Dilemma at Styx River Bridge


You are the Platoon Commander, 1st Platoon (Reinforced), Bridge Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion. Your platoon recently deployed to Afghanistan in support of the 11th MEU with the primary task of constructing medium girder bridges as part of civil-military operations in the Marine area of responsibility (AOR). You arrived in country 3 days ago.

You are currently tasked with building a medium girder bridge near the destroyed bridge in the town of Sar-e Pol in order to open the lines of communications within the battalion landing team’s (BLT’s) AOR. The Sar-e Pol bridge was destroyed in clan warfare between the majority Pashtun clan and the minority Tajik clan in this region of Afghanistan. To further complicate matters, the clans are further broken into smaller subclans and warlords that may feud with each other over matters of water well and road access. While no one has claimed responsibility for the bridge destruction, it is widely believed that elements of the Tajik clan who live north and east of the city center destroyed the bridge in a dispute over access to relief supplies and tolls charged by Pashtun clan members to Tajik clan members crossing the bridge.

Your detachment arrived at 0700 and has been working all day. The river is 2 feet deep, 40 meters wide, and has a current of 3 to 5 knots. A nongovernmental organization (NGO) base camp is 500 meters away by road outside of the town of Sar-e Pol. The NGO team has been establishing temporary shelters for the homeless, organizing food distribution, and providing limited medical treatment for the local population. You have had intermittent radio communications with the BLT, located in Samarkhel, near Jalalabad. You are expected to rejoin the BLT before sunset.

Toward the late afternoon, after mission completion and while conducting site cleanup and prepping for retrograde, you are visited by a group of Frenchmen from the NGO camp. They are very concerned about a report that clan forces in the immediate area will attack the village within the hour in order to capture the NGO camp and supplies and secure control of the bridge site. The Frenchmen report that there are 25 other British and French aid workers at the camp. They have two 2 ½-ton trucks and about 18 tons of food and medical supplies. What do you do?


In 20 minutes, explain to the French aid workers what you intend to do and what you want them to do. Issue any orders to your squad leaders. Provide a sketch of your decision. Be prepared to discuss the issues for consideration.

Issues for Consideration

1. Who do you believe the enemy is?

2. How does your commander’s intent apply to this situation?

3. In this scenario, how do your actions and orders relate to his intent?

4. What does the enemy hope to gain from this attack?

5. How do your actions deprive the enemy of those gains?

6. Is the enemy expecting an armed military response? Do you think he will fight if he faces an armed military response?

7. What is the enemy’s motivation for this attack? How can you exploit and defeat his motivation?

8. Assume as a result of this incident that two civilians are wounded and one home is damaged.

* How do you expect the local villagers to respond? In 20 minutes? By the end of the day? The rest of the week?

* Is the anticipated response based on who caused the damage?

* How can you (or the MEU) counter negative responses? After the incident? After you return to base?