Used to Decimating Afghan Shepherds With Daisy Cutters, US Army Can’t Handle a Fair Fight in Niger
Spoiled by extreme advantages they enjoy over the Taliban, US troops are finding it hard to adapt to a slightly fairer fight in Africa
American soldiers are the most pampered in the history of warfare. They are well-paid, well-fed and enjoy plenty of downtime in relatively secure bases even when on occupation duty in Afghanistan or in the past, in Iraq.
They are put through tens of thousands of dollars worth of training given by veterans of permanent wars of the empire. They are supplied with excellent body armor, incredibly advanced night and aiming sights, and great communication equipment. If wounded they can count on speedy aerial evacuation and treatment in world-class facilities just behind the battlefield.
In fact the medical services they receive are so good the ratio of killed to wounded American soldiers is now just 1 killed for every 10 or 11 wounded — a vast improvement over the traditional ratio of 1 fatality for every 3 or 4 wounded. Between the body armor, aerial evacuation and state-of-the art field hospitals even when US soldiers are hit by the enemy they’re quite unlikely to die.
Almost always they are backed up by bombers and strike aircraft to the point even regular infantry frequently does little more than paint targets for the Air Force. In practice the US ground troops’ idea of a “firefight” is hunkering down and calling in an airstrike the moment the enemy hits them.
Compare this to their daily enemy, the Taliban in Afghanistan — no body armor, often hungry, no fancy NV googles or laser sights. Sparse training, no artillery or air support, and only the most rudimentary medical treatment for the injured.
It is easy to see who has to be braver to face their enemy, and who enjoys all the advantages. Doubtlessly US soldiers in Afghanistan win most engagements and are able to take on even much larger enemy formations (in terms of bodies, not military capital), but what happens when some of those advantages are removed?
What happens is shock. Foreign Policy reports:
Used to Afghanistan, Special Operators Suffer From Lack of Support in Africa
Fighting for their lives after driving with their Nigerien partners into a withering ambush, 11 members of the 3rd Special Forces Group called for close air support. Two French Mirage jets arrived an hour later. And when they showed up, the jets merely buzzed the battlefield and didn’t drop any bombs on the militants attacking the U.S.-Nigerien patrol.
Four U.S. soldiers, four Nigerien troops, and an interpreter died in the Oct. 4 battle. It was a bitter reminder to the 3rd Group that it was no longer in Afghanistan, the combat theater where the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based unit had been focused from 2002 until late 2015. There, its teams could call in airstrikes often instantaneously and almost always within minutes. But since switching from Afghanistan to North and West Africa, the group has had to grapple with what its veterans repeatedly refer to as the continent’s “tyranny of distance,” combined with a paucity of resources when compared with mature combat theaters like Iraq and Afghanistan.
It has been a steep learning curve.
“In Afghanistan, you can pretty much do whatever you want with impunity because you always have access to precision air power stacked up,” said a former 3rd Group officer with extensive Afghanistan experience. “So we’re lured into this complacency, and now you’re lured into this situation on the ground in Africa where there was parity, or even a disadvantage, and we got smoked for it.”
In Africa, a field grade Special Forces officer who also served in both Afghanistan and West Africa said, “Special Forces are deployed significantly farther forward than you would see elsewhere and are more reliant upon their own capabilities.”
In addition to much longer waits for close air support, the expectations for medical evacuation are vastly different. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the standard for getting a wounded service member medically evacuated was 60 minutes, a time known as the “golden hour.”
“The golden hour is no longer even a thing,” said another former 3rd Group officer with extensive experience in both theaters. “Now that could be the golden 48 hours.”
The sheer vastness of the area of operations, combined with the lack of resources when compared with Afghanistan, can be a shock to special operators used to having drones and strike aircraft available to get a team out of trouble.
A former 3rd Group officer with extensive Afghanistan experience said for special operators who have spent their entire military career fighting in Afghanistan, the adjustment to Africa can be jarring.
“You had a shitload of resources in Afghanistan — even when it was underfunded, compared with Iraq — that you don’t have in Africa,” the former officer said.
Yeah it sucks having to go into a slightly less lopsided fight than usual. The recent clash in Niger where 4 special forces troops were left behind on the battlefield and subsequently slaughtered by the enemy is a case in point.
But don’t worry, AFRICOM is the fastest-growing command in Pentagon’s global military empire. It’s only a matter of time until first drones, and then bombers arrive to Africa as well, and then we can have African shepherds and weddings blown up by American military might as well — and US ground troops won’t have to break a sweat.
But for the interim, the response of the US military will likely be to retreat from the field to their bases, and not come out except in large formations:
The official was concerned that the light, agile mission in West Africa would be forced to adopt some of the force protection measures troops were ordered to undertake in Iraq during the height of the American involvement there.
“You couldn’t leave the wire without six gun trucks and this many machine guns and this amount of people, and you had to check in 13 times, and you had to have ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft], and you had to have close air support within a certain range,” he said. “If you apply that to the African continent, we’d be left without the ability to do much.”
The former 3rd Group officer with experience in both Afghanistan and West Africa agreed. “That will probably happen initially,” he said of possible restrictions. “It would be a mistake if it did.”
The bold imperial military, hunkering down in bases lest it faces a slightly fairer fight than usual.