COIN & Extreme Range Photography (ERP)

Powerful CIED Tools for Southern Afghanistan

By Mike Costello

This paper shows how coalition patrols can emulate the successful Counter Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) and Counter-Insurgency (COIN) strategies practiced by Canadian and Afghan National Army infantrymen in Nakhonay, Afghanistan.

Greater Nakhonay, located in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, consists of the villages of Nakhonay, Haji Babba, Mazangon and Imam Saab. Greater Nakhonay with an estimated population of 3,500 is located about 40-kms west of Kandahar City. Panjwai district is known as the birthplace of the Taliban.

On December 30, 2009, our American Human Terrain Team (HTT), while on patrol with a squad of Canadian and Afghan soldiers in Nakhonay, was hit by a remote controlled improvised explosive device (IED) that seriously wounded our team’s social scientist and interpreter. I spotted the triggerman on a rooftop about 200-meters to our front just before he detonated the IED. (more... )


The photo on the left shows a suspected insurgent seen on a rooftop watching our patrol from 200-meters out. This blurry photo was taken with a camera equipped with a 20x optical zoom. If we had taken this picture with a photo scope having a 45x optical zoom, (recommended below) this picture would have shown much greater detail allowing us to easily identify the suspect. Right photo: Our patrol spotted this suspect on a roof 150-meters to our front just before the locals pointed out an IED to us. We apprehended the suspect walking in the street and then found a wire from the IED leading to the roof where he was seen standing. Since we couldn’t prove that it was actually him standing on the roof, the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security (NDS) had to release him. A photo of the suspect standing on the roof would have helped the NDS’ case. Photos by the author.

Eighty-percent of all combat casualties in Afghanistan are caused by IEDs. The IED incident on the outskirts of Nakhonay that day inspired me to research how dismounted patrols in southern Afghanistan can better defend themselves against IED attacks.

At night, our troops on FOBs can hear B-1 bombers and see the lights of high-tech Predators flying overhead with their Hellfire missiles and SMART bombs, but infantrymen on the ground are still carrying the same weaponry and loads of ammunition that I carried while on search & destroy missions in the central highlands of Vietnam 40-years ago!

I have concluded from my research and experience on the battlefield that conducting successful dismounted patrols utilizing COIN concepts and extreme range state-of-the-art photographic equipment & techniques is a viable CIED strategy that is easy to learn and carry out. In fact, the CIED strategy covered in this paper is measurable and can be taught in one 2-hour block of instruction and five squad or platoon size patrols in an Afghan village. It is that simple.

General McChrystal’s New Rules of Engagement (ROE)

Last July, commanders in Afghanistan received new fighting orders, which prevent their troops from shooting at the Taliban if there is any risk of civilian casualties, even if it means allowing the enemy to escape. “Even if it means allowing the enemy to escape.” Coalition forces have been given new rules of engagement. Perhaps the troops were also given some direction on how to carry out the new ROE, but they were not given the latest tools available to them in order to minimize risk to themselves while adhering to the new ROE.

During the battle for Marjah, some of the Marines were exchanging fire with the insurgents at distances up to 1,000-meters. What if the Marines and ANA used a 45x photo scope or a 70x camcorder to take extreme range pictures or video of the Taliban shooting at them? The photos or videos could have been used by the ANA or National Directorate of Security (NDS) for the purpose of identifying the insurgents, questioning them, and possibly arresting them even after the insurgents had hid their weapons and melted back into the population. Would that have prevented some of the Taliban from fighting another day?

Two types of ERP camera: Left: Carl Zeiss high-resolution 45x photo scope, Right: Panasonic low-resolution 70x camcorder Photos: Zeiss, Panasonic.

Extreme Range Photography & ROE

I call the use of state-of-the-art photographic equipment for taking extreme long-range photographs or video under combat conditions, Extreme Range Photography (ERP). I found that the best equipment on the market today for ERP is a 45x high-resolution photo scope manufactured by Carl Zeiss Optics and a 70x low-resolution camcorder from Panasonic.

If coalition forces carried extreme range photographic equipment on patrols with them, especially on larger operations, they could:

  • Photograph insurgents firing on them in order to justify their returning fire
  • Photos used as justification for calling in artillery & air strikes on insurgents
  • Justification for the NDS, ANA and ANP to pickup suspects for questioning, chemical testing and possible arrest.

Extreme Range Photography on Dismounted Patrols

While walking on patrols in Nakhonay, we constantly see insurgent suspects on compound rooftops watching our patrols from a distance. Instead of our just waving hello to them, we should be photographing or taking videos of them! Then we can give their photos or video footage including grid coordinates to the NDS, ANA or ANP for:

  • Suspect identification
  • Chemical testing of suspect, and at the very least
  • Questioning of the suspect on a continual basis to let him know we know who he is and that we are watching him.

Measure of Effectiveness (MOE) of Extreme Range Photography (ERP)

  • Number of arrests made or insurgents killed with the help of ERP.

I am grateful to the Carl Zeiss Optical Company in Germany for lending me two of their finest scopes & accessories for battlefield testing in support of this paper.


Suggested future research regarding this subject:
1. Modification of photo scopes and camcorders to include Picatinny rail system for mounting to weapons.
2. Wireless day/night video camera technology for placement along village & rural paths - similar to Bushnell’s Trail Camera.

About the author:

Mike Costello is an ex-Green Beret Weapons Sergeant and Vietnam veteran with extensive experience working with indigenous peoples in over 65-countries including the war zones of Cambodia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a member of Provincial Reconstruction Team #1, embedded with the US Marines Regimental Combat Team #1 in Fallujah, Iraq. Most recently, Mike served as a Research Manager with HTT AF-04 embedded with the Canadian infantry in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Graduate of Columbia University’s East Asian Studies Institute with Mandarin Chinese language skills.

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Afghanistan: COIN and the Human Terrain

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The author, Mike Costello, attending wounding AF-04 team mate Dr. Scott Wilson wounded by an IED in Nakhonay, December 2009.