Taliban rockets hit General Dempsey’s plane

Rockets launched by Taliban fighters damaged the airplane used by General Martin Dempsey, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while it was parked on the runway at Bagram Air Base in Parwan province. Dempsey was in Afghanistan to discuss the recent uptick in green-on-blue attacks, among other issues. He was not in the C-17 when it was hit. Dempsey left Afghanistan on another aircraft, according to the ISAF press release:

International Security Assistance Force can confirm that shrapnel from an indirect fire round at Bagram Airfield damaged the military aircraft that brought Gen. Martin E. Dempsey to Afghanistan. The round was one of two that impacted Bagram last night. An ISAF helicopter was also damaged.

Gen. Dempsey, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Afghanistan visiting senior ISAF and Afghan officials. The Chairman was in his room at the time of the incident and was unharmed.

Due to some exterior damage to Gen. Dempsey’s aircraft, he left Afghanistan on a different military plane.

While this was no doubt a lucky shot by the Taliban rocket team, they certainly scored a major propaganda coup from the hit. The Taliban already claimed the attack and said they had inside information that allowed them to directly target Dempsey’s C-17.

If true, this would be the second time in the past six months that a top US general was targeted on a secure airbase in Afghanistan. On March 16, an Afghan interpreter attempted to kill Major General Mark Gurganus, the commander of Regional Command-Southwest, at Camp Bastion Air Field in Helmand province. An Afghan interpreter crashed a truck while trying to run down Gurganus and his staff just before US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was scheduled to land. The interpreter set himself on fire after failing. It is unclear if the attack was conducted by the Taliban.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    The more they can appear to “speed us on our way” (whether it has actual effect or not), the stronger position they’ll be in once the West is gone.
    This entire withdrawal is a Taliban victory. Obama may not know it, but Karzai must. I’d like to know how much money Karzai has squirreled away outside the country in the past 3 1/2 years.

  • nameless says:

    I’m quite disappointed. Not even a mention of the two servicemen reportedly injured in the attack. Make it a story because the plane belonged to a General Officer, who was probably in his air conditioned chu at the time of the attack. Well done LongWar

  • My2Cents says:

    What kind of rockets?
    Long range bombardment rockets are one thing, but if they were close enough to launch RPGs at high elevation then the base security is suspect.

  • Kent Gatewood says:

    Nameless, Long War Journal quoted the entire press release. LWJ reports the immediate news and then puts it in context.

  • CluelessCommand says:

    I would like to know why the military, headed by our smart commanders on the ground, had to give a “BDA” Battle Damage Assessment?
    Why don’t they just give them a medal to go with that? Do they have to confirm to the enemy what they hit? Couldn’t they just say that they hit a couple of Port A Johns in the airfield?
    Are our military commanders that INCOMPETENT and cannot even think outside the box? 10 years in war and this is what they have to show for?

  • wallbangr says:

    @CluelessCommand: One suspects, and this is conjecture, that the media caught wind of this and made it an issue which the military then had to acknowledge and address. I tend to doubt that the military was going to offer this up otherwise. The story probably made the rounds because of what a tremendously lucky shot it was. By the time the media asked about it, they likely felt it better to be transparent about it than to deny something which likely would have carried far as a rumor or story among the ranks. In addition, they are going to chalk it up as a one-in-a-million shot that ultimately did relatively little harm. In reality, the craft was sprayed with some shrapnel. It wasn’t a direct hit. It wasn’t a shot that hit the plane mid-air. It was still extremely lucky, but certainly not outside the realm of possibilities. This still is, mind you, a shooting war. While it sounds like the damage was relatively minor, they weren’t going to be foolish enough to take a chance putting someone with stars, much less the Chairman of the JCOS, on a potentially damaged plane. The change of planes itself might have been what alerted the media.

  • CluelessCommand says:

    @wallbangr: I agree that this is a SHOOTING WAR (I prefer the term KILLING WAR), but it is also an INFORMATION WAR. Giving the enemy a battle damage assessment on a target that they just hit is FOOLISH. The “bad guys” capitalize on this no matter how the clueless commanders dub this as a one in a million shot. THE BAD GUYS ONLY HAVE TO GET LUCKY ONCE, WE HAVE TO BE LUCKY ALL THE TIME, so figure the odds on that one.
    It was Allah’s Will that the rocket has struck the American General’s Aircraft. Allah is on our side on this Holy War!
    How does this sound for LUCKY and ONE IN A MILLION? Which one do you think the LOCAL AFGHAN would buy?
    PLANES in BAGHRAM are parked in a SECURED AIRFIELD. Media or anybody else with no business there will or should I say SHOULDN’T have ACCESS to the AIRFIELD.
    A little damage to the general’s plane is NO EXCUSE for them to start being TRANSPARENT with the MEDIA! The last time we had a TRANSPARENT Commander with the media, he was a little bit TOO TRANSPARENT (McChrystal).
    So General Dempsey flies out on a different plane, SO WHAT? Plane has a different mission, plane was up for maintenance, how will anybody know that the General flew on a different plane? Did they publish his itinerary in the Stars and Stripes to be transparent?
    One thing that the military loves to keep briefing the rest of the military and their civilians is about OPSEC (Operational Security). What is this for then?

  • wallbangr says:

    @CluelessCommand: Good points. But the locals, for whom the consumption of enemy propaganda is intended, are not reading American or even Western reports of this incident. To the extent they are even reading anything (literacy rates in that area of the world are very low, especially among the fighting age males who are more inclined to join the insurgency), it isn’t likely the LWJ, CBS, BBC, etc. I doubt that even the major Western media outlets that have Pashto or Dari translation service get much readership. What they are reading, if anything, is the propaganda that is put forth by the Taliban’s media arm (or their apologists next door in Pakistan). That propaganda is so far beyond the pale that whatever dangers lie with transparency on the part of the US Military is far more harmless than the lies routinely told by the enemy. To hear the Taliban tell it, they are knocking aircraft out of the sky with regularity, destroying tanks (rarely used in Afghanistan), overrunning COPs and slaughtering American troops in every single engagement. For the Afghans who care to believe these lies, there is not likely much Western media is going to do to change that. But the media war has two fronts. Of course you have to be cautious about whether you are showing weakness to the enemy or giving them an unnecessary morale boost. But one of the lessons hard-learned by the past counterinsurgency campaigns we have had was that the media war also encompasses the perception of our efforts to the people back home. And in that regard, a little transparency goes a long way. As far as OPSEC goes, I don’t see this as a major leak of highly guarded military secrets. It was acknowledged, well after the fact, that Gen. Dempesey’s plane took some shrapnel while sitting idly on the tarmac. If anyone is really ignorant enough to believe that whoever did get this lucky potshot off actually knew the general was at the base (much less that his one off rocket was actually aimed at the craft the general flew in), they aren’t likely the types intelligent enough to be swayed to our side anyways. This acknowledgement came after it was probably no longer plausibly deniable, and when a denial might have actually caused more harm then good. The concerns with the pitfalls of being too cozy with the media are real. But the McCrystal analogy is not really well placed here. Stan McCrystal should have known better (and some say he did, but was actually pushing back against what he perceived as having his hands tied by the very people who had tasked him with being the savior of this war). The media are going to be part of this war whether you like it or not. The public is informed by the media. You can’t win the information war by lying, denying and covering up. Obviously, an intelligent balance has to be made there (which is where McCrystal’s folly DOES make for the cautionary tale). But if you lose the trust of the public, because the media continues to catch you telling lies (a better analogy would be the Pentagon Papers) you lose popular support for the war. Hence the military taking an active interest in contributing to the narrative told through the media. It is a fine line to walk, to be sure. But I still fail to see how acknowledging this after the fact gives the enemy anything more than a very minor victory. The public isn’t turning against this war because the enemy got lucky and dinged the Chairman of the JCOS’ plane. But lying about it and getting caught would probably be a bigger victory for the enemy than just acknowledging that it happened in the first place. Especially if it had already leaked to someone in the press

  • CluelessCommand says:

    Just by chance, are you part of the command staff in Baghram?
    Are you saying that with the literacy rate of the Afghans, it’s ok for a BDA to be given out since they’re literacy rate is low and they don’t read English or it’s not in Pashto or Dari?
    “But I still fail to see how acknowledging this after the fact gives the enemy anything more than a very minor victory.”
    – The Clueless Command has just acknowledged to the enemy that firing from a certain location will get their rockets to a certain part of the airfield. Do you really think that the Afghan illiterates are so clueless that they won’t figure that out? I know you are aware of the numerous complex attacks these illiterates make.
    “But lying about it and getting caught would probably be a bigger victory for the enemy than just acknowledging that it happened in the first place. Especially if it had already leaked to someone in the press.”
    – This sounds like a command problem to me. Press leakage? I think command is too busy enforcing uniform rules, reflective belts, and salute areas that they’ve lost the concept of WAR.
    “That propaganda is so far beyond the pale that whatever dangers lie with transparency on the part of the US Military is far more harmless than the lies routinely told by the enemy.”
    – So the enemy lies to achieve it’s objective and WE will have the TRUTH by our side to combat this evil enemy? Is this the plan? This is classic Al-Taqqiya being employed by the enemy and the clueless PC Commanders are playing right into the enemies hands.

  • wallbangr says:

    @Clueless Command: I am a lowly civilian, no association with the folks in charge at Bagram, nor authority to speak on their behalf. I suppose we will just have to agree to disagree, as neither of us is going to change the other’s mind. Leakage may very well be a command problem, which means I’m in no position (as a civilian) to address it. But my main point is that there are far larger issues to be concerned with than acknowledging that the enemy got lucky this once. Perhaps by way of example, this speaks to why you feel we are not succeeding in this war the way we should. I myself suspect that much larger strategic blunders have been made. Indeed, I feel that there are better examples than this particular incident, which speak to the mishandling of the war in general, and even the information aspect of the war in particular. Whatever the case, I know better than to engage in a tit-for-tat on the Internet with anyone who writes in ALL CAPS and who is obviously as passionate as you are about the issue. Suffice to say that I want us to win this war as much as you do. I just disagree that if we don’t, leakage like this will be the biggest reason why.

  • villiger says:

    I think its unfair when you’re trying to have a meaningful debate to get personal and accuse someone of all caps when it isn’t really ALL. Some of us here may be old enough to not be tech-savvy and/or so in with the rules and may just use caps for emphasis–nothing criminal about it, nor does it mean dis-respect.
    Btw i think it was naive to tell the whole world that the plane was hit at all when it really wasn’t a big deal. That simple.

  • wallbangr says:

    @villiger/@Clueless Command: The ALL CAPS comment was not intended as a slight against anyone. It shows, as a means of emphasis or italicizing, that he feels very strongly about this issue. I’m not willing to get into a pissing contest with someone who feels that strongly about it just because we disagree about the merits of this particular situation. We likely agree on most other points. The fact is, I concede that Clueless Command’s heart is in the right place. I don’t want to minimize anything that puts our men and women in danger. I agree that it was not the best decision, but simply disagree that it was the sole reason or even the worst reason why things aren’t going as well as we all tend to believe they could or should be. Whatever the case, they can’t un-ring that bell. I do hope that anyone foolish enough to think they can carry out a follow-on attack from the same spot (again, assuming they were even aiming or were aware which of their shots landed in the vicinity) will find themselves on the business end of our countermeasures against such attacks.


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