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Looking into the future

A glimpse into the future: Afghan Artillery

Afghan National Security Forces are just beginning to take a serious leadership role in the war on the Taliban and Haqqani networks. Though the Afghans have always fought, they lack the sophistication of a modern fighting force. Step by step they are becoming a sharp and well disciplined machine. What they are lacking throughout the ANSF is viable, accurate and timely fire support systems. That’s where I come in. My unit is partnered with D-30 Battery  4th Kandak /2 Brigade / 203rd CORPS Afghan Army. The Battery is a D-30 (Russian 122mm) equipped unit that operates in Paktika Afghanistan. The aging Russian howitzer systems are prone to malfunction, and the unit is beset with logistical problems, typical of a third world army. Instead of using computers to calculate firing data the Afghan fire direction center uses maps, charts and a long sheet of paper with the firing solution written in pencil. Couple this with the consideration that in most areas of Afghanistan less than 10% of the population is literate, and you realize that the caliber of individual it takes to be in the Afghan Artillery is above average for the country. This is bare bones Artillery. Fire missions that would take U.S. troops under 2 minutes regularly take over 8 minutes negating the usefulness of Artillery in some situations.  When you add in the lack of education, the progress we are making is all the more profound.

Not long ago in a place called Paktika, our Afghans were able to demonstrate their skill providing night time illumination fires on known enemy Indirect Fire-Points of Origin.  If you have never seen a D-30 shoot its full charge, it is a memorable experience. The propellant efficiency is not as complete as U.S. and coalition propellants. The report from the guns is massive with a giant fire ball and smoke cloud. Smoke and debris lingers in the air for minutes after firing much like a muzzle loading civil war cannon. There is never any doubt in an observer’s mind where the fire is coming from. With all of this, the Afghans are using a system made in 1963 by the Soviets. The doctrine of the time didn’t place that much concern on accuracy. The idea was volume of fire with battalions of D-30s lined up shooting into huge areas with no real concern for civilian casualties or the forward line of troops, precisely opposite of the doctrine we are now using to combat insurgencies. No meteorological data is incorporated into the firing solution nor is shooting strength or round to round changes in muzzle velocity. These are inherent inaccuracies in their shooting system but it is their system and this system is far more sustainable than ours. The idea is that long after we leave the Afghans will be shooting these D-30s against the Taliban. They will purchase supplies from former Soviet republics and will be repairing these guns without US assistance. That is the idea. Our Fire Direction Advisor has said many times “if these guys had U.S. M119s and computers, I would have them shooting as accurately and as quickly as us in a month, and they could really start killing Taliban.” The truth is that for all of their shortcomings the Afghans are solid and motivated. They have good crew drills. The cannon crewmen are every bit as effective as their U.S. counterparts. The Fire Direction Crewmen are smart, mathematically inclined, and eager to learn. Their forward observers need little direction, only equipment. The chief observer demands that he train his men and explains in English, “We really don’t need a class just give us a target and we will kill it.” You have to admire their spirit. When not practicing their trade as Artillerymen they do what U.S. Artillerymen do; they are Infantry.

One day after a long mission the Battery came through the gate of the FOB. Their Ford Ranger had several bullet holes. Our Soldiers asked what happened. Without fanfare, bragging or self pity they explained that they had been in a fire fight. “Everyone is ok but we need ammunition”, they said. Why? They had used every round of ammunition they carried to include their crew served weapons. That seems to be the Afghan way- intense, serious, quiet and driven but highly ineffective. Our mission as their partners is to make them more effective against the Taliban and Haqqani Networks. How do we do that? Like this:

I named this entry A glimpse into the Future because that is what I earnestly hope it is. It is not unreasonable to assert that with proper guidance, logistical growth and integration into the Afghan maneuver elements these Afghans, Artillerymen, are in many ways carrying the future of Afghanistan on their backs.

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