrated that we have been able to move a significant amount of combat power in a relatively short amount of time," said another spokesman, David T. Romley.

The first marines began arriving on Sunday. Within 24 hours, with only a relatively small number of troops on the ground, two Super Cobra helicopters participated in an attack on a convoy of 15 Soviet-era military vehicles, including light armored fighting vehicles.

On Monday night, American aircraft on patrol first spotted the convoy, which Captain Romley said was headed toward the base, and called on the Cobras to identify them further. Navy F-14's from one of the aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea first struck the convoy, followed by the attack helicopters, which are armed with antitank missiles, rockets and a 20 millimeter cannon.

Captain Romley said he did not know how many vehicles from the convoy were destroyed, but since then there have been no other Taliban military forces detected nearby, he added.