This is an analysis of Staff Sergeant Robert Miller's Medal of Honor action 1.25.08. It is difficult to do a tactical analysis without access to After Action Reports and Operation Orders, but since these were not available the online "official narrative" was utilized.
"Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller, U.S. Army, heroically distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous conduct in the face of the enemy of the U.S. while serving as the Weapons Sergeant, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3312, Special Operations Task Force–33, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force–Afghanistan, Forward Operating Base Naray, Kunar Province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"During the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 25, 2008, ODA 3312 conducted a combat reconnaissance patrol to Gowardesh, Afghanistan, to confirm or deny enemy activity and/or insurgents presence in the vicinity of Chen Khar in order to clear the valley of insurgent safe havens. ..."The stated mission was to confirm or deny enemy activity. The mission would lead to clearing the valley of insurgent (= U.S. enemy) safe havens.
Was there an implied mission to close with the enemy, or was the goal merely to make contact to confirm their presence? Surely a 24-man patrol could not be expected to clear or hold a well-known strong point. Making contact can lead to several results, but meeting engagements such as this are especially sensitive as the enemy situation is unknown. A prudent Commander would not assault an unknown number of dug-in enemy who hold the high ground without properly defining the situation.
As the combined ODA and ANA convoy neared its objective, ODA 3312 was forced to halt twice to dismount and explode insurgent-emplaced boulders along its route. Staff Sgt. Miller and other members of ODA 3312 recognized this tactict as a potential precursor to an insurgent ambush and immediately heightened security. Recognizing the historical enemy tactic used to canalize and ambush Coalition forces, the detachment dismounted an overwatch element.
This is prudent, especially if the vehicular firepower was utilized as an overwatch feature. This would cover movement by firepower.
"Staff Sgt. Miller led the overwatch elements as the threat of imminent danger increased. The rocky, snow-packed terrain, freezing temperatures and a fierce wind chill further exacerbated the ODA’s movement to the objective. The ODA’s only Pashto speaker, Staff Sgt. Miller took charge of the dismounted element and assembled partnered ANA forces to ensure they could move under cover."
Why was there no interpreter assigned to this mission? In addition, why were the partnered units not familiar with one another? Why was the lone soldier sent with the ANAs? Doesn't modern Special Forces maintain buddy teams? What Commander would send a soldier to an unknown unit without accompaniment by even a single friendly? Why would you send a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) without a cover?
"Once ODA 3312 arrived at the target compound, Staff Sgt. Miller led the ANA and established security around the ODA’s ground mobility vehicles. After security was established, the team confirmed through the employment of an unmanned aerial vehicle that 15 to 20 insurgents were congregating and occupying prepared fighting positions in the targeted compound.
"Maintaining his situational awareness, Staff Sgt. Miller immediately jumped into his vehicle’s turret and engaged the enemy with its mounted MK19 40mm automatic grenade launcher."
Key point: They had a drone above to provide accurate combat intelligence of enemy disposition, to include locations and strengths. Since the team was vehicular-mounted it is safe to assume that they had mobility and firepower, to include beaucoup ammunition to fight either attacking or defending. They were probably carrying at least two basic loads as they were expecting contact. This would have been more than sufficient as they had air and artillery support.
"As a result of his superior tactical skills, he positively marked the enemy while simultaneously describing the area to the JTAC. Without his expert marksmanship and accurate description of the area, the JTAC would not have been able to provide accurate grid locations for close air support."
Where were the reports from the drone? Why were the close air support elements not able to spot the enemy locations? This was not a one-man show -- there were JTAC and air assets operating, as they should.
"As noted by the team’s JTAC, Staff Sgt. Miller’s involvement in the employment of CAS was largely responsible for the accuracy of four 30mm strafe runs and the emplacement of three precision-guided GBU38 munitions on the objective. As a result of his efforts, two A-10 Warthogs and two F-15 Strike Eagles dealt lethal effects onto numerous enemy positions and disrupted their ability to maneuver."
Accepting this assertion, why do we even have a team JTAC? These assets are not blind and the target area was clear and visible.
Without even seeing the enemy it would be sufficient and desirable to put suppressive fire on the heights above the engaged team. This is what artillery support does. This scenario required overwhelming fire support in order to offer a reasonable expectation of mission completion. Why was there no Forward Observer/Artillery Liaison Officer assigned from the supporting artillery units -- policy in most ground combat scenarios. How accurate does a cluster bomb run have to be, anyway? If friendlies are pinned in the valleys, the cluster units go on the hillsides.
"As Staff Sgt. Miller continued to neutralize numerous insurgent positions, his MK19 sustained a catastrophic malfunction, which eliminated it for the duration of the battle. Without hesitation, Staff Sgt. Miller quickly transitioned from the MK19 to an M240B machine gun mounted on the rear of his vehicle and continued to effectively engage the enemy."
Why would the vehicle with the MK 19 be pulled into a defilade defensive position to be serviced, later to be brought back into operation? Any weapon can be cleared, and surely a defective gun was not carried on the mission; if so, this was inattention to detail. The vehicle and gunner were not pinned down or receiving effective enemy fire at this point, as manning the vehicular-mounted guns would not have been possible. That is the difference between effective and ineffective fire.
"Understanding the peril of the battle and the composition of his force, Staff Sgt. Miller moved from his firing position and began emplacing ANA soldiers in positions to provide overwatch, detect movement from the high ground, observe the rear of the patrol and provide security to the flank of the ground assault. His actions provided security for his team and enabled them to maintain their focus on enemy targets. Once ample security was established, Staff Sgt. Miller re-engaged the enemy."
What was the rest of the team doing during this action?
"Upon completion of the initial contact and CAS, the ODA commander directed a dismounted patrol to conduct battle damage assessment and a post-CAS strike assessment of the destroyed insurgent positions. Sensing the need to provide the ANA additional assistance, the ODA commander charged Staff Sgt. Miller with the responsibility to lead the partnered ANA force in an advisory role.
"With the proficiency of an already-proven combat leader, Staff Sgt. Miller briefed the ANA platoon leadership on the scheme of maneuver onto the objective in their native Pashto language. Staff Sgt. Miller established rapport and instilled confidence in the ANA platoon leadership and its soldiers despite being partnered with the ANA platoon only 30 minutes prior to the mission."
At this point the entire friendly force still has the freedom of maneuver, has not decisively engaged and maintains initiative, but the main enemy fighting positions had not yet been approached or engaged. At this point it is still a fight to establish and maintain contact.
NEXT: Partnering with unknowns