Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Listened to: "Not a Good Day to Die" by Sean Naylor

Listened to: Not a Good Day to Die: the untold story of Operation Anaconda by Sean Naylor, 2005, 9780792734826.

Very good. Long too at 19.5 hours. Good narration by John Henry Cox.

Journalist Naylor was at the operation and interviewed multiple soldiers, sailors, and airmen and special operations people. His introduction discusses how the operation's fractured planning and organization led to multiple problems and how Naylor's investigative reporting led to higher ups trying to shut up the guys he was talking to.

Hindsight is 20/20 but the mistakes that happened prior to the operation were identified and talked about by multiple people. There was no single, unified command in Anaconda. The special forces dudes, air force, CIA, and regular infantry were not all under one command and were not sharing all the information they needed to.

From the start the operation was stunted by the arbitrary troop cap in Afghanistan set by Rumsfeld. When the 101st deployed into Afghanistan they were not allowed to take all their troops or firepower; they had to leave behind most of their helicopters and all of their artillery (except for mortars).

Anaconda was the first operation in Afghanistan where U.S. troops made up the bulk of the ground troops. After the screw-up in Tora Bora, where Afghani troops underperformed and let Al-Queda fighters escape, the U.S. troops were supposed to encircle the Sha-i-khot (the spelling varies) Valley and capture or kill the Al-Queda fighters within.

After the big success in the first part of the Afghanistan war when bombing was the name of the game there was a reliance on air power for indirect fire support without regard for the usual problems of weather and the need to planes refuel and re-arm. Artillery would have been available 24 hours a day and could fire in any weather. In the end, when 120mm mortars were used, artillery was available but until then there were multiple communication problems between ground troops and aircrews, trouble with aircrews locating targets in the valley, and Apaches suffering the effects of groundfire (although they also ripped apart a lot of targets), and fixed wing aircraft having to share the airspace with one another.

There were all sorts of things that went wrong in the initial few days of the operation - especially trying to land on a defended position and losing SEAL Neil Roberts out a helicopter. Some of the troops involved were getting massively attacked but still ended up on top. I would have been hiding in deepest hole I could find.

The SEALS did not come out looking good. Their lack of experience in mountain warfare should have meant they would have time to learn how to operate there, but they were not given the time. They had trouble planning daily missions and had to have the 10th Mountain Division help them out. One SEAL in particular came off as defeatist and whiny.

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