RANGER AGAINST WAR: Starry, Starry Night <

Friday, September 27, 2013

Starry, Starry Night

--A simple game of chess

Our crusade was such madness 
that only a real idealist could have thought it up
--The Seventh Seal (1957)

Ranger will draw connections among three fights: Lang Vei (Vietnam, Feb. '68), Mogadishu - Black Hawk Down (Oct. '93) and the Battle of Kamdesh at Command Outpost Keating in Afghanistan (Oct. 2009).

The key devolution over 40+ years is that the U.S. is no longer fighting enemy armies but simple assemblies of enemy fighters variously described as militias, militants, insurgents, etc., and while U.S. forces are arrayed to fight battles, they instead get roughly handled by simple street thugs ... people for whom soldierly behavior does not apply.

So, why do we fight for hills, towns and terrains which are disposable and not of worth to anyone except those squatting on that particular grid square, and then pull up stakes and leave? Have the principles of war lost their relevance? This is the Day of the Jackal; you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Has Clausewitz had his day? If so, what will direct and constrain our present and future conflicts?

From his personal discussions with battle survivor (Lt.) Paul Longgrear, the Battle of Lang Vei was the death of the United States Special Forces A-Camps, which were small and remote fighting camps with mission augmentation. The fall of Lang Vei showed that the US Army could not hold a camp if the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was determined to expend the operational assets to destroy their objective.

If the  NVA could do this at LV with USMC assets a 105 Howitzer distance away, then any SF fighting camp in VN was a potential death trap. The LV Battle was a knock-down fight between two determined armies; after LV and Tet '68, the outcome of the American war in Vietnam was sealed.

And yet, despite that death knell the U.S. continues 40 years on to emplace its soldiers in indefensible outposts which suffer the same dire fate.

Like LV, the Mogadishu battle [Black Hawk Down - "BHD'] was conducted by the finest Special Operations Forces (SOF) -- the 75th Ranger Battalion assets teamed up with SOF Delta operatives. The difference in the BHD scenario was that the enemy was an unorganized opponent lacking a detailed Table of Organization and Equipment (TO& E) and order of battle; in short, they functioned as militias lacking state apparatus. They probably lacked mission objectives beyond killing soldiers and controlling the countryside and cities by armed violence.

But BHD demonstrated that militias with platoon-level weapons (including RPG2 and 7's) could engage and kill prime US war fighting assets IF the militias were willing to take the casualties. It was estimated in BHD that the U.S. killed 1,000+ militia fighters, yet the U.S. mission was ultimately frustrated and abandoned. Somalia is still the same sewer 20 years on.

The book and the movie were an awe-inspiring view of a world-class infantry, but insurgents and militias world-wide re-learned that they can fight any army to standstill if willing to take the casualties. The lessons taken from the '79 Russo-Afghan war have been re-imagined in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2001 onward.

The Battle at Kamdesh in '09 for which SSG Clinton Romesha earned the Medal of Honor earlier this year occurred 20 miles away from a similar failure the previous year in the Battle of Wanat. While the U.S. soldiers supposedly killed 100 enemy militants, that is immaterial since the 4th Division no longer occupies any terrain in the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.

An old Counterinsurgency (COIN) metric goes, if we are killing 10:1 of ours, then we are being successful. It is doubtful the U.S. met that metric in LV and it assuredly did not in BHD. And in Kamdesh, with a kill ratio of 8:100 ... ? Did we win?

The New York Times reported the Americans following Kamdesh "declared the outpost closed and departed — so quickly that they did not carry out all of their stored ammunition. The outpost’s depot was promptly looted by the insurgents and bombed by American planes in an effort to destroy the lethal munitions left behind" ("Strategic Plans Spawn Bitter End for Lonely Outpost.")

COP Keating was not a win, and they left like Lee slinking out of Gettysburg in July 1863. The difference was that instead of withdrawing under an enemy army's pressure, they faced a rag-tag group of militia fighters who may have been simple bandits or warlord fighters. Though not a Waterloo or Liepzig, it was a total failure nonetheless.

If U.S. forces were to kill 100:1, they would still be losing in a Low-intensity conflict (LIC) or COIN environment.  We no longer talk of LIC, instead pretending that we fight battles, but LIC is the order of the day, and reality demands that understanding. However, that understanding would threaten to upend the profitable military complex as we know it.

Ranger's unit in RVN, Studies and Observations Group (SOG), is reported to have had a kill ratio of 150:1, but we still lost control of the Ho Chi Minh Trail since we never controlled the key terrain on the ground. An army can hold ground, but that is not equal to controlling the ground.

In the last 43 years, the U.S. Army has lost the ability to control the ground. It may have conquered Kabul and Baghdad, but it never controlled the ground, nor the hearts and minds of the locals. This is the fallow result of phony wars.

The latest wars prove the inability of the U.S. Army to destroy and force U.S. will on insurgencies and militia-inspired insurgencies. They are continuations of LV and BHD on another chessboard. What should we have learned?

Time is not on our side.

[cross-posted @ milpub]

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Blogger no one said...

I think a lot of the problem comes from the COIN wonks misdefining "insurgency" and confusing it with civil war and imperialism.

COIN, small wars manual, etc: that was all well and good for situations where there was a insurgency by a minority against a government that was perceived as legit by a critical mass of the majority of the people.

Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 6:07:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger FDChief said...


All I can say about the tactical analysis is that one of these is not like the others. Both the RVN and Afghan engagements were similar cases of small outposts being overrun - the Brits used to lose those in Afghanistan when the local tribes would get a wild hair.

Mogadish, though, is very different, a failure to recognize that the locals were capable of analyzing and reacting to U.S. operations. These raids had been going on for months using much the same techniques and tactics and, like any tactic, if you show the same enemy the same tactic often enough and that enemy is at all adaptable they will adapt, and in Mogadishu they did.

Add to that Mogadishu wasn't about holding ground.

But the real bottom line is that the U.S. Army (and many players in the USG) have convinced themselves of a magical sparkle pony: that there is such a thing as "counterinsurgency" that doesn't involve ruthless butchery or the employment of techniques like concentration camps.

The history of rebellion suppression - since that is what an "insurgency" is, a rebellion - has usually involved everything from selective assassination to outright genocide. For full-on mass rebellions the only way is the Roman way; make a wasteland and call it peace. We don't want to accept that, and, not surprisingly, our COIN efforts have suffered accordingly...

Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 11:48:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger no one said...

The Small Wars Manual, written back in 1940 emphasizes that "the application of purely military measures may not, by itself restore peace and orderly government because the fundamental causes of the condition of unrest may be economic, political, or social."

That was already learned in places like Nicaragua, but forgotten, apparently.

Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 3:42:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous jim at ranger said...

What exactly was MOG about?
What was a bunch of SOF assets supposed to accomplish?
The question is - why were the outposts there in the first place?
Imagine putting a US plat , or even company sized force in a defensive posture in unfriendly terrain without realistic supporting fires available.

Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 7:57:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Workingstiff said...

Excellent analysis. Some thoughts to support your point:

Demographics: The US birthrate is below average. Those in Third world nations produce kids like we would produce armaments on a assembly line. And since death is a constant factor due to poverty, poor health conditions, etc. life becomes cheap and expendable.

US addiction to military tech: While we have the most deadly and advance military hardware in the world, it still is only a force multiplier, and it takes boots on the ground as mentioned in your three examples to hold and take objectives. In BHD, the US was denied armor and Apache attack copters for fear of too much collateral damage--Which happened anyway when the locals were not cowed by our display of force and resisted vigorously anyway.

This encourages small piecemeal distribution of US troops with the assumption that military tech will make up the difference--except at COP Keating where a breakdown occurred getting help in time--or even at all, as well as at Lang Vei.

Tech cannot compensate for boots on the ground. If military doctrine states that it takes at least a battalion to cover one mile of terrain, how can platoons do so with larger territory to cover, even with air support and surveillance tech? Answer; They can't. All the bad guys have to do is send a diversion to sucker our intel in one direction, and then hit us sideways.

The US military is infantry poor, and tech support fat. I'm glad we have only a volunteer military, as I have no desire for a draft, still, it results for political reasons to stretch troops too thin to cover too much ground, resulting in disasters like Keating.

Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 8:22:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger no one said...

"Add to that Mogadishu wasn't about holding ground."

Neither is Afghanistan. It's supposed to be about converting the Afghan people to our way of thinking. Supposedly, if we deny the Taliban access to the people, the American that we assume lies dominant in every third worlder will emerge bright shiny and hungry for McDonalds. Afterall, nobody really WANTS to be a commie or a muslim fanatic. People just get tricked or threatened into these thought modes by a handful of bad guys that we can kill off. This, I believe was the theory in VN as well. Ditto Somalia. Remove the war lords and feed the people and, voila, everything will be right in a nice American approved kinda way.

Our Civilian leadership comes up with these notions and th4e general and admirals have to go along if they want to have a chance at career maintenance.

Then, what working stiff says comes into play.

Why are COPs, like Keating, set on the low ground? From someone who was there, the reason is simple. You can't build roads up to the high ground and armor needs roads. Also, the troops are suppose to mingle with the locals - who live on the low ground - and help convert them.

Bottom line. Our elected leaders attempt to achieve militarily what they fail to achieve through other means - and they are dolts.

Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 4:10:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger no one said...

Actually, i'm going to amend my comment somewhat. It isn't that they are dolts, it is they are dolts with a messianic complex around the American Way and all of that. They are crusaders. The left usually assumes these wars are about some cabal making a big buck. It really isn't (though some cabal, as a collateral benefit often does make bank).

It's all about spreading the gospel of America and that thinking extents right down to the troops. Of course a handful of SF and infantry can achieve their objective admist a sea of enemy; God and America are on their side. They're righteous.

The true believers in Washington outweigh in volume and influence the wise.

Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 4:33:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Peter of Lone Tree said...

Jim, Lisa, beware the spammers and trollers. Lots of sites that I frequent have been invaded.

Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 6:59:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Underground Carpenter said...

No One,

"Supposedly, if we deny the Taliban access to the people, the American that we assume lies dominant in every third worlder will emerge bright shiny and hungry for McDonalds.

Oh, that's good!


Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 7:00:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


Thanks for the heads up. Perhaps you can confer a little protective blessing upon RAW ;)

Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 7:21:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Brooklyn Red Leg said...

All I know is that every time we kill some poor sheep herder, we literally spawn insurgents. Its a never ending Hydra that will utterly bankrupt us. We will run out of blood, national treasure, bullets, bombs and resolve long before people justifiably pissed off at our government's foreign policy run out of determination to 'kill the Yankee'.

Its also the inane idea that somehow, professionals can easily overcome 'AK-wielding peasants'. A bullet kills you just a freakin dead if you are a Super-Duper Ninja Special Ops gunslinger as it does if you're a shat-upon peasant whose only choices in life are dying of extreme poverty or taking up a gun to kill your oppressors.

"...where a guerrilla force enjoys support from the people, whether willing or force, it can never be defeated by military means, however much it is harassed and attacked, shelled, mortared, and bombed by superior forces of infantry and artillery, air and sea power." - Sir Robert Thompson (as quoted from The Military Review, January 1989 article 'Preparing for the Past')

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 1:44:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous jim at ranger said...

I'd recommend all read the Thompson article that you quoted.
I think the key point of counter insurgency and UW on a day like today is instructive.1Oct13.
We fight stupid wars OCONUS supporting any tin pot despot who speaks English and understands street hustling or any flavor of the week insurgent ,and OUR CONGRESS can't even govern our own country. Who are we to tell others what is right-OR WRONG. We have a civil war going on in the halls of our leadership, but yet we tell the Syrians or any one else what they are supposed to do. Or not do.
I'm tire of our phony policies both foreign and domestic.
How can we have success overseas when we can't define it in the halls of congress.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 6:55:00 AM GMT-5  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home