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



Despite that hardcore Taliban are known to wear sports shoes or sandals suitable for running, most American Soldiers lack training in combat tracking which could exploit this years-long reality.  The U.S. Army is stone blind on combat tracking. U.S. Marines conduct combat hunter training, which will improve their force protection and lethality. British, Dutch, Norwegians, and other allies also take tracking more seriously than our Army.

The soil in this image, and in southern Afghanistan in general, is ideal for tracking.  Before the assault, trackers might have easily detected that the base was under reconnaissance, or that local villages were suddenly filled with sports-shoe tracks.

Data-basing footwear and prints around Bastion and other key facilities is a no-brainer, though the chances that this is actually happening are close to zero.

Unobtrusively photographing locals and their footwear is simple.  But for a more direct approach, in some places, locals are asked to sit down with the soles of their feet facing the camera, and a photograph is taken with the face and the shoe pattern in the same photo.  This can make for easy matching, and it facilitates tracking of specific people.  Most Afghans have only one pair of shoes, and they are not sports shoes, which are expensive, and not suitable for farm work.

After the attack on Bastion, trackers could have backtracked quickly to the enemy lay-up position, or to the line of departure, but I have never seen our Soldiers track farther than to the end of a command wire after an IED detonation.

Interestingly, in hot-foot pursuits, normally the pursued will go to ground after just a few hundred meters.  Sometimes they jump onto motorbikes or into vehicles, but often they are very close and hiding.  Some U.S. infantry units will not pursue, while others look at gunfights as an invitation to a running battle where they will hunt down the enemy.  Those are the most deadly units.  Combat tracking is essential for good hunting in Afghanistan.

After the attack on Bastion, there is a good chance that a quick backtrack before daybreak could have generated a firefight with enemies who remained at the support area.  There is probably at least one person back there with a video camera and cell phones, who will dispose of the assaulters clothing that they wore before switching into American uniforms.  If is safe to say that the attackers did not drive across Afghanistan while wearing American uniforms in the hours before the attack.  They will have launched from somewhere close.

img008-1000Afghanistan base defenses circa 2011

The strongest defense at this point is that sanger at the end.  This fence is nothing.

Checking the soil, there is no realistic way to hide tracks.  The enemy is not going to waste time trying to disguise their tracks, which would not work anyway. After they leave the safe area and commit, they need to get to the target before being spotted.  The clock is running.

Backtracking in this area is like following snail trails on a sidewalk in the morning sun.

Image6-1000Battle damage from the attack

Bastion and other Afghanistan bases will be key in any near term fight with Iran.  The Israelis realize that this is the perfect time, before our numbers in Afghanistan dwindle.  The Israelis will want to suck us into any fight with Iran, and the Iranians will want to suck us into any fight with Israel.  Not that we need to get sucked in.

Days ago, Benjamin Netanyahu tantamount marked a red line on the calendar for next spring.  A betting man would place his money on action unfolding around any of the new moons in the next half year, and given our penchant for using sorry tactics and worse strategies, we could be in as much trouble as the next guy.

If a fight with Iran kicks off, we no doubt will make enemies out of friendly Iranians, and the Iranians no doubt can put up a fierce fight outside their borders.  Iranians are not simple farmers, but sophisticated, global players.


Guarding strategic bases like Bastion must be approached as a defense-in-depth.  If we go to war with Iran, or if they go to war with us, nothing will stop Iran from flooding the Taliban with surface-to-air missiles to knock down our helicopters and other aircraft in Afghanistan.  Prince Harry could find an Iranian missile locked onto his Apache.

Image7-1000RPG Strike?

On the small front, internal security and guarding weak fences will never be enough.  At the time of the attack on Bastion two weeks ago, security had become introverted.

Given the importance of BLS, our people should be on a first-name basis with every key villager for miles around.  Previously, the Marines’ security strategy included COIN.  They pushed out to the local communities and maintained an intelligence tripwire that could alert them to local intimidation, night letters, and the arrival of out-of-town visitors.

Needless to say, it would be good to know if visitors, or if a shoulder-fired SAM was seen in the village.  Several years ago, information came to me that the Taliban were trying to persuade Iran to provide such missiles.  An attack by Israel might be the pretext that they need.

On a tactical level at BLS, the last line of defense on the night of the attack literally came down to pilots and mechanics defending our jets in their hangars.  Our intelligence and our physical security failed together.

Interestingly, the reassignment of the top commander in Afghanistan, Marine General John Allen, was announced in the wake of this attack.

Image5-1000Demolished Marine Corps Harrier inside demolished hangar.

We put impossible tasks on the shoulders of too few, too late, while our top civilian and military leadership are proving inadequate to wage war.

At home, too many Americans expect too many others to behave rationally, based on world outlooks that are fundamentally at variance.  One man’s rationality is another man’s insanity.

And do not forget Pakistan.

Link to enemy video.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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