Tag Archives: Afghanistan

The B-1 vs. The A-10, and a very misleading headline.

On June 9, 2014, confusion and poor tactics led to a B-1B bomber dropping two 500 pound bombs on US and friendly Afghan troops. Five Americans and one Afghan soldier were killed in the incident.

Yesterday’s Washington Times published a lengthy piece by Rowan Scarborough about the incident:

The “friendly fire” airstrike that killed five American soldiers in Afghanistan on June 9 is the first known case of a battlefield catastrophe that can be linked to automatic defense spending cuts that greatly curtailed prewar training.

A review of the worst American fratricide in the long Afghanistan war also shows that the military’s official investigation faults a Green Beret commander, an Air Force air controller and the four-man crew on the B-1B bomber that conducted the errant strike.

But the investigation, headed by an Air Force general, does not question the use of a strategic bomber for close air support, even though experts say the tragedy illustrates why the big plane is misplaced in that role.

The Washington Times has reviewed the investigation and interviewed knowledgeable sources to compile a picture of the doomed operation in southern Afghanistan’s Zabul province, as well as the political and military missteps that precipitated it. Key among them, according to defense experts, was the use of the strategic bomber.

Scarborough’s angle is that the B-1B is an obviously poor choice for the Close Air Support mission, and apparently, the Air Force is stubbornly refusing to admit that in spite of the opinions of “experts.”

And of course, there’s a political battle about the future of the A-10.  From further down in the article, John McCain has to make an appearance. From Senate hearings in April, questioning the Secretary of the Air Force, Debra Lee James:

Mr. McCain, not afraid to bluntly question generals and their civilian heads, stopped her right there, asking her to detail the “so forth.”

She said it included the B-1B: “It is my belief that the B-1 bomber has done some close air support in Afghanistan.”

Sen. McCain expressed amazement.

“That’s a remarkable statement,” he told her. “That doesn’t comport with any experience I’ve ever had, nor anyone I know has ever had. See, this is an example. You’re throwing in the B-1 bomber as a close air support weapon to replace the A-10. This is the reason why there is such incredible skepticism here in Congress.”

Gen. Welsh jumped in to say the B-1B had been doing close air support for some time.

Incensed, Mr. McCain said those had been “a very limited number of missions of close air support. General, please don’t insult my intelligence.”

Senator McCain, for all his military aviation experience, seems to have not noticed that B-1Bs have been flying Close Air Support missions in Afghanistan for thirteen years now, and this is the first friendly fire incident in which one has been involved.

In fact, while there are potential issues with using the B-1B for CAS, it also brings some very good attributes to the fight. First, persistence. It has the endurance to stay on station for hours on end, far longer than any tactical fighter bomber, even the A-10. Second, compared to any other platform, it can carry a much greater payload of ordnance. That gives it the ability to reattack targets as needed. Additionally, it can carry a wide variety of weapons on each mission, allowing it to tailor the the weapon to the target. The B-1B, originally intended as a nuclear bomber, is restricted by treaty these days to a purely conventional mission. And the community has invested a lot of time and money to optimize the platform for the CAS role.

Of course, “experts” have to weight in.

“The A-10s would not have been orbiting five miles away,” said William Smith, a retired Air Force officer who logged more than 3,000 miles on the A-10. “They would have been right over top of the fight.”

He further explained how the A-10 and pilot do the job: “Being right over the fight, with the A-10’s tighter turn radius, gives us the ability to stay right on top of the target, allowing the pilot to have constant eyes on the fight. A-10 pilots know you can’t see the infrared strobe in the sniper pod. You need to look out the window, through the NVGs. A-10 pilots wear the goggles continuously.”

Mr. Smith is now part of a coalition trying to save the A-10. He grimaces when discussing the B-1B as a stand-in.

Here’s the thing, yes, the expert cited is indeed an expert. But n0te that he has a strong bias to advocate for the A-10. Let’s also note that the A-10 has been involved in several fraticide incidents, including an attack on the British Army in Iraq in 2003.

Fraticide is not a platform problem, it’s usually a tactics and communications problem, often exacerbated by “buck fever” where someone is overly eager to contribute to the fight.

And sometimes, the real reason is staring you in the face. From this very same Washington Times article, there’s this stunning bit:

In addition, The Times review found that the Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), a critical player who made a major miscalculation that night, had a checkered career.

Upon arriving June 1 in Afghanistan, he had been told before the operation that he had been selected for “involuntary separation,” meaning his Air Force career was over.

This JTAC also had been demoted in rank for misconduct. On another occasion, he was kicked out of a special unit because he twice called in close air support directly over friendly positions during training. Yet he was allowed to participate in the operation on relatively short notice.

The Times has learned the JTAC showed a lack of basic knowledge about close air support when interviewed afterward by investigators.

Emphasis mine.

A JTAC who was so incompetent that he should never been allowed to touch a radio, combined with the fog of war lead to this tragedy. All the other factors cited in the Air Force investigation are simply contributing factors, not causal ones.

Many people, McCain, Smith and others, are using the deaths of these soldiers for political ends. Mr. Scarborough should be ashamed of himself for playing along.

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Bergdahl to report for duty.

SGT Bowe Bergdahl, since his return to US control after years of captivity in Afghanistan, has been a patient in a military treatment facility, undergoing reintegration. Apparently, that reintegration process is near completion, and Bergdahl will soon be reporting for duty with a troop unit.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has finished undergoing medical care and counseling at an Army hospital in San Antonio and could return to an Army unit on a Texas post as early as Monday, a defense official tells CNN.

Bergdahl was held captive by militants for five years before he was released in May in exchange for five senior Taliban members held by the U.S. military. He has always maintained his active duty status. He cannot retire from the service or be discharged until the investigation concerning his disappearance and captivity in Afghanistan is complete.

For about three weeks, Bergdahl has been an outpatient at the San Antonio hospital, and military officials have interviewed him about his time in captivity.

Bergdahl is set to take a job at Fort Sam Houston, the Army post in San Antonio, according to an Army statement Monday. He will return to “regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission,” the statement said.

Since Bergdahl was an infantryman, and there are no Infantry units at Ft. Sam, I suspect he’s going to be placed at a desk in a headquarters unit somewhere on post, with the primary duty of answering the phone. That’s actually fairly common for people who are otherwise not capable of performing a full range of military duties.  I’m curious about the two troops assigned to be his minders. I’m sure they’re just thrilled to be given that chance to excel.

Aggiesprite suspects there might just be  a whiff of politics involved with the ongoing investigation surrounding the circumstances of Bergdahl’s departure from his post in Afghanistan. I don’t know anything about MG Dahl, the investigating officer. I do know that to date, none of the other soldiers that were there have been reinterviewed.  And as I said in the comments at Aggie’s, I strongly suspect Big Army hopes this will fade from the headlines, and the Army can quietly discharge Bergdahl into obscurity.

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Fighting on the Fourth of July

This Ain’t Hell brings us this intense 15 minute documentary showcasing the fight of A Co., 3rd Battalion, 509th Airborne Infantry on July 4, 2009.

 

If the VBIED doesn’t give you chills…

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Obama’s Capitulation in Iraq

To be sure, when the last US forces left Iraq in 2011, the American population was ready for it. And the US forces had achieved most of their goals. The Hussein regime had been toppled, and a nascent viable government and security force were in place. 

Militarily, a small contingent should have been left to help build the Iraq forces, and to continue to reinforce their technical and tactical capabilities.

But during difficult negotiations with the Iraqi government over the Status of Forces led the Obama government to exercise its preferred option, and simply leave Iraq completely. After a fashion, it allowed Obama to proclaim victory. And the proclamation was far more important than any actual benefit or cost to the nation’s long term security interests.

And so we see today that Iraq has slowly been shuffling toward sectarian civil war. And now, the resurgent Al Qaeda group in the region, ISIS, has achieved significant victories in the last two days, seizing both Mosul, and today Tikrit.

This is, of course, precisely the situation critics of the abandonment policy warned of in 2011.

And not a few veterans are livid that the administration has squandered the chance for stability that their brothers in arms bought with their blood.

Then, by declining to provide a long-term security assistance force to an Iraq not yet able to handle the fight itself, we pulled defeat from the jaws of victory and increased the peril our Iraqi friends would face. By not training and equipping Syrian freedom fighters in the summer of 2012, we provided an opportunity for al-Qaeda to rebuild strength in the region. The renewed Sunni insurgency in Iraq joined with the worst of the anti-Assad forces in Syria present a threat greater than the fragile Iraqi government can handle on its own.

We are reaping the instability and increased threat to U.S. interests that we have sown through the failure of our endgame in Iraq and our indecisiveness in Syria. There is a clear lesson here for those contemplating a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Having given al-Qaeda a new lease on life in the Middle East, will we provide another base where it began, in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

This is not the end state my friends fought for and died for.

I understand that there is currently no popular public support for a recommitment of US troops to Iraq. But that isn’t the only option on the table.

It isn’t like the attacks on Mosul and Tikrit were wholly unexpected by the Iraqi government.

In fact, the Iraqi government requested US airpower, both manned and unmanned strikes, on ISIS assembly areas to blunt their attacks.

And Obama turned them down.

As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated last month, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and American officials.

But Iraq’s appeals for military assistance have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011.

The swift capture of Mosul by militants aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has underscored how the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have converged into one widening regional insurgency with fighters coursing back and forth through the porous border between the two countries. But it has also cast a spotlight on the limits the White House has imposed on the use of American power in an increasingly violent and volatile region.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, declined to comment on Mr. Maliki’s requests and the administration’s response, saying in a statement, “We are not going to get into details of our diplomatic discussions, but the government of Iraq has made clear that they welcome our support” in combating the Islamic extremists.

As I mentioned to a friend in relation to this topic either intentionally or through incompetence, the Obama administration has virtually always sided with the most islamist faction in every issue.

And a pretty fair amount of support could be provided to the Iraqi government without substantial presence of US forces inside Iraq. And while the American public is quite wary of any entanglements of troops on the ground, they’ve shown a remarkable complaisance toward US airpower being used. How many times has the US used drones in Yemen or Pakistan with little or no reaction from the general public?

Shift your eyes from the chaos in Iraq to Afghanistan, and we see the administration striving mightily to again flee the field. Look at the ability of the US to depose a mostly neutered Libyan strongman in favor of radical islamists, and to consistently back the most radical parts of the Muslim Brotherhood against popular opposition in Egypt. The administrations dithering and incomprehensible approach to Syria (admittedly, not a place with a lot of good options) hasn’t improved matters much.

Obama has repeatedly touted his “successes” as having “Al Qaeda on the run.” Sadly, it appears Al Qaeda is indeed running, sprinting for the finish line, while Barry trots to the locker room.

Obama will do anything to end  a war. Except win.

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Filed under Politics, war

Thoughts on the Bergdahl fiasco and politics

Many Americans were rather stunned to learn that in spite of the motto “Leave no man behind” not ever soldier or veteran was overjoyed by the return of Bowe Bergdahl to US control.

Jake Tapper of CNN had the courage to pick up the story on the national level.

The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him — veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose “selfish act” ended up costing the lives of better men.

“I was pissed off then and I am even more so now with everything going on,” said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. “Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.”

Vierkant said Bergdahl needs to not only acknowledge his actions publicly but face a military trial for desertion under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A reporter asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Sunday whether Bergdahl had left his post without permission or deserted — and, if so, whether he would be punished. Hagel didn’t answer directly. “Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family,” he said. “Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later.”

I hate to be a conspiracy theory type. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But let’s take a look at some rather significant events of the past week or so.

The President made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Memorial Day to boost his image as Commander in Chief. Yet that photo op was spoiled first by the snub of Afghan president Karzi declining to meet with Obama. Then the White House badly blundered and disclosed the name of the CIA’s station chief in Afghanistan, releasing it in an email to no less than 6000 reporters. And it didn’t help that the one thing the administration has been transparent about in the last 5 years is our Afghanistan troop levels and withdrawal timetable.

The VA scandal leads to Eric Shinseki’s resignation. Coincidently, the very same day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carny resigns, giving the mainstream media a convenient topic to cover in lieu of the VA scandal. There’s nothing the press would rather cover than the press.

Then came news of the exchange of five senior Taliban members from Gitmo for Bergdahl. What the administration thought would be accepted as a feather in its cap was first greeted by the public with “who is Bergdahl?” and second by the backlash from soldiers and veterans who are convinced that Bergdahl is as best a deserter, and at worst in cahoots with the Taliban.

As the seniority of the traded Taliban came to light, the deal looked less and less like a bargain. Then came to light the fact that Obama had disregarded the law by not providing notice to Congress of the transfer of Gitmo detainees. The administration’s “urgent and exigent” explanation seems rather contrived in the face of the fact that negotiations for the release have been going on for quite some time. Further, the law in question doesn’t appear to have any such “urgent and exigent” carve out. So the administration is hiding behind the shield of the President’s inherent powers as Commander in Chief. Fair enough. But the Congress too has its inherent powers, specifically the power to regulate the armed forces. And regulate they have. Once again, the administration has determined that laws they don’t like are simply not laws at all.

The Army itself is not without a potential black eye here.

In the wake of Bergdahl, by whatever means, leaving US control, the members of his unit quickly acted to recover him. This lead to the deaths of as many as six US servicemembers. Worst still, members of his unit are saying they were forced to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements regarding the Bergdahl incident. Again from Tapper:

Many of Bergdahl’s fellow troops — from the seven or so who knew him best in his squad, to the larger group that comprised the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division — told CNN that they signed nondisclosure agreements agreeing to never share any information about Bergdahl’s disappearance and the efforts to recapture him. Some were willing to dismiss that document in hopes that the truth would come out about a soldier who they now fear is being hailed as a hero, while the men who lost their lives looking for him are ignored.

I can think of a couple of legitimate reasons why troops might be required to sign an NDA. First, troops without an appropriate security clearance that come to possess classified information should sign one. Another would be to prevent the disclosure of sensitive tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTP.

Sadly, however, the most likely explanation is that the Army simply didn’t want bad news in the press.

Both the Administration and Big Army would now love to see the Bergdahl incident simply fade away. As noted in the linked CNN article  ‘Another senior Defense official said Bergdahl will not likely face any punishment. “Five years is enough,” he told CNN on condition of anonymity.’ 

Maybe, maybe not. But let’s have an open and honest investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s departure from US control and how he conducted himself while under Taliban control.

Ask the Skipper has his own thoughts on the matter. And if he’s not on your daily “must read list” you need to change that now.

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SGT Kyle J. White to be awarded the Medal of Honor

On May 13, 2014, President Barack Obama will award Kyle J. White, a former active duty Army Sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Sergeant White will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on November 9, 2007.

Sergeant White will be the seventh living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND:

Former Sergeant Kyle J. White separated from the Army on July 8, 2011. He currently lives in Charlotte, NC, where he works as an Investment Analyst.

Sergeant White enlisted in the Army in February 2006 as an Infantryman. After completion of training at Ft Benning, he was assigned to Vicenza, Italy, with 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry “The Rock” as a grenadier and rifleman which included a combat tour to Afghanistan from May 2007 until August 2008. Following Italy, Kyle was assigned as an opposing forces Sergeant with the Ranger Training Battalion at Ft Benning.

Sergeant White deployed in support of the War on Terror with one tour to Afghanistan.

At the time of the November 9, 2007 combat engagement, then-Specialist White was a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. His heroic actions were performed during a dismounted movement in mountainous terrain in Aranas, Afghanistan.

White’s awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster and “V” device, the Army Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one campaign star, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon with numeral “2” device, the NATO Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Parachutists Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Valorous Unit Award.

via President Obama to Award Medal of Honor | The White House.

From the Times-Herald:

 

The battle for which White is being honored was a textbook ambush by an enemy that vastly outnumbered the Americans and their Afghan comrades. Between firing his rifle, scrambling to retrieve wounded comrades and having his thoughts scrambled by two close explosions, White told commanders what was happening, according to an Army account.

“All of Afghanistan was listening to his call sign, Charlie One Six Romeo,” says Col. William Ostlund, then-commander of the battalion in which White served as a specialist.

“So when his platoon leader was killed, Charlie One Six Romeo was instrumental in controlling every single thing, from the fixed-wing bombers to the helicopter attack to the indirect (mortar and artillery) fire to treating casualties,” Ostlund says.

Fourteen Americans and a squad of Afghan National Army soldiers were attacked while strung out single file along a narrow trail devoid of cover. Scores of Taliban fighters crouched on the opposite side of the valley or were concealed ahead down the trail or on the ridge above. They opened fire at 3:30 p.m. as the setting sun was in the soldiers’ eyes. Many of the attackers were in shadows, all but invisible to the Americans.

The Taliban even videoed the action so they could turn it into a propaganda film. But the battle all but escaped notice in American media.

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This is what happens to you when you are killed in Afghanistan*

It’s actually an article about the stress that Mortuary Affairs soldiers in Afghanistan face, but also contains an excellent description of the grim duty they perform, a duty faced with Dignity, Reverence, Respect.

The process starts when the phone rings. An officer tracking flights into the base calls the mortuary affairs unit with an alert that in 30 minutes to an hour an aircraft will touch down carrying a servicemember’s remains.

The team in the hangar responds with practiced urgency. One member of the “clean hands” crew contacts the unit of the deceased to gather details for a case file that will travel with the body to the United States. Two members iron an American flag to drape over the top half of an aluminum transfer case that will hold the remains.

If their team receives the call, Siverand and Valdivia climb into a box truck parked in the mortuary compound and drive to the flight line. In their downtime, while playing “Call of Duty” or poker, a relaxed repartee flows between them. In the vehicle, silence prevails.

The two pull up close to the plane or helicopter. They enter the aircraft and salute the dead servicemember and the military escorts accompanying the remains. The escorts help load the black body bag into the back of the truck. The body rides feet first. Siverand and Valdivia salute again, close the door and return to the compound.

In the hangar, under the cold glow of fluorescent lights, they wheel the remains on a gurney and stop beside a steel table. They move to opposite sides of the bag’s bottom end. Each pauses to steady his thoughts, to brace for a moment that never feels ordinary.

Valdivia unzips the bag. “I don’t like doing it, so he does it,” Siverand says. “But once it’s open, you scan what’s there and get to work.”

Mortuary Affairs is, thankfully, a terribly small community in the Army.

Incidentally, friend of the blog Jennifer Holik has written a two part piece on the Graves Registration Service in World War II. Part I. Part II.

Finally, an update on yesterday’s post on the Honor Guard social media incident. The soldier at the the heart of the incident has been suspended from participation in funerals, and the incident is under investigation.

*The title of this post is pretty blatantly ripped off from the opening sentence of a chapter in Geoffrey Perret’s excellent There’s a War to be Won. I prefer the term “homage” to “plagiarism.”

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