Sunday, January 17, 2010


I have an odd sort of love-hate for Michael Yon.

He is one of the few journalists really willing to spend a LOT of time in some of the filthiest ass-end parts of the world finding out what's happening there. He also knows soldiers and soldiering in a sort of latter-day Ernie Pyle way, and I like that.

On the downside, he's a sort of dirty-boot Bob Kaplan, Tom Clancy with a notepad, a guy who's never met gee-whiz cool Aaaaaarmy training he didn't love. He's sort of a man-size eleven-year-old that way, and he commonly mistakes technical and tactical proficiency for strategic and geopolitical competence, and he always assumes that the GI's are the epitome of studly cool and the fuzzy-wuzzies are dirty rats.I love the fact that he has some great pictures and a nice little article about the gunners at FOB Frontenac (although, Mike? That'd be "Cobra Battery, 1st Battalion, 17th Artillery - the 17th Infantry are those guys walking around with the teeny little bullet launchers, remember?).

But as I'm enjoying the pretty night fire pictures I come across this:
"Sometimes the crews fire “H & I” or “terrain denial” missions. Harassment and Interdiction missions are fired at terrain known to be used only by the enemy at certain times, and so anytime the enemy feels like rolling the dice, they can move into that terrain. Such missions also provide influence for “shaping” the battlefield. If the commander is trying to flush the enemy into a blunder—maybe an ambush—or maybe to cut them off from an escape route, he can have the guns pound into a gorge, say, that is used as an enemy route. Or maybe he just tries to persuade the enemy to take a route where we have sniper teams waiting. The battery can be used in many ways that do not include direct attacks on enemy formations."
Yes, indeed.

When I was just a mere slip of a redleg, my FDC Chief taught me that H&I fires in a LIC were the worst way of substituting motion for direction, a bad excuse for shooting unobserved rounds at a grid coordinate, a waste of rounds and a good way of pissing off the locals at you.We did this shit a lot in Vietnam, where my Chief got sick of it. Typically you had no eyes on the "target", which could be a trail junction, the edge of a treeline, a river ford, anywhere. And since you were also typically in the middle of a farming district, these were also typically used by local Romeos slipping out to see their hootchie Juliets, woodcutters, farmers, enemy runners, monkeys, roebucks...just about damn near anything. But the point was that - despite what Yon thinks - you never really knew. It was a statistic, a way that the artillery battalion or brigade could say "We fired XYZ missions on Targets Able, Fox and Whiskey"

I have no idea if H&I fire is any better in A-stan than it was in Vietnam. But the fact that we're doing it at all...?



Serving Patriot said...


Thanks for this post. It is shameful that we are using H&I given our stated "protecting the population" strategy. At least with the (now mostly banned) airstrikes (and ongoing drone attacks), there ARE some eyes on target). Of course, there's no IFF and those IR images could easily be the local Romeos and Juliets. Nevertheless, some eyes on target unlike H&I.

Personally, I think the underlying assumption of H&I -- they never know when hell will rain down and thus avoid certain terrain -- simply does not hold water. At best, it's thinking about conventional military movement across channeling terrain that provide firing opportunities; good against the hordes of mech inf, not so good against homegrown partisans. It also gives the perception of weakness/cowardice (that big, well equipped army won't fight us man to man? they use the big bombs instead?) And, as you note, it ticks off the locals.

I've said before, I'll say again. How do you know you're doing real COIN? When the life of any of your troopers matters less than the life of any civilian in the fighting zone. Yes. Even those "males of fighting age" must rank above your soldiers in the protection calculus. Simply put, this is a key difference between Liberation and Occupation. And isn't COIN itself something of a "liberation" operation???

Anyways, thanks for the post.


Patrick said...

Is there any information available online about the H&I program in Afghanistan? I am interested in learning more, as I thought we gave up H&I after Vietnam.