Re: MILITARY: logistics (was Re: An Essay from an Afghan-American)

From: James Rogers (
Date: Mon Sep 17 2001 - 01:05:56 MDT

On 9/16/01 6:41 PM, "Adrian `Guru Zeb` Harper" <>
> Hmmm am not to sure about this you could probably lose ( misplace ) a
> decent sized Army in the Afghan mountains. Your troops would need to cover a
> lot of ground simultaneously to deny the Bin Ladden/Taliban the use of shelter
> such as caves and small settlements.

The mountainous region is about the size of California. This is a large
area, but not prohibitively large for a couple reasons. First of all, there
is almost no vegetation, so movement of people and equipment is easily
followed by our surveillance capabilities. Second, we *do* have troops that
are well equipped for fighting that kind of war.

The primary purpose of the light ground forces is to flush the opposing
forces, not engage them. However, if a straight engagement was required it
would be very unbalanced in favor of American line troops.

> As far as air support is concerned helicopters have problems
> in the Afghan mountains due to the thinner air at altitude producing less
> rotor lift.

I wasn't talking about close air support, which is largely unnecessary for
the type of enemy we are talking about. Close air support is useful for
light infantry when they are going up against heavier mechanized infantry,
but otherwise unnecessary. The kind of air support I'm talking about is the
"pave these coordinates" type of air support. Once a hostile target has
been flushed, use air support to reduce the exposure of our troops.

> The Afghans became very adept during the conflict with Russia at suckering
> Russian SU25's into making attack runs that exposed them to stinger SAM
> missile attacks, taking a pretty heavy toll. It's also worth knowing that the
> SU25's flight performance is considerably better than the US equivalent the
> A10 Warthog.

The SU-25 is more of an armored attack jet than a close air support craft
and is markedly inferior to the A-10 in the close support role. The Soviet
equivalent of the A-10 never went into production so they were left with the
SU-25, which is something like a heavy version of the A-4 Skyhawk.

Notable weaknesses of the SU-25 compared to the A-10 are short range, half
the ceiling, low endurance, small ordnance load, and much less ability to
absorb damage.

Note that the SU-25 was modified over the Afghan conflict to provide much
better protection against single SAM hits. In fact, after the initial
losses of SU-25 jets early in the war, the Soviets lost almost none with
their improved versions, even though they did get hit. Many of the
improvements are jury-rigged versions of features that were found on the
A-10 in the durability department (e.g. the ability to absorb multiple SAM

> Thats great but Bin Laden, and the Taliban if they are attacked, are not
> very likely to stay in the lowlands. As you pointed out the Afghans fought a
> very successful campaign from the mountains against Russia. They also did the
> same to us Brits in around 1920. In fact they have pretty much done the same
> thing every time they have been invaded.

The point is to limit the amount of terrain that they can reasonably occupy
and to cut off supply lines. Everyone knows they will head into the hills,
but we want to create an incentive to not leave the safety of the hills.
Systematically contain the problems.

>> The ability of
>> the US to control the mountainous terrain, something we are well-structured
>> for, will determine whether or not this play is successful.
> In what way is the US force structure capable in this kind of roll. Trying
> to cover hundreds of kilometers of saw backed mountains. Units forced to
> operate for days ( at least at a time ) isolated form support, seems to me
> exactly what US forces are not tailored for.

We have divisions specifically designed for this role. The whole concept of
light infantry is a highly mobile unit that requires minimal logistical
support, and which operates in terrain that is poor for mechanized units.
Since light infantry generally operate without support or protection from
armor, they learn to use the rugged terrain to avoid the heavy mechanized
units (which would slaughter LI) and typically are used to engage other
lightly armored units in very rugged terrain. These are exactly the types
of units that would be needed. They can move very fast and a combat company
can actively manage a one or two hundred square miles in the kind of terrain
we are talking about (though I doubt anyone would be sitting still that
long). Throw in some intelligence from satellites and spy planes, and
things become pretty easy. It is still cat and mouse, but of a kind that is
highly favorable for American units.

The US has a few divisions of these units. I was in the 7th Light Infantry
Division as a line grunt, so I do have a pretty good idea of how these units
operate. We did nothing but exercises in mountainous terrain, as big flat
areas make you fodder for armor and air attacks. This involved covering
many, many miles in the mountains for days (and nights) without support.

> This whole scenario involving ground troops imho could become extremely
> protracted and costly for the US.

Quite possibly protracted, but not terribly costly. The modern light
infantry learned a lot in the 20th century and has become very adept at
avoiding ambushes and controlling their sparse battlefield. The rule to
remember is that you can't stop and hideout -- that is a death wish in an LI
duel, particularly when the other side has air superiority. And you *will*
be found eventually. But if the target is continually moving, it becomes
vulnerable to being spotted by surveillance.

The Soviet Union did not have this luxury the last time they were in
Afghanistan. Their biggest weakness was a heavy dependency on mechanized
units. The development of "light" un-mechanized units in the US really came
into its own in the second half of the 20th century. Many years of fighting
wars in jungles instead of on the plains of Europe made the US military
reconsider the capabilities of our force structure. Hence the development
of light infantry divisions and similar.

-James Rogers

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