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COIN in Afghanistan: The Tyranny of Fires

If you haven't already stumbled across Travels With Shiloh's write up of the Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center COIN conference held earlier this month at Ft. Leavenworth, I heartily recommend it. Here is part one.

Monday's entry featured notes from a presentation by British Army Lt. Col. Rupert Jones, son of another famous LTC Jones, he who commanded 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment during the Falklands campaign. There, LTC Jones lost his life and won the Victoria Cross by charging an Argentine machine gun nest when his battalion's attack had stalled in the face of enemy fire at Goose Green.

Jones the son had some interesting, and certain to be controversial, comments on the "tyranny of fires."

"We have become seduced by the easy availability of air and artillery support. Commanders are giving up maneuver in favor of fire support. Successive ISAF commanders have worked to reduce civilian casualties but we’ve made very little progress and the issue is a strategic threat. We need to break our dependence on fires.

Our reliance on fires creates a toxic psychological dynamic. Among insurgents, the domestic population AND our forces it is assumed that we can’t win without fires and technology.

Assets cost big money to move and maintain in theater. Every asset owner wants to prove their usefulness and contribute to the mission. We’ve got a ‘I’ve got it, I’ll use it’ mentality.

Junior leaders need to accept short term tactical risk and apply the skills they’ve learned when in contact with the enemy."

Riffing on Jones' comments, Travels With Shiloh added the following:

"This was seconded by other officers that commanded combat troops in theater. Leaders up the chain need to know when to tell their junior leaders ‘No, I’m not sending you a couple of F-16s to drop some bombs. Maneuver and destroy the enemy. You’ve got more than enough firepower and capabilities in your formation.’ Junior leaders need to be freed from the idea that they can hunker down and just wait for close air support. They need to actively go at the enemy.

I don’t want to give the impression that junior leaders were portrayed as not being aggressive. Every officer expressed a great deal of pride and confidence in their troops (genuine gushing would be an appropriate phrase). It was more like they were saying that senior leaders needed to do a better (? – maybe not the right phrasing-) job of mentoring junior leaders for reacting to combat and breaking down the psychological dynamic mentioned above. Still, one could imagine the headlines from an operation where a soldier died and a senior commander did not approve supportive fires. Ugh…"

-- Greg Grant

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