Marine operations planning, which is routinely completed in hours or days, has gone on for weeks while they await agreement and approval from above.You could spend an entire year at War College on this nut;
"They invite us here ... and they don't know how to use us?" said Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. "We are trying to keep our frustration in check ... but we have to wait for the elephants to stop dancing," Henderson said, referring to the brass-heavy international command.
"The clash is between the tactical reality on the ground and political perceptions held elsewhere," Marine Maj. Heath Henderson, deputy operations officer for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, told his staff. "You can make your own judgments about which you think will prevail."
Including the Marines, there are 17,522 allied troops in southern Afghanistan, including British, Dutch, Canadians, Danes, Estonians, Australians, Romanians and representatives of nine other nations, according to the high command.The C2 diagram from, well, NATO. This is what got my head tilted a bit; I understand the grumpy Sgt., or wandering 1Lt - but the battalion Commander on the way out the door? This can't make the incoming Marines all that comfortable.
These coalition military forces are assembled under the banner of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), commanded by U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, headquartered in Kabul with an international staff.
Beneath McNeill are five regional commands and numerous national military commands. Henderson's Marine battalion and its parent task force, the 24th MEU, officially are under the command of ISAF and McNeill. But they are assigned to work in conjunction with the regional command here and other coalition forces.
Coordination on long-term strategy is complex, staff officers here said, because the commanders and staffs at each level regularly rotate. Regional command south here, for instance, changes every nine months between British, Canadian and Dutch officers.
"We don't understand where we are going here," said Lt. Col. Brian Mennes, commander of Task Force Fury, a battalion of paratroopers just leaving Kandahar after 15 months of counterinsurgency operations here. "We desperately want to see a strategy in front of us," he said in an interview.Ungh. I think he received a phone call or two. Now, who here would have liked to have been a fly on the wall here?
NATO's only previous experience with coalition combat came almost a decade ago with the air war against Serbia. Afghanistan is the first time the alliance has attempted to coordinate ground combat among forces that often don't speak the same language or use the same radio frequencies.
At another planning session, a question arose about the capabilities of a British combat unit. "I can tell you they have killed more people than anybody else in this room," a British major declared hotly. There was shocked silence from the roomful of Marines, most of whom have done two or three combat tours in Iraq and don't boast about battlefield exploits.Well, once things get in place, I believe the Marines will have plenty to keep them busy, and may regret saying this before the summer is over.
"This is killing us," says a staff sergeant. "There's only so much training you can do, especially considering that most of my Marines just got back from Iraq."Rememeber, besides Regional Command East - nothing in Afghanistan is "owned" by the USA. Even in RC(E), that Commander still is part of the NATO Chain of Command (though he also has a USA hat that is a different subject that I won't cover). NATO has to get this right - or the slow-creep of re-Americanization will take place, if not already.
But living conditions at this huge base are comfortable, with a well-stocked PX, an off-duty recreation area with a Burger King and pizza shop and an Afghan bazaar. Marines sleep on cots in air-conditioned tents, and the food is considered above-par.
"This place is like a resort, and that makes the waiting a lot easier," said Lt. Shaun Miller, 24, a platoon leader from Austin, Texas.