Friday, September 14, 2012

Increasing the Stress Levels: A Complex Attack


GySgt Marco Angviano on patrol in Sarob.
By Andrew Lubin for Leatherneck Magazine

Range 220; Sarob District—The 19 Marines of Team One accompanied two platoons of notional Afghan National Army soldiers on a patrol into Sarob, Sept. 12. Led by Capt Jose Castillo, Sarob was believed to be a semipermissive town where a presence patrol was easily accepted by the locals. In a scene reminiscent of many villages through which Marines have patrolled since 2001, a few role players/Sarob residents sat outside their shops casually waving and smiling as the patrol slowly moved past under the hot desert sun.

But in another scene reminiscent of many Afghan villages in which Marines have patrolled, the bucolic scene disappeared in a burst of machine-gun fire and the blast of an improvised explosive device (IED).

“We plan the attacks carefully,” Sergeant Philip Lubin explained. “We’re able to conduct complex ambushes, with multiple points of attack, which are designed to stress the Marines we’re training.” Assigned to the Advisor Training Group a year ago, Lubin is on the Role Player Control Team. He and 12 other Marines plan attacks that include the use of notional crew-served weapons, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGS) and IEDs. With contractors hired to emplace and fire the IEDs, Lubin and his team don Afghan garb and while firing blanks from their AK47s and RPKs will ambush the joint patrols as they deem appropriate.

Today’s attack began less than 10 minutes into the patrol, and the “Afghan commander” and Castillo immediately fell into a synergistic rhythm with Castillo talking to the two Marine mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles accompanying the patrol as the Afghan took reports from his platoon commanders. Keeping their “terp,” very busy as they exchanged information, Castillo positioned one vehicle in order to evacuate a “wounded” member of the Afghan National Army (ANA) as the other laid down suppressing fire so the ANA troops could rush the insurgents.

But the attack was far from finished, and suddenly gunfire and indirect fire raked the neighboring bazaar, causing “casualties” amongst the civilians. Following the shouts of the angry men in the bazaar and the screaming women, the Marine and Afghan corpsmen and troops found a scene that would have been horrific if it were real. Three Afghan male bodies lay crumpled in the bazaar, with a notionally wounded male raising a bloody arm as he begged for aid. However, only a few meters away, the situation was worse. Three women had been theoretically wounded, and with other women shrieking and trying to aid their friends, the Marines and Afghans rushing to their aid had to push through them to attend to the wounded. Ululating wildly, the ladies pushed their way into the shop that the Marines had commandeered for a hasty aid station and continued to add their voices to the shrieks of the wounded ladies. It was an intense event in the day’s training.

For the Advisor Training Group (ATG) Marines, however, the day was not yet complete. An hour later, Team Five was observing a jirga, held in the Sarob Jail. A jirga is the first step in the Afghan court system, where evidence is produced in front of a judge, and an initial determination of guilt or innocence is made. It’s typically an Afghan-only event in which the Marine advisor may be invited to observe, and several of the Marine officers from Team Five were watching the proceedings. The jail was guarded by role players dressed as ANPs (Afghan National Police) who were perhaps not as attentive as the Marines and Afghans inside expected. With the proceedings drawing to a close, one of the American contractors, dressed as an insurgent, casually walked up to a green ANP light truck, screamed “Allah Akbar!” and detonated a mock suicide vest. As the SVIED (suicide vest improvised explosive device) bomber lay on the ground surrounded by notionally dead and wounded ANPs and the ANP and Marines pulled on their gear as they ran from the jail to the point of attack, the SVIED driver could be observed speeding away.

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