Tactical Notes from Afghanistan

[Editor's comment:  This e-mail has been circulating around the Internet.  We cannot vouch for its accuracy, but it offers some interesting insights on the small unit level.  We'll post additional information as it becomes available. 27 April 2002]

One of our guys just got back from Afghanistan, tagging along with Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL). No, not all doctrine writers confine their research to the library and internet. The message he brought was that "We can all be proud of how our troops are performing."

Just a few notes:

  • The enemy is as tactically proficient as we are. They are professional soldiers, even if they don't wear helmets and patches. They are superior marksmen, not only with rifle and machine guns but with mortars and RPGs as well. They specifically targeted our mortar, but not necessarily our leaders (more on that later). They adapt quickly and change tactics as required. They take notes and study us. Yes, some of their caves were as complex as the schematics in the magazines, with vents for air and to mitigate overpressure effects of munitions, with carved corridors as wide and tall as your office, with escape route, with twists and turns to slow enemy assaults, etc.

  • Our soldiers are GOOD. A Chechen commander was killed. On his body was a diary that compared fighting the US with fighting Russians. He noted that when you take out the Russian leader, the units stops and mills about, not sure of what to do next. But he added that when you take out a US leader, somebody always and quickly takes his place with no loss of momentum. A squad leader goes down, it may be a private that steps up to the plate before they can iron out the new chain or command. And the damn thing is that the private knows what the hell he is doing. When units came under fire immediately after disembarking from a helicopter, it was not uncommon for two members of squad, without orders, suppress the enemy and do the buddy team IMT. No need to fret about the quality of our troops from O-3 on down.

  • Yes there was close combat, although just reading news reports gives the impression that we were in holding positions enduring long range mortar fire. Our boys chased the Al Qaida and ran them down even with all of the battle rattle we were carrying. And we did it on their turf, in their environment. Gotta be in shape to do that. The body armor saved lives. At the end of the day folks were finding huge bruises on their bodies, but no holes. Also note that a great percentage of wounds are in the lower extremities.

  • A word on helicopters. The Blackhawk has a tail rotor issue with thin air, probably why they aren't being used. The Chinook doesn't have that issue. The Apaches are there, and are in force, even though all the pictures we see are of USMC Cobras. The Apaches are being hit, making it back, and being returned in 48 hours or less. They proudly display patchwork on the airframe. One Apache ran for 30 minutes without oil... As advertised. In the hot LZ fight we all heard about, all but one Apache was hit but none went down.

  • FM Radio and Tactical Satellite are the primary means of tactical communications. The only vehicles out there are the 4 and 6 wheeled little John Deer type tractors, which the troops say are great. (What does that say about our massive infrastructure of bureaucrats supporting Army R&D?). That means no vehicle radios. Tactical Operation Centers are more like the poncho and red-lens flashlight affair.

  • USAF is great, but screwed up at the hot LZ. They troops were within sight of the LZ when they were asked to orbit for 5 minutes until the USAF prep could get in (they were running late). Rather than circle (in Chinooks, not Blackhawks) in full view of the enemy and wait on the Air Force, the Battalion Commander went on in. Can't fault him there.