“That spirit [domination on the battlefield]-- that warrior ethos -- will always be critical to our nation’s security.” This quote closes a selection from Bing West’s With The Warriors at Patrol Base Fires, Sangin District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The article builds understanding of the situation in Afghanistan and well illustrates the small unit tactics used by our warriors.
By Bing West
The view from this platoon outpost in southern Afghanistan is unobstructed, both visually and strategically. On all sides stretch flat, bare, winter farmlands dotted with walled compounds. The strategy is aggressive patrolling to kill and drive out the Taliban, who have acted as the rural government here for 15 years.
Beginning in 2006, British forces held on to a few square kilometers that constituted the district center. Their strategy was to fight defensively while trying to win over the population. According to British brigadier general Edward Butler, “the central theme of the counterinsurgency, winning the hearts and minds, was still core to our plans.” In accord with that plan, the British Provincial Reconstruction Team poured millions of pounds into development projects. As a result, the economy flourished. But the Pashtun farmers remained at best stolidly neutral and at worst sullenly hostile. Outside the district center, the Taliban remained entrenched in the farmlands, called the Green Zone. The farmers supported them, or at least obeyed their rules.
In the fall of 2010, the British forces left, having suffered 106 killed in four years. U.S. Marines took over and changed the strategy from trying to win the cooperation of the farmers into a straight-up assault to drive the Taliban from the 40-kilometer-long valley. The British lost an average of 26 men per year on the defensive; the Marines lost 26 men in 100 days on the offensive, while driving the Taliban north.
The patrol base, named Fires because of the intensity of the daily fighting, was at the northern edge of the Marine advance. When I arrived in mid-January, Lt. Vic Garcia, the seasoned platoon commander, handed me two tourniquets.