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Base Keating: Khe Sanh in another language


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The Wanat thread was getting long. I see this issue, though, as very important to the conceptual development of CMSF, so I will continue it here.

As many will know, another base in Afghanistan was hit. In the US evening news, it looks very much like Wanat--about 100m of flat area, near a river, with the mountains rising almost directly up.

A...13 hour battle I believe. At a base that was about to be evacuated (hard to believe Red did not know that--I think Blue tends to tell the locals about big moves like that). Significant (psychologically...it is not as though Atlanta was wiped out) Blue deaths.

A video a few weeks before the attack, shown on the news, shows the US troops, kids, in their concrete bunkers, writing grafitti on the 2 x 4s of their bunk beds, watching videos, thinking of home. They look, to me, green.

Looks like a small version of Khe Sanh--makes me wonder who has been reading their history books more recently. A base, in a valley, in hostile territory, where the enemy can stay close to neutralize air support.

Looking at this from a mostly military history/simulations aspect (ok...I want the West to win...that is "bias"), is Red 2:0 in this type of psychological battle? Can someone with more direct knowledge tell me that this type of attack was tried 20 or 200 times by Red, and they were otherwise slaughtered?

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Looking at this from a mostly military history/simulations aspect (ok...I want the West to win...that is "bias"), is Red 2:0 in this type of psychological battle? Can someone with more direct knowledge tell me that this type of attack was tried 20 or 200 times by Red, and they were otherwise slaughtered?

It's hard to tell from the news because the amount of coverage an engagement gets is directly related to how many NATO casualties there are. I was just reading a story on Afghanistan and at the bottom, almost as an aside, it mentioned NATO troops had been attacked while searching a compound but had repelled the attackers with no friendly loses. Afghan forces killed another 8 Taliban seperately.

You can bet that if there had been half a dozen US soldiers killed it would have been a front page item with in-depth analysis and calls for investigations into "what went wrong".

My impression is that the insurgents fail in these attacks far more often than they succeed. Most of the time they get blasted back with heavy loses without doing much of anything to the NATO troops, but it's the rare times they do take several NATO troops down that gets 90% of the attention.

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During 3 Para's 2006 tour in Helmland Province, their bases were repeatedly (in some cases, almost daily) attacked by insurgents. The Paras never gave ground, seldom took even remotely heavy casualties (with 1 or 2 exceptions), and did not feel psychologically beaten in any way. They did feel psychologically irritated at not being able to counterattack, and in some cases felt isolated, but there was no psychological victory for the Taliban.

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The OPs pretty much have to be located in an area of strategic interest which is accessible (supply, liaison with locals, patrolling roads, etc.). Since the valleys are the only place that fits that description in the border areas, of course the OPs have to be positioned in a vulnerable spot. That I understand. What I don't understand is how such large numbers of Taliban can get up into the harsh mountain sides without being noticed.

The video of the US Airborne platoon at Wanat shows them with an LRAS3 system. They could spot a gnat buzzing around at 10km. OK, it's not quite that awesome, but it certainly should be able to spot men moving along exposed rock positions if someone is looking. Unlike drones this thing can be pretty much used 24/7 without much hassle. So now I'm wondering if the surveillance assets that were removed a few days before the attack included the LRAS3 that was seen in the videos from a few weeks before?

Obviously relying upon sensors is a tricky thing to do. But with so few troops available, it isn't like they could stick guys up on the major ridges in multiple locations 24/7 to look and listen for Taliban tromping around. So if you don't have the boots you'd better at least have sensors.

It would appear that higher ups figured they just have to roll the dice and go with an imperfect solution rather than just hand these areas over to the Taliban without a fight. As Vanir, others, and myself have pointed out... usually when the Taliban attacks they do NOT take over a defended area. Even in the Wanat case the Taliban were driven back without (presumably) getting their objectives fully achieved. The most recent example it looks like the Taliban didn't even wait around for the counter attack and simply departed deliberately before it could be mounted.

Taken as a whole, given overstretched positions, it would appear that by and large it works pretty much as intended. If the Taliban were better organized, tactically, I think they could inflict these sorts of casualties on outposts on a more regular basis.

Steve

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It seems, if the taliban knew of a planned evacuation from that outpost, that a good strategy would be to hit with as hard and spectacular attack as they could. That way, it appears that you are forcing the American superpower out. The taliban are just taking advantage of their supposed resurgence. Even if they don't outright overrun the base and kill and capture everyone, they have received a boost in morale and won a seemingly impressive photo op.

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I agree that more often than not the insurgents attack bases and "fail", i.e., get repulsed with some to many insurgent casualties, and few or no blue casualties.

The questions I keep coming back to are degree and intent. Sometimes when the insurgents do nothing but shoot up a post and get tons of HE called in on them, the point is just to demonstrate the insurgency is there, make the blues disrupt the peace with major HE, and maybe even to get rid of some expendable insurgents - these guys can be pretty ruthless.

It seems however that there is in fact a trend where the insurgents are trying bigger operations and scoring more blue kills, especially as compared with one or two years ago. Just the other day, yesterday or the day before, they hit a post, killed I think 8 x ANA, and took off. That also didn't make the bigtime news.

As to the LRAS3, the paratroopers at Wanat had it or something very similar to it, there was some kind of super-duper sensor system dismounted and operating at OP Topside. I'm speculating it was an LRAS3, but in any case they had something that could see dismounted dudes at 5 km., walking a mountain path in the dark. But without fire free rules, how do you tell whether it's insurgents or villagers transiting from "a" to "b"? Sure, maybe 90 per cent of the time it's insurgents, who walks in Afghanistan mountains in the dark? But it's calling in indirect on that 10 per cent that loses you the war, and the insurgents clearly know that too. At Wanat, the sensor thingie at OP Topside, whatever it was, got taken out in the initial RPG volleys.

I assume the insurgents when they want to get overwatch over a US base use cover wherever possible - and they probably know down to a flea's eyelash what paths go into what LOS - where they can't use cover they simulate villagers. I also assume the insurgents would be smart enough to parade groups of old men or women or whatever at other locations, so the US sensors can pay attention to that and not the dudes setting up the dushka at the other end of the compass.

The basic problem is that sure these sensors allow the blues to spot people moving around in the hills, but due to limited personnel and the steepness of the hills (hard to catch up to some guys in man jammies if you're wearing armor and humping ammo) the blues can't go up into the hills to check out every spot they get physically.

The morale implications are interesting. If we worst case and assume the insurgents have a good understanding of how US sensor systems work, and personally I take that as a given, then every time they manipulate the US sensors, or show themselves to the US sensors knowing the US rules of engagement protect them, that's a psychological victory for the insurgents. Nothing raises morale like thumbing your nose with impunity at a better-equipped opponent. A little thing perhaps, but another bullet point in the answer to the question: Why won't these insurgents just give up, don't they know they can't win?

As for the US side, there are probably no short-term morale implications, but longer term it gets interesting. At Wanat the paratroopers got what appeared to be dozens of spots in the night prior to the attack, it was quite clear there was a strangely large number of groups of individuals moving about the hills that night. The info got passed to higher, but what was higher supposed to do, order weapons free?

So after the fight you get, at minimum, paratroopers extremely frustrated with the rules of engagement, as as far as they are concerned had they lit up those spots in the hills the night previous, their buddies still would be alive. Which under stress could turn into one or more of those paratrooopers saying "the heck with the rules of engagement" the next time around, and that of course is not a recipe to win hearts and minds.

All of this is not to argue the blues are doomed or the insurgents are all-powerful. Rather, it is to argue the blues are working with some serious and perhaps even game-breaking restraints, and most of them are imposed by the type of war they are fighting, rather than the people the grunts normally blame, i.e., higher or the politicians.

All of which leads me to wishing - again - CMSF had civilians in it and a way to dock the blues victory points for killing them by accident. That would be a heck of a simulation.

(Yes Steve, I remember how hard something like that might be to program. But I can dream, can't I?)

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The OPs pretty much have to be located in an area of strategic interest which is accessible (supply, liaison with locals, patrolling roads, etc.). Since the valleys are the only place that fits that description in the border areas, of course the OPs have to be positioned in a vulnerable spot. That I understand. What I don't understand is how such large numbers of Taliban can get up into the harsh mountain sides without being noticed.

The video of the US Airborne platoon at Wanat shows them with an LRAS3 system. They could spot a gnat buzzing around at 10km. OK, it's not quite that awesome, but it certainly should be able to spot men moving along exposed rock positions if someone is looking. Unlike drones this thing can be pretty much used 24/7 without much hassle. So now I'm wondering if the surveillance assets that were removed a few days before the attack included the LRAS3 that was seen in the videos from a few weeks before?

Obviously relying upon sensors is a tricky thing to do. But with so few troops available, it isn't like they could stick guys up on the major ridges in multiple locations 24/7 to look and listen for Taliban tromping around. So if you don't have the boots you'd better at least have sensors.

It would appear that higher ups figured they just have to roll the dice and go with an imperfect solution rather than just hand these areas over to the Taliban without a fight. As Vanir, others, and myself have pointed out... usually when the Taliban attacks they do NOT take over a defended area. Even in the Wanat case the Taliban were driven back without (presumably) getting their objectives fully achieved. The most recent example it looks like the Taliban didn't even wait around for the counter attack and simply departed deliberately before it could be mounted.

Taken as a whole, given overstretched positions, it would appear that by and large it works pretty much as intended. If the Taliban were better organized, tactically, I think they could inflict these sorts of casualties on outposts on a more regular basis.

Steve

I quote this in full, because I also find the whole situation perplexing.

Generally, my understanding is that one puts a military road on the top of the mountain. [At the risk of dating myself, there is an Asimov short story....perhaps in Methuselah's Children, whose plot depends on this]

Ok...ok...it can be tough to build a mountain-top road in some places.

But...if you are an air power? If you can launch planes from Iowa to strike 1/2 way across the world? Would not one leverage that to put oneself on a crest? Maybe one cannot rely on the full complement of burgers and ice cream......is it because we are relying on private contractors so much? (CMSF with private contractors?--likely not on the design board?)

Then...even if you were in a valley...wouldn't you mine and booby-trap the heck out of any location one could fire an RPG on you from?

I have incredible respect for the training of the US, a non-conscript, military.

But if it is anything that Crecy, and Againcort taught us (and...oh...help me...what was the battle SE of Vienna where the European Knights lost to the Ottomans?) it is that powerful warriors in armor are not always the winning answer. And the psychology of battle goes back to before the kingdom of Wu.

Perplexing......many of the issues are beyond CMSF.....but I am still interested in thinking of scenarios where Blue could plausibly be accurately be portrayed as Green (Conscript?..a stretch...but think of tactical situations, plausible, where it would be an accurate representation)

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Ok...ok...it can be tough to build a mountain-top road in some places.

But...if you are an air power? If you can launch planes from Iowa to strike 1/2 way across the world? Would not one leverage that to put oneself on a crest? Maybe one cannot rely on the full complement of burgers and ice cream......is it because we are relying on private contractors so much? (CMSF with private contractors?--likely not on the design board?)

Then...even if you were in a valley...wouldn't you mine and booby-trap the heck out of any location one could fire an RPG on you from?

No, because the guys stepping on your mines would mostly be the locals whos hearts and minds you're trying to win over. Might be counter-productive.

It all goes back to the current COIN manta that the key to winning is protection of the population and economic development, even if that means sacrificing force protection. I'll quote from the Wanat AAR:

...Additionally, from an insurgent’s perspective, once a military installation is firmly established, it inevitably brings jobs, employment and business to a community. Local workers are hired to help operate mess halls and clean latrines, local national trucks roll in and out and require fuel and servicing, their drivers require meals and lodging, construction workers are hired, inevitably local materials of various types such as concrete and wood are required. Once established, a coalition military presence brings in economic stimulus and improvements such as schools, jobs, construction, and businesses to the area that spread coalition presence and authority, and begin to convert the adjacent community from neutrality or hostility to support of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan central government. Attacking an established military installation inevitably engenders hostility from the adjacent community that has developed business ties with the coalition and is certain to be hurt economically by such an attack.

We targeted WANAT for over a year as a place where we could effectively progress along the Lines of Operation (LOOs) of Security, Governance, Economic Development and IO. Wanat would position a base that was in close proximity to a new district center, a new police station, a market, and a population center – and was accessible by air and ground LOC. We had $1.4 million in projects planned or ongoing in WANAT’s area.

The reason we moved to Wanat was so we would be co-located with the district government so we could mentor them so they could police themselves up. We wanted to help them develop their government so they could do something other than just guard the district center and not really affect anything outside of their one-kilometer bubble.

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Generally, my understanding is that one puts a military road on the top of the mountain. [At the risk of dating myself, there is an Asimov short story....perhaps in Methuselah's Children, whose plot depends on this]

Then when you have winter comes along with snow and sub zero temperatures you will not have vehcile access and poor weather would limit your ability to supply your base. I've a buddy who served out there in one of the provences commanding a district and saw a load of his err patrol photos (Red: bagging unclimbed peaks!). When they snow is down you basically have alpine mountains - like building a base on top of Longs Peak in Colorado or Mt Foraker in Alaska. Some of these mountains out there are pretty high. Hence I suspcet why many of the base are down in the avlley to make re-supply etc easier during the winter months.

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Not that I've watched dozens of videos and studied hundreds of photographs on the subject, but I have yet to see (in Afghanistan) a Coalition position larger than an OP that was not at the bottom of a valley.

I believe the Russians did just the opposite, but then they weren't exactly trying to make friendly with the locals.

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Funny that you started a thread about Khe Sanh - I just finished a book by John Prados and Ray Stubbe called "Valley of Decision - The Siege of Khe Sanh" Great read, recommend to anyone with interest in Vietnam conflict. It was interesting for me for another reason, as a Russian soldier serving in the US Army without much knowledge in American involvement in Vietnam.

Currently reading "In the Company of Heroes" by Michael J. Durant, the pilot of the shot down Blackhawk in Somalia, who was captured by Somalis

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My dad (Eric Hammel) actually wrote a book called "Khe Sanh: Siege In The Clouds" about the battle. I have always found this an interesting topic because it was one of the very few set piece battles of more than decade long involvement in Vietnam.

Small aside, but I remember being totally thrilled reading your father's "Aces Against Japan" when I was a kid. Send my thanks to your dad for that and other great books I've read since.

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You can't consolidate a base on higher peaks which is bigger than an OP. Why ?. Simply because that makes no sense. You must be able to limitate and or control the movement of the people leaving in or around the place you are securing. They move mostly in the valleys where the roads are being built.

Since you must also be able to move quickly, you must use the roads and be able to secure them That is why from place to place a "Khe Sanh" consolidate defense post is being built. From there you radiate around through the roads and from them you go up the mountains path.

The OP on higher peaks are very good for observation, but difficult to defend, since the weather is not always the best., Air assets can't be called quite a few times. Chopters are at great risk while resupplying these OP. What is preferred nowadays is to have light SF forces of 3 to 5 guys at the most being inserted at a convenient place, from which they radiate and try to find the Talibans in order to call an air strike on them. They should avoid any engagement. That unfortunatelly is not always feasible and they are to be extracted if possible or make a run for a safer place specially if they can't get Air asset to permit their break away.

Coming back to the OP, it is unfortunate to see, that there is a tendency to rely on listening and radar assets while avoiding to have a team on higher grounds. Not many are happy at the idea of getting entrenched and not being able to see a thing in the morning mist. With the perpetual thought of being cutoff from the closest friendly troops and overrun, that doesn't make them very good at their observation job. It is too bad for us, that where, we move with difficulties, the Talibans are moving easily, despite the weather. Some even move barefooted in the snow at a good space !

All these things might explain partly the difficulties. We rely too much on technologies, which can't give every time, the best result in some of the adverse condition being found over there.

The grunt asset (The infantry) has been described since the beginning of wars as the "Queen of the battle". You just can't do without him.

Cheers

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Thank you for the comments.

As someone originally from some place (West Virginia--US) where a relatively small "mountain", compared to Colorado, could separate valleys (including biar bushes), I am still mystified.

Level the hill (as what the do with certain coal mining techniques). Build a ramp. Can't believe the US can't do this. Put a helicopter base on top.

But this is a CMSF thead: my point, in this thread, could one build a scenario where all the Blue forces were.......IN EFFECT.........................green

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.. I am still mystified.

Level the hill (as what the do with certain coal mining techniques). Build a ramp. Can't believe the US can't do this. ...

ahh ... you don't just level these hills for the sake of it. You're talking about the 'foothills' of the Himalayas.

chopper_lz-extraction_afghanistan.jpg

zgy9.jpg

Take a look, also, at the image on page 3 of the PDF here

These mountains typically run to altitudes of 4-5000m (that's in excess of 15,000feet). And the mountain chains run for hundred of miles N-S, and are 10s to 100s of miles deep E-W.

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Thank you for the comments.

Level the hill (as what the do with certain coal mining techniques). Build a ramp. Can't believe the US can't do this. Put a helicopter base on top. ]END/QUOTE.

Yeah, it can be done disregarding the huge cost it will attain. Then a good registration of the helicopter pad a a few 80 mm and or 120 mm mortars rounds and all has to be done again.

Usually, when it is absolutely necessary to have someone on the top, they are brought by a chopter, they dig deep (with overhead covering), put concertina wires all around, set claymores, illumination trip wires and sometimes they are setting listening and or radar devices. The landing pad, since the OP is set on the top,(where the place to move is sparse) might be roughly a 4 meters square area. The chopter has to maintain level, with the cargo door over it and it can't land. A tricky thing for the pilots, when done in not so good weather condition. Very often they can't make the try. Think that while they are attempting that, the risk to be shot at while coming, hovering and then leaving is great, no matter if you have gun chopters covering during the all time.

If you are attacked, the slopes are better be so steep that they will slow the enemy sufficiently to have mortars being brought on them from a near fire base. If that is not the case, you can only rely on yourself and on Air assets. Since the Talibans are learning from day to day on the best way to do an attack, they will rather choose a bad weather, which doesn't affect them too much (they are born with it !) knowing that the Air Asset will be difficult and near impossible as soon that they will be in contact. It is a crude enemy, but like all simple guys leaving in the fields and not caring about all the stuff that makes us live better, they are rather clever and ingenious.

Cheers

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I will admit, my last post, about leveling the mountains, was not my best [note to self: post on the forum, and then have one's evening libation, not the other way around.]

Not a CM level issue: putting a small fixed force in hostile territory can be a problem. You might have a ... say General Washington crossing some river and "ambushing" you.

[The US evening news discribed this, and the other attack I discussed on this board, an "ambush". I am not inclined to describe it as such--it seemed to be a well planned attack on a (self-imposed) fixed position. And it was not even Chistmas (or Yom Kippur) to make it a tactical surprise.]

CM issue: You are told there are larger strategic issues here. You are given command of a camp at the base of a valley to defend. To defend it....don't you need to actually defend the area around it? Wouldn't you have 2-3 patrols in those mountains 24/7. Don't you mine/boobytrap/claymore essentially every possible access/firepoint (given how terrible the terrain is, and not near any town, what innocent local is going to be there--or just post a warning in the local language to stay away, except by monitored road access.)

I want to grant that the Blue troops are smart and trained. So, the 50-100 soldiers put there were insufficient to run sufficient patrols? Not enough mines/claymores/fire-power delivered to the base? Assuming the soldiers were competent, is their something about CMSF which would make it difficult to model these results? (perhaps the small-fire algorithm...where...in reality...if one is in a protected position, the firepower number could be immense, and yet no casualties occur. Perhaps...again, I know this has been well thought over.....Veteran experience overmodels the power of soldiers who are put in situations not consistent with their training.)

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Just one point to add here and its a small one. To my knowledge Mines arent allowed to be deployed by Blue in Afghanistan and even thought the US didnt sign up to the anti mine accord Im not sure if they use them outside of Korea. Although I did read once somewhere about a planned use of timer mines at an airbase, but that may just be my imagination.

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