25 February 2007

Mountain warfare and what it takes

There is this strange idea that if you pull troops out of Iraq you can send them directly to Afghanistan and have an immediate fighting force there! Well, you can send them, but their ability to actually fight for most of the year is another question. Lets review the physical characteristics of Afghanistan, and for that I will use the Wikipedia article that draws on the Geography of Afghanistan and that, in turn, appears to be the direct article from the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica. Believe me, not much has changed since then.

The variety of climate is immense, as might be expected. Taking the highlands of the country as a whole, there is no great difference between the mean temperature of Afghanistan and that of the lower Himalaya. Each may be placed at a point between 10 °C and 15 °C (50 °F to 60 °F). But the remarkable feature of Afghan climate is its extreme range of temperature within limited periods. The least daily range in the north is during the cold weather, the greatest in the hot. For seven months of the year (from May to November) this range exceeds 30 °F (17 °C) daily. Waves of intense cold occur, lasting for several days, and one may have to endure a cold of 12 °F below zero (−24 °C), rising to a maximum of 17 °F (−8 °C). On the other hand the summer temperature is exceedingly high, especially in the Oxus regions, where a shade maximum of 110 °F to 120 °F (45 °C to 50 °C) is not uncommon. At Kabul, and over all the northern part of the country to the descent at Gandamak, winter is rigorous, but especially so on the high Arachosian plateau. In Kabul the snow lies for two or three months; the people seldom leave their houses, and sleep close to stoves. At Ghazni the snow has been known to lie long beyond the vernal equinox; the thermometer sinks between −10 °F and −15 °F (about −25 °C); and tradition relates the entire destruction of the population of Ghazni by snowstorms more than once.
What a lovely place to have a war, isn't it? Here is a bit on Kandahar and environs:
At Jalalabad the winter and the climate generally assume an Indian character. The summer heat is great everywhere in Afghanistan, but most of all in the districts bordering on the Indus, especially Sewi, on the lower Helmund and in Seistan. All over Kandahar province the summer heat is intense, and the simoon is not unknown. The hot season throughout this part of the country is rendered more trying by frequent dust storms and fiery winds; whilst the bare rocky ridges that traverse the country, absorbing heat by day and radiating it by night, render the summer nights most oppressive. At Kabul the summer sun has great power, though the heat is tempered occasionally by cool breezes from the Hindu Kush, and the nights are usually cool. At Kandahar snow seldom falls on the plains or lower hills; when it does, it melts at once.

At Herat, though 800 ft (240 m) lower than Kandahar, the summer climate is more temperate; and, in fact, the climate altogether is far from disagreeable. From May to September the wind blows from the northwest with great violence, and this extends across the country to Kandahar. The winter is tolerably mild; snow melts as it falls, and even on the mountains does not lie long. Three years out of four at Herat it does not freeze hard enough for the people to store ice; yet it was not very far from Herat, and could not have been at a greatly higher level (at Rafir Kala, near Kassan) that, in 1750, Ahmad Shah's army, retreating from Persia, is said to have lost 18,000 men from cold in a single night. In the northern Herat districts, too, records of the coldest month (February) show the mean minimum as 17° F (−8 °C), and the maximum 38 °F (3 °C). The eastern reaches of the Hari Rud river are frozen hard in the winter, rapids and all, and the people travel on it as on a road.
Yes, just a bit 'more temperate' once you get away from Kandahar and Kabul. This is what is typically known as desert highlands and mountainous terrain. Note the poor Ahmad Shah's army suddenly succumbing to a quick cold snap and you get the idea of what happens in such terrain. The overall elevation is trouble, the lack of water is added trouble, the sudden and sharp swings in temperature are extremely dangerous for the unwary. So like lowland, desert Iraq, isn't it?

In such terrain you need specialized training, equipment, supplies, medical knowledge and an understanding of how the climate effects you and your equipment. You are high enough so that helicopter lift is significantly reduced due to the low air pressure and so is your capacity to actually hike, move, and continue on with daily life. The history of warfare is replete with small forces holding up in mountainous terrain for *decades* and thwarting all new advances in technology by using terrain and local knowledge against large forces moving through such areas. Those same large forces, untrained for highland work at a minimum, quickly tire, find their supplies running low and can be kept under constant, low level attacks on the ground that slow advances and disrupt logistical supply lines. Aircraft are no sinecure against such due to sudden loss of visibility, wind shear and and other strange wind effects in rugged terrain. Infrared can be obscured by dust, confused by reflections and by difference in ground heating. Simple things like the metallic structure of equipment can start to crystallize and undergo freeze/thaw strains and just suddenly break as crystals form in the metallic alloys. Weapons lubricant, motor oils and a whole host of other liquids will face a hard time coping unless they are specifically formulated for those temperature swings, without speaking of lowered engine capacity due to lower air pressure.

The #1 surest way to give support to any enemy holding up in mountainous terrain is to throw a large army at them: their ability to slow the army, thwart attempts to be found and continually disrupt overland supplies will give them heart and free PR to show how skilled they are against your army. The British Empire learned this and the Soviet veterans of Afghanistan learned it in spades. For this sort of work you need specialized training and equipment as seen in Alpine or Mountain troops. This heavily specialized area is one where all of the troops must learn to operate across the entire broad range of conditions they will encounter and *still* be an effective fighting force.

In the 1917 Battle of Capretto, Austro-Hungarian alpine troops were a critical part of the fighting and their capability, or lack of same, were key to the fighting there which is very rugged and mountainous. The Italian Alpini date back to then and would continue that capability to this very day. In 1939 the USSR decided to attack Finland as part of the Nazi-Soviet Pact that had given the USSR a 'sphere of influence there' and the Winter War of 1939 was one of competent, well trained Finnish ski-troops taking on mechanized divisions. Germany would later station their own AlpenKorps there as well as deploy the Waffen SS AlpenKorps in Croatia to try and counter the Partisans.

These battles and many before them point to small, capable military units forcing the opposition to stall out and even retreat from the offensive. This is not the 'big troop movement' sort of battle you always see in the movies, as the view from the Italian Campaign by the US as is pointed out in this recollection from WWII:
"Attacking a Village "Daylight attacks against these hilltop villages are almost out of the question as casualties are invariably high. Extensive use of a limited night attack has proven to be the best method of handling this situation. The attack is made on as dark a night as possible. Silence is necessary and is relatively easy to obtain since the ground over which the approach is made is mostly cultivated. The process of infiltration must be systematic and every building gained should be immediately turned into a strong point for the attacker."

"It is advisable, where possible, to have the forward attacking elements allotted a high proportion of submachine guns. Each man should carry at least two to four hand grenades. They are invaluable in clearing buildings.

"The enemy's mortars are habitually emplaced behind villages on the reverse slopes, dug down to a depth of 10 feet. These are almost impossible to knock out by artillery fire even if we can actually locate them. One unit has reported that they have successfully engaged targets of this type by pooling all its 131-mm mortars and 'firing them as a battery under unit control.

"Of course, if at is at all possible, it is better to avoid these villages entirely, flank them, and cut the enemy's line of communication.

"The absolute necessity of keeping a reserve for counter-attacks on the reverse slope is stressed. If there are any houses on the forward slopes they should be occupied or the enemy will use them to assist his counterattacks."
These are lessons learned in mountain warfare bought the 'hard way': at a cost to US soldier's lives. Do not do frontal assaults on villages at daytimes, do not depend on airpower to take out enemy positions, do not expect to locate where enemy fire is coming from easily if it is indirect, and if you can go around the village entirely DO SO. Cutting off an enemy from communication and supplies is the way to make them shift out of a hard point as they seek to regain those supply lines. And they will be doing the *exact* same thing to you.

From a Major Muhammad Asim Malik, Pakistan Army we get this article on Mountain Warfare, and it is a good read to see what someone in the area thinks:
MOUNTAIN WARFARE is specialized combat with unique characteristics. Military leaders and soldiers need training and experience to understand the peculiarities of mountainous environments and how they affect combat. Armies that train for mountain combat perform much better than those that do not.

During World War II, the German Army raised an entire corps of elite mountain troops called "gebirgs jaeger" (mountain troops). Although not all of these troops were used in the mountains, they demonstrated superior abilities in almost all theaters in which they were used. The German Fifth Gebirgs Division marched more than 248 miles, crossed mountain passes above 6,500 feet, and secured well-entrenched defenses on the Mestksas Line. Other gebirgs jaeger captured most of the Caucasus mountain region in the summer of 1942.
These are *not* Special Forces, they are Specialized Forces that train and train hard to survive in some of the roughest terrain on the planet. And what is the priority for these troops? Here Maj. Malik puts it down for us:
Physical fitness is the first prerequisite of mountain-warfare training. The effects of cold weather and unforgiving terrain require a high level of physical fitness for long-distance climbing and walking, and the physical fitness required for mountainous terrain must be developed at high altitude. But being physically fit does not necessarily mean soldiers will be able to perform adequately at high elevations. U.S. soldiers selected to attend the mountain-warfare school in Kakul, Pakistan, required additional climbing time to attain the desired level of physical fitness. The body must adjust to the thin mountain air, and climbing muscles must be developed.

Mountainous terrain can be an ally or a dangerous adversary. In Kashmir each year, thousands of troops are introduced to the mountainous environment to help them understand and appreciate it. A marked difference exists in the performance of units that have conducted vigorous acclimatization training and those that have not. Weather and terrain-related casualties are a big indicator. During initial training in Colorado during the early 1940s, the U.S. 10th Mountain Division suffered more casualties from weather-related injuries than from actual mountain combat in Italy.
Yes, you have read that correctly. Training for this thing called Mountain Warfare is deadly all on its lonesome. And the terrain itself is both friend and foe, depending on how well you have factored it into your plans and your necessarily scanty knowledge of the enemy's plans. Then a bit of interesting local knowledge to show how things differ at altitude and via locale:
In Kashmir, stone or wooden bunkers, which double as living accommodations and fighting bunkers, are found at posts below 13,000 feet, but at high altitudes, stone structures are not practical. Cement will not bind, and the underlying glacier is always moving. Instead, prefabricated, synthetic domes (igloos) are used. The domes are easy to carry and assemble even at 18,000 feet and above. They can be retrieved from even large amounts of snow and set up again quickly.
Things do not work the way you expect them to at high altitudes and if you don't know what you are doing, something that appears innocuous can be fatal. I would think it would be a silly thing to build on a glacier as you never know when a crevasse would open up under you. And if it is a glacier with large amounts of rock and sand and silt in its structure, you may not even *know* it is a glacier. The effect of sudden cold snaps on the human body at that altitude are quite nasty:
Soldiers must also be trained to wear proper clothing. Loose-fitting layers and insulated and polypropylene clothing that does not allow perspiration to accumulate close to the body are best. Developing frostbite from touching metal equipment with one's bare hands is possible when temperatures drop to minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Pressurized sleeping bags help stabilize soldiers suffering from altitude-related sicknesses.
It is rare, once one is accustomed to an altitude to get altitude sickness, and at geology field camp we spent two weeks getting acclimated to it. That said a sudden and fierce low pressure front, as is common in Afghanistan, can *drop* that pressure and suddenly make you feel as if you were several hundred feet higher. Fun place to fight, isn't it? Do they have all of those with the soldiers in Iraq? How about the training to USE such equipment and wear clothing properly in such a climate?
Because it is not always possible to transport material by helicopter, troops are often required to carry awkward loads, including kerosene oilcans, rations, and building materials for bunkers. The Soviets learned this lesson while fighting in difficult terrain in Afghanistan.

At high altitudes, where it is difficult to keep weapons functioning, covering and protecting weapons and equipment against snow and ice is a necessity. Batteries often will not perform optimally in the cold, and complicated mechanisms, such as those in surface-to-air missiles, can easily malfunction. Also, artillery shells sometimes behave erratically because of thin air and gusting winds.
Helicopters, as noted, have reduced lift capacity and overground hauling, especially where you have a number of sudden peaks and troughs is vital as the sudden wind-shears can down helicopters and even low flying jets. Knowing how to judge wind direction, speed and what will cause it to change is an art, not a science, in mountainous terrain.

Even worse is that individuals become disconnected from the true needs of their body due to altitude and the rapid loss of heat and body moisture:
Surviving and operating in mountainous terrain requires more energy than usual. A soldier who needs 3,000 to 4,000 calories under normal circumstances will require 6,000 or more calories in the mountains. To complicate the situation, high altitude adversely affects a person's appetite. Soldiers tend to eat and drink less in high altitudes, which reduces morale and fighting capabilities and makes them more susceptible to mountain-related illnesses. U.S. soldiers conducting mountain-warfare training at Abbotabad, Pakistan, which is at 4,000 feet, lost approximately 25 pounds during a 3-week training period. Commanders must ensure soldiers consume proper diets and are well-hydrated.
The idea for a given body mass is the number of quarts per day that you would go through, and sometimes that was per *hour* in the highland desert terrain where I had field camp. Carrying 30-60 lbs of supplies required lots of food and I would go through a gallon of water in 6 hours of just hiking and mapping the terrain, and it was a common experience to be the only person, outside of the instructors who had water *left* at 6 hours. As a diabetic I cut down on my basal insulin and didn't worry about morning highs, as those would burn off in an hour or two of hard work. I have problems imagining carrying a combat load, all of one's supplies, weapons, ammo, and the rest in such a situation, not to speak of winter-time ops.
The normal practice in glaciated areas is to not keep soldiers above 19,000 feet for more than 3 to 4 weeks before returning them to lower elevations. If soldiers experience any signs of altitude illnesses, commanders must evacuate them promptly. For most mountain illnesses, evacuation to below at least 3,000 feet is the first requirement for saving a person's life. Delaying evacuation might not only cost the soldier's life, but imperil the lives of the soldiers who might have to conduct evacuation procedures during bad weather.

Replacements being sent to high-altitude environments must have operated at heights similar to those to which they are being sent for at least 10 to 15 days. If not, they could quickly become casualties themselves. Well-trained, acclimatized troops must be available to replace those at higher altitudes.
Altitude sickness is no joke and the acclimation time is vital. I had spent additional time at altitude before field camp to ensure that I was adjusted, and we only had one member out of 22 that needed to be sent down to lower elevations and he returned in a few days. The terrain and climate must be accounted for in all high terrain operations be they desert, highland jungle or forest, or mountain. And key is replacement troops already acclimated to the altitude so that when casualties need to be replaced, the replacements don't have problems, too.
High-altitude environments can take heavy physical and mental tolls on soldiers. While in the Caucasus, the Germans learned that troops wore down much faster in mountains despite the fact they were elite troops, picked for their mental abilities and physical prowess. Operations in such environments involve extreme physical exertion. Living conditions in mountainous terrain can be difficult. At times all movement is stopped, soldiers do not receive mail, and replacements might not arrive on time. These factors can lead to depression and boredom and a sharp decrease in fighting spirit. Simple tasks such as manning weapons, sentry duty, and patrolling require determination.

Offensive actions in mountainous terrain are difficult and costly. Not only must soldiers fight the enemy, they must also brave the elements of harsh terrain, which are equally formidable. These conditions call for strong leadership by junior leaders, who must physically lead and be mentally tough.
My personal experience with that mental fatigue is one of not being able to properly analyze data captured in the field, which I knew was vital but was unable to correctly interpret it during slack times. When the 'simple task' of actually *recording the information* was something I overlooked, I stopped, drank water and just recovered in any available shelter in the rocks.

This next part is the absolute key for understanding the difference between lowland warfare and mountain warfare:
Mountain combat is decentralized and often takes place at the platoon or squad level. The quality of junior leadership is decisive. The Russians observed in Afghanistan that even a small unit, maneuvering boldly, could decide the outcome of a battle.
Large force operations are not only difficult, but futile in the long run as you literally cannot *take* terrain. You own the ground you are on and that is about it, and are safe up to the distance you can accurately see and fire, and then the reverse-slope indirect fire can still kill you. The Russians noted that small units could decide the outcome of such battles because they were fighting large unit battles and not succeeding.
Cost-effective mountain combat requires skilled and well-trained troops. Soldiers cannot be sent into a fight at high altitude at the last moment. Doing so could invite disaster. One example of such an action is the employment of the 7th Indian Brigade against the Chinese in the 1962 Himalayan conflict. The brigade had not been stationed in the mountains previously, and when things began going badly, the brigade was moved from the plains straight into mountain combat. The soldiers, who had not been acclimatized or equipped to fight in the mountains, suffered heavy casualties because of frostbite, edema, and other high-altitude-induced illnesses.
And here is the nub of it: you do NOT send unprepared troops into such terrain. You are asking for disaster and lots of it and deservedly so for not taking into account training, acclimatization, equipment, stores, supplies and the entire medical chain that is necessary for survival.
Maneuver. Mountainous terrain is ideally suited for the defense. During World War II, some of the heaviest casualties in the Italian Theater occurred during an attempt to overcome German defenses at Mount Casino. In Afghanistan, the Russians attacked the strategic Panjshir Valley repeatedly but were unable to clear it despite their advantage in firepower and mobility. The line of control in Kashmir in 2003 was not much different from the cease-fire line of the India-Pakistan war in 1949. Both Indian and Pakistan forces found that an assault on well-defended positions was extremely costly. Defense requires the control of dominating heights, passes, and lines of communication by strongpoints. An integrated defense is not possible in cut up, mountainous terrain. During training, commanders need to understand the techniques of defense with all-around protection and emplacement of direct fighting weapons. Field Manual 3-97.6 highlights that reserves must be closer to important defense locations because reaction times in mountainous terrains are longer than usual, which could require several small rather than one large centralized reserve.

Mountainous terrain offers opportunities for infiltration, requiring defenders to be aggressive at all times. Aggressive patrolling enhances security and keeps soldiers active and sharp. In Kashmir this helped prevent a bunker mentality. Although sensors provide some protection, mountainous terrain is too compartmentalized for complete electronic surveillance. Combat service support (CSS) elements must provide their own protection and must train in patrolling and perimeter defense while developing a mindset focused on constant vigilance.

Offensive operations require meticulous planning and preparation because of the inherent strength mountainous terrain provides to the defender. Training plays a vital role in ensuring an edge for the attackers. Since the defender has an advantage, successful attacks should isolate the defender and keep him under constant pressure. The Soviets laid great emphasis on junior leaders and company-level mountain operations, advocating envelopment by smaller, autonomous groups.
This puts a stress on the junior officers and on-the-ground commanders as they know the conditions, the enemy, and their own force's capability and higher command does NOT. The Soviet system was not designed to encourage lower level officer initiative, and so the need to actually have troops that were well led required a strong NCO Corps. The Soviets also did not try to befriend the population and 'blend in' by not being omnipresent. The strategic outlook for obedient forces and direct attack limited their tactical ability to actually have competent low level officers that would show initiative and be able to compensate for the strategic lacks on the ground. They nearly succeeded until the US got Stinger missiles in to remove the airpower part of the equation and then the Soviet military was on equal footing with their adversary. The Stinger was the 'equalizer' of the Soviet invasion. Once on equal footing, local knowledge and support countervailed against Soviet external supplies and support.
During Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, U.S. forces used more decentralized combat than on normal terrain. Junior leaders' initiative and skill is vital to the mission's success, especially in security and reconnaissance missions. Mountainous terrain and bad weather provide opportunities for small forces to concentrate and achieve surprise. Russian and Afghan government forces suffered heavily when they neglected this aspect of the battlefield environment.
Here is something that is another key, and that is the INTEL portion and force protection portion. These are also some of the duller jobs to be done, and they are especially difficult at altitude. The skill and planning are essential as with those in mind the enemy can also be examined for how *they* are succumbing to the altitude. And now for the really painful part:
Logistics. Logistics support in the mountains is difficult and time-consuming. In Kashmir, a variety of transport is used for logistical support, road transport being the most reliable and cost-effective. At higher altitudes where tracks cannot be maintained because of snow and difficult terrain, mules are a preferred means of transport. At altitudes where even mules cannot go, porters can. Porters are local people capable of carrying heavy loads across difficult terrain.

In the Caucasus Campaign, the German army used sleds, mules, and horses in addition to trucks. Recently, despite technological advances, the U.S. Army had to use horses and mules in Afghanistan. Helicopters are a quick, versatile means of transportation, but at higher altitudes their lift capability is severely limited. The French Alouette helicopter can fly higher than U.S helicopters can, but even it can deliver only about 180 pounds above 20,000 feet. Because helicopters cannot be used in adverse weather, a mixture of resources is necessary to ensure reliability and flexibility.

The road network in the mountains is generally a logistician's nightmare. Main supply routes are limited and often do not support vehicles that require large turning radii. Many roads do not permit two-way traffic.
One man with a sniper rifle need only pick off one vehicle in a convoy and the entire thing gets stuck. Get the lead vehicle and the ones behind it often have no place to go and their troops will take a bit of time to get used to the surroundings. Pick your place, pick your escape route and this can be done and with an extremely high chance of survival. Roads only become semi-reliable once an opponent is forced from mountainous terrain, and even then a few individuals with commitment can cause a large amount of chaos. Just a bit more on logistics:
Logistics estimates and loads must be customized for the mountainous environment. For example, using mules requires loads be broken up according to their carrying capacity. Also, overages must be built into supply estimates because there is always a need for a large reserve of items that wear out quickly, such as boots, jackets, and gloves. If soldiers use improper or worn clothing for even a short time, the chance of developing altitude and cold-related sicknesses increases significantly. In addition, combat casualty evacuation involves many challenges. Air evacuation remains the preferred method, but because of the dispersed nature of troops, expert medical help might not be available quickly. Therefore, self-aid, buddy help, and the availability of more combat life savers in the unit is important.

Canadian small-unit support vehicles, specially designed for restrictive terrain, were particularly useful for logistics support at high altitude in Afghanistan, whereas the bulky ground-held laser designating system was not. Soldiers' personal loads of more than 50 pounds were too heavy at high altitudes. Equipment must be upgraded for future mountain warfare.
This is why the US and Canada worked together to train up the US 10th Mountain Division. Canadians have a long history of having knowledge of mountains and survival in bad weather in such places. And note that last on equipment upgrade: it *must* be done for existing forces, not to speak of a raw army thrown in there.

The article goes into training, and that the US Army does basic survival skills training for mountainous terrain. One of the places it does so is United States Army Mountain Warfare School, Ethan Allen Firing Range, Jericho, VT and they have downloadable course materials on both winter and summer survival courses and objectives. Courses in mountaineering and assault climbing are featured in both variants. One could spend a 3-4 months just taking courses, learning how to apply what was learned, do some field testing, and so on, just to get through the basics. The Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center has a much longer listing of courses, from what I could see on the public side, and looks to be intensive for enlistees and officers.

What was worrying on 9/11 and thereafter was the state of the US 10th Mountain Division because of the state it had fallen into during the previous Administration. At the Defense and National Interest site they have a 1997 report on a staff trip to the NTC and JRTC (National Training Center (NTC) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) made by a Senate staffer.
Army-wide Shortages in Key Personnel

Despite high operating tempos and work loads, both OPFORs at the NTC and JRTC were described as fully manned, enjoying high esprit de corps, and having retention rates at least as good as the rest of the Army, if not better. For the units rotating into the NTC and JRTC—i.e. the Army's combat units; that is to say, the heart and sole of the Army—there is a very different story. I was told the following:
Units coming to both training centers frequently do not come with many of their sub-unit commanders; these have frequently been assigned to peacekeeping missions or other deployments that separate them from their units. As a result, sub-units—from basic squads on up—do not train with the commanders that they would go to war with. When this happens, it violates a key dictum of readiness and one of the basic points of having the NTC and the JRTC: the Army should “train just as you go to war.”

At the NTC, units rotating in typically come with a 60% shortage in mechanics and a 50% shortage in “mounted” mechanized infantry (in their Bradley APCs). These were described as “Army-wide” shortages: they were demonstrated by virtually all the units coming to the NTC. These shortages were described as due to these personnel, especially the mechanics, being deployed abroad for missions such as Bosnia. On average, all Army personnel now spend from 180 to 220 days of each year away from their home base, and families, on deployments. This average used to be about 165 days per year. According to Army testimony to Congress, the increase in these deployments is for peacekeeping missions.
At the JRTC, units were described as typically missing 25% of their basic infantry: mostly junior enlisted personnel with combat military specialties and mid grade non-commissioned officer (NCO) personnel. This was described as a recruiting problem and specifically not because of deployments such as Bosnia.

In actuality, these problems may be worse than indicated here. I was told at the NTC that the NCO shortages are often temporarily addressed by pulling junior NCOs into the unfilled senior and mid level slots to make more complete units for training purposes. At the JRTC, because one third of each brigade's junior enlisted and NCO personnel do not deploy for a rotation, it is possible that gaps in the units that do deploy are filled with those that would otherwise stay home. I was told this is not occurring; however, I am skeptical that it never happens.
The problems seen were Army-wide, but concentrated due to the conflict in Bosnia and 'peace keeping' there by US troops. Shortages in skills, personnel, equipment and the such like are being described with the drain being due to Bosnia. One of the groups sent to Bosnia and then suffering through this was the 10th Mountain Division. By NOV 1999 the 10th Mountain Division and 1st Infantry Division had both fallen to the lowest readiness level since Vietnam. Given the high level of training necessary to make the 10 MD, this was astonishing and pointed to some larger scale problem that could allow any part of the Army, but *particularly* the 10 MD to fall to that level. In the year 2000 an investigation due to presidential campaigning ensued and found the following, as seen at the DNI site hosting this report:
Summary Findings and Conclusions

The character, enthusiasm, and professionalism of the officers, non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and enlisted men and women in the 10th Mountain Division is impressive. The 10th Mountain Division is officially rated by the Army at a level that lends support to General Shelton and the other respondents to candidate Bush's assertion of non-readiness. Strenuous efforts of the 10th Division's personnel are manifest to make it as effective a combat unit as resources permit. Various unit commanders expressed a willingness and readiness to take on and perform effectively any mission assigned, as has been the case in the past.

However, beneath the favorable overall readiness rating and an understandable - and professional - expression of confidence by various commanders, and despite all the hard efforts of the officers, NCOs, and enlisted personnel, the 10th Mountain is today experiencing multiple, serious shortages of people and material resources, training deficiencies, and other impediments to readiness, a large number of them resulting from policies imposed by Washington.

The issues include the following:
Incomplete manning in many combat and support units, sometimes to the extent that important secondary - if not primary - missions cannot be performed and/or primary mission performance is degraded. Moreover, because of Army force structure decisions, what is normally one-third of a US Army division's combat strength (an entire ground maneuver brigade) does not exist in the 10th Mountain Division.

Gaps in the leadership of the Division throughout its hierarchy, such that enlisted personnel are frequently doing the work of sergeants, lieutenants are doing the work of captains, captains of majors, and so on. Also, in cases where a position is occupied by an individual of appropriate rank, that individual may be less experienced than in the past or than experienced personnel - in and out of the 10th Division - deemed sufficient.

Training deficiencies that include less satisfactorily trained personnel received from Army training or personnel trained on equipment not assigned to the division, and incomplete opportunities to overcome these training inadequacies.

Non-availability of various equipment , training ammunition shortages, and funding shortfalls for facilities.

Various policy directives and allocation of resources from Washington (i.e.: from the civilian and military leadership of the military services and the Department of Defense and from Congress) that either impede readiness or that are ineffectual at addressing known deficiencies.

A lack of inquiry by various entities to collect on-the-ground, empirical information on the condition of the 10th Mountain to establish what basis candidate Bush may have had for his statements and/or to verify the statements of General Shelton, Secretary of Defense Cohen, Vice President Gore, and others.
From these findings and the data presented below, it is concluded that,
As stated by a 10th Mountain soldier at Fort Drum "There are two different armies; the one described in Washington, and the one that exists." And, from another, "There is a mind-boggling difference between the division that Washington DC describes and what exists in 10th Mountain." And from still another, "The [Division] only looks good on paper."
About a year later and the 10 MD had *still* not recovered from its neglect at overlong 'peace keeping' missions without resupply, rest and replenishment of personnel and stores. Also note multiple levels of conflicting orders from not only the DoD structure, but from Congress. Mind you Congress is the one to ensure that enough equipment is procured, pay established, training paid for and the such like and it is for the President to utilize such things. If the President is not utilizing them and Congress can't put forward a coherent outlook, chaos ensues. As it was the 10 MD was finally up to the task a bit more than a year later when it was actually NEEDED as the one group that knows how to act as a larger fighting force on the ground in mountainous terrain. Special Operations can only go so far, and they did a superb job coordinating between the Northern Alliance and the US Armed Forces. What was needed was the 10 MD, however. This is why those who think that 'any army' can fight in Afghanistan have it positively dead wrong: this is specialist terrain and if you don't have the training, equipment, stamina and logistics, then you are dead.

Congress has not lived up to its duties for over 15 years and has yet to actually define what the Armed Forces of the US should look like in the 21st century, how they should be equipped and what the necessary stores and supplies ARE for that force. Even with gross mismanagement by the Executive branch, there is no excuse for not properly understanding the needs and requirements of training, force structure, supply, refit and equipment upgrades. In THAT Congress has failed.

It took two branches of the Federal Government to fail for the 10 MD to fall as low as it did.

But the underlying long-term problem for 15 years has been Congress. And it has been run by both political parties.

Obviously Congress has failed its job and its duties to the Armed Forces of the United States.

And that does not look to be getting any better as of late, and most likely far, far worse.

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