By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 19, 2009 - A recently published Army handbook addresses the unique set of topographical, cultural and operational challenges facing troops in Afghanistan. "What you will find in this handbook are specific objectives and lessons that have been learned at the small-unit level that pertain to the very specific and unique set of conditions that small-unit commanders will find themselves in in Afghanistan," Army Col. Robert Forrester, director of the Center for Army Lessons Learned, told bloggers and online journalists yesterday during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.
Topics and themes in the handbook emerged largely from six months of field interviews, observations and collaboration with the Infantry School and Maneuver Center of Excellence. One recurring theme is the need for redundant communications, said retired Army Lt. Col. Brice Johnson, who wrote the handbook.
"In some of the very tough environments of Afghanistan, FM radio may be sketchy, satellite communications may be intermittent, so the small-unit commander has to plan for primary, alternate, contingency and emergency communications for each operation they go out on," he said.
Johnson added that a chapter on cultural engagement recognizes the challenges that stem from the diverse ethnic enclaves in Afghanistan.
"Each small-unit leader has to examine the area he is in, interpret the ethnicities, the tribal loyalties and previous history of the area, so he can form lasting relationships with the leaders in that area and have a successful operation," Johnson said.
Other chapters cover force-protection -- including the protection of combat outposts -- fires and joint fires, marksmanship, medical and casualty evacuations, battle drills and maintaining fitness in high-altitude areas with steep terrain. Checklists in the handbook enable squad leaders and platoon sergeants to ensure they have taken all the right steps and precautions for successful perimeter defense.
"I think it will serve as a good guide to any small-unit leader as he sets up a small-unit outpost with the right information, the right lessons to posture them for success," Johnson said.
Forrester reminded bloggers that the foe in Afghanistan is extremely well seasoned and experienced. "They are very resourceful. They are very adaptive. They are willing to stand toe to toe with you and fight it out at a small-unit infantry level," he said.
The print version of the handbook is now available. For more information, visit the Center for Army Lessons Learned Web site.
(Judith Snyderman works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)