As the year winds down...
(I borrowed this first bit from Bob Roth, on the ASA Open Discussion page on facebook.)
From a U.S. Marine currently serving in Afghanistan:
1) The M-16 rifle: Thumbs down. Chronic jamming problems with the talcum powder like sand over there. The sand is everywhere. Jordan says you feel filthy minutes after coming out of the shower.
2) The M-4 carbine version is more popular because it's lighter and shorter, but it has jamming problems also. It lack the ability to mount the various optical gun sights and weapons lights on the Picatinny rails. The weapon itself is not great in a desert environment. All hate the 5.56 mm (.223) round. Poor penetration on the cinder block structure common over there and even torso hits can't be counted on to put the enemy down.
3) The M-243 SAW (squad assault weapon): .223 cal. Drum fed light machine gun. Big thumbs down.. Universally considered a piece of sh-t. Chronic jamming problems, most of which require partial disassembly (that's fun in the middle of a firefight).
4) The M-9 Beretta 9mm: Mixed bag. Good gun, performs well in desert environment; but they all hate the 9mm cartridge. The use of handguns for self-defense is actually fairly common. Same old story on the 9mm: Bad guys hit multiple times and still in the fight.
5) Mossberg 12ga. Military shotgun: Works well, used frequently for clearing houses to good effect. (Great weapon - I used these when transporting prisoners.)
6) The M-240 Machine Gun: 7.62 NATO (.308) cal. belt fed machine gun, developed to replace the old M-60 (what a beautiful weapon that was!!) Thumbs up. Accurate, reliable, and the 7.62 round puts 'em down. Originally developed as a vehicle mounted weapon, more and more are being dismounted and taken into the field by infantry. The 7.62 round chews up the structure over there.
7) The M-2 .50 cal heavy machine gun: Thumbs way, way up. "Ma Deuce" is still worth her considerable weight in gold. The ultimate fight stopper - puts their dicks in the dirt every time. The most coveted weapon in-theater.
8) The M-1911 .45 pistol: Thumbs up. Still the best pistol around. Everybody authorized to carry a sidearm is trying to get their hands on one. With few exceptions, one can reliably be expected to put 'em down with a torso hit. The special ops guys (who are doing most of the pistol work) use the HK military model and supposedly love it.. The old government model.45's are being re-issued en masse.
9) The M-14: Thumbs up. They are being re-issued in bulk, mostly in a modified version to special ops guys. Modifications include lightweight Kevlar stocks and low power red dot or ACOG sights. Very reliable in the sandy environment, and they love the 7.62 round.
10) The Barrett .50 cal sniper rifle: Thumbs way up. Spectacular range and accuracy and hits like a freight train. Used frequently to take out vehicle suicide bombers (we actually stop a lot of them) and barricaded enemy. It is definitely here to stay.
11) The M-24 sniper rifle: Thumbs up. Mostly in .308 but some in 300 win mag. Heavily modified Remington 700's. Great performance. Snipers have been used heavily to great effect. Rumor has it a marine sniper on his third tour in Anbar province has actually exceeded Carlos Hathcock's record for confirmed kills with OVER 100.
12) The new body armor: Thumbs up. Relatively light at approx. 6 lbs. and can reliably be expected to soak up small shrapnel and even will stop an AK-47 round. The bad news: Hot as sh-t to wear, almost unbearable in the summer heat(which averages over 120 degrees). Also, the enemy now goes for head shots whenever possible. All the bullsh-t about the "old" body armor making our guys vulnerable to the IED's was a non-starter. The IED explosions are enormous and body armor doesn't make any difference at all in most cases.
13) Night Vision and Infrared Equipment: Thumbs way up. Spectacular performance. Our guys see in the dark and own the night, period. Very little enemy action after evening prayers. More and more enemy being whacked at night during movement by our hunter-killer teams. We've all seen the videos.
14) Lights: Thumbs up. Most of the weapon mounted and personal lights are Surefire's, and the troops love 'em. Invaluable for night urban operations. Jordan carried a $34 Surefire G2 on a neck lanyard and loved it.
( I can't help but notice that most of the good fighting weapons and ordnance are 50 or more years old! With all our technology, it's the WWII and Vietnam era weapons that everybody wants! The infantry fighting is frequent, up close and brutal. No quarter is given or shown. )
Bad Guy Weapons:
1) Mostly AK-47's. The entire country is an arsenal. Works better in the desert than the M16 and the .308 Russian round kills reliably. PKM belt fed light machine guns are also common and effective. Luckily, the enemy mostly shoots like sh-t. Undisciplined "spray and pray" type fire. However, they are seeing more and more precision weapons, especially sniper rifles. ( Iran , again)
2) The RPG: Probably the infantry weapon most feared by our guys. Simple, reliable and as common as dogsh-t. The enemy responded to our up-armored Humvees by aiming at the windshields, often at point blank range. Still killing a lot of our guys.
3) The IED: The biggest killer of all. Can be anything from old Soviet anti-armor mines to jury rigged artillery shells. A lot found in Jordan 's area were in abandoned cars. The enemy would take 2 or 3 155 mm artillery shells and wire them together. Most were detonated by cell phone and the explosions are enormous. You're not safe in any vehicle, even an M1 tank. Driving is by far the most dangerous thing our guys do over there. Lately, they are much more sophisticated "shape charges" (Iranian) specifically designed to penetrate armor. Fact: Most of the ready made IED's are supplied by Iran , who is also providing terrorists (Hezbollah types) to train the insurgents in their use and tactics. That's why the attacks have been so deadly lately. Their concealment methods are ingenious, the latest being shape charges, in Styrofoam containers spray painted to look like the cinderblocks that litter all Iraqi roads. We find about 40% before they detonate, and the bomb disposal guys are unsung heroes of this war.
4) Mortars and rockets: Very prevalent. The soviet era 122mm rockets
(with an 18km range) are becoming more prevalent. One of Jordan 's NCO's lost a leg to one. These weapons cause a lot of damage "inside the wire". Jordan 's base was hit almost daily his entire time there by mortar and rocket fire, often at night to disrupt sleep patterns and cause fatigue (It did).. More of a psychological weapon than anything else. The enemy mortar teams would jump out of vehicles, fire a few rounds, and then haul ass in a matter of seconds.
Captured enemy have apparently marveled at the marksmanship of our guys and how hard they fight. They are apparently told in Jihad school that the Americans rely solely on technology, and can be easily beaten in close quarters combat for their lack of toughness. Let's just say they know better now.
Bad Guy Technology:
Simple yet effective. Most communication is by cell and satellite phones and also by email on laptops. They use handheld GPS units for navigation and "Google Earth" for overhead views of our positions. Their weapons are good, if not fancy, and prevalent. Their explosives and bomb technology is TOP OF THE LINE. Night vision is rare. They are very careless with their equipment and the GPS units and laptops are treasure troves of Intel when captured.
Who Are The Bad Guys?
These are mostly "foreigners", non-Afghan Arab Jihadists from all over the Muslim world (and Europe ). Some are virtually untrained young Jihadists that often end up as suicide bombers or in various "sacrifice squads". Most, however, are hard core terrorists from all the usual suspects (Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas etc.). These are the guys running around murdering civilians en masse and cutting heads off. The Chechens (many of whom are Caucasian) are supposedly the most ruthless and the best fighters. They have been fighting the Russians for years. The terrorists have been very adept at infiltrating the Afghan local govt.'s, the police forces and the Army. They have had a spy and agitator network there since the Iran-Iraq war in the early 80's.
Bad Guy Tactics:
When they are engaged on an infantry level, they get their asses kicked every time! Brave, but stupid. Suicidal Banzai-type charges were very common earlier in the war and still occur. They will literally sacrifice 8-10 man teams in suicide squads by sending them screaming and firing AK's and RPG's directly at our bases just to probe the defenses. They get mowed down like grass every time (see the M2 and M240 above). Jordan 's base was hit like this often. When engaged, they have a tendency to flee to the same building, probably for what they think will be a glorious last stand. Instead, we call in air and that's the end of that more often than not. These hole-ups are referred to as Alpha Whiskey Romeo's (Allah's Waiting Room). We have the laser guided ground-air thing down to science. The fast mover's, mostly Marine F-18's, are taking an ever increasing toll on the enemy. When caught out in the open, the helicopter gunships and AC-130 Spectre Gunships cut them to ribbons with cannon and rocket fire, especially at night. Interestingly,artillery is hardly used at all.
The enemy death toll is supposedly between 45-50 thousand. That is why we're seeing less and less infantry attacks and more IED, suicide bomber sh-t. The new strategy is just simple attrition. The insurgent tactic most frustrating is their use of civilian non-combatants as cover. They know we do all we can to avoid civilian casualties and therefore schools, hospitals and especially Mosques are locations where they meet, stage for attacks, cache weapons, and ammo and flee to when engaged. They have absolutely no regard whatsoever for inflicting civilian casualties. They will terrorize locals and murder without hesitation anyone believed to be sympathetic to the Americans. Kidnapping of family members, especially children, is common to influence people they are trying to influence but can't reach, such as local govt. officials, clerics, tribal leaders, etc.. The first thing our guys are told is "don't get captured". They know that if captured they will be tortured and beheaded on the internet. They openly offer bounties for anyone who brings in a live American serviceman. This motivates the criminal element who otherwise don't give a sh-t about the war. A lot of the beheading victims were actually kidnapped by common criminals and sold to them. As such, for our guys, every fight is to the death. Surrender is not an option. The Afghani's are a mixed bag. Some fight well; others aren't worth a damn. Most do okay with American support. Finding leaders is hard, but they are getting better. Many Afghani's were galvanized and the caliber of recruits in the Army and the police forces went right up, along with their motivation. It also led to an exponential increase in good intel because the Afghani's are sick of the insurgent attacks against civilians.
According to Jordan , morale among our guys is very high. They not only believe that they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. They are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see sh-t like "Are we losing in Iraq " on TV and the print media. For the most part, they are satisfied with their equipment, food, and leadership. Bottom line though, and they all say this, is that there are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency, primarily because there aren't enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Afghanisan and Pakistan. The Iranians and the Syrians just can't stand the thought of Afganistan being an American ally (with, of course, permanent US bases there).
From years ago...
a memory surfaces: I'm attending the Tactical Training Course
at Fort Devens, MA. Been living in the woods, in a foxhole,
for just over a week... am tired, cold, dirty.
The Colonel (Millett) enters the compound with an ABC film crew...
he's been pushing this course (TTC) to the Army and being rebuffed.
The ABC crew is part of his latest try at being accepted by the powers-that-be.
We, the trainees, were all in a foul mood. It had rained and snowed on us,
plus the resident "enemy forces" had kept us from sleep.
(That being the whole point of the training.)
Anyway... each time a camera was turned on any of us, the finger was given
to the lens... thus negating the use of that piece of film on a TV broadcast.
(You gotta realize, this was 1967... a whole different moral compass was in use.)
We disliked the broadcast media...
considered them to be no more than blood-sucking leaches.
In the end, ABC got the footage they wanted.
COL Millett, angrily, had ordered us to stop with the finger thing.
(In truth, we all were a bit afraid of Millett... and very much in awe of him.
He'd been awarded the Medal Of Honor for actions during the Korean War.
He'd been a soldier for longer than any of us had been alive.
He would have been promoted to general officer if he didn't scare the piss out of
the chair-bound gentry who were running the pentagon at the time.)
Colonel Lewis Millett, being honored in Seoul, South Korea. (He was in his 80s here.)