Well I've been out walking
I don't do that much talking these days
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do
--These Days, Jackson Browne
Ranger has been thinking about the state of U.S. war fighting abilities and the way that we fight these days. The recent battle at Marjah (The $35 Billion Mud Hut) is instructive.
The news reported U.S. military estimates of the number of insurgents ranged from 600-to-1,000, a pretty large margin or error. For convenience we'll assume it's a planning estimate, but when doing so please remember that U.S. forces have the full monty of theatre war fighting assets, and the insurgents/opium growers have generally what is called "light infantry potentials". That the estimates vary so wildly alone show the shaky nature of the operation.
The attack was initiated by 7,500 Marines, putting the combative ratio at 7.5 : 1 (using the figure of 1,000); 12.5 :1 using the low-ball figure. (AP and Voice of America report 15,000 combined US/NATO/Afghan forces participated in the attack -- "NATO Said 30 Days Needed to Secure Marjah".)
Here is a U.S. Army doctrinal factoid from the past when the U.S. fought real wars: In the deliberate attack, the usual minimum manpower ratio for successfully constructing a planned assault on a fortified position is 4 : 1. The principle of Economy of Force in the Principles of War suggests this.
This classic formula was for the conventional battlefield when attacking forces of comparable capabilities. The Taliban is a rag-tag force, by comparison. What is obvious is that U.S. forces are killing flies with eight-pound sledge hammers.
Even in the worst-case scenario, 4,000 Marines could have done the job. So why are so many friendlies conducting this operation?