Verdant Star After Action Report
[Note - This blog post was migrated from our previous website. Originally posted April 13, 2017]
Verdant Star was a Blackline military simulation conducted between 07APR17, and 08APR17. It consisted of 23 personnel based at the Picton Airfield that were assigned the task of locating, monitoring, capturing, and extracting the 2IC from a team participating in the OPR8-hosted airsoft event Kingfisher Prime taking place at the Prince Edward Recreational Zone (PRZ) paintball field.
Mission Background and Workup
Command identified a subject that had access to critical enemy operations intelligence. The target was both high risk and resistant towards standard ELINT procedures. As such, the subject was tagged for capture and interrogation, and assigned the callsign LITHIUM. Operations personnel were drawn from units across Ontario and Quebec to stand up Task Force VERDANT STAR.
The subject was expected to be present in the AO between 07APR17 to 09APR17 in order to take part in combat operations against friendly forces. This offered the task force the best intelligence on his confirmed location. Initial planning and information collection began approximately three weeks prior to those dates. High level concepts were discussed in two sessions conducted in March while other assets went to work identifying known associates and gleaning information from open source intelligence.
[Task Force Verdant Star advanced planning session]
During planning, five mission concepts were developed. The first plan involved the capture of the target during the night of his arrival on site. This was considered the lowest risk option, with the highest opportunity for success as the location would be static and the area around it could be reproduced for training. The timing of the assault would also be at the discretion of the task force. The second option was to attempt a capture during his arrival in daylight hours. While the time would be up to the subject, the task force would be able to control the location. The level of risk increased when considering options of how to stop a vehicle, methods to extract the target from the vehicle, and the response from other individuals. Option three was an offshoot of option two, in that the subject was to be captured during his movement on the field to conduct setup of equipment. This was the last low to mid level risk option available, and would result in limited control of timing or location, but one that could succeed with excellent coordination and rapid deployment.
[Task Force Verdant Star advanced planning session]
Option four was an ad hoc option available to task force elements embedded within friendly forces operating in the AO. If LITHIUM could be located and incapacitated during normal combat operations, the subject would be extracted off site and moved to a secure location. The fifth and least desirable option was available because of the senior role LITHIUM would play during OPFOR combat operations, and because the task force had a general idea of where the OPFOR command post would be located. This option would consist of a decapitating strike on the CP to capture LITHIUM and extract him to a secure location. This final scenario promised casualties on both sides, and had a high risk of failure. The training and logistics demands would also be considerably higher.
However, all of the mission profiles were missing key information required for their success. The subject’s current appearance, mode of transport, location of camp, arrival times, security, and personal weapons were just some of the knowledge that had to be obtained or accounted for. In addition, the task force had to verify infil and exfil routes, rally points, and various intelligence reports on the target structure to prepare for all of the mission concepts. These requirements would become the objectives for various missions leading up to and during the operation.
Prior to deployment, the primary role for all task force members was information collection and pressure testing of the various options. A critical paradigm shift for personnel was to support or reject assumptions with facts. The entire unit was utilized for this purpose, as the various perspectives and insights helped to identify gaps and weaknesses in the plans. A valuable example of this was the assumption that units would be able to pose as authority figures early in the morning as past experience had shown a gap in command and control until later in the day. This assumption, while founded in experience, almost cost the task force its OPSEC as it was discovered that C&C would be on site prior to dawn. As a result, the second plan option had to be completely scrubbed.
Aside from conducting reality checks on planning, the task force personnel engaged in numerous surveillance and OSINT operations in the days leading up to the suspect’s arrival. Teams acted on intelligence and moved to various locations suspected to be connected to the subject or his known affiliates. Intelligence collected from these missions was pulled together and analyzed by the team for patterns. Databases were populated with vehicle information and combatant equipment. Profiles were created for LITHIUM, his associates, and the possible OPFOR elements that may be tasked with his security. Numerous assets were leveraged to fill in the blanks, and all task force members were meticulous in their search for anything that could aid in mission success.
By the end of 06APR17, the task force had positioned itself well enough that units could assemble and begin to execute the first missions for Verdant Star.
Task force members arrived at FOB Picton through the day and established the team room and the ToC. This consisted of a main bunk room with 24 sleeping spaces and a large work space, and an operations centre with a briefing room for the teams. The ToC went to work immediately, establishing their communications and mapping equipment, staffing it to provide support to personnel on site and those still inbound to the FOB.
At 1838h, the ToC comes online with the callsign REACTOR.
[Task Force Verdant Star briefing]
MISSIONS GET UNDERWAY
Shortly after 2000h 07APR17, a two man team with the callsign ISOTOPE is deployed by civilian vehicle to the northeast edge of the AO. They proceeded to move on foot to an area within the PRZ field to gain visual contact with the parking area and access road. The primary objective for ISOTOPE at this time is to determine the presence of LITHIUM, and to communicate a clear layout of the parking lot to REACTOR to aid in planning the night raid option. Additional tasks included monitoring of vehicle and personnel activities, and to verify possible alternate and contingency exfil routes in the event capture teams could not utilize the primary route.
[ISOTOPE reconnaissance team prior to deployment]
ISOTOPE’s intelligence was critical to the night raid plan; however, there was a deadline. Due to the amount of organization and rehearsals required, if LITHIUM arrived after a certain hour it would not allow units the required workup time. REACTOR determined this point to be 2359h, 07APR17. If, at that time, ISOTOPE could not confirm the presence of LITHIUM, the overnight capture option would be scrubbed and teams would default to the third mission option. Over the next few hours, ISOTOPE provided valuable reports on multiple vehicles arriving on site, conversations between participants setting up camp, witnessed individuals chopping down trees for firewood, and movement of personnel around the site. However, LITHIUM remained elusive.
[ISOTOPE radio traffic reporting vehicle positions]
[ISOTOPE reconnaissance information on parking lot and vehicle locations]
During this time, it became clear to REACTOR that plans to deploy a two man team to take over parking lot observation by posing as participants in a vehicle would present too much risk to operational security. The two man close target reconnaissance team CATALYST, was stood down until morning.
Meanwhile, as the abort time for the night mission crept closer, a five man team with the callsign MERCURY came online. MERCURY was to insert by vehicle to the south of the airfield, and begin to verify satellite imagery of the area. A number of possible vehicle routes had been identified that would allow units to exfil to the south of PRZ and rendezvous with extraction vehicles. However, due to heavy rain and older intelligence about the area, a pathfinder unit was required to determine viability of these routes. The objectives for MERCURY were to examine one vehicle route, to establish the coordinates for a southern rally point, and to chart a route to exfil the AO on foot to a road pickup point in the East. Not only would this information be critical to any urgent exfiltration needs, but it would also lay the groundwork for the fifth capture option - an assault on the enemy CP from the South.
[Four of five MERCURY team personnel]
08APR17 2359h came and went. Shortly after midnight, REACTOR contacts ISOTOPE to get a final call on the presence of LITHIUM. ISOTOPE reports it is unlikely that the subject is on site, and REACTOR makes the decision to abort the night mission. With that, units at the FOB are placed on rest until operations resume at 0630h.
[ISOTOPE reports that it is unlikely LITHIUM is on site]
With the night mission aborted, ISOTOPE makes a request to begin movement and complete their secondary objective of confirming northern exfil routes and to create their new hide site overlooking a main surface route. This presented a problem for REACTOR. With CATALYST unable to deploy for OPSEC reasons, the departure of ISOTOPE would leave a substantial gap in parking lot observation. This was further complicated by the need to complete the hide setup by first light, and the estimated four hours it would take to do so. With first light just 5 ½ hours away, ISOTOPE could not be held on station much longer.
Here, MERCURY stepped up to fill the gap. MERCURY proposed dividing their team into two. All personnel would insert together, but after verifying the vehicle route and rally point, a team of two would split off and head North to take up observation on the west side of the target area and relieve ISOTOPE, while the remaining three personnel would finish pathfinding operations. REACTOR approved this change in mission plan. ISOTOPE holds position while MERCURY elements prepare to deploy.
Near 0100h, MERCURY boards the transport vehicle and begins to conduct exit drills. Within a short time frame, the team has reduced their deployment time to just 10 seconds, and REACTOR is satisfied enough to dispatch the unit. At 0112h, MERCURY exits their transport vehicle into the darkness and begins their pathfinding mission.
At the drop point, it is immediately apparent that any vehicle access to the suspected road route will be impossible due to debris and obstacles. Shortly after, MERCURY reports by radio that all surface routes on the satellite imagery are submerged under one to two feet of water. A vehicle exfil route will not be available into the southern AO for the operation, so MERCURY pushes on to establish the southern rally point, and the Eastern foot exfil route.
Along their route, MERCURY encounters a number of obstacles, almost all due to the heavy precipitation and dense foliage. It takes less than 30 minutes of travel for MERCURY to report that their infiltration route is adverse and would not recommend it as an extraction route. With the closure of this route, MERCURY’s reconnaissance becomes critical in finding a suitable route for any southern elements seeking pickup while under pressure to relieve ISOTOPE.
At 0151h, ISOTOPE requests confirmation that they can begin their movement to their hide within the next 10 minutes. MERCURY however, is still struggling through the south. By 0200h, it’s clear that the terrain is causing numerous delays, and that MERCURY won’t be able to split its forces until after 0230h. REACTOR clears ISOTOPE to move to their new hide, creating a gap in parking lot observation as MERCURY fights to make up time.
MERCURY finally manages to find a suitable rally point and calls it in. MERCURY 1-1 breaks North towards their new observation post, while MERCURY 1-2 heads South in search of a suitable exfiltration route.
Back at FOB Picton, the final Verdant Star reconnaissance team is raised. The three man unit, callsign ARGON, has multiple objectives. They are to insert on foot across the airfield into the wood line West of the objective. From there, they would track south, and emerge to the south of what is presumed to be the enemy CP. Their first objective is to conduct a detailed sweep of the