Friday, 1 May 2009
On the fingers of your hands
Following the attempted take-over of Lashkar Gah by the Taleban on 11 October 2008, 3 Commando Brigade, which had only taken over on 8 October, were effectively confronted with a baptism of fire, almost in the nature of a mini "Tet Offensive" experienced by US forces in Vietnam.
It cannot then be suggested that, even in the limited area of Lashkar Gah district, that the security situation settled down and was largely without incident. Setting aside the major operations undertaken by 3 Commando Brigade, such as Operation Sond Chara in December, which was mounted as a direct result of the October incursion into Lashkar Gah, the record shows steady, continuous background enemy activity in the district.
As before, the most complete record is the US Air Force daily airpower summary. Because the rules of engagement allow airpower to be called in only when there is observed enemy activity, this provides a useful metric, by which enemy action can be measured.
From that, we can see there was little respite. On 24 October, for instance, only days after the incursion had been defeated, a US Air Force F-16A Fighting Falcon was called in to drop a GBU-12 onto enemy positions in a building that was using RPGs against coalition forces near Lashkar Gah. That day, incidentally, 50 close air support missions were flown by US and coalition aircraft.
The next day, 25 October and the day after, the 26 October, saw typical low-level activity with coalition aircraft performing shows of force to deter enemy activities. No munitions were expended but the process demonstrates that there was enemy activity on those days, what might reasonably be described as "security incidents".
The 29 October saw a more serious incident, described as occurring in an area to the south of Lashkar Gah. ISAF soldiers killed a Taliban commander by the name of Mullah Ziauddin. He had been linked with other senior Taleban members and was said to have controlled forces responsible for attacks on ISAF and Afghan security forces. Another suspected Taliban commander, Mullah Mashar, was captured in the same area.
On 4 November, it was back to a show of force, this time comducted by a US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet, followed by a coalition aircraft on 7 November, both "in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah." The 9 November also saw a show of force, this time from a US Navy F/A-18A Hornet.
Six days later, on 15 November, there was something altogether more serious. US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs were called in to fire cannon rounds and a B-1B Lancer dropped a GBU-38 onto Taleban hiding in a compound trying to shoot down an aircraft. A coalition aircraft also performed a show of force to deter enemy activities near the compound where the anti-aircraft fire was seen. This alone, had it succeeded, could have had devastating effects.
It was nearly two weeks later, on 27 November before air activity was again recorded, this time a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet. It conducted a show of force to deter enemy fighters and provided armed aerial overwatch for a coalition convoy in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah. The next day, 28 November saw an A-10 and a coalition aircraft conducting shows of force to deter enemy activities near Lashkar Gah.
Much of the activity at this time fell into this category, indicative of background level enemy action. Thus on 30 November we saw US Navy F/A-18A Hornets and F/A-18Es conducting shows of force and provided armed aerial overwatch for a coalition convoy conducting IED search operations in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah.
The 1 December, however, had a US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet and a coalition aircraft firing cannon rounds onto the Taleban holding positions along a river, in order to clear the path for a coalition forces convoy travelling along that route. In addition, F/A-18Fs conducted a show of force to deter enemy fighters and provided armed aerial overwatch for a coalition convoy in the same area.
Then, on 5 December, a US Air Force MQ-1B Predator used Hellfire missiles against the Taleban who were firing RPGs at coalition forces from the western edge of a tree line in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah. In addition, coalition aircraft performed shows of force to deter further enemy activities in the same area.
On 6 December, a US Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-38s onto the Taleban who were firing RPGs at coalition forces from inside a compound in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah.
On 9 December F/A-18A Hornets conducted shows of force to deter a group of suspicious people gathering near a coalition checkpoint, on 10 December, a F/A-18C Hornet and a coalition aircraft conducted shows of force and, on 11 December a coalition aircraft conducted a show of force. Then, on 12 December, an A-10 and a coalition aircraft performed shows of force and provided armed aerial overwatch for a coalition forces convoy that was disabled near Lashkar Gah.
The 17 December saw a US Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped a GBU -38 onto Taleban who were firing RPGs at coalition forces from a nearby enemy compound in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah. A US Navy F/A-18C Hornet conducted a show of force and provided armed aerial overwatch for a coalition forces patrol that had taken fire in the same area.
A day later, on 18 December, US Navy F/A-18C Hornets performed shows of force to deter enemy activities and provide armed aerial overwatch for a coalition convoy in the area. On 29 December, coalition aircraft conducted shows of force and provided armed aerial overwatch for a coalition ground forces convoy receiving RPG and small arms fire in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah.
With that, there was something of a break and the New Year seems to have started relatively slowly. Not until 6 January were shows of force needed, but these required an A-10 and a US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet. The slow start continued, but with more aggression on 15 January when several US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets destroyed Taleban bunkers and firing positions using GBU-38s. The strikes were conducted after coalition ground forces began receiving fire from those locations in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah.
With the tempo hotting up, on 18 January a coalition aircraft routed a group of Taleban personnel gathered near Lashkar Gah with a show of force. The jet also scouted a roadway in advance of a coalition convoy movement to ensure it was clear of enemy personnel or improvised explosive devices.
The 27 January saw a US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle (pictured) performed a show of force, expending flares, in order to discourage enemy attack on coalition soldiers.
Two days later, on 29 January saw some serious action near Lashkar Gah when a US Air Force B-1B Lancer and coalition aircraft dropped GBU-38s and Paveway munitions to counter enemy fire on coalition units. The aircraft tracked the enemy shooters through several firing positions in civilian settlements, providing shows of force along the way to cover friendly ground forces' manoeuvres. The aircraft finally released weapons once the enemy was positively identified and in a position where the blasts would no longer endanger civilians.
The next day, 30 January, has US Navy F/A-18A and -C Hornets, plus F/A-18F Super Hornets out in force, initiating shows of force near Lashkar Gah to prevent enemy forces from interfering with coalition troop movements in those areas.
The 2 February had a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet executing a show of force over a settlement near Lashkar Gah. Enemy forces had been targeting coalition soldiers there with RPG and automatic fire, but dispersed following the manoeuvre.
The next day, 3 February again saw serious action in the Lashkar Gah area. A US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet and a coalition aircraft used several kinds of precision munitions and rockets to target enemy gunmen barricaded in buildings. The aircraft used strike tactics that avoided damage to nearby buildings and even caused only minimal damage to the occupied structures. The airstrikes supported coalition units fighting building to building against the Taleban.
On 4 February , it was a coalition aircraft that flew a show of force, this time over a group of armed individuals suspected to be Taleban. The aircraft also performed tactical reconnaissance along a heavily travelled highway, discovering signs of improvised explosive devices.
Three days the elapsed when, on 7 February a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet performed a show of force to deter enemy actions near Lashkar Gah. In total, 68 close air support missions were flown that day.
The following day, 8 February, had near Lashkar Gah, a coalition aircraft employing a GBU-12 and a strafing pass, striking enemy snipers concealed in a building. The snipers had been firing at coalition soldiers when the aircraft's weapons halted their attack. A total of 74 close air support missions were flown that day.
The 12 February had a coalition aircraft fly a show of force in the area of Lashkar Gah in order to discourage enemy forces from launching indirect fire attacks from a position they had used in the past.
The 13 February saw a US Air Force F-15E strafing a Taleban position concealed in a tree line near Lashkar Gah. Enemy gunmen had been firing at coalition soldiers with assault weapons and rocket propelled grenades.
Then, for the third day running, "air" was in action, on 14 February, when a US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle and a Navy Hornet teamed up near Lashkar Gah to engage and destroy anti-Afghan fighting positions that had opened fire on a coalition ground unit with a disabled vehicle. Using a combination of GBU -38s and strafing attacks, the aircraft destroyed or warded off the enemy force. The Hornet performed a show of force following the engagement to deter further enemy activity.
After a day's break, on 16 February, during a coalition convoy operation a US Navy F/A-18C flew overhead and conducted a show of force along the convoy's travel route. On 18 February, in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah, a Navy Super Hornet engaged an enemy firing position using a GBU-12. The air strike occurred in response to a call for air support after Taleban forces opened fire on a coalition patrol.
The 20 February had A-10s and a coalition aircraft flying shows of force over Lashkar Gah as deterrence against enemy action while coalition units performed their missions and, on 21 February, a US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet conducted a strafing pass against enemy forces dug in behind a line of trees along a road near Lashkar Gah.
The Super Hornet had been flying overwatch for a coalition convoy when enemy gunfire erupted from the roadside. While the jet's cannons quickly ended the direct threat to the convoy, the aircraft followed up with a show of force and expended flares to deter a possible enemy counterattack.
The 22 February had a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet providing overwatch near Lashkar Gah, then using a GBU-12 to target an enemy indirect fire position launching attacks on coalition units. The strike successfully ended the attacks.
On 25 February, near Lashkar Gah, a coalition aircraft then flew a show of force to allow a coalition convoy to withdraw from an engagement there. Enemy troops in concealed bunkers had ambushed the coalition convoy with an improvised explosive device and automatic weapons, but broke off fighting as soon as aircraft arrived. The coalition jet then performed tactical reconnaissance overhead as coalition attack helicopters targeted the enemy from close up.
The next day, on 26 February , a coalition aircraft used a precision guided munition to destroy a Taleban compound near Lashkar Gah. The jet released weapons after coalition troops began taking fire from enemy fighting positions within. This was followed the next day, 27 February, by a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper which engaged a group of enemy personnel with a Hellfire missile near Lashkar Gah. The UAV launched its strike in response to an enemy attack on coalition forces.
On 2 March, a US Navy F/A-18C Hornet and F/A-18F Super Hornet flew overwatch in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah. They performed shows of force and expended flares when the convoy they were protecting received small arms and RPG fire. The attack stopped abruptly upon the appearance of the jets. The convoy reached its destination without further incident.
Two days later, on 4 March, US Navy F/A-18C Hornets and Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles provided air support to a coalition raid on an enemy narcotics production compound near Lashkar Gah. When personnel inside the narcotics compound started shooting with machine guns and RPGs, the Hornets executed shows of force to suppress their fire as coalition soldiers pulled back. Once ground forces had reached a safe distance from the facility, the Strike Eagles destroyed the narcotics compound with a series of GBU-38 strikes.
A day after that, on 5 March, near Lashkar Gah, a coalition aircraft performed a show of force and expended flares to deter enemy activity over a local settlement. The aircraft was providing aerial overwatch for a coalition unit in the area.
On 6 March, aircraft flew shows of force to suppress enemy activity and on 7 March multiple US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets provided their firepower to a battle near Lashkar Gah. Using 20mm auto-cannon strafes and a GBU-38, the aircraft knocked out several hostile fighting positions and an enemy facility.
The following day, on 8 March, US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles flying aerial overwatch near Lashkar Gah strafed a group of enemy personnel who had set up an improvised explosive device along a roadway. The individuals were hiding in a tree line, apparently waiting for an approaching coalition convoy, but were detected before they could carry out an attack.
The 9 March had US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets dropping GBU-12s on an enemy firing position and an enemy compound near Lashkar Gah. Both strikes took place in response to enemy forces firing at coalition personnel with small arms.
On 13 March, a coalition aircraft responded to a dawn attack against a friendly patrol base near Lashkar Gah, releasing a GBU -12 on one of several Taleban positions firing into the base. The air strike combined with howitzer fire from coalition field artillery served to stop the enemy gunfire and relieve the base.
Then, on 14 March, the RAF was in action with a GR-9 Harrier performing route clearance, searching for IEDs over supply routes and highways in Helmand province. The aircraft also performed a show of force in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah to deter enemy action.
The 15 March saw F-15Es and a coalition aircraft performing shows of force to deter attacks near Lashkar Gah, after coalition ground forces detected signs of enemy presence. In total that day, 74 close air support missions were flown.
On 16 March, a flight of Strike Eagles flew shows of force near Lashkar Gah, deterring enemy forces as a convoy traversed the area. The jets also performed a route scan ahead of the convoy and provided armed overwatch.
The next day, 17 March, US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets flew a show of force, expending flares, and then engaged using a GBU-12 near Lashkar Gah in response to enemy automatic weapons and mortar fire against a coalition convoy. The action targeted Taleban around an enemy supply compound. Coalition ground observers helped the strike land on target, passing coordinates for a direct hit using the precision munition.
On 20 March, a US Air Force MQ-1B Predator fired a Hellfire missile on an enemy compound near Lashkar Gah. Coalition ground forces were receiving enemy fire from within the compound.
And on 22 March a US Air Force B-1B Lancer used GBU-31 and -38 munitions to completely level a Taleban compound where enemy forces were holed up and firing away with machine guns and RPGs. The strike relieved a coalition ground unit a few hundred yards away, allowing them to continue on their mission.
Coalition ground controllers called in Navy F/A-18C Hornets and F/A-18E Super Hornets to hit a building where an enemy mortar team was hiding and firing rounds. The aircraft strafed and then dropped a GBU-38 and a GBU-12 on the building, destroying the mortar position.
F-15Es bombed and strafed an enemy force confronting coalition troops near Lashkar Gah. The aircraft targeted several groups of enemy fighters, including rifle, heavy machine gun, and RPG teams. The jets tracked and hit enemy personnel again as they unsuccessfully tried to escape into the mountains.
Two days later, on 24 March, a Super Hornet executed a show of force and expended flares near Lashkar Gah to prevent a pending Taleban attack after enemy gunmen had been spotted outside a coalition forward base. The aircraft's appearance provided a deterrent and prevented hostilities from developing further.
That day, in the district, an operation started. Afghan and coalition forces arrived at a compound militants had occupied for the night. The force immediately was engaged by Taleban from inside the compound. Several Taleban fled, while the force continued to receive small-arms fire from inside a building. The force cleared the building, killing three enemy.
One Taleban was barricaded in one of the buildings, using women and children as shields. The force used precision small-arms fire to kill the militant with no harm to the women or children.
The force pursued the Taleban who had fled the compound on foot. One was killed when he manoeuvred on the force. Four others engaged the force with a PKM machine gun and were killed. Two others armed with AK-47 assault rifles were killed after posing a serious threat to a nearby compound. One suspect was captured unharmed and detained.
It took four days before 28 March "air" was used again, this time with aircraft performing shows of force. The next day, 29 March had another RAF GR-9 Harrier in action, flying shows of force and expending flares to support a coalition ground patrol which was receiving RPG and small arms fire. The aircraft's manoeuvres kept the enemy pinned down while friendly forces overran the enemy position.
On 29 March, a local man on a bicycle was shot by ISAF forces after he failed to respond to warning signals while approaching a convoy. He was not in possession of any explosives.
The 2 April saw an Air Force F-15E executing a show of force expending flares in order to help a coalition unit break away from enemy gunfire. When the enemy's shooting continued after the fly-over, the F-15E strafed the hostile forces with its guns. An F/A-18E also flew a show of force, suppressing enemy fire from another enemy position.
On 3 April, a coalition aircraft and an A-10 executed shows of force near Lashkar Gah and Nangalam to prevent enemy activity in those locations. The aircraft supported coalition ground forces carrying out security and reconstruction efforts.
The 6 April had coalition and Air Force aircraft performing shows of force in Lashkar Gah to deter enemy actions. That day, 76 close air support missions were flown. The next day, 78 missions were flown, with 7 April a Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet flying a show of force over a group who appeared to be setting up an improvised explosive device. The manoeuvre prevented the individuals from succeeding while avoiding risk to nearby civilians.
The 8 April had a suicide bomber killing at least five people in an attack on an anti-drugs patrol. Police and civilians, at least one of them a child, were among those killed in the attack in Lashkar Gah. Nearly 20 others were hurt. The patrol was travelling north of Lashkar Gah in a convoy of six vehicles when it was attacked by a suicide bomber on foot. The attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body as he approached the convoy. One vehicle was completely destroyed, and four others were damaged.
On 9 April, in the mountains near Lashkar Gah, a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet strafed enemy personnel shooting from a tree line. The enemy gunmen had opened fire on a coalition mounted patrol, prompting the aircraft to intervene. A second Super Hornet performed a show of force and expended flares to deter enemy reinforcements from moving into the fight.
On 10 April, the last day of 3 Commando Brigade deployment, a UK Royal Air Force GR-9 Harrier flew a show of force during an Explosive Ordinance Disposal operation near Lashkar Gah. The flyover deterred Taleban activity so that bomb squad technicians could remove an explosive threat without enemy interference. Nearby, a ground patrol called in a Coalition aircraft to fly several shows of force while the patrol was under attack.
Also, on that day, 15 insurgents were killed after opening fire on a U.S.-Afghan patrol. The coalition troops had returned fire, killing all 15 attackers with small-arms, heavy weapons and aviation weapon support.
Thus, by the conclusion of the 3 Commando Brigade deployment, in just one of the major population centres, of five – where there were supposed to have been no more "security incidents" than on the fingers of your hands - there were at least 69 which fitted that description, ranging from suspicious groups gathering, to attempted bomb laying, a major suicide bombing and full-blow gunfights, with aircraft strafing and bombing – plus an attempted take-over of the town by the Taleban.
During the Brigade's deployment, 32 men were killed. The Commanding Officer, Brigadier Messenger, said that is "something that will stay with me for the rest of my life."