Friday, August 3, 2012

Operation Firefly - Mission 1: "Mortars in Mayasaf"

 [Hey guys - this is the first part of one of the play-by-Mail Force-on-Force games I´m guiding. Some note beforehand: The setting is fictional and not based on actual events. I´ve planned this as a small campaign (Operation Firefly) that depicts the battle for dominance over a remote valley in Afghanistan. We´ll see how far we come with this campaign, I do not guarantee completion. 

The game was played blind by the US-player. I sent him a blank map of the area and the pictures you are about to see and he had to act without knowing where the enemy was until they came into his LOS. I playtested the scenario with my brother and it was a close run, so I decided to make no major changes to the setup. It might be necessary to adjust the scenario somewhat in favour of the US-Player should you try to replay it.

We didn´t play with Fog of War-Cards in this scenario, as we wanted to create 2 separate card-decks for each party - such that the first draw makes sense already. Please also note that the Terrain is still Work in Progress and while it might not look as refined as other tables, it certainly did its job ;)  ]

April 2011, Lagashkar Valley, South-East Afghanistan.

After taking over the Combat Duties from ISAF-Troops in late 2010, US Army forces have established a foothold in the area around the Lagashkar Valley, following the troops surge authorized by the Obama Government.  After winter has loosened its firm grip on the mountain passes, US Forces now advance into the remote Lagashkar-Valley, where Taliban Fighters have set up a stronghold.
First target of Operation Firefly is the reconquest of a Village named Mayasaf in to the south of the valley. Attacks will then commence along the river Ualeed and the Greenzone towards the town of  El Q´Ualeed, securing the town and the dam with its electrical powerplant to the south. Finally, the villages of Mul Qass and Mursaba are to be secured before the last Taliban hideouts in the Mountains are going to he cleared.
Operation Firefly commences on April 18, 0700 Local Time.
April 18, 2012, 1426 Local Time
The assault into Mayasaf has started in the morning and triggered hours of long and hard fighting as the Army tries to overcome the determined defence of the Taliban. Time and Time again, friendly forces come under fire from Mortar Batteries and the advance stalls. Finally, in the early midday hours, the mortar batteries are identified. A Squad is dispatched to neutralize one of the Mortars on the edge of the village, destroying the weapon and its ammunition before joining the main assault into Masayaf. 
- Secure and Destroy the Mortar battery [remain one full Turn in base-contact;  Note: Only ONE mortar is present, marked locations are possible mortar sites]
- Avoid losses and retain combat strength for the flanking assault
Enemy presence in the area has been confirmed. Numbers unknown, probably light to medium resistance from trained Taliban Fighters.
Turn 1
US Fireteams advance
 The US-Player decides to move straight forward to establish a position in the centre of the battlefield. His overall plan is to set up Team Blue on Overwatch in the central building (which he cannot enter yet as tactical movement is required to get into buildings) and move Team Green towards the outer right objective behind the ridgeline. Nothing happens.

A depressing silence lies over the village as your squad arrives, only disrupted by the regular thumming of the Mortar Battery ahead. The sound echoes on the hills and walls of buildings, making it impossible to identify its location by its noise. Cautiously, Team Green advances into the nearby building. An uneasy feeling besets the soldiers - they feel like they are being watched, like trouble is coming.
As soon as Fireteam Green has established its new position, Team Blue begins its dash to the next house, getting into cover by the wall in front of it, while the men prepare their entry into the building. 
Turn 2

Team Green goes on overwatch while Team Blue enters the central building and prepares to cover the next move.

Team Green on overwatch while  Team Blue enters building
Hidden Taliban are spotted as US Troops move into Optimal Range. A reaction test is made (see below) and the US get to fire first after making a sucessfull PID. The Overwatch-Unit fails its test and must act after the Taliban.
 Team Green establishes and overwatch-position and prepares to give covering fire for their buddys. Cautiously Team Blue enters the Building. Upon reaching the northern side of the building Private Vicks spots a humanlike shadow in the house ahead. With his heart beating, he restrains himself and silently warns his teammates of the potential danger. Quickly the Team checks the house in front of them. Harris, the Grenadier, spots the barrel of a Gun that rests almost invisibly in a small crack of the wall. An Ambush-Position.
Hidden Taliban are spotted!
 A Shout of warning drives everyone to cover and fire is opened on the hidden enemy in the house. Harris´ Grenade immediately takes out one of the Taliban, gunfire sends another down. Hectic comm-chatter starts between the two US-teams as Blue advises the overwatch-unit of the enemy position while trying to keep the enemies heads down. 

The result of Team Blue´s fire.
Green verifies the enemy position,  spotting several individuals hopping up from their cover with raised weapons. Gunfire rains down on the building, sending more Taliban into the dust. The remaining enemies keep their heads down and hope to survive the storm of bullets. 
Team Green takes out all but one Taliban.
 The fight is on...
Turn 3

The Taliban has seized the Initiative. Team Green suddenly comes under fire from ambushing Taliban to their right. They suffer an unlucky defense roll and things go south...

Team Green comes under fire from the right

Only seconds after the first eruption of fire has ceased, gunfire hits the southern Building from the right. Taliban troops have sucessfully sprung and ambush from their conceiled position in the bushes between the rock outcroppings. To make things worse, another Taliban group appears along the rocks of the ridgeline, directly north of the ambushing troops. In the confusion of the ambush and with their positions still aligned to combat the threat in the northern house, the US Soldiers are hit hard by the incoming gunfire. 
The incredible bad defense roll!

...and its effect
 Two guys are hit and go down, making the planned move suddenly becomes a difficult task.
Taken by surprise and on the verge of losing men, Team Green decides to stay in cover until the situation allows for much safer movement. The soldiers hit by gunfire have to be assessed and taken care of if necessary. Orders are to return fire on ambush positions and stay safe as much as possible.
At this point, the US-Player decides to keep team Green safe and in place, while Blue close-assaults the remaining Taliban to their front. The second, smaller Taliban unit at the rocks fires at Team Green, causing another casualty for the Americans - who roll bad defense again (1,2,3,4,6 against 5,6 and two non-sucesses).
While still returning ineffective fire on the ambushing Taliban in the Bushes, the other group joins the party and opens up on the US Team as well. Another casualty is caused by the crossfire. Fire is returned on the second group of Taliban once a positive ID is established, sending one enemy to Allah.
With Baker, Francis and Dickon hit, Team Green fortifies its position in the house and the remaining two Team Members make haste to check their comrades for injuries.
Team Blue makes a sucessfull roll for close-Assault after withstanding fire from the 2 Taliban and wipe them out. 

Close Assault sucessful!

Meanwhile, Blue-Team prepares their charge into the northern building. While under heavy fire Corporal Hanson instructs his men. Luckily, nobody is hit by the incoming RPG- and Automatic Rifle fire.
As the Taliban take their time to reload, Harris supresses the Mujs while the rest of the team charges with fixed bayonets. A Frag Grenade into the window of the building quickly disposes of the two Taliban. Team Blue established their position in the house. Once the dust settles and the view becomes clear, they realize that they´ve just stumbled into the mortar position which lies in the small backyard in front of them. Only the three crewman and a lone team of two Taliban on the hill close by guard the weapon that caused all this mayhem. 
Look! Shiny! The Mortar has been discovered!  
The Mortar! And two lonely Taliban to the left...
The Situation after Turn 3 (only visible Taliban Elements)
 Turn 4

First Aid ends bad as one Soldier is determined to be KIA and one badly wounded. Only one gets back up with a light wound.
US Troops again get unlucky as substential Taliban Reinforcements arrive just where the troubled Green-Team is located.

While the survivors of Team Green are busy checking their casualties and not getting hit by sustained fire from the two Taliban positions, the situation becomes dire as a large group of Taliban emerges from a ratline at the compound wall...
Bad Guys!
 The Taliban charge the building and make as sucessfull TQ-roll. The US-Player decides to withdraw to the central house to the north and avoid confrontation. He wins the reaction test and moves first, but comes under fire from the small group at the rocks while moving through the gap. 
Chaos and hectic reactions have taken over.
As the large Taliban group emerges from the dust in the close vicinity of their position, Sgt. Lester immediately realizes that Team Green can´t stay where it is. As the Taliban charge the compound with furious determination to kill the infidels, Lester and his troops evacuate to the nearby house. Unfortunately, the approach towards the secure position is slower than expected, as their wounded encumbers the soldiers. While crossing the open ground between the houses they come under fire by the smaller Taliban group behind the rocks, but chose to continue their advance without returning fire in order to reach a secure position.

Team Green hastily leaves their position to avoid close combat
The Taliban fire on the moving Soldiers but hit nothing
Now, the larger of the two Taliban-groups move from their conceiled position to reestablish a line of Fire to the Americans. They lose their reaction test and half of the group goes down. The resulting morale-test is a failure and forces the group to retreat behind the rocks they came from. 
Just as they thought they made it, the larger second Taliban group advances from their cover to open fire on them, but the quick reflexes and good aim of the soldiers save the day as half of the group goes down and the survivors are forced to retreat to the covered position they emerged from. 

Taliban group moves towards a firing position...

...and is hit by incoming fire.
To the North, Team Blue prepares to close assault the mortar. Another Taliban group emerges from the fields and enters a building to shoot at Team Blue,  but Blue wins all reaction tests and charges the mortar team.

Meanwhile to the North, Cpl Hanson again orders to fix bayonets and the Team prepares to take out the mortar. Just as they exit the building, a group of Taliban appears in the House near the Fields, but their fire erupts just after Team Blue left their positions to charge the enemy and the bullets harmlessly hit the walls of the building.
Shocked by the determined assault of the Americans, the Mortar Crew sends a few bullets down the range, but noone is hit and their Bayonets quickly dispose of the Crew. Just as the position is secured, sniper fire whizzled past the heads of the soldiers. Fortunately, the Sniper and his Spotter are easily killed by the heavy fire the Team puts down the range. 
US acts first! The Mortar Team fails its Def. Fire TQ-Check and is too shocked to act decisively.

The Mortar Crew is sent to Allah. No survivors, no American casualties.
As the Rest of the Team secures the position in the backyard, Private Vicks prepares to disable the Mortar.
Now, Team Blue has to spend 1 Turn in Contact with the Mortar to disable it. It can only move again in Turn 6 if it wants to complete the main objective. 
 Turn 5

The Taliban group with the Machine Gunner move to the white round compound and open fire on the battered Team Green. Another casualty is caused by this fire, the Fireteam fails its Morale Check, becomes "Pinned" and retreats to better cover (I decided this would make more sense than remaining in place, as they were also under threat from the south and the Players orders where to join the building anyway).

Situation at beginning of Turn 5

Taliban fire on Team Green
The Taliban force to the south fails their TQ-Check to close Assault Team Green and forfeits its activation. The other Taliiban-groups are out of sight. 
Being too focussed on the Enemy to the south, where the Group Leader of the enemy is angrily shouting at his men who seem to refuse his orders, the Team realizes the new threat split-seconds to late. Heavy fire from small-arms and some heavier PKM-Rounds whistle around their head, while they duck against the wall and try to return fire. During the process Cpl Helling is hit by a ricocheting bullet, bringing the teams effort to return fire in disarray. Under heavy fire they scramble for better cover inside the building and return some unaimed shots at the Taliban group, taking down only one enemy.
Meanwhile to the south, the angry leader slaps one of his younger and cowardly soldiers in the face and again explains his troop that their own lives are worthless and Allah demands their martyrdom - all the while, precious seconds pass...
At the mortar, Private Vicks has sucessfully planted the small charge on the mortar and finally disables the weapon by blasting it.
Cpl. Hanson sends a short update to Lester, who contacts HQ, advising them that the Mission has been accomplished.
Turn 6
"Good Job, Team. Bravo Company will now start its advance. Flanking attack is canceled due to heavy casualties. Repeat: Flanking attack is canceled. Your Evac is on the way and will arrive in 5. Hold out ´til they arrive. A mortar battery has been tasked to support you, Callsign Firestorm 1. Feel free to use their tubes, but avoid targeting buildings, civilians might still be present on the battlefield."  [New Mission objective: Hold out until Turn 8  ;  New Asset: Light Mortar Support]
As the Mission was supposed to end in Turn 8 and we are playing part of a scenario, thus more role-playing the game than actually playing competitively, I decided that giving the US more assets now was justified, especially as the Taliban got extremely lucky in their reinforcement rolls. If a squad would stumble into a similar situation in real life, I believe they would probably get more than just Light Mortar Support...

Team Greens Casualty Check determines that another soldier is seriously wounded and reduces effective fighting strength to only 2 men. 
Taliban MG  continues to put fire on Green - they win the Reaction Test as they have Initiative
... and wipe out the team
Team Green is wiped out by heavy enemy fire. The Southern Group now move towards their position which they failed to charge last turn and take the survivors prisoner.
Team Green is now POW

Team Green, still shellshocked by the heavy fire from the enemy MMG, tries to lay down supressive fire on the Taliban. Being only two combat effective soldiers, Lester and Baker face some difficulties in the process and both are hit. The last distress call from the team sends the members of Team Blue into a state of shock...
"Hurry up guys! We could need some help over here...." kchchhhh... "I´m hit! They´re coming for us - they´re too many! We´re being overrun!..."  "الله أكبرالله أكبر"

Still shocked by the Radio Message, Cpl. Hanson hesitates - his buddys are out there, captured by the Taliban. But all odds are against them. Should they try to rescue the men in peril? Or should they retreat to safety and hope that they can be freed later?

More Taliban appear over the Hilltop

Still shocked by the Radio Message, Cpl. Hanson hesitates - his buddys are out there, captured by the Taliban. But all odds are against them. Should they try to rescue the men in peril? Or should they retreat to safety and hope that they can be freed later?
He grits his teeth and tries to keep a cool head while his hands are still shaking. There´s no way he could rescue his buddies without endangering his own team. Not against this overwhelming horde. His actions would probably make things worse - Team Green would have to be rescued later. But it feels so wrong...
Hanson orders his men into the building at the mortar site to take a defensive position and hold out until the reinforcements arrive. He´s covering his men while they´re moving into the compound and just as he wants to move in himself, he´s knocked off his feet by a bullet. His vision blurs for a moment as pain and surprise shock him and for a moment he is unable to breathe. Then, hands grab him and drag him into the safety of cover. Slowly, his vision returns, while Vicks examines his wounds. "You´ll be alright, boss, it´s only a scratch!"
As he locks down his body, Hanson testifies that its more than just a scratch. A huge black-blue bruise had formed on his chest. But nothing had penetrated. He praised his body-armour for stopping the bullet.
Meanwhile, the remaining gunners shoot down two Taliban despite being pinned.
Hanson is hit

But the return fire fells two Taliban

Turn 7

Orders from the US-Player (Quote:) `SHOOT ANYTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And order mortar fire on enemies in open ground! I want these ratholes smoking!
"Firestorm", come in!"  ` 
Team Blue is under fire from several directions. To the south, the Machine Gun has started to take aim on the besieged house. The US Soldiers, knowing about this danger, do their best to keep the Machine Gun from shooting them. They manage to take out another Taliban but fail to keep the Gunners head down - luckily, noone gets hit by the incoming bursts of fire. 
Shoot anything - said and done. 1 Talib down.
Taliban retreat with POW
This time, the US lost the reaction test and were unable to shoot at the retreating Taliban or call any further fire support from the mortars. Wouldn´t have made sense anyway at this stage - the light mortars have a firepower of 3 dice, while the Fireteam could fire with 7 (4 men + 2 support + 1 Supplies) - mortars would only make sense if they could target several enemy groups at once.

At the same time, the Taliban group at the central house decide to leave with the POWs - the leader doesn´t want to take any chances of losing this valuable trophy of his sucess. Team Blue try to shoot at anything, as ordered, but three groups that surround them are simply too much to get a clear shot at the withdrawing enemy. Instead, the Team focuses on the more immediate danger and takes out another two enemy of the smaller group at the hill. Everyone it too occupied to even think about acquiring coordinates for the mortars...
More Taliban swamp the area!
Just as the men stumble and fall, more Mujahideen appear from behind the wall and take aim. The Soldiers swiftly acquire the new targets and open fire. One enemy stumbles and hits the dirt, the others remain unscathed. Luckily, their fire is poorly aimed and noone is hit.
Cpl. Hanson takes a split-second to risk a look at his watch. Approximately two more minutes... They still have to hold out!
Turn 8

With 2 enemy groups now in the effective area of fire, mortar support actually made sense. So the first reaction of the US player was spent trying to call in mortar support. Unfortunately, he rolled a 3 and failed, even without accounting for the -1 modifier for squad-leader or below. 
"Firestorm 1, this is... this is Omega 1", Cpl. Hanson screamed in his mike as the Taliban poured towards his house like waves roll ashore. He had some trouble to get the coordinates for the firemission while trying to keep shooting. The MG still heavily pounded the position.
"We need fire support at grid 027087, repeat, fire support at 027, 087!"
"Omega 1, this is Firestorm 1. Checking your coordinates, please stand by."
"Got two of those bastards!", Harris screamed. Vicks grinned, while he changed the magazine. Just as he continued shooting, another enemy fell under his fire. "Another down!"
Taliban fire is ineffective, US fire is not.
"Omega 1, this is Firestorm 1. Grid 027087 is not in your OA. Repeat, Grid 027087 is no valid target! Please advise." 
Harris cursed while he tried to get another clear look at the map. Finally, he threw it away, cursing his damn job. He was not supposed to do such stuff! He decided to better keep shooting, while the small group of 3 Taliban advanced towards the house, grenades in their hands.
Taliban try to move into Optimum Range but have to withdraw

"They´re coming for us! Focus your fire!", Hanson shouted and pulled the trigger. One enemy was thrown off his feet by the rounds whistling past his head, but he quickly scrambled back to his knees, shouting panickly at his collegues. Shaken by the hard reality of rounds zipping past them, they wavered and turned to retreat towards a safer position. 
They almost got into the crossfire, as the larger Taliban group tried to keep the pressure on the US Fireteam. This was to no avail, as they weren´t able to hit the well entrenched Soldiers and suffered three casualties. Their morale boosted by the arrival of more reinforcements that advanced over the hill, they decided to stay at their position. 
Actually, the Taliban again got reinforcements in Turn 8 - and just at the right place to turn the finale of this scenario into a very cinematic action :D 
"More Talibs"
"More Talibs!"
 Hanson pointed at the new men arriving. Team Blue kept shooting. One of the Taliban fell, his chest bursting in a red mist. They kept coming. Another enemy went down, but the gunfire didn´t cease.
Heavy Taliban losses
Then, suddenly, the noise of heavier gunfire mixed into the cacophonia with its dark sound.
Hanson looked at the direction the noise came from and a smile crept on his face. Strykers. The reinforcements had finally arrived!  
Team Blue kept shooting, while the Taliban retreated before the superior US firepower.
They had lost a mortar position, but captured an entire Team of 5 US soldiers. A bitter victory for the US - a pyrrhic victory...  a victory at all?

So, Team Blue actually survived. We´re about to do a short debriefing soon, before I´ll prepare the next mission. To give a clear out-of-character-answer:  This was not a US victory. Counting the potential VP for this Mission, I would assign 10 VP (Mortar disabled) to the US - as this was a blind game with 3 potential sites I go for more than the usual 5. 
Taliban would get:  3 per Soldier killed (3) + 5 per soldier POW (20)  
-> 23 : 10.  In campaign terms, this boosts the local support for the Taliban and their resources to establish more guerilla cells in the area, making life harder for the US. And you can be sure that one of the future missions will be the rescue of the POWs - or something else along these lines ;)