News: Knowing Your Enemy: American Soldiers Train as Taliban
Story by Spc. Ken Scar
FORT HOOD, Texas - The insurgents gathered quietly just before dawn on Nov. 4, in an isolated field, forming up into neat lines and placing their weapons at their feet. As the sun broke the horizon, they sank to their knees for morning prayers, asking for guidance and glory in their war against the American invaders. Another day of training on Fort Hood had begun.
This particular band of Al-Qaeda fighters had been wreaking havoc on an Army squadron all week – taking out multiple vehicles and entry control points with improvised explosive devices, killing dozens of U.S. soldiers in ambushes, and even capturing two vehicles. Their success came from a wealth of knowledge about their American adversaries – knowledge derived from the fact that they are also Army soldiers. For this week, however, they were playing the part of anti-American insurgents for Operation Bear Mountain, a week-long training exercise conducted by the 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.
The unique training, tailored from enemy tactics, techniques and procedures culled from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, requires the soldiers involved to immerse themselves in their roles as insurgents – which this group of soldiers did with relish.
“When [my soldiers] have to fight like the Taliban and think like the Taliban, they get motivated,” said 1st Sgt. Joseph Freccatore of Troop B. “It’s surprising.”
Playing the role of insurgents provides valuable insight into the workings of the enemy, said Freccatore, noting that the liquidity of their operating procedures is one reason they can be effective against the much larger, better-equipped forces they’re fighting.
“I’m kind of amazed that the Taliban have such capabilities,” Freccatore said. “They carry nothing, they have old equipment, they don’t wear boots – yet they can go for days.”
Later that morning, the rag-tag bunch of mock terrorists planned a complex attack on the entry control point of a forward operating base a couple of miles from their mock training camp. The plan was to approach the gate as a group, feigning outrage over an unarmed civilian that’s been shot and wounded by American troops. They wanted to escalate the noise and outrage of the protest and draw warning fire from the sentries, creating confusion. At this point Pfc. Michael Churach, who was rigged with a simulated explosive vest under his clothes, would approach the gate, offering information and hoping to get as close to a high-value target or group of soldiers as possible before “detonating” (the mock vest made a loud beeping sound like a car alarm when a button was pushed).
The plan was rehearsed all morning. At 1 p.m. they walked up to the gate of the FOB yelling, waving sticks and throwing the occasional stone. The soldiers guarding the gate kept them back at first, but under the sustained commotion Churach was eventually able to get close enough to rush the gate and push the button. Seven soldiers were “killed.”
Game over. Lesson learned.
“It’s scary how easy it is to set up an ambush,” said Pfc. Scott Oeskovic.
Reactions like Oeskovic’s are exactly what military leaders are looking for during this kind of exercise. The point of the training is to help soldiers prevent such ambushes in theater, said Freccatore – and fear breeds caution.