The Cove believes that the lessons of recent ops are key to improving for the future. This is why we push the ‘case method’ project, where we present real-life combat experiences, and then seek reflection through a series of focused questions. These examples can be used by either individuals or groups, at all ranks.
Thanks to the work of the great US team at JTCOIC, we are now able to share the experience of the Battle of COP Keating that took place on 3rd October 2009.
COP Keating was a small, Company (-) sized outpost in North Eastern Afghanistan. Manned by a partner force of US and ANSF soldiers, it sought to dominate a historic smuggling route between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Relatively isolated from the main Battalion FOB, it consisted of the COP proper and a supporting Observation Post called ‘OP Fritsche’.
There was about 100 soldiers manning both the COP and the OP; 70 Americans and 30 Afghans. This team had been manning the COP for around five months, during which they’d received 45 enemy engagements. They were in their last few days in the location, which was due to close.
On 3rd October 2009, during the US surge into Afghanistan, COP Keating and OP Fritsche suffered a major, coordinated attack from several hundred insurgents. With no warning, they were attacked on three sides with small arms, heavy machine gun and recoilless rifle fire. This determined attack was part of a major insurgent effort to drive the coalition forces out of the province.
At the end of the ensuing battle, which lasted 16 hours, nine US and Afghan soldiers lay dead and more than 30 were injured. The COP was almost entirely destroyed. Close Air Support (CAS) and ISR would prove to be key to the US soldiers holding back the tide: 44 different air-frames provided support for over 21 hours. In terms of munitions, 37 GBU (5,000 pound) bombs were dropped on INS targets, along with two strafing runs. 3 x Apache helicopters were struck by heavy machine gun fire and heavily damaged. Around 60 – 80 insurgents were killed, and a similar number injured.
Watch the great, 12 minute simulation of the battle provided by JTCOIC, and then consider the following questions. Maybe sketch out some ideas on a white board:
For Company Leadership Teams.
Imagine you had been given the task of commanding COP Keating and its supporting OP. Your mission is to ‘INTERDICT’ insurgent smuggling routes.
1. The COP and the OP are significantly isolated (see Google Map). What would have driven your ground analysis when considering the location and defences of the COP and the OP? Note that there was no intimate support or LoS between the two. What support would you have wanted guaranteed from the Battalion location?
2. The soldiers at COP Keating had little warning of the attack, which was well coordinated. What indicators and warnings might have existed to provide early warning? How would you have created a robust defensive ISR plan to ID enemy positions as they formed up?
3. Noting guard rotations, leave, training etc, do you think there was sufficient manpower in the COP to both protect it and dominate the ground?
4. How focused do you think your soldiers would be after five kinetic months in the COP, and with it due to close? Would complacency have set in? What would you do to prevent this?
5. How would you design a defensive plan for the COP with sufficient depth to deal with such an attack? Does Australian Army doctrine provide you with a guide to do this? If so, where?
6. Coordination of rotary and fixed wing CAS, and airborne ISR was key to the US soldiers holding back the tide and re-gaining the initiative. What practicalities would have come into play for this control? Would you have had the skill sets needed in your current ORBAT? What if those individuals were dead?
7. If you had no access to CAS / ISR (noting at one stage there was a weather hold), how might you have regained the initiative in other ways? Or would it have been impossible?
8. A key challenge for the CAS air-frames was Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) as the US soldiers pulled back to the final defensive positions. How would you have supported the ID of Friends / Foes?
9. After many years in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are very reliant on rotary wing MEDEVAC within the ‘Golden Hour’. In this situation it was sixteen hours until MEDEVAC could reach the site. What MED and resupply support would you have needed in the base to triage and sustain mass casualties?
10. Who won in the end of this? Did the insurgents achieve their aim? Or were the US soldiers ‘victorious’ as they fought them off and were not overrun? What does ‘victory’ look like in this situation?
For Young Officers, NCOs and soldiers:
Imagine you were commanding a Platoon sized grouping at OP Fritsche for a two week rotation. Your mission is to ‘FIND’ insurgent movements along the route.
1. What would be your main considerations for protecting the OP, and for your ISR task?
2. As the commander of an Australian force, what cultural challenges would you have faced working with the Afghan security forces? How would you overcome these?
3. You have no direct LoS between the OP and the COP. You are pretty disconnected and isolated. What equipment (comms / ISR) would be available to you to help with these issues?
4. What major weapon systems would you have sought to have in your inventory for the defence of such a site? How much ammunition would you have wanted to hold?
5. What would you have needed to have in your ORBAT to support the critical use of CAS / airborne ISR? Would you have been able to guarantee such assets?
6. The decision to break out and reinforce the COP would have been a key one, likely made by the Pl Comd or SNCO. This was a high-risk choice; to leave the relative safety of the OP and advance across challenging ground. How would you have informed that decision, and what risk-assessment would you have done? What if you had no comms with the Coy Comd?
7. On deciding to break out, what coordination would you have needed to do, and what assets would you have needed? What form of orders would you have given prior to breaking out (mission, purpose, endstate, coord)? How would you have managed the risk?
8. Imagine you had taken two casualties in the initial contact. How would you have extracted them back to the COP, and what impact would this have had on your manpower?
9. What psychological and morale issues would you have faced after the attack? How would you have cared for those wounded, and those who survived unscathed? How would you have liaised with the families of the fallen?
10. As a leader, you will consider yourself tough and robust. But you are as human as everyone else. How would you have felt about what happened in COP Keating, and how (over time) would you square the circle in your own mind?
Have you seen a ‘case method’ we could use on the Cove? If so, hit ‘contribute’ and let us know.