Conventional Forces in Low-Intensity Conflict: The 82d Airborne in Firebase Shkin

October 8, 2004

In May 2003 I was given a remarkable opportunity. I had always wanted to take command of an airborne infantry company and subsequently to lead them in combat, but what ensued over the next three months went beyond my expectations. I took command of a unique company team composed of assets that I never thought I would command. I conducted numerous Civil Military Operations (CMOs) along with intense combat operations. Over the next six weeks, soldiers under my command engaged in six firefights with al Qaeda forces, and none of my soldiers sustained injury. When we left Firebase Shkin, I knew I had just partaken in the experience of a lifetime. I was given an opportunity that no other captain in the Army was given: to fight his own combined-arms, coalition, joint, multi-agency fight in his own Area of Operations (AO). But in addition to my own thankfulness for being given this opportunity, I realized that what we accomplished could and should be accomplished by young company commanders throughout the world in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). After the high-intensity warfare is complete and we begin fighting an insurgency operation, the best way to find, fix and finish an enemy waging a guerilla war is to give leaders at the small-unit level enough leeway, enough specialized assets and enough firepower to engage their population, develop their own intelligence and be able to crush the enemy.

The enemy we routinely face in the GWOT blends into the population. He might or might not have the support of the locals, but the same can be said for the coalition forcesí relationships with the locals. We need to earn local support on a personal level; only then will they assist us in fighting insurgency.

In writing this I have three goals. The first is to get our Army and National Security leaders to recognize that we have, within our existing forces, a remarkable asset for fighting and winning the war on terrorism: our company-sized elements. The way ahead is simple: focus some of our doctrine and training to prepare young company commanders to lead combined-arms warfare, to conduct CMO operations, and to develop and exploit their own intelligence. This leads into my second goal: to provide a short ìlessons learnedî to my fellow company commanders who are currently or will soon be in a position like mine where they can conduct these types of operations. Finally, I want to share our story; the 200+ American and coalition soldiers and the 180+ Afghan Militia who served 2 with me in the Bermel Valley risked their lives every day and came out with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. We took the Bermel Valley from the enemy, and we won our own battles in this Global War on Terrorism. In no way do I claim to be an expert in either conventional or unconventional warfare. I simply wish to share the experiences of a unit that was successful.