29 June 2012

Another Facepalm-in-Hindsight from 5/2 SBCT

We've chronicled the insanity coming out of 5/2 SBCT several times before.

Now there's a book coming out, and Slate's got some excerpts. This particular anecdote makes your blood boil, if you know anything about COIN ops.

On the second week of the operation, I met with Lt. Col. Patrick Gaydon, an artillery officer who had been put in charge of the Stryker brigade’s special troops battalion, which was responsible for governance, reconstruction, and development. After he spent an hour telling me about the universities at which his fellow officers had taken classes before deploying and the sophisticated computer network that allowed soldiers to send and receive vast quantities of data while in the field, I mentioned that I would be heading to Arghandab in two days to attend a shura, a meeting of local elders. Gaydon asked how I was getting there. I told him the general who was Tunnell’s boss had arranged a flight. Gaydon was delighted; it meant he’d have a chance to get there as well. Gaydon’s unit had been in Afghanistan for a month, but it had not yet received any vehicles suitable for travel beyond the Kandahar Airfield. Because his team’s mission was not to kill bad guys, it was at the end of the list for supplies.

I was astounded. Given his focus on government and reconstruction, Gaydon seemed like the officer who really needed to attend the shura. Over in the Marine areas, then-Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson had insisted that his battalion commanders hold districtwide shuras within 48 hours of their arrival in Nawa and other parts of the central Helmand River Valley. But Tunnell did not regard community meetings as a priority for his operation. The brigade’s State Department political adviser, Todd Greentree, had to meet with Tunnell three times to persuade him to authorize the shura. His ability to flout COIN, despite McChrystal’s unambiguous embrace of it, revealed the lack of control the supposedly disciplined U.S. military had over officers who were spread across a vast country and sometimes reported to non-American generals. Tunnell was fighting the war he wanted to fight, and nobody stood in his way.

Gaydon spent the day after our meeting drafting a speech he would deliver to the crowd of turbaned elders. “I want you to know that we are undertaking this military operation so that we can create an environment where we can work shoulder-to-shoulder with district leaders, elders, and the people of Arghandab over the long term,” he wrote. But the morning we were supposed to leave, we learned our flight had been canceled. A delegation of visiting members of Congress wanted to fly around the south, and our helicopter had been reassigned as an airborne tour bus. We settled for an early breakfast in the chow hall with Greentree, who fumed over an omelet and hash browns that the brigade was missing an opportunity to win over residents and steel them against Taliban intimidation. “This is really, really bad,” he said.

He couldn’t understand why a few vehicles could not have been diverted to transport them to the meeting. “Is this the most important thing we could have done in the operation today? Absolutely.”

Gaydon tried to put the best spin on it. The shura would go on, he said. He planned to have an officer in Arghandab read the speech he had written. At least Tunnell will be there, I said consolingly. He’s the one who matters. The Afghans always want to talk to the man in charge.
“Tunnell won’t be attending,” Greentree said. “He said he’ll be too busy directing the combat operations.”

The next day, I asked Greentree how it had gone. Fine, he said, for the first 30 minutes. Then two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters strafed a nearby building, and the attendees fled.

So there's been a recent intense discussion over on the MilGames mailing list for wargaming professionals about exactly these sorts of issues with subordinates. Basically - how do you accurately model subordinate behaviors. Not modeling what we all say our unit should do - because, I mean, really, how could my unit ever behave in such a fashion after the perfect training and mentorship I've given them. The thing is that these things do happen, and the fact that they can happen at the O-6 level tells you that there's absolutely the possibility / likelihood / certainty (take your pick) that they're happening at the O-3 level or the E-6 level, or any other level of command.

So how do you wargame this?

By: Brant


Jack Nastyface said...

Although I have no clue what an O and an E level is...I think games like Force-on-Force provide a good mechanic for "unexpected" actions via the "Fog of War" action card deck.

For example, in the Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) module, random events occur for things such as media crews, sudden supply chain problems; GPS screw-ups (for air assets or on-board teams); withdrawal orders (causes an on-board unit to leave to support an "off-board" action), or impromptu FRAGO changes, to name a few.

Some of these cards are played immediately, some can be saved and played later, and some can be played either in support or against a player. So for gaming a tactical situation...it would be wholly feasible to use fog-of-war cards to model a failed pick-up at extraction, or a blue-on-blue attack, arrival/departure of OpFor, etc

FWIW...many years ago I played AH's Enemy in Sight, which was basically the age-of-sail version of AH's Naval War. One of the cards that would show up was "admiralty orders - one of your ships must return to England". I used to HATE this card and thought it's presence in the game was ahistoric and problematic (on the edge of engagement a S-o-L suddenly hoists more sail and wears away?). However, after reading more age-of-sail history, I came to realize that this was just an abstraction for unplanned or unforeseen activities that effected battle...like the HMS Africa missing the signal at Trafalgar.

Yours in gaming,

Jack Nastyface

Brant said...

"O" = "Officer"
"E" = "Enlisted"


Jack Nastyface said...

Well I figured THAT much...just didn't know where the numeric designations fit in.

My comment still stands, though..