Friday, January 19, 2007

Failing the fallen

Central News carries an interesting article that demonstrates - as if we needed reminding - the unquestionable bravery of our soldiers. There are, however, a number of things in the Sky news story that give me cause for concern.

Royal Marines have carried out one of the most daring rescue missions ever staged to retrieve the body of a fallen comrade in Afghanistan.

It followed a ferocious battle in which 200 British troops backed by artillery, helicopters and aircraft raided a fort believed to be a major headquarters for Taliban militants.

I doubt very much that this was the sort of fort we remember from our childhood, but was more likely to mean a heavily defended and fortified enemy position. The first thing that comes to my mind is, what was the purpose of this "raid"? I'm no expert on modern military tactics, but I believe there are still certain things that apply even today and one of those is that if you are going to assault a heavily defended fortified position you will need overwhelming superiority of numbers - even with air support. This principle was applied even as recently as 2004 by the US Marines at Fallujah.

If the purpose was to take the "fort" then how on earth was that supposed to be done with a company of Marines? If the purpose was just to inflict damage on the "fort" and the enemy then why bother using ground troops at all? Why not just pound the position with air strikes or artillery? You could, perhaps, have used a small special forces squad to identify the targets and spot for the strikes, but you wouldn't need 200 of them.

Officials say that as the troops advanced they were engaged from several insurgent positions.

Hardly something to be surprised about, but the thing that worries me is the use of Marines - who are usually a fairly mobile and, therefore, lightly armoured group. They tend to lack things like heavy armour. Perhaps the Apaches were supposed to make up for the lack of heavy tanks, but, again, if you're going to assault a "fort" shouldn't you have a few Challenger 2 close by?

On retreat they discovered one Marine was missing and four men volunteered to go on a daring rescue mission.

"On retreat" suggests that this was in fact a defeat and that the objective - whatever it was - was not achieved. That's a bit worrying, but given that they were attacking a "fort" with a company of lightly armoured Marines, it shouldn't be a surprise either. Even more worrying is what is going on in the minds of our commanders? What were they thinking attacking an enemy stronghold with such an inadequate force?

Apache attack helicopters were used to mount the raid.

They have no room for passengers inside, so incredibly the Marines clung to the hand and footholds the crew use to climb in and out of the aircraft.

They then flew into the battle zone to locate Lance corporal Mathew Ford, the pilots also leaving the helicopters to give covering fire.

Where were the evac/lift helicopters? Presumably the Marines were deployed to the battlefield somehow. Did they go in on foot? APC? I believe they are usually deployed by helicopter - if this wasn't the case this time, why not? And even if they went in on foot or APC, why was there no evac chopper on hand to lift casualties to safety? Surely this would be normal procedure?

The Apache pilots left their helicopters to provide support - had there been an evac chopper they could have provided much better covering fire from their Apaches! The fact they left them tells us they landed. A landed Apache is a very easy target for an RPG which could do a lot of damage to a bloody expensive piece of kit.

I'm starting to have grave concerns about are Army. Not with the men and women who serve with distinction and bravery. Not even of the junior officers who are, I am sure, universally capable and determined individuals - but with the commanders who are failing to provide their men with the equipment and backing they need on operations or the leadership they deserve.

Lions led by donkeys again.

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