Counterinsurgency 101 on Texas border

NY Times:

A firefight with heavily armed insurgents near a gold-domed mosque. A helicopter evacuation of bloody car bomb victims. A meeting with tribal elders upset about security.

Just another day in Afghanistan? More like the dress rehearsal for war, played out on 100,000 acres of snake-infested pine forest on an Army post near the Texas border.

Here, thousands of soldiers prepare for deployment each month by patrolling Afghan villages built by professional set designers, battling roving insurgents played by American soldiers and negotiating with actors playing tribal elders, many of whom speak real Pashto.

It is Counterinsurgency 101, about as realistic as the Army can make it in (Fort Polk) Louisiana, never mind the alligator-filled swamps, the “mud” huts assembled from metal shipping containers and the Afghan “villagers” who stir pots of Cajun rice and beans between Taliban raids. The training scenarios, created from intelligence reports fresh from the front, are capable of bringing stressed soldiers to the brink of tears, commanders say.

“We want to replicate the contemporary operating environment," said Col. Jon S. Lehr, who oversees the training operation. “But we also have to prepare a soldier for their worst day.”

The training extravaganza, put on by the Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center, has grown increasingly complex over the years, like the military’s mission itself. Each three-week session involves more than 2,000 support workers, from the writers and logistics experts who spend more than a year plotting scenarios, to the pyrotechnists who set explosions, to the hundreds of role players recruited from Louisiana towns or Afghan immigrant communities to populate nearly two dozen imitation villages.


I think the walk through will save lives when these troops get to Afghanistan, both theirs and Afghan noncombatants. Other than the swampy terrain, it appears the military has gone to extraordinary links to make the training realistic. They probably could have found more realistic terrain around Fort Bliss near El Paso.


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