Yesterday an article showed up in the press consisting of an interview with one of the general officers stationed in Afghanistan. He made a series of statements that were so delusional that were he a junior enlisted man he’d be subject to mandatory drug abuse screening.
The article can be found here and is titled US General on Trump’s Afghan strategy: ‘This will be a very long winter for the Taliban’. It is hard to know where to start; literally every claim made by the general is factually wrong, supremely stupid, and just embarrassing for the home team.
So let’s start with the who; Air Force brigadier general Lance Bunch:
Lance is was promoted to BG last summer so he is a junior one star. Brigadier general is an awkward rank just like 2nd Lieutenant is for the company grade and Major is for the field grades. Combine the awkward rank with the fact that Air Force pilots are not known to be authorities on ground combat matters and you could forgive Lance for being a bit naive. But we’re not talking naivete or garden variety obsequiousness; we’re talking crazy:
“The Taliban strategy is moving backwards. As they are unable to conduct offensive combat operations, they have transitioned back to high-profile attacks, assassinations and kidnapping for ransom, all of which indiscriminately target the Afghan people,”
“We are able to go after their [Taliban] weapons cache sites, their revenue generation, their C2 [command and control] nodes, all the areas where they thought they were safe and they are no longer so,” Bunch said. “It has definitely been a game-changer, and the Taliban is definitely feeling it.”
In just three weeks, U.S. and Afghan airstrikes, coupled with Afghan special operations raids on the ground, have eliminated 25 Taliban narcotics processing labs, destroying an estimated $80 million in drugs, and denied the Taliban more than $16 million in direct revenue that is passed on from local drug kingpins, the U.S. military said.
Come on man. The Taliban control’s more districts today than they have since ejected from power in 2001. We have spent 16 years going after command and control nodes; that is what the night raid program was all about. That is why year after year officers in Afghanistan have crowed about intercepting panicked phone calls to Taliban central in Peshawar or Quetta from ‘commanders’ on the ground freaking out about getting whacked. Yet every year the Taliban gets stronger, every year they gain more ground, every year the moles dig deeper while every year we say this is the year we whack them for good.
Where do you think the Taliban converts dry opium to heroin? Around the highly contested, kinetic towns like Musa Quala or across the border in Pakistan or Iran? All the ‘drug labs’ reportedly destroyed were in northern Helmand near Musa Quala, Sangin and the Kajaki Dam. Recognize those names? Do you want to give odds that the Taliban are not so stupid as to try and use this area of the country to convert opium to heroin knowing the Americans consider these towns free fire areas?
Air campaigns are only as effective as the intelligence they base their targeting on. Identifying drug labs and drug shipments requires solid human intelligence; trying to unmask them using signal intelligence or drone based pattern analysis is nearly impossible. This is why, after 16 years of fighting in Afghanistan, we still air strike wedding parties we mistake for Taliban. We don’t have good human intelligence but for some reason believe we can cripple the drug business by taking out laboratories in Afghanistan despite knowing that most of them are across the border in Pakistan?
Another article from Afghanistan caught my eye yesterday puts this “game changer” crap in proper perspective. The Walking Dead; published in Foreign Policy, was an excellent, original, investigative piece on the Afghanistan Army’s treatment of its wounded soldiers. Written by Maija Liuhto, a journalist from Finland, (home of the White Death winter campaign and the White Death sniper….Finns are cool) it is not a pleasant read.
A bullet pierced his stomach, and he lost a lot of blood, he says. “My friends wanted to come and help me, but I told them not to because it was an open area and they could easily get hit, too.”
Jawad had to use his shirt to tie the heavily bleeding wound. In the end, it was civilians who helped him get to a clinic. Jawad belongs to the Hazara minority not native to this area. He does not speak Pashto, the dominant language in the south and east.
Afghans are tough people; look at the picture above. An Afghan cop gets shot in the stomach, is treated with a crummy ace bandage and some 4×4 gauze and hours latter is standing on a runway bare chested and pissed off waiting to get evacuated to Kandahar for definitive treatment. It’s not the Afghan grunts who are failing; its their leadership, which is evident by the excellent reporting in the article linked above.
I feel compelled to say this again; the Pentagon’s plan is not going to work. We are supporting a central government that is not legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people. As soon as we go the government will be forced to settle things the Afghan way and the best they can hope for is Ismail Khan or a few more like them are around to help.
The handful of grunts and operators still on the ground in Afghanistan need to trust their general officers. Blatant cheerleading consisting of the regurgitation of ridiculous talking points from the alternative reality that is Bagram is not helpful. It is indeed going to be a long winter in Afghanistan for somebody and odds are it’s not the Taliban.
Last week was terrible for the legacy media. Glen Greenwald at the Intercept started his article on recent news room debacles this way:
FRIDAY WAS ONE of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.
“In addition to Prince’s former assassination network, the hidden cadre of spies with no official cover — NOCs in CIA jargon — includes the assets of another key player in the Iran-Contra affair, CIA Officer Duane Clarridge, who died in 2016”.
Having spoken to members of Mr. Prince’s staff last summer when they were preparing their pitch I can assure you private spy’s were not part of the plan. What the Intercept (and also Buzzfeed) did was take the Prince Plan (which was dismissed last summer) throw in some speculation on Mr. Clarridge’s group, link Eric to some people allegedly part of that group and than tar him with the guilt by association brush.
Implied in this dubious reporting was a Prince funded “assassination network” was standing by overseas; ready to go. That is silly, this so called network involved former American SF operators training for a classified program which required the participants to maintain a TS SCI level clearance. It never went beyond the initial training stage and the participants never left the country. There were never operators overseas and thus no “network” that could be reactivated.
The CIA was once able to justify its lavish budgets. In the 1960’s it designed, built, and fielded the SR-71 Blackbird in less time than allotted and under budget. The CIA, in conjunction with Howard Hughes, designed a ship that salvaged the Russian nuclear submarine K-129 which was 3 miles under the surface of the Arctic Sea. I believe that project also came in under budget. Have you ever heard the term “under budget” when referencing a federal program before? Me either.
The glory days of the CIA are long past and despite the superior work of the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology their record of human intelligence exploitation is dismal. One of the best books written on the topic is The Human Factor which makes for some disappointing reading if you believe the CIA is capable of fielding spies in the field (Non Official Cover or NOC’s) instead of mediocre paper pushing bureaucrats embedded inside embassy staffs.
This acknowledged gap in capabilities motivated a former CIA legend (now deceased) Dewey Clarridge to start a private spy network in Afghanistan. His efforts were exposed by the NYT’s and promptly terminated by the Pentagon. The value of the intelligence he generated remains unknown but if you read the initial reporting through to the best selling book written by the lead reporter (The Way of the Knife) you’ll note Mark Mazzetti’s opinion of the intel reporting by Clarridge improved over time. It appears he was providing a good product which is why the idea of using “private spies” is not as far fetched as one would reasonably suspect.
The Intercept article was book-ended by two Buzzfeed articles on the same topic. The first states that the Trump Administration was “mulling” over a pitch for a private intelligence outfit that could also perform renditions. The second contends that Eric Prince has his eyes on Afghans rare earth metals. That Buzzfeed article had a PowerPoint presentation that they claim was used by Prince to pitch the White House.
The PowerPoint in that article was interesting and the plan to start the privatization effort in Nangarhar and Helmand provinces sound. I skimmed through the slides rapidly but stopped when I got to Nangarhar. I stopped because I smelled a rat. Check out slide number 10 from the PPT linked above:
Eric Prince and his staff may not know Afghanistan as well as I do but they know where the FOB’s are because they regularly flew aircraft into them. There is no way they would float an idea for privatizing the war in Afghanistan to the President of the United States with slides as inaccurate as the one above. No way. So where did these slides come from?
I don’t know Eric Prince but I do admire him. He has been depicted as an immoral war profiteer because his companies made money (like thousands of others in the military industrial complex) and one of his teams was involved in a screw up in Iraq. I say screw up because they happen in combat zones. I don’t say murder spree because our military did the exact same thing on countless occasions yet none of them faced federal prosecution. Read the links in this paragraph to see what I mean.
Prince’s company fielded good security teams that were trained to standard before being sent in country. That was rare in the PMC business; the only other company doing that back in the early 2000’s was Triple Canopy. I think more companies are doing pre-deployment training now but they weren’t back then.
Prince also rescued three American college coeds who were trapped in an Kenyan orphanage that was about to be overrun by marauding tribesmen protesting a recent election. Within an hour of getting the call Prince had his Afghanistan country manager ( who I know and liked) heading to Kenya where he had served at the American embassy as an FBI liaison agent. The next day the girls were rescued, when asked how much the operation was going to cost the parents Eric Prince said not one penny. Had it been any other PMC of that era the price would have been 35k each plus expenses. I was in the business back then and know the price structure for in-extremis country evacuations.
I may not know Prince but I do know Secretary Mattis and General Kelly. I can promise you that they are not, in this year or any year, going to entertain plans for private spies or privatization of an ongoing military operation.
I understand the appeal of a private spy network but that has nothing to do with Eric Prince or his pitch to replace military trainers in Afghanistan with contractors. There is nothing in the articles that connects Prince to an intelligence collection pitch. Eric Prince does have a connection to the Trump White House because Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, is his sister. There is not an article written in the past year that fails to make that point. I like her too; know why? Because she uses her own airplane for government travel and doesn’t charge the government for it. When is the last time the American taxpayer caught a break like that? Never probably but what she has to do with her brothers access to the President has yet to be explained.
The attempts to tie Eric Prince to the ghost of Dewey Clarridge use the same innuendo and speculation that has already ruined the legacy media. So too the alleged link in Prince’s Afghan plan to a rare earth element exploitation scheme. These articles are, in my final analysis, evidence of a subset of Trump Derangement Syndrome called Prince Derangement Syndrome. I wish all these so-called investigative reporters would look into the who, what, where and why behind the congressional sex harassment fund. I’m growing weary of the fabricated hysteria concerning Eric Prince, private armies and deceased CIA agents.
Panjwayi Tim sent an article the other day worthy of serious consideration at the State Department if it were capable of serious consideration. It outlines a way forward in Afghanistan that has the following advantages:
It would work
It would reduce the amount of future fighting and dying to near zero
It costs the United States nothing
It would allow us to bring all our deployed units home
It would not benefit Iran or Pakistan
Because quantity has a quality all it’s own lets take a look at another plan for ending the fighting in Afghanistan and bringing our forces back home where they belong. I know I’ve posted a ton on this topic before but what the hell; I’ve got nothing better to do.
“The Americans should leave,” Khan said. “There can only be peace and security in Afghanistan if there is a just government in place that is backed by the majority of the people and is chosen through elections or a loya jirga (national council). It cannot be reliant on a foreign military.”
…He said foreign forces, which he described as “girls,” had failed in their fight against the Taliban.
I have written before about how the Afghan war will end and that will be when the people present a united front against the current belligerents. Historically this has been done when a militia or groupings of militia’s gain the peoples support. That is how the Taliban took control of most of the country back in the 90’s.
Ismail Khan is the one mujaheddin commander still standing who could build a coalition of Muj commanders, force an “understanding” on the Taliban, and win the support of the population. He is ready to re-mobilize his militia if given a green light from Kabul and if he can get the majority of his fellow mujaheddin commanders to do the same there is no question it would work.
Ismail Khan fought the Soviets, fought the Taliban, fought General Dostum who fought for and against both the Soviets and the Taliban and has never had allegations of human rights abuse directed at him. He is a Tajik and the former governor of Herat province who is highly regarded in Western Afghanistan, an area from which 90% of Afghanistan’s saffron crop originates. Saffron makes farmers a ton more money than opium which is why I mention it. He would need to incorporate the current Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and central government into the effort but that is not a hard job for prominent warlords; they have thousands of years tradition and a lifetime of experience on their side.
If the Afghans could figure out a way to link his militia to the Afghan Army and use them as auxiliaries they could probably clean up the Helmand province in a few months. Not because Ismail Khan’s militia is proficient but because Ismail Khan knows how to use the ulema (the body of Mullahs who are the interpreters of Islam’s doctrines and laws and the chief guarantors of continuity in Afghan communities) to reach the people. He carries series weight with the Afghan people and the people and the ulema are the only entities that can force peace in Afghanistan. In the context of ending the current war with the Taliban the Afghan military and central government are irrelevant.
The Marines in Helmand are winding down their tour and are a bright spot of good news for our military efforts in Afghanistan. Good news because they have taken no casualties while accomplishing the mission they were assigned. The LA Times ran a good story on them last Saturday; an incident described in that article is a perfect example with which to compare and contrast what would work against what is not going to work.
From the LA Times story linked above:
One recent morning, two convoys of Afghan security forces traveling south toward Lashkar Gah came under fire from a house inside the village of Malgir. Inside a windowless, high-ceilinged room at an operations center near Shorab, Marines, Afghan officers, and American civilian contractors watched footage from a U.S.-made ScanEagle drone hovering above the village.
Once Afghan troops in the area determined the shooters’ location and that there were no civilians nearby, officers in the control room requested airstrikes, which were carried out by U.S. Apache helicopters. One of the shooters was killed, two were wounded and two escaped, said Afghan army Maj. Abdul Wakil.
All that technology, all those assets, all those people deployed at lord knows what cost to kill one guy shooting small arms at a convoy? You get that with our efforts in Afghanistan and it’s old news; let’s focus on the village and read between the lines of the story.
Malgir, the village where the Marines directed an air strike with army Apaches, is in Nad Ali district near Gereshk. The area around Malgir belongs mostly to the Barakai tribe (who for the most part are pro government) with significant areas of Ishaqzai/Poplazai (who are mostly pro Taliban) tribal dominance . There is a concentration of Shia Hazara peoples in the southern end of the district who seemed to be on the short end of the stick regardless who controls the area.
In 2009 the British launched an operation aimed at Malgir to clear out Taliban. The Taliban ‘moved in’ after the collapse of the Barakzai militia who had been running the place until 2008 when they stopped getting paid. The Barakzai had over-taxed non Barakzai locals in the area which probably had something to do with their getting their stipend from the provincial authorities cut off. There were three prominent Muj warlords in the area at that time, Haji Kadus (Barakzai/Shamezai tribe), Qari Hazrat (Ishaqzai tribe and local Taliban commander) and former provincial governor Sher Mohammad Akhundzdza (Alizai from Northern Helmand and at that time a Taliban commander).
Haji Kadus was a favorite of the American Special Forces having dime’d out all his local rivals as ‘Taliban’ (most weren’t) which had landed them in Gitmo. When the British started planning their operation Haji Kadus divided up Malgar with Qari Hazrat allowing him to protect his communities. As the operation unfolded the British made Haji Kadus a Major in the Afghan police and then maneuvered into the village of Haji Gul Ehkitar Kalay.
The British decided to establish a patrol base in the house of Haji Gul Ehkitar (the village was named after him) and negotiated a fair rent which was paid to Haji Gul’s nephew Sur Gul, who happened to be a Taliban commander. The only Taliban mahaz commander to fight the British was Sher Muhamad’s who had been cut out of the pre-invasion deal making. Haji Gul’s Taliban did not fight but he, reportedly, used the British Army rent money to buy IED’s which he turned against his renters. Haji Kadus, who knew what Haji Gul was up to, said nothing to the Brits. When the foreigners went home Haji Kadus was not going with them so he had to make accommodations that made sense in the long game. A smart Indian doesn’t crap in his own tepee.
This is all very complicated right? But here’s the point; Muj commanders like Ismal Khan know this history and know how to put minor Muj commanders on a short leash without much (if any fighting). Know who else knows this entire inter-tribal history inside and out? BGen Roger Turner, the commanding officer of TF Southwest. The British learned from their mistakes and developed a detailed order of battle with comprehensive dossiers on every player inside their former AOA (area of operations). They spent the time and money to fly to North Carolina to bring Roger Turner and his staff up to speed.
Here’s the point. The intricate knowledge of tribal dynamics is not knowledge Gen Turner and his Marines can act on in the context of their current mission. It is good that they know how things got to be the way they are but that hard won knowledge is meaningless to the Marines now. They are locked down on the bases focused on improving the performance of Afghan Security Forces.
Ismail Khan, on the other hand, can use this knowledge to sort out recalcitrant Muj commanders quickly. He can generate change to the local tribal dynamics in a manner that the change sticks. He would probably be able to do so without any serious fighting. If he had to fight he would incorporate local tribal fighters because that’s the way Afghans fight. Those tribes on his side would be rewarded, those against him punished, in both cases this would involved acquiring or losing land. Nothing else matters in the Helmand; land ownership and water rights are the only game that matters.
Getting the Department of State to understand that offers like the one made by Ismail Khan should be taken seriously is impossible. As Upton Sinclair famously said “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. State Department mandarins are not salary motivated but they are power motivated and giving up power is anathema to them. That is a crying shame; we’re running out of time and are already out of money for further adventures in Afghanistan. We should be giving Ismail Khan a shot a solving the Afghan problem we created. It will cost us little and is the only route to peace available now.
In my last post I speculated about the demise of Sgt Johnson, the SF support team member killed in Niger last month. Unfortunately, I was correct but, in all honesty, it was not hard for to see how this story was going to unfold. From my last post:
Read between the lines and you’ll conclude (and I hope the conclusion is wrong) that Sgt Johnson was captured and thus not in the ambush kill zone at the conclusion of the battle. If that proves to be the case his killing by the African land pirates would have been brutal, when discovered 48 hours later the remains a gruesome sight to behold. The Pentagon obviously knows what happened and they aren’t saying squat.
The village chief of Tongo Tongo, Mounkaila Alassane, confirmed the account in a separate phone interview.
“The back of his head was a mess, as if they had hit him with something hard, like a hammer,” recalled Alassane, who said he also saw the body. “They took his shoes. He was wearing only socks.”
In the story an anonymous (is there any other kind) American official claimed that when they received the body of Sgt Johnson his hands were not tied. This may be factually true but is a ridiculous assertion. Sgt Johnson’s remains were autopsied; how he died and any abuse he sustained both pre and postmortem is known and documented. Covering up unpleasant truth’s under the guise of waiting for an investigation to conclude is dishonest and foolish. This is especially true when a known race monger like Fredrica Wilson has inserted herself into the story using the body of Sgt Johnson to make political hay.
As the Pentagon, like the rest of the federal government, continues to expand beyond its original mandate it is relying more and more on secrecy to prevent the American public from knowing what it is up to. It is also using the old “that’s classified information” dodge to cover incompetence and magical thinking about everything from operating in countries where we have zero national interest, to aircraft readiness, severe problems with gold plated hanger queens like the F-35, to the impact of women in combat arms.
In that era a sharp decline in confidence in U.S. military leadership accompanied growing American disillusionment with the war in Southeast Asia. In February 1966, a Harris poll found more than six in ten (62%) expressing a great deal of confidence in “people running the military.” By March 1973, a NORC poll found that number had fallen to 32%.
That level of public confidence is a perishable commodity that will disappear in the absence of sustained superior performance. Superior performance is impossible to sustain in a climate of obfuscation, blatant lies, and politically correct dogma such as ‘diversity is our strength’. Killing (the right) people and breaking things is our strength; diverse peoples meeting the same high standards is our strength, diversity is our doom; not our strength.
Although it is popular to point our that the Pentagon spends more (517 Billion in 2014) than any other nation on earth that is not the correct way to judge military spending. Our spending is so high because our GDP is so high – we are by far the richest country in the world and our military spending reflects that. Military spending as a percentage of GDP is a much more meaningful measurement; as you can see in the Forbes graphic our military spending is not out of line at all.
According to health detective (and NYT’s best seller author) Chris Kressler, medicare and medicaid, by 2040, will consume 100% of the federal budget. I heard him on the Joe Rogan Podcast so I know it to be true. Arguing against the accumulated knowledge of Joe Rogan’s guests is a fools errand, go ahead and try, it can’t be done. You can judge the veracity of Mr.s Kressler’s claim by reading his latest book Unconventional Medicine; if you do stand by for some really bad news about the growth of chronic diseases. There is hope on the horizon but that would involved cutting edge bio-remediation with medical grade fungi; to understand that listen to this podcast with Paul Stamets. It is a fascinating discussion of vital importance to our collective futures that will be ignored because, although the science is there an proven, it is too far outside the box.
I mention our impending fiscal and medical doom to highlight one salient point. The Pentagon is not going to get huge increases in funding. What is needed immediately is drastic decreases in military expenditures that make no sense. AFRICOM would be one, the Service Academies another, (they produce substandard officer material, are too expensive, and run by toxic, PC Centric flag officers).
The Army is now accepting recruits with a history of serious mental illnesses which is a clear sign the Army is too big and stretched too thin. We are a maritime power protected by two giant oceans and do not need a large standing army. There is no reason for us to have bases in Europe just as there is no good reason to have bases in Okinawa. Saying you need forward deployed troop formations when the amphibious shipping required to move those forces is not forward deployed is ridiculous. If we are the world’s policeman (and we shouldn’t be) than we are spending too little. If our defense establishment exists to defend American we are spending too much.
It is past time for the Axis of Adults to start acting like adults by putting the needs of the nation ahead of the needs of the Axis of Adults. The quadrennial defense review process is a joke. The results from this so called review are always the same; cuts is service funding without meaningful alterations in the percentage of defense dollars going to each service. compounding that problem is a congress who is interested in whatever the big institutions funding them tell them to be interested in. There are no longer checks and balances; just an imperial executive branch working with a parliament of whores.
Now that we have a POTUS who is not a creature of the DC swamp we could develop a defense establishment that is oriented on rational defense strategies instead of defending service rice bowls. We also need a foreign policy that is in some form a rational depiction in the interests of the people of this country. Right now both our foreign and defense policy seem centered on the ability to conduct war in two distinct geographical locations simultaneously. Why?
We need to think about fundamental change before we run out of time; we’ve already run out of money.
The best way to avoid military losing support personnel in Africa is to not be in Africa.
ABC news published a story today titled American troops caught in deadly ambush told to proceed despite mission concerns. As is typical with the legacy media the article talks about conflicting mission statements by the Americans and Nigerians which may or may be true. What is true is the article provides lots of innuendo, the staple of ‘gotcha’ journalism, while missing the real story. The real story is why the hell we are driving around Niger to begin with followed by how does a Green Beret go missing after a linear ambush by a bunch of land pirates.
Here’s the deal. The ABC article and most of the legacy media reporting reference a kill or capture mission for “one of the most dangerous terrorist leaders in the country known locally as Dandou and code-named “Naylor Road” by the Americans”. Naylor Road is a commander in the Al Molathameem Brigade named Abdul Walid Zarqawi. He is the protegee of the Teflon Jihadi who is a wanted man and noted land pirate. The Teflon Jihadi, a.k.a Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a.k.a Laaouar, a.k.a. The One Eyed Sheikh, a.k.a The Marlboro Man (he ran or runs a huge cigarette smuggling operation) has survived so many attempts on his life (by the Chadian Army, the French SF, the British SAS, American air and drone strikes) that he has his own Wikipedia page documenting them.
Mokhtar, like many in the Jihad, got his start in Afghanistan where he trained in Osama bin Laden’s Jalalabad training camp. He lost an eye while juggling Soviet hand grenades for the amusement if his fellow Jihadi’s in Jalalabad which earned him the one eyed nickname.
The Teflon Sheikh, in the tradition of his Barbary Coast forefathers, may or may not be a religious zealot. It would be hard to be a member of al Qaeda or Daesh (ISIS) and still have a gigantic cigarette smuggling franchise. But who cares? The amount of religious conviction is a minor detail concerning land pirates; the truth regarding the level of Koranic devotion in any of them is a known unknown.
The authorization being used to conduct these operations in Africa is suspect to those of us who consider the constitution a valid guide for governmental affairs. Plus the story of the ambushed Green Beret team in Niger isn’t over; there are details missing that portend poorly for our hapless Pentagon. If the legacy media is able to fill them in there is going to be hell to pay.
The authorization being used by USAFRICOM to hunt Jihadi inclined land pirates is the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by congress on September 14th, 2001. For 16 years the AMUF has been used to justify military operations in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and now Niger. It is essentially a blank check that has been used by the executive branch to avoid congressional oversight. The AMUF allows congress to opt out of their constitutional duty to determine where and when this country goes to war. Instead of doing the constitutionally mandated hard work congress postures and virtue signals by bullying the Pentagon over policies like females in the infantry or forcing transsexual’s on the military.
That the military is currently suffering from the abdication of congressional oversight concerning its employment while trying to work through an unending stream of PC driven micromanagement is self evident. That congress is doing this to avoid the difficult tasks demanded of them by our constitution is also self evident. Allowing the executive branch and the Pentagon to do whatever the hell they want to do with our military is like giving whisky and the car keys to a 12 year old boy.
USAFRICOM was created in 2006 and is headquartered in Stuttgart Germany. That no African nation (except for Liberia) wants to host the HQ of AFRICOM speaks volumes about its utility to the region. Regardless of the optics concerning a regional command not welcomed in the region it “commands” when you create a military headquarters and staff it that staff is going to find something to do. The something they end up doing may or may not contribute to the strategic vision of the foreign policy establishment; which should be the goal of military headquarters, but that would require a foreign policy establishment with a strategic vision to be a relevant point. In the absence of strategic guidance the leadership AFRICOM has decided to elevate Barbary Coast pirates into powerful Jihadi commanders who they now track down in bush country they don’t know while trying to ‘help’ people they don’t understand.
It is Afghanistan all over again.
This is how you end up with a 12 man Green Beret force (10 pipe hitters and 2 support staff) driving around in soft vehicles, accompanied by the legendarily corrupt Nigerien army, looking for the apprentice of a master Marlboro smuggler. When the patrol left the village of Tongo Tongo they hit a near ambush that caught the rear half of the patrol in the kill zone. Those Nigerians who were not killed in the first moments of the attack dropped their weapons and ran away. The Green Berets fought on without them for the two or so hours it took for French SF soldiers to arrive on scene. The French rescued the survivors and wounded but left the dead behind due to space limitations. Here’s the bad news part:
It is unclear when Johnson was killed, but the 25-year-old mechanic had become separated from the rest of the unit almost immediately after the ambush started, sources within the special forces community said.
Read between the lines and you’ll conclude (and I hope the conclusion is wrong) that Sgt Johnson was captured and thus not in the ambush kill zone at the conclusion of the battle. If that proves to be the case his killing by the African land pirates would have been brutal, when discovered 48 hours later the remains a gruesome sight to behold. The Pentagon obviously knows what happened and they aren’t saying squat. Had he been hit in the ambush, crawled under some concealment only to bleed out I believe we would know that by now but we know nothing.
Included in this tragic story is the specter of Sgt Johnson’s remains becoming a political football thanks to grandstanding of the odious racial huckster congresswoman Fredrica Wilson. Sgt Johnson was not a Green Beret but a member of the group support staff. How much combat training do SF support personnel have? I don’t know the answer to that question but if it is “not too much” it could explain how Sgt Johnson ended up in the hands of land pirates.
Sea pirates have always been a problem for international commerce. One of the most successful, Ching Shih was a (rare) female pirate leader who commanded over 300 junks with some 6,000 men back in the early 1800’s. The penalty for captured Chinese pirates back was death; often by Lingchi (death by a thousand cuts), a horrific way to be killed yet harsh penalties did not solve the problem. Piracy remained a scourge in the south China sea then as it is now. Chinese pirates were a vicious lot as were the Barbary Coast species who plundered American shipping at the same time Ching Shih was terrorizing shipping in the South China Sea. That ended when a few Marines (and 100’s of contractors….but heaven forbid we talk about them again) put the whoop ass on them at the shores of Tripoli.
Sea Pirates have fortified cities where they dock, rest and refit; take out their ports and they’re toast. Land pirates have the vast bush to hide in so a handful of hard guys, be they Marines, SF or contractors are not going to be able to do much about them unless they remain in the bush with them and run them to ground. That would take lot’s of time and be fraught with risk. We once fielded ground maneuver elements who could last in the bush for weeks on end in Vietnam. We don’t do that now although I’m sure there are some troops and commanders who would love to give it a try.
Why would anyone believe that offering some training, some trucks, a handful of hard men and lottery visa’s would in any way degrade or deter land pirates or Jihadi’s?
If you asked the Pentagon what we’re doing in Niger they would say we are there to promote regional stability and. in conjunction with USAID, trying to help the local peoples to a better standard of living. USAID, by the way, has one metric for success; program dollars spent, and 70% of those go to overhead just like Afghanistan. And it’s not like aid has done a damn thing for Africa anyway check this out:
For almost half a century the countries of Africa have been awash in aid. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been given to African governments. More billions were lent to these same governments. Countless tons of food have inundated the continent, and swarms of consultants, experts, and administrators have descended to solve Africa’s problems. Yet the state of development in Africa is no better today than it was when all this started. Per capita income, for most of Africa, is either stagnant or declining.
Our foreign policy doesn’t work, we have no business trying to force ‘stability’ in an area of the world where we have no interests and we suck at the ‘stability game anyway. Our Pentagon is broken; it’s going to get hammered if they tell the truth about the untimely demise of Sgt Johnson. It is also going to get hammered when it is revealed they don’t process service members who receive bad conduct discharges with the criminal justice system as they are required to. The Fat Leonard scandal has ensnared over sixty…that is SIX ZERO!!! (and counting) flag officers from a Navy that can’t even drive it’s ships safely. The future does not look bright with one exception.
The narrative of our progressive elites is now in tatters. The internet has done what our journalist were supposed to do by uncovering truth, afflicting the comfortable while comforting the afflicted:
The recent decline of trust in global institutions is a reflection of the fact that governments, gatekeepers and experts really have lost control over immigration, fertility, technology, nuclear weapons and their populations sense this. The global population isn’t imagining things. They feel the actual impotence of the new gods.
Counter-intuitively 21st man may be as helpless before these giant technological storms as his pre-industrial ancestors were before gales in the age of sail. He may be more helpless if Jordan Peterson is to be believed, for unlike the seamen of former days the sailors on today’s seas have no “stories” — just cell phones full of fake news — to bear them up.
The quote above is from this post by Free Range International favorite Richard Fernandez who mentions another FRI favorite Jordan Peterson; it’s two for Tuesday at FRI HQ today.
As bad as things are in the world today every morning brings news of hope; continued decline of the NFL, another batch of elite actors, journalists, union thug bosses and politicians finally being held to account for their dismissive abuse and sexual harassment of the little people (the ones who make the country great). The Muh Russia story morphing into the real story which was democrat collusion, incompetence, and corruption of federal institutions like the FBI, Justice Department, IRS, and the intelligence community. Is it really possible that the laws of the land might really be applied to privileged elite as they are to the rest of us? It seems possible now; change is in the air and it smells like victory.
Who knows…..there may be enough change to curb the insatiable appetite of the defense/foreign policy establishment for more money, more mischief, and less accountability. How cool would it be to have the government actually give a damn about the interests of the American people vice the global elites? It would cooler than smelling napalm in the morning….which is pretty cool.
Something interesting popped up on the cover of Politico this week concerning Afghanistan. The Man who Thought He Could Fix Afghanistan is about Scott Guggenheim, the most influential development expert that you’ve never heard of. Apparently Mr. Guggenheim is famous for “pioneering the kind of bottom-up approach that rejects the older, headquarters-oriented style of proffering aid” in Indonesia.
Mr. Guggenheim has a solid track record in the humanitarian aid community. He has the proper credentials (PhD from John Hopkins), has spent his professional life working for the World Bank and most importantly he has a unique relationship with Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani who he has known since 1981 when both were if grad school. Mr. Guggenheim seems to be a decent, smart, motivated guy and if there is a chance that America can help get Afghanistan develop into a functional state he would be the linchpin of our effort. From the article:
He has been called “the brain of Dr. Ghani,” but in interviews in the months after the election, he was at constant pains to deflect attention. His business card contains just his name and a Gmail address. This is deliberate. “Ashraf likes having someone who has no political or economic ambition,” Guggenheim told me. He sees his role not as a consigliere but as a kind of a fixer for Ghani, the executor to the president’s blue-skied vision. “Ashraf has a pretty clear agenda. I always thought my job was to help him realize it,” Guggenheim said.
My buddy Boris and I have a lot of experience at implementing bottom up aid and were chatting about the article over the weekend. Here’s his take on Guggenheim:
“…he represents the actual US government-its informal wing. Like there’s a military and paramilitary institutions, there are parts of the government which are technically not governmental. Pure power, no responsibility, but also no clear decision-making authority or processes-rule by committee. In other words, cancer.”
The cancer is in our foreign policy establishment which has proved to be unable to generate positive change in our rapidly changing world. They have no answers for what is plaguing Afghanistan so empowering experts like Mr. Guggenheim is their best option. But it is not going to work because trying to nudge the Afghan President to be more democratic and less authoritarian is not the answer.
Further along in the article our current answer to Afghanistan was presented when ” In the absence of civilian leadership, the generals stepped in.” Again from article:
“McMaster was also good at calling out whoppers. “Our side would try some standard bullshit on how we have great plans to fix everything,” Guggenheim said, “and McMaster would say, ‘I heard all this in 2012. Tell me what’s new.’”
The bluntness of General McMaster is appealing. The current strategy of maintaining a military life line to the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) until they can stand on their own is a reasonable play. But it too is not going to work because of this: sixteen years of fighting in Afghanistan and we are still bombing wedding parties and killing innocents. Last month we dropped more ordnance than we have since 2012 yet the casualties sustained by ANSF are up by 52%. And that’s not counting the Afghan police we killed in our latest drone attack.
Why would our military shoot a Hellfire missile at a few guys shooting their AK’s off into the air? That’s a rhetorical question, there is no logical answer to that kind of stupid. The guys shooting off their AK’s could have been Taliban instead of off duty Afghan police and it would still be a stupid move coupled to an egregious waste of money.
This is why the only rational course of action was the contractor modeled championed by Eric Prince and poo poohed by all the elites in DC and the media. Contractors don’t shoot Hellfire missiles at random gunmen who are shooting their rifles in the air. Contractors, under the Prince model, would have been working for and at the direction of the ANSF; improving combat performance while realizing billions in savings. Contractors would not have spent 500 million dollars on planes that could not fly in Afghanistan and were sold for scrap at 6 cents a pound.
And contractors who know how to operate in Afghanistan (meaning they’re armed) and stayed long enough to develop strong relationships (because they were armed) can do bottom up reconstruction work without losing money to bribes or dodgy subcontractors (because they’re armed and thus taken seriously by all the players). Boris and I know this because, being plank owners in Ghost Team, we did it, for years, without drama (because we were armed).
USAID hated us being armed but tolerated it because we delivered. The Karzai government hated us being armed because it allowed us to be successful thus depriving them of another chance to siphon off aid money into their Dubai bank accounts. The provincial governors loved us being armed because it enabled up to travel to every job site and keep people honest while ensuring projects were on track and on spec. The local people loved it too because nothing brought more calm to turbulent lands than a couple (or just one) armed westerner showing up with the monthly pay roll. If you are working in a warrior society it is most helpful that you too are a warrior. Afghans respect men who take responsibility for their own protection and don’t pay other Afghans, from outside the local area, to do it for them.
As we scan the news of the day we can see the Internet has collapsed the Narrative and laid bare the corruption of Hollywood, politics and the media. This is causing the long-term loss of the progressive elites authority when it comes to lecturing the rest of us from a pretended position of moral superiority. Change is in the air but will not happen fast enough to help the people of Afghanistan. Men like Scott Guggenheim, who has his picture on posters scattered around Kabul with the caption Ghani ba ehsara-e en shakhs meraqsad: (Ghani dances on the order of this man); are not the answer.
The answer for playing the Great Game in a region full of cut throats involves being a cut throat. Advocating for an independent Pashtun home land and one for the Baluch while staying on to keep an eye on China would be a great example and one Michael Yon just wrote about. That kind of thinking would place American interests first and I know that’s a great idea because John McCain was in Annapolis yesterday lecturing the midshipmen of the folly of putting America first.
Mr. Guggenheim needs to come home and stay home or he will be killed by the players in Kabul who are jockeying for attention from the President. America needs to listen intently to the words of Senator McCain and do the exact opposite of whatever ridiculous prescription he’s selling at the moment. The man is an idiot as seen by the “plan” he came up with for Afghanistan a few months back. Afghanistan needs to hang tough until they get a leader strong enough to force his will on the various factions that comprise Afghan leadership while understanding a strong central government operating out of Kabul is never going to happen.
For now all we can do is wait, hope that enhanced training and access to American combat enablers keeps the ANSF in the fight and pray that somehow we have learned enough to never repeat the mistakes we made in Afghanistan. Given the recent drone attack that may be expecting too much…but a man can pray.
One of the distinct pleasures of football free Sundays is reading good books. I just finished another classic from Stephen Hunter about Bobby Lee Swaggart’s grandfather and the FBI which is apropos as the FBI is currently the subject of many different story lines in the 24 hour news cycle. There is the inconvenient story about our Russian obsessed media, unable to push the fake Russia collusion narrative, trying to provide cover to the democrats Fusion GPS opposition research firm. That would be the firm the FBI paid to get a fabricated dossier written by an alleged Brit spook. That would also be the firm who had several high ranking members exercising their 5th amendment rights in front of congress.
“Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business.
But that’s just the beginning. Based on both an eyewitness account and documents, The Hill report goes on to say that federal agents found evidence “indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow.”
Isn’t that called bribery?
Who supervised this Russia investigation? Rod Rosenstein. Who was the FBI director when the Russia probe began in 2009? Robert Mueller. Who was running the FBI when the case ended with a whimper and an apparent cover-up? James Comey. And now these same guys are at the center of an effort to dig up dirt on President Trump? In what parallel universe does that pass the smell test?
I have little faith that justice will be served in the cases above because I have little faith that the rule of law applies to all citizens evenly. For example; Comey, while reading an indictment that would have seen me locked away for the rest of my life, then pulled the “but there was no intent” lie right out of his behind to clear Hillary Clinton. When he did that the fact that there are two sets of laws, one for the little people and one for connected elites was confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt.
What has me a little mystified is the FBI joining the investigation into the deaths of four SF soldiers in Niger. I understand that the FBI does, on occasion, handle investigations into the deaths of Americans overseas. I’m not sure why given the constraints of FBI overseas operations.
My suspicions are based in experiences like one I had in Kabul back in 2009. I saw one of my former students from the Marine Corps infantry officer course during a trip to the American embassy and we had lunch the next day to do a little catching up. He was now an FBI agent working our of Southern California and was TDY (temporary duty) to the American Embassy for a 90 day stint. I asked him what he hoped to accomplish in 90 days and he replied that’s the way it was for the FBI adding that his wife would kill him if he stayed longer. He then asked if I could help recover the body of an American citizen who had been kidnapped and then killed by the Taliban in 2008. I told him the best way to accomplish this was to check into the City Hotel in Kandahar, have his contacts and my contacts offer a reward for the body, no questions asked, and we would have the remains of Cyd Mizell in under a month. The catch being we would need a way to confirm it was her quickly as we would probably be receiving dozens of bodies.
“We can’t check into a civilian hotel in downtown Kandahar” was his response. I told him that was too bad as they had the best chicken shawarma in Afghanistan. And then told him he could pay me an I’d sort it out for them. “We can’t pay you to do it….we’re supposed to do it”. I wasn’t surprised. I remarked it was too bad Cyd Mizell didn’t come from a family with connections or I’d be down in Kandahar making sure her remains came home.
This story highlights the fact that the FBI cannot contribute to an investigation into the ambush of military members. Due to their conservative (to be polite) force protection posture they will not be allowed into the bush to see where this ambush went down. With their limited time on station (coupled with restricted movement outside the embassy security bubble) they will not develop the relationships or sources required to contribute to an inter-agency investigation.
I no longer trust the FBI to be an impartial arbitrator of legal vs illegal activity. The FBI is now a political operation with an agenda focused on protecting its senior members from the consequences of attempting to protect a criminal political class. It’s a shame; I have known and interacted with many FBI agents during my time in the Marine Corps and they were, to a man, dedicated, hard working professionals. But a fish rots from the head and there is clearly too much rot at work in the FBI.
The current level of interest in what happened to the SF team in Niger is as interesting as it is repugnant. The press and members of our ruling class are using it to score political points. The circumstances they are harping on are revealing. The SF team was traveling in unarmored trucks, they were outside the envelope of American supporting arms and tac air, they were recovered by contractors, nobody thought the mission important enough to brief John McCain who has become the most unpopular vet serving in the senate these days. That’s saying something given the stolen valor bragging of another vet senator, Richard Blumenthal, who fraudulently claimed service in Vietnam.
The one thing of which I am certain is that the Sahel region, which is the biogeographic zone of transition in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south, has a serious Jihadi problem. This is another perfect set up for the use of contact military outfits (PMC’s) because they can spend years, not months in the area, they are orders of magnitude less expensive then American military and would prove much more effective for those reasons. There is a currently a huge increase in contractors being used in Afghanistan but there are not PMC contractors, they are contractors holding American security clearances and are assigned to every geographical command for use as targeting specialists, counter intelligence, training and maintenance and aviation support. The military cannot function without them but they are embedded inside the military support bubble and thus do not bring the cost saving found in PMC contracts.
There is no reason why the same companies supplying this manpower could not also supply mobile training teams that deploy into harms way. It’s cost effective and makes sense plus when these teams inevitably take some casualties they do not become political footballs to be kicked around by morons (like Frederica Wilson) who grandstand on the bodies of servicemen to garner political points and media attention.
At some point in the near future the PMC solution will be implemented because the Pentagon is currently broken. The navy can’t drive its ships, the Marine Corps can’t fly its aging air fleet, the Air Force is forcing retired pilots back onto active duty because it cannot keep enough pilots on active duty and the army is lowering it’s recruiting standards. Combat readiness is at historic lows but mandated training on sexual harassment, women in the infantry, acceptance of trans-gendered service members, suicide awareness, homosexual integration, alcohol and tobacco use….all the important stuff is 100% across the board.
It is almost funny that Secretary Mattis has asked congress to not send anymore Pentagon reorganization requirements to the Pentagon until the Pentagon has had the chance to reorganize the old reorganization requirements. Isn’t that something? Here we have the congress reorganizing the unreorganized Pentagon but they can’t do anything about health care or tax reform. It would be refreshing to see congress start leveling reorganization requirements on the FBI given it’s disturbingly partisan efforts concerning Russia and connected democrats.
I had a chance to visit with Mac on All Marine Radio last week. We touched on many topics and as we got to the end our visit we hit on something that really bothers us both. That something is winning battles only to lose wars. Although the legacy media is not focused on the fighting going on overseas things have quietly been changing for the better. ISIS is getting its ass kicked and will soon be nothing more than a bitter memory. The Taliban now have no path to victory. They cannot win as long as America and a few hearty allies maintain a commitment to the government in Kabul. The Taliban is not going to win a military victory (I don’t think they could have done it even if we cut and run) and the people of Afghanistan know this to be true. You can listen to Mac and I talk about this – I come on at the 23 minute mark.
All this good news should elicit a feeling of success but it hasn’t generated positive vibes with me nor is anything remotely positive seem to be working its way to the surface in our media culture. Here is my guess concerning that phenomena.
The first problem with our military efforts overseas is they are not linearly successful. Last week is was noted that every Afghan Army Corps was on the offensive. Today we see that the Taliban has launched bloody attacks in four provinces; Paktia, Ghazni, Farah and Wardak killing 78 Afghans and wounding 179 soldiers and civilians.
Raqqa has fallen and it appears that ISIS is on its last legs. That was inevitable because ISIS was a foreign entity that had invaded and claimed land that was not theirs. Yet in the face of victory we get the disturbing news that the Baghdad government is in the process of taking the oil production center of Kirkuk away from the Kurds. This is a problem; the Kurds have been loyal allies to the west, they are an oasis of sanity in a part of the world that is being consumed by Islamic madness. They have all the right enemies, the Turks, the Iranians, the Iranian puppets in Iraq and the Syrians. Operation Northern Watch. which ran from 1997 to 2003, was implemented specifically to protect the Kurds from Saddam after he gassed them back in the 90’s. Now we are going to stand aside while Iranian proxy’s invade them? Does that sit well with you?
We are currently achieving our military objectives despite the fact our military is in serious trouble. The air component of the Marine Corps is essentially non functional as evident by an alarming rate of mishaps coupled with an unsustainable decrease in flight hours. The army is lowering it’s enlistment standards to meet its recruiting goals. The navy is in shambles and apparently unable to safely operate its surface combatants. The service academies are giant money pits that are producing an inferior product. Yet the folly of using the military as a platform for social engineering continues.
Despite the bad news the military is delivering some good news but that good news is irrelevant which is the really bad news. Clausewitz explained why:
WAR IS A MERE CONTINUATION OF POLICY BY OTHER MEANS.
We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses. That the tendencies and views of policy shall not be incompatible with these means, the Art of War in general and the Commander in each particular case may demand, and this claim is truly not a trifling one. But however powerfully this may react on political views in particular cases, still it must always be regarded as only a modification of them; for the political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.
Providing the time and space for the Afghan government to get its act together is half a solution. The other half requires diplomats with the vision and ability to foster this process along. Diplomats who understand the tribal dynamics well enough to split the already fractured Taliban movement apart. Diplomats savvy enough to bring tribal groupings onto the side of the central government while simultaneously forcing the central government to be responsive and accountable to the people they are supposed to serve.
We need a diplomatic corps that can work with the Iraqi government to find diplomatic solutions to ancient problems. Our military efforts in the middle east should be subordinate to these diplomats but that is not the case now and hasn’t been for a long time. The military will eventually sort itself out; they answer to congress and we have seen that congress loves to get the generals in front of them to ensure compliance with whatever agenda the congress is pushing.
What I’ve never seen (and maybe I’m not paying close enough attention) is those same congressional committees calling state department mandarins into account in public hearings. Congressional oversight is used to bludgeon military leaders while the State Department gets a pass. Why? The State Department is the main tool for implementing foreign policy. Why does John McCain bully the SecDef and General Dunford about a plan for Afghanistan when their plan should be based off the State Department’s plan and their efforts subordinate to the overall State efforts?
Why is War the policy option we now use to solve the problems we created by using war as a proxy for diplomacy? I don’t know the answer to that but suspect this is the reason why, in the face of good news, we find little hope, dwindling confidence and the sense that progress towards a more peaceful world is an illusion.
The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet not withstanding, go out and meet it.
Jeff Shaara uses this quote at the beginning of his trilogy on WW II, The Raising Tide, setting the tone for his examination of the men who fought that war. It obviously applies to men like Karl Marlantes who fought like a lion in Vietnam despite being against the war. It includes men like Tim O’Brien who harbors a life long regret for not having the intestinal fortitude to escape to Canada, choosing by default to fulfill draft obligation by being a grunt in Vietnam.
The quote above does not describe every man who served in Vietnam. In that conflict, as in every conflict, there is a percentage of participants who game the system to avoid or reduce exposure to risk. John Kerry is the most famous example of this type of participant from that war. Combat veterans from every prior and subsequent conflict know the type well. Not everyone has what it takes to do what is asked of them in combat; that’s not a sin, it just is, but there remains a subset in every military organization who will go to great lengths to hide the fact they were not up to the task.
The men who demonstrated by their deeds the spirit of the Thucydides quote are special. They embody the classic hero narrative, which can be found in stories from every civilization throughout history. Entering the world of Mars is terrifying, those who do so with resolution, those who can function and even excel in that world are not only special but a requirement for any civilization to survive and prosper.
What I remember most from the days of Vietnam was the creation of an anti hero narrative that stigmatized the Vietnam Vet. It is clear that the Vietnam Vets who were featured in the series had been selected because their views of the war were aligned with the narrative Burns wanted to tell. No Vet who was unapologetic about the war or thought his time there well spent was included. The only exception was General Merrill McPeak who was a fighter pilot. Fighter pilots always get a bye in the media and Hollywood because the job is so inherently cool.
What about the career officers; the men who went on to build a broken American military into the most functional, politically popular segment of the federal government? Where were the Tony Zinni’s, Frank Libutti’s, or Colin Powell’s?
How about enlisted men who did their time willingly and then came home to build impressive careers despite the scorn from their fellow citizens and with little to no help from the Veterans Administration? My friend and Radio Hall of Fame inducteeJim Lago is one of thousands of men who came home, had a turbulent reentry, self corrected (with the help of other Vets) and built a wonderful career as a radio DJ. Authors Michael Archer. and John Del Vichhio are two more ground pounders who came home, mastered the hard work of novel writing, and wrote popular counter narratives about the men who fought in Nam.
The common denominator for the Vets named above is they are unapologetic about their service in Vietnam, they’ve built successful lives without any remorse for their time served. They represent the anti-narrative and I believe also represent the bulk of Vietnam combat vets. I’m not the only writer with this view.
The coolest story about Vietnam I’ve heard over the past two weeks came from Michael Archer during another great All Marine Radio interview . Compare this story with what you heard over the 18 hour slog that was The Vietnam War and you tell me this wouldn’t have made for riveting television.
Michael Archer lost his best friend from high school, Corporal Thomas Patrick Mahoney III, on a patrol outside Khe Sanh and wrote a book about his search to find out what happened to him and recover his remains. Mike was in Khe Sanh for the duration of the siege of that fire base. He was a communicator by training and was at Khe Sanh village with an SF detachment on day-one of the battle. Having gone back to Vietnam to conduct research in the NVA historical archives (which he describes as being incredibly thorough) he discovered the reason he survived the massive attack on the small SF base at Khe Sanh village. The NVA regiment assigned to attack the outpost (well outside the wire of the Marine base) got lost the night before. The sappers supporting that regiment also got lost and never showed. The NVA arrived after sun up (not at 0200 as scheduled) and decided to attack anyway but were decimated by artillery and tac air.
But that’s not the cool story – his determination to find the remains of his best friend and bring them home was. In the course of his investigation into what happened to Tom Mahoney he actually met and interviewed the man who shot him. They correspond to this day. Mike also discovered in the NVA documents concerning the Khe Sanh operation that up until the last day of the siege the NVA was absolutely committed to taking the base just as they did at Dien Bien Phu.
The narrative in the Burns series was wrong on that point just as John Del Vicchio contends in this excellent post on the PBS production. But that’s a minor point; here’s a major one. Could you imagine and interview with Mike and then another with the NVA officer who killed his best friend? How cool would that have been if only Burns was interested in the best stories available and not just the ones backing the narrative he wanted to tell.
When John Del Vecchio published the novel The 13th Valley he received hundreds of letters from army and Marine grunts who told him that what he described in his book was their unit in Vietnam. That their experience was one of competent leaders, proficient NCO’s, hard fights where they prevailed. The popular narrative of the war never reflected that fact. Hollywood fed the public a concocted false narrative that was the foundation of movies like Taxi Driver, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Coming Home and Platoon.
Hollywood tried to pull that same trick with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan producing PC driven garbage that, unlike the films above, failed dismally at the box office. The only movies that were hits were pro military, American Sniper (which I understand was an accurate portrayal) and Lone Survivor (which was not accurate; Ahmad Shaw was a low level punk with 6 guys not 100’s and the SEAL’s didn’t kill any of them in the mountains of Kunar that day).
Another curious phenomena that speaks volumes about Vietnam Vets is there are only 3 million of them yet 3 times that number claim to have served in the war. The number of frauds who leveraged bogus claims of daring-do to get media coverage, political office, sympathy from women or federal benefits was revealed by B. G. Burkett in his book Stolen Valor. Mr. Burkett had to self publish his book because nobody in the big media/infotainment complex wanted to hear what he had to say.
The Vietnam War was an impressive series despite leaving out the large cohort of the Vietnam Vet community who did not fit into the liberal progressive narrative of that war. The biggest unintended consequence of this project have been the change in perception in today’s military men of their Vietnam era forefathers. Mac has talked about this repeatedly on All Marine Radio. I have picked up some Vietnam Vet followers recently too and I want to highlight a point I hope they appreciate.
The men (and women) who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq sucked up rocket attacks, mortars, booby traps (we called them IED’s) and both near and far ambushes. They know what it’s like to have rockets slam into their perimeter, they know the feeling of helplessness when mortars start to drop in around them. What they do not know and could never imagine (until now) is how that would feel if the impacts numbered in the hundreds and went on for weeks on end. If you were hit by three rockets in one volley in Iraq that was an unusually heavy attack. Mortar attacks in Afghanistan might involve four rounds but normally were just one or two.
None of us could imagine parking our asses on a firebase inside the range fan of enemy artillery and getting shelled for months on end. On 25 September 1967, 1,190 mortar rounds, artillery shells, and 122mm rockets fell inside the wire of Con Tien. That is unimaginable to the modern soldier or Marine. It makes the indirect fire we faced overseas seem like a cake walk. We are not worthy when it comes to bitching about indirect fire.
Judging from the emails that have poured into All Marine Radio, the emails I receive and comments I’ve read in various critiques of the series; Ken Burns has made the Vietnam Vets into legends in the eyes of today’s American military.
Vietnam Vet’s never got the welcome home they deserved; there were no parades, no celebrations there was only shame. The only welcome came from protesters milling outside the gates of military airfields to spit at and insult Vets and their families who were driving them home after their 12 or 13 month tour. There is now a segment of America who will never look at them the same way again. The segment that is fighting overseas today, the segment that has served combat tours for the last 16 years. The segment which has a few tough fights under its belt but now know that what they did wasn’t squat compared to their Vietnam predecessors.
That is not a large cohort of the American people but it is (I suspect) the one cohort that matters to Vietnam Vets. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. Like Mac, when I think about the amount of serious fighting Vietnam Vets did with such primitive fire support, communication and weapon systems I’m amazed. When you add the individual replacement system, the fact these men didn’t train together or know each other; that they lacked cohesion or trust in their chain of command (which are built in pre-deployment training) their performance is beyond amazing. These men should have been legends all along; and now, thanks to Ken Burns, they have become legends to the men and woman who understand just how remarkable they were.
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.
I loved that song when I was a kid. I didn’t agree with the sentiment but it was easy to sing, simple to remember, witty and had a fun beat to it. It expressed the dominant narrative of young Americans from the Woodstock generation. They continued to feel strongly about the war and the draft until there was no draft. Once the risk of interrupting and then risking their lives by being drafted into the Armed Forces was removed they started feeling strongly about other things.
As The Vietnam War series continues we’ve been offered several examples of why the men who fought there served. Karl Marlantes interrupted his Rhodes scholarship work to resolutely serve as a Marine rifle platoon commander. He had strong reservations about the war but they did not trump the obligation he felt he incurred when he accepted a ROTC scholarship and attended Marine OCS. His combat record was exceptional and he showed no regret about his decision despite being haunted about killing an NVA soldier at close range during a fierce battle when his blood lust was up.
Karl has made several appearances with Mac on All Marine Radio. He tells a story about bonding with his platoon which is too good not to share. Shortly after his arrival he had demonstrated the tactical savvy and leadership Marines in combat appreciate. He knew this when he and his Marines were cleaning their weapons shortly after he had took over his platoon. One of his squad leaders walked up to him and asked; “Sir is it true that you went to Yale and are a Rhodes Scholar”? Karl admitted that was true. The Marine replied “and now your here? Sir you have to be the dumbest fucking Rhodes Scholar there ever was”.
Karl laughed, his men laughed; Karl sheepishly admitted you could make that case. He knew at that time he had just been accepted as their leader, the one who would now make the decisions on which their lives would depend. That had to feel good. Considering Karl’s feelings about the war that achievement was beyond impressive.
We also heard from Tim O’Brien, a draftee who served as an army infantryman and is the author of the excellent Vietnam book The Things They Carried. Tim also was against the war and also carries significant guilt; not about what he did in Vietnam but for not having the intestinal fortitude to go AWOL and escape to Canada. I don’t understand that sentiment but respect the man for having the courage to admit it.
When talking about Canada Burns mentions in passing that over 5000 Canadians joined the American armed forces to fight in Vietnam. My first 1st Sergeant in Charlie 1/9 was one of them. 1st Sgt Daily had his own office between the company commanders office and the platoon commanders bull pen – a large office area where each lieutenant had a desk and access to a shared typewriter. There was a hole in the wall next to the 1st Sgt’s desk with a piece of wood which he could slide back and forth. When the wood slide open and the words “Mr. Lynch, a word with you sir” boomed out from the 1st Sgt’s office I knew the fitness reports or other reports I had just submitted had been found lacking. The ensuing corrective lecture was going to be brutal; the smart lieutenant kept his mouth shut and took it like a man.
I once asked 1st Sgt Daily why he left Canada to serve in the Vietnam war. We were in the field and the 1st Sgt had things to do so his answer was terse. “There was a shooting war going on lieutenant where would you want to be”? I didn’t press him on the point knowing that I would get a 15 minute lecture on the deficiencies of young infantry officers who waste the valuable time of their company 1st Sgt when they should be attending to more important duties. When the 1st Sgt wanted to sit around and BS (which he did often) it was best to wait for him to come to you.
I never questioned his motivation; I felt the same way as did all my peers. Iraq wasn’t that different from Vietnam in the sense that the military was committed for spurious reasons while ham strung by constraints imposed for political expediency. It would appear we learned nothing from the Vietnam experience, Rumsfeld was no different then McNamara, the Joint Chiefs were again sidelined in the decision making and rolled over just like their Vietnam era predecessors. Yet when Mac and I were discussing this on his show one day my response was “there was a shooting war going on Mac, where would you want to be’?
There are no longer antiwar protests of note which I attribute to there no longer being a draft. That fact puts the antiwar protesters in a less favorable light than the Burns documentary portrays but (as the grunts in Vietnam would say) there it is. We have an all volunteer force (actually a professionally recruited force), only around 0.4 percent of the citizens serve in the military. That may account for the lack of protests. Not many Americans have skin in the war game anymore so what is there to protest about?
Many of the officers I know didn’t agree with the reasons, force levels or tactics used in Iraq and Afghanistan yet none of them had a problem joining the fight. Why?
I’ve been thinking about this for several days and found a partial explanation while reading the latest post from John Del Vecchio concerning the Burns documentary. Check this out:
Still photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation.
John was writing about the photograph of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan I discussed in my prior post. Now consider these three iconic photographs from three different wars:
The Rosenthal photograph was controversial when it was published. Many thought it had been staged propaganda knowing it to be the second flag raised that day. Had it not been for Sergeant Bill Genaust, a Marine combat photographer who was standing next to Joe Rosenthal (and who was killed during the subsequent fighting) recording the flag raising with a 16mm movie camera the most iconic picture of WW II may not have withstood the scrutiny it first received. But it did and it spoke to all who saw it by capturing the courage and tenacity of the American fighting man in WW II.
The photograph from Vietnam also spoke to all who saw it but it did not speak the truth. I blogged about the full back story here as John Del Vecchio does here. As brutal as that image is it was a legal act under Vietnamese law and the law of land warfare. Read the two linked posts to find out why.
The third photograph was not controversial. Unlike the other two it did not win the photographer, Michael Yon, a Pulitzer. Michael is a blogger, not part of the establishment media so despite shooting the iconic photograph of the Iraq conflict he received no love from the Pulitzer Prize committee. Yet the photograph is every bit as powerful as those above it. It encapsulated our efforts in Iraq perfectly in the form of an army infantry officer comforting a little girl who had been hit by an insurgent IED. Efforts to save the child were futile just as our efforts to save the Iraqi people from each other proved to be.
When you study the three photographs above you can’t help but conclude the Vietnam Vets got a raw deal because their iconic photograph told a story that was not true. Fate is fickle, it is not fair, it is just there and sometimes deals a rotten hand. The Vietnam Vets were dealt a dead hand when fate put Eddie Adams in Saigon during the 68 Tet Offensive.
The Vietnam War series has dumped a metric ton of information, interviews, data and supposition into a giant pile for the viewer to sort through. There are no answers, there are no lessons, there is a liberal slant to the presentation but you have to know a lot of history to detect it.
What were we fighting for? It wasn’t for the constitutional freedoms Americans have always enjoyed. Vietnam was not a threat to them then just as the Taliban and ISIS are not threats to them now. Contending that Americans are fighting and dying overseas to allow the rest of us to knell during the national anthem or protest whatever it is people are protesting today is rubbish. Yet we’re still fighting…..why? Why does the country seem to be as divided today as it was during the tumultuous years of 1968 and 1969? Have we truly learned nothing?