Michael's Dispatches

False Sense of Something: Some observations and thoughts on the unfolding wars


01 October 2012

img001-1000Camp Bastion Sanger circa 2011. Camp Bastion is a major foothold in Afghanistan.

If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. - Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Despite the past eleven years in Afghanistan, U.S. ground troops are less prepared than ever for “small wars.”  We have become so dependent on gadgets and contractors that we would not know what to do without them.  Contractors provide much of the security at major bases in Afghanistan, and even on many smaller bases.

We like to use contractors because they are cheaper and politically expedient.  When they are killed by car bombs at the gates, they are not added to the only body count that Americans care about.  Leaders do not have to deal with photographs of grieving families.

When TCN (Third Country National) contractors are maimed, we can send them home to Africa or Nepal, and wash our hands while avoiding burdensome veterans’ issues.  Contractors have no political or moral clout. They are our mercenaries.  Using mercenaries makes business and political sense.

Many of our security contractors are Afghans.  Does this make military sense?

A source mentioned that guard towers (known as “sangers”) were frequently empty at BLS.  BLS refers to the Bastion, Leatherneck, Shorbak complex.

I witnessed a similar incident last year in Zhari.   Zhari was, and remains, one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.

One night in Zhari, the contracted Afghan guards left their post, which was just ten seconds away from the tents where 4-4 Cav Soldiers lived, and a few tents down from my own.  The sanger appeared to be empty.  I looked inside.  They were gone.  For obvious security reasons, I did not publish this.

Image2-1000Screen grab from Taliban video, allegedly made before the Bastion attack.

On 14 September 2012, a small band of Taliban breached the defenses of one of the most heavily guarded bases in the world, and effectively destroyed a Marine Corps Harrier squadron.  They did this in the open desert.

Image4-1000Planning the Bastion attack.

Plainly, the enemy knew more about our BLS defenses vs. threat than did our commanders in Kabul, or for that matter, the ones at BLS.  To plan, rehearse, and execute this attack, the enemy first had to identify a persistent weakness.

Many questions regarding the Bastion attack remain: Who was tasked to be in those sangers?  Were all of the sangers manned?  If so, were they fully manned?  If the guards were there, were they awake?  Were they under the influence of narcotics?  (A persistent problem in Afghanistan.)

How did fifteen attackers get near the perimeter without being spotted and shot?

img004-1000BLS defenses circa 2011. 

An unguarded obstacle is just a speed bump.  The greatest value of these obstructions is to slow and canalize the enemy.  If defenders are not ready, the attackers are coming in.

Maxim: a wall is only as strong as the people defending it.  This is as true today as it was when the Great Wall was built.

Maxim: a wall is no stronger than its weakest part. This is typically at the gates, but not always.

Knowing that a sanger is unguarded, you can quickly think of many ways to breach the fence: car bomb, motorbike bomb, suicide vest, satchel charge, ladder, shovel, pole-vault, or just crash it with a truck, sensors be dammed.  On this moonless night, the audacious seized the initiative until the defenders could get their boots and body armor on, and figure out what had happened

If they were thinking a little bigger, the enemy might swarm in with a hundred motorbike bombs and engage force on force.  Afghans are known for swarming, but their weakness has been to assemble too long in one area, and then our guys kill them efficiently. 

And so the enemy switched to smaller units, which we touted as evidence of looming victory. It was just a change in tactics.  Luckily, the Taliban have not mastered a technique of quickly massing from many directions, and launching multi-pronged attacks from the march.  They are good at small-unit tactics in their home environments, but have difficulty with broad coordination.

They come like mosquitoes in the jungle.  There is (apparently) no mosquito king who sounds a trumpet to arms, but where you go, the local mosquitoes rise up for blood.  You whack some of them, they get some blood and give you malaria, and everyone claims victory.

Image3-1000Screengrab from enemy video: The barrels in the drawing are the hangars

Some may cry “OPSEC” over these images, but the enemy already has good photos, intel and target sketches.  The attack and the video prove that.

(Admin note: despite accusations by members of Soldiers Angels, and stay-at-home milbloggers, I have never been accused of OPSEC violations by any military authority.  The only complaints come from couch generals and basement milbloggers.)


In this screen grab, the enemy is practicing fence cutting.  Notice the shoes.  Villagers in southern Afghanistan do not wear athletic shoes.  Normally they wear sandals, or old shoes that are too small or too large.   A group of young men wearing sports shoes in southern Afghanistan is a WARNING.  Though these guys are wearing American uniforms, those shoes are enemy uniform. 

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter · 9 years ago
    George Will said the best ideas are carried in books. To really influence, do a book again!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    BSJ · 9 years ago
    And so many Americans think building a wall between us and the Mexicans will solve all of our problems…
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Deidre · 9 years ago
      I don't know of anyone who thinks building a security wall between Mexico and the U.S. will solve ALL our problems. Hyperbole!

      Heavily invaded areas are full of debris, environmental destruction, death and drugs. Give us your insight, BSJ, on how to solve the problem and not include at least some fencing in the heaviest illegal trafficking areas.

      BTW, what do illegals cost us in benefits, child payments, schooling, prison incarceration, theft, crime, loss of jobs which should go to Americans?
    • This commment is unpublished.
      judgebean · 9 years ago
      Build the fence, post the perimeter, arm the guards, give rules of engagement and that is how it works. You still have to convince everyone you're serious, YOU WILL HAVE TO FIRE A WEAPON.
      • This commment is unpublished.
        BSJ · 9 years ago
        Let’s do a little math. The border is 169km long. To post an armed guard every 00 meters you’d need 10,56 guard posts.

        At two guards per post you would need 21,126 guards. I assume you want them guarded 24 hours a day so you’d then need three shifts. So that’s 6 , 80 guards to man the perimeter for one day.

        And who’s going to pay for that, all the while having our taxes lowered too?
        • This commment is unpublished.
          annie · 9 years ago
          You obviously haven't counted the cost of all these illegals in our country costing us billions....taking our jobs...good construction jobs not just picking lettuce....schooling, health care, food stanps and the rape and pillage...the theivery....the murders and the dope cartels well established in our border states now....Bring the boys home and put them on the border. Stop kissing illegals asses. They are not just good family people wanting to feed their families. Let them go back to where they came from and clean up the trash countries they came from. I see what they cost us every day. Today they killed another of our border patrol near NACO...and wounded another...the same place the BC man was killed with one of Obama's guns he sent to the cartels. Wake up and stop being a pansy illegal lover.
        • This commment is unpublished.
          Arnie · 9 years ago
          it would help solve the unemployment problem!
        • This commment is unpublished.
          John_G · 9 years ago
          Huh, guess they'd need a QRF able to move over distances. So this is stupid logic, we can't control our border because it would take too many guys, and we can't control their border either. COIN 101 is controlling the borders. What are we doing there?

          101st ABN was controlling the Syrian border just fine in 200 /2004 until State stopped them. What's your point? It's just will to do the job and politicians not meddling.
        • This commment is unpublished.
          YZ · 9 years ago
          Now now, you are getting into too much details. That's not something people like judgebean is good at. :cry:
    • This commment is unpublished.
      annie · 9 years ago
      The same people running our wars are responsible for our border security. Can you see the pattern? We have no National Security.....our citizens are not safe, ....not at war or in our own country. Stupidity or the acts of a traitor? I ask you? It's pretty obvious to me....Is it starting to be obvious now that we are reaping the results of our bad choices? What's the bottom line, Mike?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve S · 9 years ago
    Another well written dispatch that provides great detail and information.

    A great question is, how will Israel's strike on Iran hinder our operations in western Pakistan, to include, movement of supplies?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gordon · 9 years ago
    Why are motion sensors not used?

    Too many false alarms?
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Tommy Barrios · 9 years ago
      Having been responsible for the electronic security around Nuke storage areas and fully loaded alert B-52's, I can qualify that electronic security is only as good and useful as the folks operating same

      And we have some really really good stuff in the inventory, but if it is not being installed, maintained, and used properly, then it is about as useful as tits on a boar 8)

      As to false alarms, there is mitigation for that, highly trained operators and maintainers is the best mitigation against false alarms and potential breaches ;-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    in_awe · 9 years ago
    This is what you get for putting the TSA in charge of security. Next thing you know, we'll hear that the security forces are stealing! /sarc
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sun Tzu · 9 years ago
    If your enemy is close make them think you are far away, if you are far away make them think you are close by...

    And the all time best advice by General Sun..

    The best way win a war is by never having to fight at all, by making your enemy believe you cannot be defeated 8)

    Ever heard of "peace through strength" :-?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sun Tzu · 9 years ago
    If you are runnign a business or deepley invloved in one then you amybe surprised to learn that the tactics taught by General un in the Art of War applies directly to competitve business operations.

    There is book out called the Art of War in Business that does the correlation, do a search engine query :-*

    But if you get a copy of Art of War or do web search for same all you have to do is swap some terms and there you are, AOW in Business, swap "enemy" for "competitor", swap "spies" and intelligence" for "data mining", "troops" for "employees", that pretty much covers it, all the other details should be obvious if you already have management experience 8)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 9 years ago
    That is just nuts, man ... Is there even one military base owned by Americans and for Americans and security is run by American troops ? What I can not understand is why are there not heavily armed UAVS flying over military convoy routes and stop IEDs from being planted ? Every security measure you can think of to put in place should be put in place. Let me say this not to disrespect politicians or generals but I say to the U.S. Troops you provide your own security and don't let the politicians or generals tell you any different. Quite frankly as an American citizen at home, I am furious with how things are going for the U.S. Troops. We should be making the al Qaeda & Tablian a living hell for them and not us. Tents for our U.S. Troops 11 years later ? The Pentagon needs to talk to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania about steel modular living quarters for our U.S. Troops. The research & development teams for the defense industry need to kick into high gear looking for stronger materials that will stop small arms fire, repel suicide bombers all the way to trucks loaded with bombs at checkpoints impervious to suicide bombers in trucks etc. This kind of thing can not be allowed to go on for the sake of our U.S. Troops. You are your own best security. There are a lot of good lessons to be learned from so that our U.S. Troops will be stronger next time around.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 9 years ago
    I did not see the 2nd page until now and read through carefully, Michael Yon has given American troops & the U.S. Generals a better understanding of what needs to be done. We are in for one hell of a fight. Reinstate General Allen because we are going to need him. Bring back all the generals that were kicked off back to the military round table at the Pentagon whether President Obama likes it or not. The American People are taxpayers and We The People pay for our generals to implement common-sense training and proficiency in combat training as well what works for our soldiers. We also pay for the Presidency of the U.S.A. and I was shocked to learn Obama has not attended any military intelligence meetings. Obama is asleep at the wheel and as a result our troops are working twice as hard and in some cases I heard our troops are disobeying orders that make perfect sense at the risk of court martials. We really need to vote for a different U.S. President this November. What commander in chief does not attend military intelligence meetings ?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 9 years ago

    As I stated before a moat (what we now call anti-tank ditches) and some well documented and marked (where they field is) anti-personel mines made of metal or with a hunk of metal under them would have made the attack near impossible. The moat (with razor wire in the bottom would prevent trucks and motor bike assaults and AP mines would have stopped - or at least slowed them down or given notice - of attackers on foot.

    Jack E. Hammond

    PS> If the Iranians do help the Taliban with weapons big time, it will probably be two items: 1> 122mm and 107mm rockets with submunitions/bomblets and a the Bofors RBS-70. The RBS-70 is a laser beam rider and while it launch can be detected seconds before there is no known way to decoy it or jam it after launch. Di a google of "army recognition RBS-70" for an article I wrote many moon ago on it if curious.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 9 years ago
    Michael Yon, I see a lot of similarities to British General Allenby and U.S Marine General Allen.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 9 years ago
    Had a chance to watch the Tabilan video.

    Obviously, they did their job, what burns me up with anger the most is that they are wearing U.S. Army uniforms prior to their suicidal assault operations.

    I am sure they went on the suicidal mission 5 mintunes later then the U.S. base was attacked.

    This should have not happened. Now is not the time to blame or point fingers. Now is the time to get our stuff together, stop with lax security, plant mines and punji stakes whatever it takes to beef up security etc.

    The Tablian obviously did their job. That is what I meant by taking some time to count what the enemy can or can not do and we need to respect the dangers of what the Tablian is capable of.

    I am an American citizen at home and to see the homemade map of the Tablian planning the attacks on our troops is the same way the Tablian planned the Sept 11th airplane murders of American civilians makes me angry and sad.

    This is a glimpse into the black banner of al Qaeda and Tablian and the embassy attacks They waved the black banner of death. There should be no illusions what these very bad men are up to.

    The American People need to go to church and form praying & fasting circles for the U.S. Troops and it is time the U.S Military as a whole, both generals to enlisted needs to stick together and stop the in-fighting. Look at what needs to be done to stop the al Qaeda & Tablian from doing their jobs.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 9 years ago
    Is this the kind of thing American & British generals and politicians want to be remembered for ? I say to the U.S. Troops and the U.K. Troops. Shoot the terrorists laying IEDs and if the troops are bring up on charges of murder then the military judge or civilian judge better have enough sense to dismiss these stupid charges and send them back to the front lines. Get the generals & politicians who instituted this policy fired at once. The al Qaeda & Tabilan no doubt told the farmers what to say to effect policy changes. DO NOT ALLOW THE ENEMY TO CONTROL YOU AT ALL !!! General Patton would not have tolerated this shit. Excuse my language. I am fuming mad !!!

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 9 years ago
    General Patton would have issued an order if he were alive that goes something like this ...

    " Farmers are to collect harvests during daytime only. Be in your houses at nighttime. Anyone who is found roaming the countryside at night will be shot ! No apologies or payments will be asked nor given. "

    Post this to trees & farms and everywhere. There will be no excuses.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Josh · 9 years ago
    Michael, I have always appreciated your postings ever since the Gates of Fire. However, I'm concerned that since you have been removed from your embed that your views on US/ISAF progress in Afghanistan have become more of the couch generals you speak of. Your postings consistently degrade America’s views of what we are doing over here. Don't be one of those guys. Come back and see what progress is being made. Our 11 year struggle is just a blink in the eye of this rugged historical land.

    I would have loved to have you come visit us in far flung Farah and capture our story. I think you would have been surprised to find the progress we have made here with our Afghan partners. Maybe it is because we are a Navy based unit. We have had our setbacks like everyone else, I won’t deny that. However, I wish even half the people here would go to the DVIDS website and see what we have been accomplishing, but too many people rely on mainstream media to tell them what is happening in the world and they believe they are getting the full story. If it bleeds, it leads, right?

    I left California 15 months ago and I’m ready as hell to get back but I will be leaving here preparing for the day when the Navy will send me back here (the home of the Great Game) for Number three.

    Prosit nobis similibusque...damnabiliter paucibus

    “I would be the one. The one to go back and speak. A pain beyond all previous now seized me. Sweet life itself, even the desperately sought chance to tell the tale, suddenly seemed unendurable alongside the pain of having to take leave of these whom I had come so to love.” Steven Pressfield - Gates of Fire
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Ay Uaxe · 9 years ago
      [quote name="Josh"]Prosit nobis similibusque...damnabiliter paucibus[/quote]

      Indeed, here's to you and thanks from the very bottom of our hearts for your genuine patriotism and service of freedom. May God watch over you and yours, keep you and all our guys/gals safe, and bring all of y'all home well and whole.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Manny · 9 years ago
    DVIDS website


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