Leadership: The Elite Asymmetric Warfare Group

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March 15, 2010: The U.S. Army's Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) is an elite force of nearly 400 personnel that supplies advice to commanders on what new tactics the enemy has come up with, or may be planning, and how to counter it. The AWG arose from the Army Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Task Force, which was put together in 2003, when Iraqi Sunni Arab terrorists found that roadside bombs were the only weapon they had that had a chance of causing American casualties. The U.S. troops were too effective to take on in a gun fight. The U.S. responded with armored trucks, including heavily armed gun trucks. All this was nothing new.

The first gun trucks were built in late 1967, in South Vietnam, by members of the U.S. Army 8th Transportation Group. They armored and armed some 2 ½ ton trucks to provide escorts for convoys getting ambushed by Vietcong gunmen. As with Iraq, fuel, ammo, and much more, had to be constantly moved, by truck, from South Vietnamese ports to American and South Vietnamese bases inland. The Vietcong guerillas did not have access to the explosives and other materials needed to make a lot of roadside bombs, so their typical tactic was an ambush using rifles, machine-guns and RPGs.

The 2 ½ ton gun trucks proved underpowered. So some five ton trucks were armored and armed (usually with four machine-guns, ranging in caliber from 7.62mm to 12.7mm). Some trucks were equipped with several radios, allowing the truck crew to call in supporting firepower from artillery units, or bombers and helicopters overhead. Accurate records were not kept, but it is estimated that over 400 gun trucks were built, and served as convoy escorts from 1967, until 1973 (when American ground troops withdrew from South Vietnam.) In Iraq, over 10,000 gun trucks (mostly in the form of MRAPs) were put into use.

Because there were so many thousand tons of explosives and artillery shells left lying around Iraq after Saddam's government was defeated in 2003, and more wireless devices available (from toys, garage door openers and so on), roadside bombs became the major danger to convoys. The gun trucks could still handle the old style ambushes. But the Iraqi foe preferred the roadside bomb, since the attacker is much less likely to take casualties.

In 2003, the U.S. Army's institutional memory did not immediately recall past experience with roadside bombs. Past solutions were rapidly reinvented. The AWG evolved as a way to speed up this process, and quickly reach back to past solutions for "new" weapons and tactics encountered. AWG recruits men and women who are quick thinkers, and resourceful. AWG teams (of up to 30 personnel) advise commanders on what asymmetric tactics an inferior (in conventional forces) foe might come up with. This is done by knowing a lot of military history (nothing is completely new), and being able to find, or create, ways to counter these asymmetric methods. The AWG also collect information for the commander, and the AWG headquarters, which maintains a database of current, and past, asymmetric methods.

AWG recruiting teams are constantly touring army bases, interviewing troops who think they have what it takes, and signing up those who do. A tour in AWG is interesting work, and does wonders for your career.

 


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