Battle For Marjah

Friday, July 15th, 2011

HBO’s Battle For Marjah documents Operation Moshtarak, last year’s joint operation between US Marines and Afghan security forces to clear a town of Taliban in the Helmand province in Afghanistan.

A few things jumped out while I was watching it:

  • The primary challenge the Marines faced was finding the enemy — even when they’d already spotted a few suspicious guys in the distance. I think one officer had binoculars.
  • The Marines had wonderfully appropriate dust-colored camouflage — ruined by black rifles, black night-vision goggles, black sunglasses, black communications gear, various black straps, etc.
  • There’s nothing light about our light infantry. These young guys in fantastic shape looked downright clumsy stumbling up and down any uneven terrain, because they were carrying so much kit.
  • The Marines didn’t look half as awkward as the Afghan forces though. Frankly, the Afghans looked worse than useless. First, they literally looked ridiculous: tiny, malnourished guys, dwarfed by their helmets and armor, unable to kick in a door. Then they routinely got scolded — in English — by furious Marines for pointing their rifles at people, gawking at the knocked-in door rather than storming the room they were supposed to be clearing, etc.
  • Even some of the professional US Marines had trouble slowing down and aiming their shots in a firefight. (Some had no problem at all though.)
  • Big explosions have a huge effect on morale. Any kind of incoming rocket or mortar was clearly terrifying. Any kind of outgoing explosive garnered cheers.
  • The US Marines were not welcome, their translators were haughty and condescending to the locals, and no one who might have known how to bridge the cultures was involved in the operation.
  • The higher-ups didn’t want to approve air strikes — so each request went through multiple layers of red tape until the target of opportunity disappeared and the whole thing was moot anyway. Can’t someone involved be given authority? Even someone who can say “no” promptly?

I’m sure any number of special forces guys are shaking their heads over how the conventional units are handling counterinsurgency.

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