What Good Losers Do: One Year Later By Easton

Updated: Nov 13


Marines of Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, fighting in Sangin, Afghanistan, 2010

(https://www.npr.org/2011/10/31/141724272/an-afghan-hell-on-earth-for-darkhorse-marines)


“Just as Marines who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan over these past 20 years

adapted to the demands of protracted counterinsurgency operations—which would have been all

too familiar to the Marines of 1970—we will adapt to the demands of the present and future, while learning the hard lessons from our recent past [emphasis added].”

-General David H. Berger, 10 November 2021[1]


In May 1955, less than a year after the French defeat in Indochina, the French Supreme Command, Far East, published what U.S. military historian Conrad Crane described as a “candid appraisal of…[French military] performance.”[2] It involved 1,400 reports by officers of all ranks, distilled into three volumes of lessons on political-military concerns, counterinsurgency, and tactics.”[3] The former commander of French troops in Indochina, General Paul Ely, said of the study, “We must review the causes of our failures and our successes to ensure that the lessons which we bought so dearly with our dead not remain locked away in the memories of the survivors.” He furthered declared that “An Army with a long history is sufficiently well-endowed to be able to hear the truth.”[4]


A year ago this month, The Maneuverist published “What Good Losers Do,” which examined the U.S. Marine Corps’ response to the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.[5] We proposed six actions the Marines could take to critically analyze, digest, and learn from those wars. Since then, what have they done? Other than interview some of the Marines who took part in the Kabul evacuation and write a few internal reports, almost nothing. What happened? At 247 years old, is the Marine Corps not “sufficiently well-endowed…to hear the truth?”


With the fall of Kabul, the Marine Corps swept Iraq and Afghanistan into the dustbin of history. Publicly, Marine senior leaders seem concerned only with their modernization efforts, known as Force Design 2030 (FD 2030), and its accompanying acrimonious public dialogue.[6] Iraq and Afghanistan have all but disappeared from professional discourse. Excluding the occasional book review and pieces with passing references or brief anecdotes, the Marine Corps Gazette has published just 3-4 articles squarely focused on either war since 2020.[7]


In 2019 Sir Hew Strachan, the renowned British military historian, wrote in Parameters that, “...the United States…has [not] gone through the process of learning lessons from Afghanistan [and Iraq we would add] on a scale commensurate with the effort put into the war.[8] This certainly holds true for the Marine Corps. Here are the estimated costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. spent $2.313 trillion dollars on Afghanistan, including operations in Pakistan.[9] 2,443 American troops, including 389 Marines, died in Afghanistan.[10] More than 20,666 U.S. troops, including 4,955 Marines, suffered injuries ranging from concussions to quadruple amputations.[11] At least 66,000 Afghan troops and 48,000 civilians died.[12] U.S. war costs in Iraq and Syria stand at more than $2.1 trillion dollars.[13] In Iraq, 4,575 U.S. troops, of which at least 853 were Marines, lost their lives and over 32,000 troops, including 8,642 Marines, were injured.[14] Research from Brown University puts the Iraqi civilian death toll due to wartime violence between 184,382 and 207,156 people.[15] Other estimates put that number between 1 and 2.4 million people.[16] Given the staggering amounts of treasure spent, lives lost, and injuries sustained, can Marine senior leaders honestly say their organization has sufficiently studied Iraq and Afghanistan? Of course not.


These conflicts have also caused immeasurable moral injury, lasting damage to one’s conscience or moral compass, to many of the Marines who fought them.[17]. As one example, in August 2021 Task and Purpose wrote about the post-deployment struggles of on-the-ground veterans of the Kabul evacuation, struggles of depression, anxiety, regret, and survivor’s guilt.[18] Late last year, the Brookings Institute released the findings of a survey on the effects of the Afghanistan withdrawal on veterans and society. Of those Afghanistan veterans surveyed, 73% felt betrayed and 67% felt humiliated.[19] Seventy-six percent of veterans said, '...they sometimes feel “like a stranger in my own country.”’[20] And these are just the Afghanistan veterans. In time, more and more invisible moral injuries will make themselves seen, whether in substance abuse, partner abuse, self-harm, or suicide.[21]


If for no other reason than to honor the dead and render aid and perhaps closure to the living, the Marine Corps must seriously examine its performance in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if that is not reason enough, candidly examining the past can provide insights for the future. Indeed, a serious dissection, discussion, and debate of the Corps’ experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan would shed much needed light on the generally dismal public conversation on FD 2030. The Corps’ experience in Iraq and Afghanistan provides countless topics for examination. We will briefly review three here: maneuver warfare, unit performance, and advising efforts.[22]


Maneuver Warfare

Preliminary research suggests that, with some exceptions, the Marine Corps did not understand nor practice its espoused warfighting doctrine of maneuver warfare in Iraq or Afghanistan. FD 2030 rests on arguments that the Marine Corps practices maneuver warfare.[23] According to some FD proponents, expeditionary advance base operations, a central concept of FD 2030, is maneuver warfare.[24] Therefore, this claim merits serious attention.


In 2015, Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller directed the now-defunct Small Wars Center at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command to produce the Consolidated Afghanistan/Iraq Lessons Study (CAILS). Its authors described it as an “unvarnished and comprehensive lessons learned study of Marine Corps operations in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001-2014.”[25] The CAILS was a product of the first phase of a three-phase research effort. Only the first phase was completed, however, and the report was neither widely circulated within the Marine Corps nor made available to the public.


Phase I research involved a


...closed session of [12] MAGTF field grade officers and civilians over a 2-3 week period. The researchers reviewed over 1700 pieces of services-related literature and identified 345 observations, insights and lessons (OIL) within over 600 cited sources…[the] researchers…were largely only able to identify and consolidate those trends that stood out from the pages of the references they were assigned. The researchers consolidated and categorized the OIL into 174 trends within 13 broader themes.[26]


With respect to maneuver warfare, the authors noted that


…It is an instructive and ominous observation that Maneuver Warfare was selected as one of the eighteen themes to be researched; however[,] the researchers identified few observations to warrant it being retained as a study theme.[27]


Later, they stated that


It is significant, perhaps a lesson in itself, that AARs or unit reports prepared during these conflicts contained little mention of, validation of, [or] suggestion for improving our warfighting philosophy. Since it is believed that a well-grounded understanding of maneuver warfare is [the] basis for excellence in conduct of war that include[s] irregular warfare methods, lack of maneuver warfare trends may be attributed to lack of understanding of maneuver warfare both in philosophy and in application during IW [irregular warfare]. It further suggests that for a warfighting philosophy to influence action, it must be applied in routine daily activities, and inculcated by unit level PME as well as training and exercises. It may suggest that commanders and leaders are not well read[,] nor do they mandate reading, discussing or critiquing warfighting as a necessary routine for understanding and application. As discussed in the Traditional War Paradigm theme, the lack of attention to maneuver warfare application in IW could be that deference to traditional warfare is an “easier” application of our warfighting philosophy.[28]


Of course, the CAILS does not prove the Marine Corps generally did not practice maneuver warfare in Iraq or Afghanistan. Much more research is needed and the CAILS team recommended the Marine Corps conduct “a deeper analysis [of lessons learned]…estimated to require at least a year…[which] should include analysis of historians and analysts as well as commanders and Marines who participated in both conflicts.”[29] But the study does raise important questions. Marine Corps schools and senior leaders pay lip service to maneuver warfare.[30] Yet one is hard pressed to find it reflected in the Corps’ awards system, manpower system, recruiting system, or the performance of many (if not most) of its units most of the time. Islands of excellence come and go, but not a single Marine command endures as an exemplar of the Corps’ warfighting philosophy.


In 2017-2018 at the direction of Commandant Neller, the Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM) hosted three conferences on “Reinvigorating Maneuver Warfare Through Training and Education.”[31] Their aim was to “to understand why the Marine Corps was not executing its foundational doctrine vigorously and how to reinvigorate…[it] in practice.”[32] Little came of these events. Starting in 2020, maneuver warfare came under fire from field-grade officers in the Gazette.[33] Their arguments rehashed many of the same criticisms offered in the 1980s, when maneuver warfare was thoroughly debated before its adoption as official doctrine in 1989. The renewed debates, fruitless TECOM conferences, and concerns raised in the CAILS suggest that, if maneuver warfare is indeed central to FD 2030, then the Marine Corps should closely examine the assumption that the organization actually practices it.


Unit Performance

The Marine Corps has insufficiently examined and critically analyzed the performance of its units in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Take the experiences of two infantry battalions in Afghanistan, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines (2/7), in 2008 and Third Battalion, Fifth Marines (3/5), in 2010-11. 2/7’s 2008 deployment should be studied by all Marines. Under a highly convoluted command structure, lacking adequate logistics, and with an unclear mission, approximately 1300 men fought for an area of operations (AO) covering 28,700 square kilometers.[34] That is larger than the size of Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, or New Hampshire. 2/7’s AO included nine districts, two provinces, two regional commands, and fourteen forward operating bases and combat outposts.[35]

2/7’s unit locations in Afghanistan

(https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA603246.pdf)


A 2010 Marine Corps Command and Staff College research paper on 2/7 notes that


With such a wide dispersion of battalion assets and personnel, the company and platoon became the largest maneuver elements. The majority of maneuver was conducted with the battalion command cell operating in an “observation and coordination role rather than a controlling one.”


From a command and control perspective, the vast AO was overwhelming for all unit

commanders. Company commanders found that "each warfighting function consumes your day. Take intelligence ... mapping of all these different, unique AOs and then trying to 'divine' what the enemy intent is, what coalition forces' agendas are, and what the people's needs are, and try to work magic of all that together into some kind of strategy." Dispersion of companies across thousands of square kilometers resulted in a level of autonomy and need for prolonged self sustainment. In essence, "Captains functioned like battalion commanders and lieutenants functioned like company commanders."[36]


Small units dispersed over vast distances. Company-grade officers making decisions usually reserved for their commanders. Severe challenges of self-sustainment. The value of critically examining 2/7’s performance to illuminate the FD 2030 discussion should be self-evident. One would expect the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab has already done this, but beyond that, few active-duty Marines know the details of 2/7’s 2008 deployment.


Turning now to 3/5, in 2010-2011 this battalion fought in Sangin, suffering 25 killed and hundreds wounded, more casualties than any other Marine unit during the war. Sangin and 3/5’s fight there has been described as the “Fallujah of Afghanistan” and become the subject of a New York Times-Best Seller by Bing West.[37] Indeed, 3/5 in Sangin has come to represent much of the Marine experience in Afghanistan.[38] For these reasons alone, Marines should be interested in critically examining the battalion's performance.


West described 3/5’s time in Sangin as “a war of attrition.”[39] Giving full due to the particularly challenging situation the battalion faced, if it did fight a war of attrition, was this inevitable or does it reinforce the CAILS’ suggestion that Marine units largely did not understand maneuver warfare? Along similar lines, Colonel (and later Major General) Paul Kennedy, under whose command 3/5 fell, repeatedly told its Marines that he had only one rule for them: “Finish every firefight standing on the ground where the enemy opened fire.”[40] Coming from an officer who taught maneuver warfare to lieutenants as a captain at The Basic School, this is a strange statement indeed. At face value, it limits commanders’ options and creativity and emphasizes firepower as the solution regardless of the situation.


Finally, several Marines of Third Battalion, Seventh Marines (3/7), the unit that 3/5 relieved in Sangin, claim that 3/5 did not heed their council and warnings during the relief. Instead, 3/5 was arrogant and dismissive. As a former Marine-turned-defense-contractor serving with 3/7 in Sangin would later write, “…the 3/5 boys were motivated to be there, but the command had their own ideas of how to approach the Sangin Problem.”[41] As a result, it needlessly suffered high casualties during its deployment, especially early on. These accusations have never been substantiated in writing publicly, but even if there is a shred of truth to them, should they not be investigated and discussed openly?


Unfortunately, even if we wanted to critically study 2/7 or 3/5’s performance in Afghanistan, we lack key official documentation. Marine units are required to submit command chronologies. Considered “the single most important body of historical records created, collected, and maintained by the Marine Corps,” they include “…a concise review of the operational experiences…[and] significant events…” of a unit along with “…supporting documents detailing the activities of the unit on a continuing basis.”[42] Neither 2/7 nor 3/5 submitted a chronology for the deployments described here. Allegedly, the hard drive on which 2/7’s chronology was located broke. 3/5 said it “too busy fighting” to write one. It did not submit one after returning home.[43] Making things worse, neither unit is the exception to the rule. In 2014, the Commanding General of Education Command and President of Marine Corps University stated that “…a significant number of units have failed to submit their unit command chronologies or have submitted them beyond the required reporting timeline.”[44] While submissions rates have improved since then, command chronologies still receive relatively little attention in most Marine commands.


What would it look like if the Marine Corps critically analyzed its units’ performance? The German army’s model in 1939-1940, following its victory over Poland, offers a good start. Senior German leaders deemed their organization’s battlefield success “insufficient and inadequate” and charged commanders with submitting candid critiques of their troop’s performance.[45] According to U.S. military historian Williamson Murray, “After-action reports from the battalion to the army level became more and more critical of troop performance, training, discipline, and doctrine the higher the level of command. This willingness to be self-critical was one of the major factors enabling the German army to perform at consistently high levels throughout World War II.”[46]


Advising Efforts

Among the most damning aspects of the Marine Corps’ performance in Iraq and Afghanistan was its advising efforts. As Lieutenant Colonel Brendan McBreen, an advisor in Afghanistan in 2006, wrote for The Maneuverist, "...the Marine Corps had zero interest in training the Afghan National Army.I—and thousands of Marines like me—went to Afghanistan as part of a scratch-built team of 'individual augments.' We were hastily assembled, minimally trained, and then randomly assigned…When our country needed tough professionals to build up an ally, the Marine Corps chose to look the other way."[47]


Lieutenant General Larry Nicholson, who led Marines in Afghanistan in 2009, posed several questions about America’s advising efforts in Afghanistan during the Irregular Warfare Podcast earlier this year.


Did we try to create a military that was in in our own image? Was that part of the problem? Did we try to build the US Army, the US Marine Corps, instead of building something that lighter, less logistic dependent, less centralized, more regional, that would have been a better peer competitor with their adversary...the Taliban?[48]


According to Major General Julian Dale Alford, who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the answer to these questions is an unapologetic “Yes.” During a talk at Marine Corps University in November 2021, Alford said, “…right out of the gate, very early on, we tried to build an army that look like the U.S Army. It was always going to fail. And many of us talked about that early and talked about that a lot in 2008-2009 with General McKiernan in particular.”[49]


Many company and field-grade officers who served as advisors in Iraq and Afghanistan experienced their own misgivings about their mission. According to one Marine lieutenant who served on an advisor team in Afghanistan in 2013, when Colonel Eric Smith (now the current Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps) was asked for his plan to take back parts of Helmand Province that had fallen to the Taliban, his response boiled down to “There is no plan. Hold out.”[50] Lucas Kunce, a Marine officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, wrote a damning indictment of his command’s advising efforts.


I led a team of Marines training Iraqi security forces to defend their country. When I arrived[,] I received a “stoplight” chart on their supposed capabilities in dozens of missions and responsibilities. Green meant they were good. Yellow was needed improvement; red said they couldn’t do it at all.


I was delighted to see how far along they were on paper — until I actually began working with them. I attempted to adjust the charts to reflect reality and was quickly shut down. The ratings could not go down. That was the deal. It was the kind of lie that kept the war going.[50]


If our approach to advising in both Iraq and Afghanistan was indeed so lackluster, ill-thought, and doomed to fail, why did so few Marine leaders of all ranks speak up? What is more, why have so few leaders spoken up long after Mosul and Kabul fell? What does this silence say of what we teach Marine leaders about ethics, morality, integrity, and professional dissent?


What Now?

Is it unlikely the Marine Corps will devote serious resources and attention to a “candid appraisal of…[its] performance” in Iraq and Afghanistan anytime soon. The current Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps speak in the past tense on Iraq and Afghanistan, of lessons already learned. We have presented steps to address the problem. But the first and most important step is for senior leaders to acknowledge they have anything to learn at all. So far, we have little reason to hope they will.


Author Bio: Easton is an American defense critic.

[1] General David H. Berger. “A Message from the Commandant of the Marine Corps,” Marine Corps Gazette, November 2021, pg. 4.

[2] Conrad C. Crane. “Avoiding Vietnam: The U.S. Army’s Response to Defeat in Southeast Asia,” U.S. Army War College Press, September 2002, https://press.armywarcollege.edu/monographs/814/, pg. 1.

[3] Crane, pg. 1.

[4] Crane, pg. 1. American readers may be tempted to dismiss the value of the French study because France suffered another defeat just years later in the French-Algerian War. This, however, overlooks France’s much improved performance in counterinsurgency operations in that conflict. Besides, after Iraq and Afghanistan, should anyone trust the U.S. approach to waging counterinsurgency?

[5] Easton. “What Good Losers Do,” The Maneuverist, November 2021, https://www.themaneuverist.org/post/what-good-losers-do-by-easton.

[6] See, for instance, the many anti-FD 2030 articles on Marine Corps Compass Points, https://marinecorpscompasspoints.substack.com/.

[7] This includes both print and online articles published. See, for instance, Maj Thomas Schueman. “Wish for the Impossible...but understand the war you are fighting,” Marine Corps Gazette, November 2021, https://mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/Wish-for-the-Impossible.pdf, pgs. 12-18; and Maj T.N. Collier. USMCR. “Narratives of Nasiriya: Overcoming the difficulty of distinction in hybrid warfare: A law of war perspective from Marine Special Operations Forces, Marine Corps Gazette, May 2020, https://mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/Narratives-of-Nasiriya.pdf, pgs. 41-45.

[8] Hew Strachan, “Learning Lessons from Afghanistan: Two Imperatives,” Parameters, issue 49, Number 3, 2019, https://press.armywarcollege.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2770&context=parameters, pg. 8.

[9] Costs of War Project. “Human and Budgetary Costs to Date of the U.S. War in Afghanistan, 2001-2022,” Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, 2022, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/figures/2021/human-and-budgetary-costs-date-us-war-afghanistan-2001-2022.

[10] Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGARS), Lessons Learned Program. “What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction: Interactive Summary,” August 2021, https://www.sigar.mil/interactive-reports/what-we-need-to-learn/index.html; and Marine Corps University, Marine Corps History Division, Reference Branch. “Marine Corps Casualties: 1775-2015,” 2017, https://www.usmcu.edu/Research/Marine-Corps-History-Division/Research-Tools-Facts-and-Figures/Marine-Corps-Casualties-1775-2016/. The figures for Marines killed in action include the 11 Marines who died during the Kabul evacuation.

[11] SIGARS, https://www.sigar.mil/interactive-reports/what-we-need-to-learn/index.html; and “Marine Corps Casualties: 1775-2015,” https://www.usmcu.edu/Research/Marine-Corps-History-Division/Research-Tools-Facts-and-Figures/Marine-Corps-Casualties-1775-2016/.

[12] SIGARS, https://www.sigar.mil/interactive-reports/what-we-need-to-learn/index.html.

[13] Brown University. “Costs of the 20-year war on terror: $8 trillion and 900,000 deaths,” September 2021, https://www.brown.edu/news/2021-09-01/costsofwar.

[14] The total numbers vary somewhat from source to source. Statista. “Number of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq war from 2003 to 2020,” March 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/263798/american-soldiers-killed-in-iraq/; U.S. Department of Defense. “Casualty Status,” November 7 2022, https://www.defense.gov/casualty.pdf; and “Marine Corps Casualties: 1775-2015,” https://www.usmcu.edu/Research/Marine-Corps-History-Division/Research-Tools-Facts-and-Figures/Marine-Corps-Casualties-1775-2016/.

[15] Costs of War Project. “Iraqi Civilians,” Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, 2022, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human/civilians/iraqi.

[16] John Tirman. “Iraq: The Human Cost,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Center for International Studies, https://web.mit.edu/humancostiraq/; and Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies. “The staggering death toll in Iraq,” Salon, March 19 2018, https://www.salon.com/2018/03/19/the-staggering-death-toll-in-iraq_partner/.

[17] The Moral Injury Project. “What is Moral Injury,” Syracuse University, https://moralinjuryproject.syr.edu/about-moral-injury/; Sam Ryder. "Moral Injury and the End of the Forever War," The Maneuverist, September 2021, https://www.themaneuverist.org/post/moral-injury-and-the-end-of-the-forever-war-by-sam-ryder; and J.P. Lawrence. “Diagnoses of moral injury are a growing part of Afghanistan legacy for US personnel,” Stars and Stripes, August 12 2021, https://www.stripes.com/theaters/middle_east/2022-08-12/moral-injury-afghanistan-6862738.html#:~:text=Middle%20East-,Diagnoses%20of%20moral%20injury%20are%20a%20growing,Afghanistan%20legacy%20for%20US%20personnel&text=The%20upcoming%20one%2Dyear%20anniversary%20of%20the%20U.S.%20military%20withdrawal,and%20mental%20health%20advocates%20say.

[18] Haley Britzky. “As the world moves on, veterans of the Afghanistan withdrawal struggle to join them,” Task and Purpose, August 29 2022, https://taskandpurpose.com/news/army-marine-corps-air-force-veterans-afghanistan-withdrawal/.

[19] William A. Galston. “Anger, betrayal, and humiliation: how veterans feel about the withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Brookings Institute, November 12 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/11/12/anger-betrayal-and-humiliation-how-veterans-feel-about-the-withdrawal-from-afghanistan/.

[20] Galston, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/11/12/anger-betrayal-and-humiliation-how-veterans-feel-about-the-withdrawal-from-afghanistan/.

[21] Rachel Davies et. al. “Moral Injury, Substance Use, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Among Military Personnel: An Examination of Trait Mindfulness as a Moderator” Journal of Traumatic Stress Trauma Stress. June 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6581602/, pgs. 414-423; J Van Denend, et. al. "Moral Injury in the Context of Substance Use Disorders: a Narrative Review. Curr Treat Options Psychiatry. September 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9483387/, pgs. 1-10;

and Shira Maguen, et. al. "Moral injury and peri-and post-military suicide attempts among post-9/11 veterans," January 2022, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/psychological-medicine/article/moral-injury-and-peri-and-postmilitary-suicide-attempts-among-post911-veterans/C53A4A587025CC198CCFBD63D97AEC0E.

[22] There are many other areas to explore and analyze: Marine riverine operations in Iraq, how the Marine Corps Planning Process fared in combat operations, the insistence of senior Marine leaders to create a “Marineistan” in Helmand Province, why so many units in Iraq and Afghanistan operated from fixed positions (just as many of their forebears did in Vietnam).

[23] General David H. Berger. “38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance,” July 2019, https://www.hqmc.marines.mil/Portals/142/Docs/%2038th%20Commandant%27s%20Planning%20Guidance_2019.pdf?ver=2019-07-16-200152-700; U.S. Marine Corps. “Force Design 2030: Annual Update, May 2022, https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Docs/Force_Design_2030_Annual_Update_May_2022.pdf.

[24] CTR Gary C. Lehmann & Maj Brian Kerg. “A Response to Maneuverist #19: EABO is Maneuver Warfare,” March 2022, https://mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/A-Response-to-Maneuverist-19.pdf.

[25] Small Wars Center. Consolidated Afghanistan/Iraq Lessons Study Final Report Working Draft. July 2015. Hereafter “CAILS.”

[26] CAILS, pgs. 3-4.

[27] CAILS, pg. 4.

[28] CAILS, pg.12.

[29] CAILS, pg. 3.

[30] General David H. Berger. “A Message from the Commandant of the Marine Corps,” March 2022, https://mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/FMFM1-Warfighting_Anniversary-Letter-from-CMC.pdf.

[31] Bryan McCoy. "Reinvigorating Maneuver Warfare: An Organizational Learning Reinvigorating Maneuver Warfare," dissertation, Georgia State University, 2020, https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1138&context=bus_admin_diss, pg. 1.

[32] McCoy, https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1138&context=bus_admin_diss, pg. 1.

[33] See, for instance, LtCol Thaddeus Drake, Jr. “The Fantasy of MCDP 1: Is maneuver warfare still useful?,” Marine Corps Gazette, October 2020, https://mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Fantasy-of-MCDP-1-1.pdf, pgs. 33-37; Nathan Fleischaker and Christopher Denzel. “Force 2030 – Divesting: Maneuver Warfare,” Marine Corps Gazette Blog, April 2020, https://mca-marines.org/blog/2020/04/07/force-2030-divesting-maneuver-warfare/; and Maj Christopher A. Denzel. “Achieving Decision on the Battlefield Redefining maneuver warfare as method, not philosophy,” Marine Corps Gazette, August 2022, https://mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/Achieving-Decision-on-the-Battlefield.pdf, pgs. 86-89.

[34] Major Sean Patrick Dynan. “Influencing Helmand: United States Marine Corps Operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2008,” Master of Military Studies Research Paper, April 2010, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA603246.pdf, pg. 6. Other units like Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, in 2004 and the battalions of Third Marine Regiment in 2004-2006 fought for smaller, yet still impressively large, areas of operations and should be studied closely as well.

[35] Dynan, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA603246.pdf, pg. 9.

[36] Dynan, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA603246.pdf, pg. 11.

[37] David J. Morris. “Sangin, the Fallujah of Afghanistan, and what it means to your Marines,” Best Defense, Foreign Policy, November 2010, https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/11/24/sangin-the-fallujah-of-afghanistan-and-what-it-means-to-your-marines/; and Bing West. One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon at War, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2015, https://www.amazon.com/One-Million-Steps-Marine-Platoon/dp/0812980913.

[38] Konstantin Toropin. “How Will Afghanistan Live on in Marine Corps Lore?” Military.com, August 2021, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/08/28/how-will-afghanistan-live-marine-corps-lore.html; Wesley Morgan. “The outsize legacy of Sangin, one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan for U.S. and British troops,” The Washington Post, January 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/01/04/the-outsized-legacy-of-sangin-one-of-the-deadliest-places-in-afghanistan-for-u-s-and-british-troops/.

[39] West, pg. 44.

[40] West, pgs. 142 and 177.

[41] Ronnie Alexander. Blood, Sweat & Fears!: The True Story of 3/7 Marine Warfighters in Sangin, Afghanistan 2010. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016, pg. 160. https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Sweat-Fears-Warfighters-Afghanistan/dp/1539489884/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1668170671&sr=8-1.

[42] It is hard to overstate the importance of command chronologies. They are “…frequently requested in support of award submissions, Veterans Administration claims, and academic and professional research. It is vial that these records provide references and documents concerning significant events that would support these types of inquires.” Brigadier General T.D. Weidley, Commanding General, Education Command, President, Marine Corps University. “MARADMINS Number: 509/14: Library of the Marine Corps Electronic Command Chronology Reporting System Test,” October 2014, https://www.marines.mil/DesktopModules/ArticleCS/Print.aspx?PortalId=1&ModuleId=542&Article=896692.

[43] The story of the fried hard drive comes from a conversation with a lieutenant who served with 2/7 during its 2008 deployment. Call with author, 25 January 22. As for 3/5, according to a former director of the Marine Corps History Division who dealt directly with the unit, he was told the unit was too busy fighting. Email to author, 16 September 22. While 3/5 was no doubt in the fight of its life, the fighting did end eventually, and it should have contributed a command chronology on what arguably has become the defining battle of the Marines in Afghanistan. Neglect of command chronologies, one of the few mechanisms the Marine Corps has to capture the operational actions of its units, should be a cause for concern. This is especially true considering that many other units throughout Marine Corps history have taken far higher casualties than 3/5 and still submitted command chronologies.

[44] Weidley, https://www.marines.mil/News/Messages/Messages-Display/Article/896692/library-of-the-marine-corps-electronic-command-chronology-reporting-system-test/.

[45] Williamson Murray. “The German Response to Victory in Poland,” in German Military Effectiveness, Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co. of America, July 1992, https://www.amazon.com/German-Military-Effectiveness-Williamson-Murray/dp/1877853119, pg. 231.

[46] Murray, pg. 231.

[47] LtCol Brendan McBreen. “You Had ONE Job: The U.S. Military’s Epic Fail in Afghanistan,” The Maneuverist, November 2021, https://www.themaneuverist.org/post/you-had-one-job-the-u-s-military-s-epic-fail-in-afghanistan-by-ltcol-brendan-mcbreen-usmc-ret.

[48] Shawna Sinnott and Andrew Milburn. “Looking Back, Looking Forward: The Enduring Lessons of Security Force Assistance,” Irregular Warfare Podcast, episode 45, Modern War Institute, January 2022, https://mwi.usma.edu/looking-back-looking-forward-the-enduring-lessons-of-security-force-assistance/.

[49] Middle East Studies, Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare, Marine Corps University. “The U.S. in Afghanistan: Looking Back to Look Forward," November 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeNMDpFb8_Y.

[50] Email to author from T. J. Foss, 8 November 2022.

[51] Lucas Kunce. “I served in Afghanistan as a US Marine, twice. Here’s the truth in two sentences,” The Kansas City Star, Yahoo! News, August 2021, https://news.yahoo.com/served-afghanistan-us-marine-twice-100000389.html.

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