Fixing a Perception Problem

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

While discussing the high-tech XM25, Schmedlap explains how his unit used not-so-smart grenade launchers to appease the locals:

In OIF III, my unit fought against a hodge-podge of various insurgent/terrorist factions that came and went in our AO. Lacking intelligence to do much more than fight them when they exposed themselves, that was about all that we did. In all of the firefights that we had over a year-long deployment (more than I can count), we had zero KIAs and all wounds were RTD.

Nonetheless, the people in the city would complain that we “weren’t fighting back.” As they saw it, a few insurgents would dump multiple magazines of 7.62 at us, throw a few grenades, fire a few RPGs — all indiscriminately — and we would only return well-aimed fire. To the Iraqi citiizens, this looked like we were weak, because we were not firing nearly as many rounds, we were being cautious, and anything that got blown up was a result of enemy munitions.

Even though we were killing the attackers and suffering no losses in the process and no collateral damage or civilian casualties, we somehow looked weak in the eyes of the folks in the neighborhood (didn’t make sense then and still makes no sense). Explaining to them our rationale (avoiding civilian casualties) only earned us eye-rolls and disgust.

So here is how we fixed that perception problem. We started making copious use of 40mm. 40mm was actually far preferable to 7.62mm because it did not ricochet (in prior months, we accidentally hit some civilians with ricochets). On occasions when an OP spotted an IED emplacer and could have shot him with one round to the chest, we fired 40mm.

We set up a free fire zone in which we told no civilians to travel. When we got attacked from that location, we peppered the place with so much 40mm, 25mm, and even hellfires, that rumors began to spread that we had surrounded and killed Zarquawi (when, in fact, we were simply making quick work of a few random combatants).

In the first month of this new tact, we fired more AT-4s than in the prior six months combined. It actually caught the attention of the BDE S-4 who noticed an enormous amount of class V being pushed our way — he feared that we were stockpiling it or carelessly discarding ammo once it got dirty.

The result of these actions? We experienced no greater tactical success against the jerk-offs whom we were fighting against, but the populace had a far more favorable opinion of our efforts. Now, instead of more gunfire coming from the enemy, they saw more coming from us. It was reassuring to them and they actually thanked us for “finally” fighting back.


  1. Johnny Abacus says:

    This make me really curious about local attitudes in regards to unaimed fire in Afghanistan. It used to be that the Afghans were feared for their excellent precision shooting skills. How did a (presumably) inferior tactic displace a much more effective one so completely?

  2. Ross says:

    So, according to this report, it’s not enough to have “a big stick”; if we “speak softly”, we’re still doomed. Ah well.

    Somewhere between “40 mm” and “drone attacks” the PR pendulum appears to swing from “pleasing the locals” to “enraging the locals”.

    Perhaps this is why Kilcullen didn’t jump up and down about “kicking ass” and “smells like napalm” and “kill them all; God’ll sort them out.”

    Maybe we could sponsor safe, public demolition expositions in local cities we’re trying to dominate, to satisfy the locals’ needs for flash kaboom, (“Fun for the whole family; bring the kids!”) and then carry on with sensible counter-insurgency tactics?

  3. Isegoria says:

    Today’s Taliban can’t shoot straight, because the same brash, young men who join an insurgency love shooting their cheap “selective fire” weapons on full auto. It’s a rush — like revving your muscle car or motorcycle engine at the light and then peeling out. (You can see gangsta-style assault tactics in use anywhere young men get hold of guns. Professional militaries are unusual in emphasizing aimed semi-auto fire.)

    The older Afghans, who can really shoot, don’t want any part of the fighting.

  4. Isegoria says:

    For thousands of years, the key to military success was to get your own side’s men to actually fight. So, when American troops demonstrate professionalism and restraint — and they thus look like they’re not really fighting very hard — ordinary people get disgusted.

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