Afghanistan: May 1, 2002


The marines, as is their custom, learned some valuable lessons in Afghanistan, and have quickly distributed them to everyone. Among the most useful lessons;

- Most of the operations in Afghanistan relied on sea basing (ships off the Pakistani coast), and it worked. There were limitations, but not enough to prevent success. One aircraft carrier was provided for the army special forces and everyone shared air transport and carrier warplane support. For the first two months, carrier aviation provided most of the air support. The navy KC-130 tankers proved critical for air to air refueling until air force and British tankers arrived. 

- The accuracy and constant availability of precision bombing (especially JDAM) made it possible to do a lot of fighting without artillery. This was a first for an operation on this scale. 

- Marine helicopter pilots took the lead in landing in places army pilots wouldn't. Part of this had to do with the fact that the marines had larger and more powerful helicopters that could better handle the high altitude operations in Afghan mountains. But the other aspect of this is that the marines are more willing to take risks than the army, a difference that goes back a long way.

-The SeaBees (construction battalions) lived up to their 60 year old tradition of getting in there and getting things done quickly and effectively.

-The marines got along well with the army special forces and allied commandos. Arrangements were made on the spot to cooperate in keeping the pressure on the al Qaeda and Taliban. As one marine commander put it, "Go after them until they fear us more than they hate us." The common approach of all allied troops in Afghanistan was that, "the Taliban's first contacts with us should make them not want a second contact."

- The dust was everywhere and more of a problem (for visibility and mucking up equipment) than anyone anticipated. 

- More UAVs are needed, at all levels. The marines have been pursuing this since the Gulf War, but lack the money to do it on their own. For something like this, they need the army to take the lead so the marines can buy the UAVs developed at a price the marines can afford. The experience in Afghanistan has convinced everyone (including the air force) that UAVs are the way to go.

- The marines couldn't help pointing out that if they had their long delayed V-22 transport, operations would have been speeded up considerably. The marines feel, with some justification, that the V-22 (which was made for operations like this), Kandahar might have fallen a month earlier and support for all allied troops in Afghanistan would have been more effective.

- The heavy use of air power brings another call to allow non-aviators call in air strikes. At the moment, the air force and navy insist that only their own pilots on the ground (or in low flying aircraft), acting as forward air controllers, call in the strikes. This is not always possible.

- Improvements in the speed with which intelligence information is analyzed and passed on to the troops has improved during the 1990s and this made a big difference.

- The troops need a night sniper scope, and a good one. While the army and marines have a lot of good night operations equipment, there are still a few improvements needed.

- Some marines thought it would be a good idea to bring back ANGLICO (Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company) teams. While this would provide more forward air controllers for marine and navy warplanes, it would also provide another liaison with the army, and you can't have too much of that.

- There was a need for better mine clearing equipment. All U.S. troops had was stuff that allowed them to clear narrow paths through areas thought to be mined. Fortunately, the Norwegians brought in a World War II era design flail system that allowed wider paths to be cleared more quickly.

- Caves were a problem, especially being able to find all the entrances to a single cave complex. It was found more effective to use explosives or bombs to seal the caves. 

- After fighting in Afghanistan for a few months, you learn that you can never say that you own a piece of Afghanistan

In northern Afghanistan, rival Tajik and Uzbek warlords were reported fighting, leaving at least 12 dead. 


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