Sunday, August 26, 2012

Operation Firefly - Mission 2: "Narrow Escape"

April 20, 0730 Local Time.
Operation Firefly has reached its second stage, as Mayasaf is now secured. The advance towards the central settlements continues. While some Forces prepare their entry into El Qualeed, a reinforced platoon has been tasked to liberate the village of Mul Qasr. Located outside the Greenzone, Mul Qasr is dependent on irrigation from groundwater sources. Due to the decreasing groundwater-levels, the area is slowly beginning to turn towards Poppy-cultivation as these crops require less water.
As troops enter into the area, a lot of movement starts among the locals. It does not take long and the civilians have disappeared from the village. Before the Soldiers now lies a ghost town. Or so it seems.
Intelligence reports already indicated the presence of Anti-Coalition Militia troops in the area, and it seems like they´re not giving up without a fight.
As the troops advance towards the village, the strange calm is disrupted by the sputtering of the comm as it comes to life.
"Bravo, this is Bravo 1 Alpha. HQ has advised us that the CIA has intelligence on the presence of POWs in the area. They´re supposedly held in a compound nearby. We´re tasked with securing the area around the compound and retrieving the prisoners. Do you copy?" 
The Setup
-Take the Compound and secure it.
-Locate and Rescue the POWs

This time, the US have larger forces on their disposal. Their force consists of 2 Squads and 1 MG-Team, which is a total of 5 Units (4 Fireteams + MG-Weapon-Team). The objective is to capture the central compound and hold it until turn 8. Furthermore, the POWs must be rescued from the Taliban, who are trying to evacuate them from the map. 

Starting Positions: Team Red & Team Blue
Starting Positions: Team White (MG), Team Yellow, Team Green
 Some notes to the scenario and its twists: The Taliban deployment was very scattered. In the middle of the compound, only 4 leaderless guards where on duty. Those 4 guys (just as any other leaderless unit) had to make a TQ-check to realize that an attack was imminent and that it was time to pack the POWs and leave. Otherwise they´d just stand there and guard the building until contact with the enemy/gunfire, whatever. Furthermore, they had to pass their standard activation-check as leaderless irregulars.  Units with leaders moving into the house could start to evacuate the POWs without further checks.
To pack the POWs, another TQ-check was required, as the prisoners were wounded and required special handling. Same for getting them into the car. Thus, the Taliban weren´t able to simply evacuate the POWs on Turn 1.

Turn 1

First Turn: Blue and Red advance to clear the fields

"Okay boys, I want these fields along that pathway secured. We don´t want any nasty surprises.", Sgt. Cinder instructed his teams. "Our group is tasked to secure the northern half of the fields, while Bravo 2 clears the southern half and prepares to enter the compound. Any questions? No? Then we´re good to go! Hurry up, I want your asses over there asap!"
As Team Red and Blue start to cross the ridge, the terrain proves to be more diffucult then expected. Their advance is slowed by tricky outcroppings of rock that slip loose between their feet. Furthermore, the open Terrain in front of them makes the soldiers move more carefully, as dashing over the hilltop would easily expose them to enemy fire. Sgt. Cinder is not pleased, but has difficulties to get a safe foothold on the slippery rocks himself and does not complain. The matter is not worth broken ankles and wounded soldiers. Its probably going to get bloody soon enough, judging from the first days of operation. 
Unfortunately, the advance over the rough terrain is only possible with tactical speed, which slowed down the regulars considerably during the first and second turn, as they chose to advance over the flanks. 

White, Yellow and Green after they have moved
To the south, Yellow and Green face similar difficulties. Their advance is slowed by the rocks in front of them. Furthermore, nobody wants to dash headlong into the fields, knowing that the ground there is very tricky. Thus, both teams establish a position adjacent to the fields and prepare their next move.
Suddenly, Private Johnson spots something odd. He shares his observation with his Team Leader, who has a suspicion of his own:
"Look - can you see this clearing in the fields? There´s an odd spot where the density of plants is a lot smaller than in its surrounding."
"Could be a ratline. Or maybe its just where the farmers have rested during their breaks. Hard to tell from here."

Meanwhilem Team White has moved towards their new position and is setting up the MG. 
For now, nothing spectacular has happened. However, as Team Green advances towards the poppy field, they discover a potential location for a Hot-Spot - which is just what the US player was looking for on the fields... 
Actually, this was the first uncomfortable situation for the Taliban, as I had three Leaders without any further support hidden in the field. The die-rolls during the scenario-generation placed them there and now two groups moved towards them - fortunately, both failed their spotting roll. Thus, I used the chance to evacuate the leaders with my End of Turn Movement (hereafter: EOT-Move). 
Leaders moving out of the field.

Then, a soldier from Team Green spots movement somewhere in the fields.
"Hey! There´s someone moving over there!"
"What? Where?!"
"1 o clock!"
"Can you get a clear view on them?"
"Negative - but there´s definitely movement going on!"
"They´re moving away - I´ve lost contact! Can´t see them anymore."
"Bravo, this is Bravo 1, be advised: We´ve got an unknown contact to the south, keep your eyes open for trouble!"
  Furthermore, I wanted to move a group with a leader towards the compound, as the guards stubbornly refused to realize that they were being attacked. Furthermore, I wanted to bring the other groups into favourable blocking positions to keep the enemy occupied.
Taliban Troops moving into position

"Bravo 1, this is White. We´ve got multiple contacts down the alley, possibly Talibs. Got at least two groups to our front."
Turn 2
Taliban Reinforcements arrive...  One Triggerman arrives at the southern field, where Team Green is ordered to destroy the hotspot. The triggerman will not approve!
While Bravo 4 is still setting up their Machine Gun and adjusting their aim, the intended target leaves the area, before any clear shot can be taken. 
Team White fails to put fire on the Talibs on the street
 Fortunately for my Leader, Team white failed their Reaction Test and was not able to carry out its orders to engage the team on the street.
Red and Blue on the Northern Flank
Meanwhile, Team Red pushes into the northern fields and find nothing but crops. The ground is rough and the visibility is bad beyong a few meters, and Red is forced to advance carefully. 
Team Blue reaches its intended target at the building and prepares to enter.
Team Yellow moves towards the compound walls and starts to check its integrity to determine the required strength of the charges to make a sucessfull breaching entry.
Team Green encounters a Triggerman...
Their buddies to the south advance into the Poppy field and discover that the barren place is indeed the entry to a tunnel. The traces on the ground indicate that there has been movement around here recently and everyone keeps an open eye. Something feels wrong. The ground is rough and piles of mud from the tunnel are strewn everywhere. Suddenly, one of the team-members spots something. Someone is hiding in the crops nearby! A closer look indicates that the person is obviously watching the team and starts to do something they can´t identify...
Suddenly, the piles of mud seem like a terrible menace. Ideally suited so place an IED somewhere... a perfect trap. 
The US Player decides that shooting the triggerman is the only way to continue his advance, even if its a hazardous choice.

Fire is opened on the lonely observer in the fields. Some bursts and several grenades later, silence returns to the field. No explosion. Nothing happened. The Taliban ahead is found dead some minutes later.
The Team prepares to destroy the tunnel entry.

Turn 3

After skimming the first field, Team Red prepares to cross the irrigation ditch to clear the second field. As the terrain is rough and the ditch harder to cross then expected, the team is exposed longer than expected. To the front, two groups of men are identified as possible threats. A triggerman and his companion are neutralized with aimed shots, while the MG-Team tries to suppress the position of the large group in the house. Due to bad aiming and the well fortified position, their fire is wholly ineffective. Team Red has more success in engaging the position and is able to land one hit on a Taliban.
To their flank, right in front of the car, a second large group of enemies open fire on the Team. One US-Soldier is hit, while the firefight causes three losses on the Taliban-group.
Though the MG-Team is on Overwatch and even had a sucessfull reaction-test, their salvo is wholly ineffective. Neither do they suppress the enemy, nor do they cause any casualty. Unimpressed, the Taliban hit one trooper of Team Red after suffering a casualty.
Team Red in Firefight with three Insurgent groups.
Team Blue moves towards the house and establishes its position right next to the rathole located in the backyard. Supporting the pressured Red-Team, Blue opens fire on the group by the compound wall, gunning down all remaining Taliban.
Team Blue annihilates the remaining Taliban after occupying the building
Team Yellow struggles to place the charges - the compound wall seems to be more solid than expected and a sophisticated placement of explosives is required. While they´re still fiddling with the device, they hear shouting and movement in the building in front of them.
Yes, Yellow failed their Breeching Check... Fortunately for the Taliban, as the POWs are still in the building and no-one has started to take them away!
Meanwhile, another explosion rocks the Opium field to the south as Team Green successfully detonates a charge to destroy the tunnel entrance. 
  Thats the first Hot-Spot gone... 
And Yellow is dangerously close to securing the POWs! 
Fortunately, I got my EOT-Activations left. And look what happens: The guards realize that they are needed (now that a leader is close by with his entire unit...) and move into the compound.  Aaand: They manage to get the POWs moving instantly and make it halfway to the car!

Turn 4

Casualty Check for Team Red: Nothing happened, he´s fine!  Lucky bastard, rolled a 6! 

Overview from the US-Entry Zone, left to right: Red, Blue, White, Yellow & Green
Orders from the US-Player! Unfortunately, he got the position of team red wrong, they can´t move into the building

Struggling through the mud and water of the canal, Team Red advances towards the building. The weapons of the Taliban in the house up front have fallen ominously silent. Fire is expected to resume any moment now, but miraculously, nothing happens as Team Red moves towards the building. 
Team Red on the Move, Blue on Overwatch
At the compound-wall, the charges are now placed and rigged to blow - the team stacks up along the wall and triggers the charge. A deafening explosion rips through the wall, but the Team has no time to hesitate. They charge the building and find the place deserted. The place looks like hell on earth, one of the beds is smeared with blood and shackles are found - but no prisoners. As the Team establishes its position, the prisoners are located outside the door: escorted by four Taliban, the group is moving towards the exit. But they´re not alone in the courtyard...
Someone screams a warning, as a man outside braces himself to hit a button on a remote trigger in his hand. The place is boobytrapped!
Instinctively, the menace is neutralized. A storm of bullets rips him apart before he is able to trigger the bomb.
Yellow breaches the Building, encounters an IED and again, shoots the triggerman!
Seconds later, the courtyard is clear of enemies, as the Team shoots down the second large group of Taliban, while the third one escapes through the gate.
Firefight in the Courtyard - Four Taliban downed, the RPG-man flees
The POW-Escort uses its reaction to flee towards the car.
Team Green takes up a new position in the farmhouse by the Poppy Field. 
Shortly after, movement is spotted along the road near the white compound.
EOT-Movement of Taliban blocking the approach to the road.
Just as Team White spots an opportunity to relax again, aimed shots are fired at their position. This time their reflexes are too slow and while still try to adapt to the situation, one man after the other gets hit. 
Team White goes down
 Turn 4 marks the heating-up of the game. This is the decisive phase of the battle. My Taliban in the courtyard are brutally wiped out, the POW-group barely escapes and is lucky that US-troops are badly positioned and cannot lay down further fire along the road (Blue Team has no LOS, otherwise things might look different). I decided now was the time to take risks and force some results, actively engaging the MG-Team with my resilient Talibs in the clay house.  MG-Teams are able to put down pretty heavy fire, but as they are only 3 men they´re also more fragile than other troops. 

Said and done: I roll an incredibly lucky combination. 6 sucesses (4,4,4,5,6,6) out of 7.  And Team White suffers a catastrophic fail: 4 misses (1,2,2,2) and only 1 sucess (7) - which results in a complete wipeout. Went better than expected. The chaos caused by this attack is vital in delaying US action.

Turn 5

No casualty check is made for Team White, as they´re wiped out and no troops are in contact. 

Orders for Turn 5 - we will use these nice pics regularly from now on! What a great improvement!

Leaving their overwatch-position, Blue moves along the wall to take aim on the Taliban.
"Westings, Fields!  I want this car suppressed! No-one gets in, are we clear?! Shane - fire on the escort! But don´t dare hittin' me one of´em Prisoners!", the Leader shouts. 
The SAW and one Rifleman take aim on the car and though they don´t cause any damage, the Taliban are too scared to attempt to enter. The remaining soldiers fire on the Escort, which retreats as a reaction. Three of the four guards are hit! Though no Prisoners are hit, a lone Taliban that has recovered from his light injuried (from the wiped-out group of turn 3) is hit again - this time, fatally. No regrets are felt by the team.

Taliban Escort retreating under fire - three guards go down!
Meanwhile, Team Red move into the house and are promptly greeted by heavy Taliban fire. Hell on earth breaks loose as three men go down. Fortunately, the remaining team members remain cool and are able to effectively counter the threat by taking out three enemies.
After having already earned respect for wiping out Team White, they now earn a new nickname: "Ze Killahz" However, return fire causes heavy losses on this especially ferocious group of Taliban.

Firefight in close quarters. Heavy losses on both sides!
Another round of increadibly bad defense die for the regulars! The Taliban rolled:  1,1,1 - 5,5,5,6,6  which is already very good - but Red answers with a terrible score of: 2,2,2,2,3,3 - 5,6.
Thus, more than half of the Team goes down! A good trade...
In the Compound, the Squad Leader of Fireteam Yellow leaves his team to check the status of the GPMG-crew. The rest of the fireteam moves out to secure the entrance of the backyard.
To the south, team Green advanced while firing on the Taliban crossing the opening. Three enemy are hit and their return fire is ineffective.
Just as they are moving, they spot another team of Taliban jumping over the wall and running towards the car...

Green on the Move - three casualties, return fire ineffective!
Now, as you can see, I´m actively employing a meatshield-strategy here. Those guys are irregulars, they don´t stand a chance against any regular forces. Anything I hit is down to pure luck and dice-failure of the regulars. So, I decided to employ my forces to achieve the Taliban scenario-conditions: Getting the POWs off the map, and utilize the remaining units as blocking forces / meatshield to distract the regulars and block their LOF to my escort. 
Thus, I use my EOT-Move to bring the freshly arrived Reinforcements of Turn 5 into such a blocking position to buy vital time. Time that I desperately need, as the escort can only move 6" (Tac. Speed) with their dependents!

To the north, I redeploy a sniperteam next to Ze Killahz. Those guys decided to aid my effort when I drew a FoW-Card. Maybe they can serve as another distraction.
End of Turn - Taliban Group moving towards the car to shield the escort!
Turn 6

Time for Casualty-Checks on Red and White! 
White -  1,4,5  (Dead, Light, Light)
Red  - 1,5,6 (Dead, Light, OK)
-2 at the POW-Group get up
 Yeah, my escort got lucky and is almost up to full-strength! This could make a huge difference (and it will, as we´re about to show..)

Orders for Turn 6
Honestly, I was a bit surprised why he set Team Green on Overwatch... They had nothing to gain by this action. I´d probably have ordered a close-assault, despite the risks. 
Team Blue puts a barrage of fire on the Taliban that are storming towards the car to reach for the rewards of heaven by sacrificing themselves. Six of the eight man are put down instantly. 

Allah should better reward those brave men generously - they´ve done their job well and distracted the infidels from taking any more shots at the escort!
Meatshield suffers heavy losses but are willing to die for the just cause!
Team Red neutralizes "Ze Killahz", while the Snipers are neutralized by white!
Team Blue and Team Yellow advancing along the road - The Meatshield is completely eliminated, but noone was able to take a shot at the guards!   (That picture looks pretty bad-ass, don´t you think? ;) )
Time for EOT-Activations! Now, if I move my POW-group to the south, I might come under Overwatch-fire from green...  But wait, I´ve got another group of 3 in a blocking position!  As these unfortunately don´t pose any cover or restriction for LOF, my idea is to lure the Overwatch-unit into attacking, hoping that they might fail their TQ-roll... risky, but i´ve got nothing to lose at this point.
A Reaction test is made.... 
And they fail!
Though my fire is ineffective, Green falls off Overwatch and is now no threat for the POWs, who move closer and closer to the Table-edge...  One more move remains until they reach safety! 
 Turn 7
Reinforcements arrive!  More Taliban emerge from the white compound! 
Right where I need them!  And in decent numbers! Fate smiles down on me!
Overview & Orders for Turn 7
Red is ordered to close-assault "Ze Killahz" and the remainder of the Sniperteam. However, they decide its time to take a break after the intense moments of combat.

TQ-Check for Close-Assault fails and the remaining two Guerillas can live in peace. 
The Reinforcements try to react to advancing Team Green, Blue falls off Overwatch
The result of the firefight.
Team Green rushes forward to land more decisive hits on the fleeing escort! They reach their position, start shooting and hit one Guard and one POW!

Green Firing on the retreating Escort! POW goes down!
However, as they can now carry out their reaction (movement), the escort is able to get off the board.

They made it!
 At this  point, I decided that we could end the game, as the Taliban had no real chance to capture the compound within the remaining turn. The game endet with a Taliban Victory: 

Take the Compound!  (5)  - Achieved
Rescue the POWs  (5)-  Failed
Evacuate the POWs (10)-  Achieved
Kill Enemy Soldiers  (2x3)- Achieved
Seriously Wound enemy Soldiers  - failed

Final Score: 16-5


This was a very very close thing. Several times, I already thought the Taliban were done, but they managed to escape - I don´t know how much of this is down to sheer luck and how much was earned by the brutal but effective delaying tactics (meatshields) employed. 
As you can see on the VP, I didn´t really expect the Taliban to evacuate the Prisoners - but they pulled it off, and thus they were rewarded greatly. Those POWs will make for a nice trophy and the incompetency of the Western Armies was again demonstrated by this feat of our holy warriors! 

Campaign Implications:
Taliban Victory earns them more Guerilla-Markers for their Force-Pool. However, due to the heavy losses they suffered during the fight, their cell level in Mul Qasr is reduced by 4 and Mul-Qasr is now guerilla-free.  For now.  
The US-Forces were able to secure the village, and as they managed to achieve one objective, some massive 3 COIN-Points where awarded to them (They were lucky to pull some COIN-points out of this at all, but 3 Points isn´t that much compared to the Taliban gain. But certainly better than nothing!)

Alternative Ending: 

I cannot comprehend how close this thing was, I can only say that I almost played the last turn wrongly, as I forgot that Blue fell off overwatch. I want to share that alternative end with you, to show you just how close things were: 
Team Blue hits the retreating Taliban with fire, as they try to move away and from the table. The remaining two guardsmen go down and the POWs are on their own. 
Team Yellow moves forward to secure the group and takes over the dependents. 

 I even made a 1st-Aid-Test to see what happened to the POW - and he was fine...

But then I realized that Blue had actually failed its test and could not react... And thus, it was a Taliban Victory! 

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