Film at Eleven

This month’s featured ShadowBox scenario is a re-purposed Tactical Decision Game (TDG). TDGs were popularized in the Marine Corps in the 1990s as a way to improve tactical skill and decision making ability. As one of the earliest TDGs, it long predates the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although it has generated valuable discussions with applicability to both conflicts.

Welcome to our featured scenario of the month! We use this format to share a unique scenario that highlights an interesting problem, an emerging topic, or a new scenario format. As you read through the scenario, think carefully about how you would handle the situation – what stands out to you, what do you think is going on, and what would your priorities be if you found yourself in this situation? We suggest recording your choices and decision rationale so that you can compare your decisions with the experts at the end of the scenario. Read on to find out how you stack up against expert decision makers for this scenario.

The Situation

You are a mechanized rifle company commander operating in an arid desert environment that offers exceptional mobility for wheeled and tracked vehicles.  Each of your three rifle platoons is mounted on three armored personnel carriers (APCs) armed with .50 caliber machine guns (range 1,700m).  You also have a platoon of 81mm mortars (range 5km) on APCs.  

After intense fighting at the front for several weeks, the battalion commander has assigned your company to rear duty providing security for the Mobile Logistics Detachment (MLD).  As the ground combat forces advance north, the logistics commander plans to move in that direction and establish a forward supply point at Oasis, some 40 kilometers north but still several kilometers south of the front. Attacking forces had bypassed Oasis on the attack north.  While the front is generally to the north, there is no clear delineation between friendly and enemy territory; you long ago learned the importance of all-around security.  Irregular enemy forces mounted on small trucks and equipped with heavy machine guns are known to operate in the area.

Oasis (pop. 2,500) is the only source of water in the area. The local population lives in rough dwellings that will not normally withstand anything larger than small arms. The only substantial masonry structures are the two-story community center (with a clinic and school) and the pump house, both built in the last decade with U.S. aid money.  In the center of town is a large plaza. Surrounding the buildings are irrigated fields of crops that meet local needs and are sold to outlying communities. The local population is of the same ethnic group as both the enemy and the host nation.

The time is 1800. The logistics commander tells you he wants to occupy Oasis starting at 1200 tomorrow, and he expects you to secure the settlement by that time. From experience, you know that each oasis has a small militia force consisting of the adult males of the settlement, equipped with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), machine guns, and possibly light mortars. The fighting skills of these outfits vary greatly but most will fight tenaciously to defend their homes and crops.  In the case of Oasis, the S-2 estimates the militia to be between 200-250 strong. He can tell you nothing more than that.

The logistics commander comes up to you and says: “One more thing; there’s an embedded cable TV news team covering us that’s looking for a little action. I’ve told them they can accompany you as you seize Oasis. Cooperate with them, but keep them out of trouble.”  You are introduced to the correspondent, whose perfect hair helmet you recognize from television.  He says:  “Let’s get something straight, Captain. The public has a right to know what’s going on over here.  I want to be right where the action is.  If you try to keep me from doing my job, it could be embarrassing for you.”

Decision Point #1

As you assess the situation and develop your plan, what are the most important considerations?

Select the three most important options from the list below.

Most ImportantOption
a. Secure the town (and especially the pump house) at all costs.
b. With a hostile embedded news crew, don’t do anything that could cause a scandal.
c. Minimize friendly casualties.
d. Minimize collateral damage; that will not look good on the evening news.
e. Figure out how to accomplish the mission without a fight.
f. Show the locals who is in charge right from the beginning and there won’t be any trouble.
g. Make sure the news crew is safe and out of the way at all times.

Take a moment to consider your reasons for your decision.

Decision Point #2

What actions would you be most likely to include as part of your concept of operations?

Select all that apply from the list below.

a. Sneak in through the crop fields on foot under cover of darkness to achieve the element of surprise.
b. Approach on the road in daylight.
c. Conduct mortar prep fires to keep militia forces suppressed as you approach.
d. Seize the pump station (the town’s lifeline) as an objective.
e. Seize the community center (“high” ground and symbolic center) as key terrain.
f. Conduct a diversion on one side of town while approaching from another.
g. Drive straight into the center of the plaza in the middle of the day and ask to speak to the community leaders.
h. Set up a base of fire with one platoon while entering the town with the other two.
i. Quickly seize the egress points (southwest, northeast, and northwest corners) to prevent hostile elements from escaping.
j. Strike quickly and decisively to overwhelm any resistance before it can get organized.
k. Occupy the hill west of town as a potential base of fire.
l. Occupy an overwatch position on the hill south of town.
m. Halt a vehicle heading into town and have them escort you.

Take a moment to consider your reasons for your decision.