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June 28, 2011:  German Army documents recently became public, detailing the lack of training for many German troops in Afghanistan. The troops lacked adequate weapons and driving skills. Even the medics were not prepared for the kinds of injuries they encountered in Afghanistan.  Or, as the Germans would put it, "die Soldaten waren noch nicht fertig" (the soldiers were not ready.)

This should not have happened. German troops have been in Afghanistan since 2002. Initially, only German commandos were there. But soon combat support, and then combat troops arrived. German forces were stationed in the north, where there was a lot less combat. But the Taliban eventually showed up, and it became more dangerous for German troops to be outside their bases. Throughout this, German troops were not apparently trained to the standards the U.S. had established by 2004.

After encountering irregular warfare from Sunni terror groups in Iraq, it didn't take long for the Americans to update training. Soon they had their combat support troops firing their weapons a lot more. A whole lot more. There were lots of new drills, especially on how to travel outside bases and survive. The army and marines adopted the same attitude. That is, anyone traveling outside a base had to be combat ready. And those in bases have to be prepared for combat emergencies. As a result, there are a lot of things every American soldier or marine in Iraq (and eventually Afghanistan), had to get down cold if they wanted to get out in one piece. This included things like;

Emergency Action Drills. These are the things you do when there is an emergency. You must practice them with the people in your unit, to make sure everyone understands and does it the same way. When someone new comes into your unit, you have to go through all the drills for them. The drills are varied, ranging from what to do during various situations while on the road, to where the bomb shelters (or trenches) are in your camp. For combat units, these drills are no great shock, as most combat operations are a succession of drills (which are practiced regularly). But for non-combat support troops, these drills are a new experience, and more practice is always useful. Drills save lives.

Practice changing tires, and doing it quickly. This does two things. First, you learn how long it takes, even when you are in a hurry. This can be a useful bit of information if you are under fire while changing the flat. Second, practicing it forces you to make sure the spare tire is in good shape, and can quickly be reached (along with any tools needed.)

Mister Grenade can be your friend, even on the crowded streets of Baghdad. If your vehicle has a glove compartment, re-label it as the “grenade compartment.” Carry one smoke, one fragmentation and one tear gas grenade. If you’re stuck in traffic and the situation outside it starting to look dicey, then drop a smoke grenade out the window and try to get moving. You MUST be moving if you drop the tear gas grenade, because you cannot drive through the tears. Most other drivers will give you a wide berth when they see the smoke or tear gas grenade go off. For those who keep coming, with evil intent, the fragmentation grenade may come in handy (it is good for getting at bad people hiding behind something.) Remember, when using grenades, do not touch the pin until the grenade is outside the window. Accidents happen, and having a smoke grenade go off in your vehicle will ruin your day, at the very least.

Carefully plan each trip on the roads, especially in areas where the bad guys are particularly active. Remember, the most frequent targets are large convoys of big trucks. So stay off the MSR (Main Supply Route) used by those guys. Give everyone in your convoy a strip map of the coming trip, and make sure the “assistant driver” (the one who takes over if the primary driver is hit) studies the plan as well. Select a route that you feel is least likely to be watched, and attacked by gunmen.

Especially when outside your base, always have your weapon (usually an assault rifle or pistol, or both) with you at all times. Carry as much ammo as you can. In an emergency it will not be enough, but the more the better (14 or more magazines is not unreasonable). Only the stuff you have on you counts, as you may have to get out of your vehicle in a real emergency. Look around, the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have discovered many clever ways to carry all these magazines.

Always wear you Kevlar helmet, and your armored vest when outside the base. When in the base, always know where your vest and helmet (and weapon) is. Keep the weapon clean.

Practice basic combat operations, like changing magazines (you take cover when you do this, people who don’t, often get shot). Practice aiming and shooting. Lots of firing ranges have been set up in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, and lots of ammo has been provided for practice. We're talking billions of rounds over the last decade.

Practice shooting at long range (800 meters.) While it’s true that most combat is at shorter ranges (under 100-150 meters), you will sometimes find yourselves being shot at by people farther away. In a situation like this, a little practice before hand will pay big dividends. Might even say your life. Think about it.

Make sure your first aid gear, and skills, are always up to snuff. Get extra medical gear if you can, and learn how to use it. The Special Forces medics always get the latest and greatest stuff, so find out what they are using and see if you can scrounge some of it up.

Always be ready to return fire when on the road. Nothing discourages ambushers more, and ruins their aim, than lots of return fire. You might even kill a few of them.

Don’t throw candy to the kids while you are on the road. This just encourages them to get to close, and sometimes get run over. This is bad for the child, and for you as well. The dead kid's family will come after you. Remember, every Iraqi family is allowed, by law, to have one AK-47, and Afghans, though poorer, try to do the same.

If you are in a firefight and you wound one of the enemy, don’t let him crawl or limp away to safety. Kill him. These guys are doing holy war and will keep shooting even if wounded. They cannot hurt you if they are dead.

Cars and trucks, unless armored, are not bullet proof. If you are in a firefight, take cover behind concrete or steel. Fighting from behind an unarmored vehicle means you will eventually get shot when you don’t expect to. Indeed, when ambushed and in an unarmored vehicle that cannot move, the best thing to do is get away from that vehicle as soon as possible.

There was a lot more to learn. The above items are but a sample of what you have to know to survive in Afghanistan. It worked in Iraq, and it would work for the Germans in Afghanistan. But because of the cost, and risk of losing troops in training, this was never done. There have been 300 German combat casualties in Afghanistan, including 55 dead. But this is less than a third of the casualty rate suffered by foreign troops in the south (mainly American, Canadian, British and Australian). That may have encouraged the brass to not push for better combat training. That gets people killed, even if there is less combat in your neighborhood.

 

 


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