The Afghans Want To Solve Their Problems The Old Fashioned Way

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:

  1. It would work
  2. It would reduce the amount of future fighting and dying to near zero
  3. It costs the United States nothing
  4. It would allow us to bring all our deployed units home
  5. 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 article was an interview with former Afghan warlord Ismail Khan and he states an obvious truth; even centuries of foreign presence cannot fix Afghanistan.

“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.

Ismail Khan; tanned, rested, fit and waiting. (Photo from Khama.com)

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.

Boost airfield where the Marines working with the Afghan Police are based. There were very few houses around the airfield in 2011 when I was last there. Now there are hundreds of houses built outside the wire of the airfield. These are a problem as they can be used to shield an attacking force massing to overrun the airfield. They also impeded our ability to use supporting arms against attacking infantry given the number of civilians who would be caught in the cross fire. Another good reason to get out now why the getting is good.

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.

The Plot Thickens in Africa

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.

Saturday the Washington Post filed a report titled  “The US Soldier in Niger Ambush was Bound and Apparently Executed: Villagers Say“. From the linked story:

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.

Public confidence in the military remains high in America, in fact there no other institution that ranks higher. That has not always been the case:

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.

Saving Afghanistan

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.

We’re Winning…..Why Does It Feel Like We’re Losing?

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.

Entertainers, Political Activists, being replaced & MY RIGHT TO NOT TO WATCH

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 Walking Dead

The Ken Burns Vietnam series wrapped up it’s first week featuring a story I know well, the destruction of Bravo company 1st Battalion 9th Marines (1/9)  in the Leatherneck square on July 2nd 1967. 1/9 (pronounced one nine in Marine speak) was known as The Walking Dead back then as it was in 1987 when I joined the battalion as a rifle platoon commander. 1/9 took more casualties than any other battalion in Vietnam but their nickname did not come from the unfortunate stat.

Ho Chi, Minh gave 1/9 the Walking Dead handle in early 1966  when 1/9 was working out of  Hill 55,  which was 16 km southwest of Da Nang, in the Qung Nam province. The French had occupied it years before and had lost 2 battalions on that hill to the Viet Minh. Later in the war it would become famous for the sniper school established there by Captain James Land. Graduates from that school included  Carlos Hathcock and John Roland Burke; both Marine Corps sniper legends .

When 1/9 arrived on Hill 55 the area was under solid VC control. While establishing defensive positions on the Hill a lineman from 9th Engineers was captured, tortured, mutilated and killed by local Viet Minh. He was left (one presumes) as an example to intimidate the Americans who were new to the area.  It had the opposite affect, the enraged Marines started a series of aggressive small unit patrols throughout the river valley area. They took heavy casualties in those patrols but not that many prisoners.

On the 12 May 1966 a 14 man patrol from Bravo 1/9 located and attacked a giant Viet Minh base camp/training area complete with classrooms, ranges, barracks and a hospital. The rest of 1/9 piled on this camp starting what turned out to be a four day brawl that gutted the 324B NVA Regiment. Hanoi Hana, the Vietnamese version of Tokyo Rose,  during one of her nightly broadcasts said of 1/9 that Ho Chi Minh had called them “Di bo chet” (The Walking Dead) and promised them they would all be dead before Uncle Ho’s birthday which was 19 May.  1/9 pulled back to Hill 55, dug in and waited; the promised attack never came.

This is the same unit patch we used in the late 80’s when I was a member of 1/9

On the 2nd of July, 1967 Bravo and Alpha 1/9 left the wire of Con Thien on a unit sweep. About a mile outside of the wire Bravo walked into a vicious, well coordinated battalion sized  ambush, the commanding officer, Captain Sterling Coates and 3 of his platoon commanders were killed early during the contact by an artillery round, the remainder of the company was pinned down. The NVA then used flamer throwers to set the brush around the Marines on fire forcing them to break cover where they were hammered by both direct fire and indirect fire. Alpha 1/9 moved in to help but they too got pinned down by heavy direct and indirect fire.

A  hastily assembled reaction force comprised of Headquarters and Delta companies 1/9 along with 4 tanks charged out of the wire to help. A young Lieutenant by the name of Frank Libutti from Charlie company (which was detached guarding the base at Dong Ha but would fly in later that day) was at the Battalion HQ and part of that force. Twenty years after this battle Frank Libutti was a Colonel, the commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and his Battalion Landing Team was the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.

I was a platoon commander in Charlie 1/9 on that deployment and the company commander for B 1/9 was Bob Coates. The commanding officer of Bravo 1/9 back in 1967 had also been named Coates. I always thought that to be one hell of a coincidence as did Col Libbuti. What he stressed to us when he talked about that day was that the Bravo 1/9 of 1967 could not be compared in any way to Bravo 1/9 of 1987. The difference in the proficiency of the 87 Bravo company from the 67 Bravo company wasn’t superior leadership or more advanced weapons; it was due to the most contentious issue in the Vietnam War. The use of the individual replacement system of personnel management.

In their book Crisis in Command: Mismanagement in the Army, written by Major Richard A. Gabriel and Lt. Col. Paul L. Savage, the authors write:

‘The rotation policies operative in Vietnam, virtually foreclosed the possibility of establishing fighting units with a sense of identity, morale, and strong cohesiveness….Not only did the rotation policy foreclose the possibility of developing a sense of unit integrity and responsibility, but it also ensured a continuing supply of low quality, inexperienced officers at the point of greatest stress in any army, namely in its combat units.’

The rotation policies were driven by two factors; the draft (which mandated two years of service) and the refusal of the Johnson administration to mobilize the reserves to give the commanders on the ground the men they were asking for. A two year commitment meant that draftee’s could be deployed for 12 months max when mobilization, training and demobilization is factored into the time line. The Marines were not using draftees at this point in the Vietnam War which was why Marine combat tours were 13 months instead of the 12 month Army tour.

Prior to Vietnam American infantry units were formed, trained together and then deployed together into combat. This built unit cohesion, trust in the chain of command, developed the leadership abilities of small unit leaders before combat, and allowed for casualty replacements to be integrated into already functional combat units. Battalions that train together and fight together are giant families designed to withstand the shock of war and function in the face of incredible adversity.

In Vietnam individual soldiers and Marines rotated into battalions that were a conglomeration of individuals serving out their time. Officer came in as individuals too but they tended to have shorter tours (6 months on average) to free up combat command opportunities for other officers. New joins in Vietnam, just like new joins in every war experienced higher casualty rates. Junior officers, sergeants, staff sergeants and more senior SNCO’s always experience high casualty rates in all wars at all times. When rotated into combat units as individuals they did not last long. This rotation policy meant there was no established cohesion or pride at the battalion level. Those battalions were stripped of experienced small unit leaders.  It is remarkable these battalion still fought as well as they did.

The Burns series includes multiple requests from General Westmorland for more troops. It ignores what he wanted to do with those troops and that was to get Americans away from the populated regions and into Cambodia and Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail and take on the NVA.  John Del Vecchio covers this well in his most recent post which can be found here and is essential reading for those who want to understand the context surrounding the tactical decisions in Vietnam.

Calling up more troops required committing the reserves who had trained together and had developed unit cohesion. Using them to go after the NVA in their “safe spaces” may well have given the South enough space and time to get organized. That option was taken off the table because President Johnson was afraid it would draw Chinese or Soviet ground forces into the conflict, a probability that, given the million plus casualties the Chinese had suffered in Korea, was remote.

Our 7th President, Andrew Jackson (the only president to pay our national debt) once said “never take counsel of your fears“. Sage advice that as was General MacArthur’s saying that it is “fatal to enter any war without the will to win it”. The biggest complaint by the military during the Vietnam War was the feeling we weren’t fighting to win but instead doing just enough not to lose.

Part of the McNamara’s whiz kids genius strategy was using remote sensors on the border of the DMV to detect NVA formations moving south. To support that dubious plan the Marines moved up to the DMV, well within the artillery fan of the North Vietnamese, to establish fire bases. Those fire bases then supported undermanned battalions as they swept the DMZ to clear out NVA formations. But there weren’t enough of them to secure the ground they swept which allowed the NVA to move into newly swept areas knowing they could stay there for weeks or months before the area was “swept” again. 

The 1/9 Marines were cool long before  Zombies stole their nickname

Which brings us back to Bravo 1/9 and what the Burns documentary called “The Marketplace Massacre”. I’ve never heard the Bravo 1/9 ambush called that, never seen it referenced that way in historical accounts and if you google the name it is used to describe an event in Sarajevo. Regardless what did happen was that Bravo 1/9 walked into a hornets nest and got hammered. 

In the documentary the claim is made that Charlie and Delta companies went out and extracted Bravo and Alpha companies but because they could’t get to all the fallen they had to return two days later to recover 34 bodies. That is not what happened; the narrative presented by Burns is flawed on this point.

It is true that on day one of the battle, after 3/9 was flown into that area and had attacked the NVA battalions who had ambushed  1/9, the battalion pulled back and found they had 34 missing in action (the battalion not just Bravo company). It is also true that it wasn’t until 5 July that 23 Marine KIA were recovered (the nine remaining Marines were never found).  What is not true is Marines left the field on day one and the bodies were not recovered by some half ass effort sortieing out from Con Thien three days later.

When  1/9 pulled back into Con Thien on July 2nd the commanding officer of Alpha company, Albert J Slater pulled the survivors of his company, the survivors of Charlie company (who had flown into the fray from Dong Ha) and a detachment from 3rd Reconnaissance company together and went back out to join the battle.  3/9 had remained in the field and was joined by the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 3rd Marines. Captain Slater took his company to the northwest looking for good dirt (key terrain) and when he found some they dug in, fortified and then concealed their positions. The NVA had no idea the Walking Dead were back in play.

The maneuver battalions (3/9, 1/3 and 2/3) stayed on the offensive trying to maul what turned out to be the 90th NVA Regiment before they could get back to safe haven on the other side of the DMZ.

On the 5th of July a 400 man NVA battalion came across the DMZ in an attempt to flank the Marine maneuvering elements and walked, in column formation, right into Alpha 1/9’s prepared defense. The Walking Dead then got some payback and destroyed the NVA battalion with direct and indirect fires. The NVA 90 Regiment soon broke contact and withdrew some after marking the end of Operation Buffalo.

I know these kind of details are not going to make a PBS documentary about Vietnam. What is remarkable about this battle is not just the tenacity demonstrated by Capt Slater and the surviving members of a battered battalion. What is remarkable is they performed this way under constraints placed upon them by a President and DoD leadership who were arrogant in their unfounded faith of systems analysis, ignorant about the realities of war and dismissive of the senior military leadership who was supposed to be influencing the effort via sage council.

It seems to me that Burn and company are giving McNamara and LBJ a pass on their disastrous decision making which stemmed from politically motivated assumptions. The men who fought in Vietnam got the short end of the stick then and they are getting it now. They deserve better.

The River Styx

The third episode of The Vietnam War aired last night and it was a good one. We were introduced to a Special Forces legend (and the founder of Delta Force) Charles Beckworth. He was interviewed just after preventing his small detachment of Green Berets from being over run in the battle of Plei Me. Then Major Beckworth had fought a week long battle pitting his 10 Americans, 14 South Vietnamese army soldiers and 300 Montagnard tribal fighters against the 32nd and 33rd Regiments of the North Vietnamese Army. Beckworth had 324 fighters against of force totaling 4,800. In last nights clip he paid his enemies the respect they were due with this quote “I wish I had 200 of them under my command”.

Plei Me Special Forces Camp

The attention Beckworth has received in the historical record and the subsequent attention another exceptional American commander, Hal Moore received was made possible by a third exceptional an American (reporter type) named Joe Galloway. Galloway was featured prominently in the broadcast, his book about LtCol Moore’s fight at LZ X-Ray (We Were Soldiers Once and Young) is a classic as is the movie of the same title. I’m not sure that those stories would be with us today were it not for the presence of Joe Galloway, who hails from Refugio Texas, a small rural town known for producing scrappy high school football teams, not great war correspondents.

We also heard from the NVA commander who fought against Moore’s battalion, Lo Khac Tam. Like Beckworth’s small force Hal Moore was facing an enemy 7 times his number. Despite the advantage of numerical superiority, effective direct fire weapons and surprise the NVA not only failed to destroy the Americans they took a savage beating.

Now promoted to General, Lo Khac Tam said the lesson he learned (one repeated in the companion book ad nauseam) is that one had to “grab the Americans by the belt” to negate their firepower. The North Vietnamese didn’t need to “learn” that lesson; they were trained by the Chinese who had discovered that bitter truth 15 years prior in Korea. That lesson didn’t help the NVA any more than it helped the Chinese. Getting inside the American indirect fire envelope did allow the Vietnamese to inflict more casualties on American units but they never dominated one. As soon as they broke contact they were still subjected to a beating from Tac Air and artillery.

Did we have stupid generals? Of course we did; the military history of America is littered with stupid generals whenever we get into a shooting war. The only time we ever caught a break was World War I where General Black Jack Pershing was placed in command (well ahead of many senior generals).

Did the NVA have stupid generals? They had Beucoup dummies which cost them dearly. During last night’s episode a Vietminh soldier is interviewed about the performance of the Marines and soldiers as they entered the war. He said they were big and slow and didn’t know the terrain like the local fighters who ran circles around them. True enough but thanks to some spectacularly poor NVA generalship and a steep learning curve by the Americans those local cadres were gone 14 months later. They had all been killed, wounded or fled north after the disaster of the 68 Tet offensive.

The myth that the American military was outclassed in Vietnam is just that, a myth, but one still being promulgated in this PBS series. But tactical lessons were not the focus of last nights show; how we got into a major shooting war was. That story, as Burn’s tells it, is complete, total, garbage and a significant disservice to anyone seeking an understanding of the Vietnam War.

Last night we heard a sage rebuke of General Westmorland who told a visiting Senator, Fritz Hollings that; “We’re killing these people at a rate of ten to one.” Hollings warned him, “Westy, the American people don’t care about the ten. They care about the one.” No doubt true but what about the American leadership? Did they give a damn about the one?

Watching the documentary you may think they did and this is where the whole story goes off the rails. As we listen into President Johnson’s anguished phone calls and watch what we are told was an uber competent Sec Def Robert McNamara cognate on how to win what we are not shown is their arrogance, naive stupidity or their contempt for their military leadership. Their refusal to listen to or follow good advice and their collusion with the North Vietnamese that led directly to the downing of American pilots is never mentioned.

The current National Security Adviser, Gen H.R. MacMaster wrote an entire book based on examining every document associated with the Vietnam effort during the critical decision making period of 1964 – 1965. The book is titled Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. From the conclusion of that book:

“The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C.”

How is it that the most important book of the last decade that details exactly how we got into Vietnam is left out of an 18 episode narrative about Vietnam? Did you know that President Johnson and Secretary McNamara would crawl along the floor of the oval officer over a map of North Vietnam to select individual targets?  Did you know that having selected those targets the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk would then pass those targets to the Swiss embassy who would tell the North Vietnamese (through their embassy in Hanoi)  where and when we’d bomb them?

Here is what Rusk had to say about that:

 “All we wanted to do is demonstrate to the North Vietnamese leadership that we could strike targets at will, but we didn’t want to kill innocent people. By giving the North Vietnamese advanced warning of the targets to be attacked, we thought they would tell the workers to go home.”

How stupid can ‘smart’ guys be? All of our previous history with communist governments would indicate that they not only would not tell workers about impending air strikes (civilian casualties being a huge boost for their propaganda machines and the lives lost meaningless to their leaders) but would move their anti aircraft artillery into the target area to down American planes. That’s exactly what they did too and it is beyond remarkable that Burns could ignore this fact and the scholarly rigor of H. R. MacMaster. What the hell is going on with these people?

What is going on with this series is exactly what has been going on inside big corporate media for decades and that is the promulgation and reinforcement of a narrative that is anti American exceptionalism, anti military in orientation, and an attempt to give the anti war left a pass on their dishonorable treatment of Vietnam veterans.

America is not Sparta. We are not a war-like people and as mentioned above normally lack competent generals and adequate force structure when the balloon goes up. We also normally lack good weapons; from the crap machineguns of World War I to the shitty tanks we started with in WW II to the completely inadequate anti tank weapons of Korea all the way to the unarmored Humvee’s of Iraq in 2003 our country always starts behind the curve militarily.

But we learn quick. What the military learned after Vietnam was how to take a hollowed out, racial divided, plagued with drug abuse, unpopular institution and turn into one of the most trusted segments of American society.  Somehow I don’t think that story is going to make the cut with Burns and crew. And that, in the words of our Vietnam Vets, is number 10.

 

Riding the Tiger

I found this quote from Ken Burns about his Vietnam series in a Washington Times article:

“What we call fake news now are things that we don’t agree with but which happen to be true,” he said. “We’re not suggesting we’re going to the change the date of the Tet Offensive; that [would be] ‘fake news,’

Burns and Novick state over and over in their media interviews that they have spent 10 years unpacking the “truth” in an attempt to reach outside the  binary media culture which is always red state/blue state. Yet despite the feel good words what we are left with in this documentary is fake news. Nowhere has that been more evident then the opening of last nights show. Once again we get an interview of a former Marine as prey to those wiley, disciplined, NVA soldiers.

John Musgrave, a former Marine who is featured throughout the companion book, told the following story about being on a 3 man listening post in the Leatherneck Square area of operations (AO).

‘If your sit rep is Alpha Sierra, key your handset twice.’ (If your situation report is all secure, break squelch twice on the handset.) “And if it’s not all secure, they think you’re asleep, so they keep asking you until it finally dawns on them that maybe there’s somebody too close for you to say anything. So then they say, ‘If your sit rep is negative, Alpha Sierra, key your handset once,’ and you damn near squeeze the handle off, because they’re so close you can hear them whispering to one another.

The tell last night was the knowing look on Mr. Musgrave’s face as he says “it finally dawns on them”. I don’t believe him. The last thing you want when on LP duty is anyone talking to you on the radio because they’re loud, even with volume down and handset jammed in your ear. There is a well established (about 80 year old) SOP for listening posts,  and here’s a good explanation from the Guns.com website:

On Listening Post (LP) you acted as the early warning system for your platoon but personally you felt like you were a tethered goat, bait for the enemy. The idea is to get well beyond your perimeter and listen silently for any night activity and then alert the base.  The most significant obstacle to this is you and your imagination because in a high stress, hyper sensory scenario such as listening to the jungle at night, the mind tends to play tricks on you. The feeling of being both expendable and sitting ducks is a constant.

First priority upon arrival is to dig a hole and cut back the surrounding brush just enough to provide sightlines and subsequently firing positions if required.  LPs require total silence once you are in position. No smoking, no food and absolutely no talking.

Radio SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) indicating you are in position is two clicks on your radio mike and one click every hour after. If there is activity you alert your platoon by repeated double clicks on the radio mike and then throw every grenade you can lay your hands on and get your ass up the hill to your perimeter, igniting pop-up flares to blind the enemy and to let your guys see who is coming.  Do not get caught downhill as the crossfire is lethal.

LP duty was then and remains to this day terrifying for the men who are tasked with it. How likely is it that an experienced battalion (1/9 which is my old battalion) is going to send a 3 man team out with no agreed upon procedure if that team detects bad guys moving towards their perimeter? Why would the RTO on that team play 20 questions with the watch? The whole story makes no sense at all but you need to know something about military tactics to understand why the story is implausible. It gets my attention because it reinforces the fiction that American military units in Vietnam were incompetent.

Obviously I am sensitive on the topic but I’ve got 40 years of hearing/reading about how much better the NVA were than our forces and it pisses me off. Bet you couldn’t tell that right?

Last nights episode then focused on how we got involved in a shooting war. When watching it you one can’t help but wonder why we didn’t pull our aid to the corrupt Diem regime after they brutally suppression of Buddhist religious leaders and demonstrated serious incompetence in the field at the battle of Ap Bac. To explain why we stayed Burns glosses over a series of incidents involving President Kennedy to include the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Wall and a disastrous meeting between Kennedy and Khrushchev in June of 1961.

Which brings us to tangent time. Did you know our nation is currently in the grips of an opioiod epidemic? It is and there is a wealth of information concerning the debilitating effect of prescription drug abuse. Taking strong narcotics over long periods of time never produces positive behavioral outcomes which brings up back to JFK. President Kennedy had a pill problem:  

The medical records reveal that Kennedy variously took codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate and librium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep; thyroid hormone; and injections of a blood derivative, gamma globulin, a medicine that combats infections.

During the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy was taking steroids for his Addison’s disease, painkillers for his back, anti-spasmodics for his colitis, antibiotics for urinary tract infections, antihistamines for his allergies, and on at least one occasion, an anti-psychotic drug to treat a severe mood change that Jackie Kennedy believed was brought on by the antihistamines.

I focus on this because the Kennedy/Khrushchev meeting is ground zero for turning Vietnam into an American shooting war. President Kennedy had a pill problem, at the age of 44 he was the youngest man to be elected to the office, he also had a bimbo problem. In short he combined the youthful naivete and lack of experience of Obama with the constant pursuit of strange by B.J. Clinton and added to that toxic mix a severe pain pill addiction. The Kennedy White House was not the Camelot of the dominate liberal narrative but you’d never know that from watching the Burns Documentary.

Barack Obama once said “what harm can possibly come from a meeting between enemies”?    Scott Johnson from the Powerline blog covers exactly what harm could come:

Immediately following the final session on June 4 Kennedy sat for a previously scheduled interview with New York Times columnist James Reston at the American embassy. Kennedy was reeling from his meetings with Khrushchev, famously describing the meetings as the “roughest thing in my life.” Reston reported that Kennedy said just enough for Reston to conclude that Khrushchev “had studied the events of the Bay of Pigs” and that he had “decided that he was dealing with an inexperienced young leader who could be intimidated and blackmailed.” Kennedy said to Reston that Khrushchev had “just beat [the] hell out of me” and that he had presented Kennedy with a terrible problem: “If he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts, until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him. So we have to act.”

And where was there a shooting war in which the United States government could act? Vietnam – from the Johnson article:

Robert Dallek (a Kennedy biographer) writes that Kennedy “now needed to convince Khrushchev that he could not be pushed around, and the best place currently to make U.S. power credible seemed to be in Vietnam.”

Kennedy then knee capped a potential challenger, Henry Cabot Lodge, by making him the ambassador to South Vietnam. Vietnam Vet/writer John Del Vecchio in an excellent post on this episode (and read the linked post; John a deep thinker and good writer) takes up the story from there:

Let’s step back for a moment and consider the new American ambassador, his motivations, proclivities, and political placement. Henry Cabot Lodge, the vice presidential running-mate of Richard Nixon, came out of the 1960 national elections as a potential contender to oppose President Kennedy in 1964. Kennedy’s political instincts were to marginalize this opponent, and how better to do so than to exile him to a small nation on the other side of the earth where he would be unable to consolidate a political organization. Lodge likely understood the double-bind of the ambassadorial offer: accepting could side-line him, yet declining might prove he had little interest in supporting U.S. foreign policy or American allies threatened by the creep of communism. His decision to accept this great responsibility must be qualified by his political motivations, his pandering to the press, and the resulting calamities which ensued. These misdeeds and errors need to be added to the list of original sins.

Original sins indeed. It seems to me if Burns and Novick were “unpacking the truth” concerning things “we don’t want to talk about” about one of the most divisive times in our countries history they shouldn’t have sugar coated how we got into that war. They even could have addressed the evils of prescription pill addiction and made that part of the doco for a timely two-fer. But revealing the dream of Camelot to be, in reality, a nightmare would be asking too much from proud progressive liberal folks. That’s a real shocker isn’t it?

Whitewashing The Vietnam War

The popular fiction writer Dan Brown wrote:

History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books – books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?’

That quote unquestionably applies to early Christian history, the topic Mr. Brown has gained a worldwide following writing about. It is probably true about our history up to and including World War II. It is demonstrably not true about our more recent history; mostly because we have had no clash of cultures; just clashes.

This Sunday (17 September) is the premier of a 10 part Ken Burns PBS documentary titled The Vietnam War. The premise behind this series is enough time has passed to allow us to go back and “remind ourselves of the things we don’t want to talk about”. The series will unquestionably be an excellent feat of journalistic production; visually stimulating and emotionally resonating. I’m looking forward to watching it.

What it will not be is what the producers, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick promise it to be and that is a fair, unbiased accounting. I have spent the last four days pouring over the companion book to this series with growing concern. There is no indication in the book that the liberal narrative regarding the men and woman who fought that war is being challenged. Given the amount of turmoil this war caused in the American public; creating fracture lines that exist to this day, reinforcing a discredited narrative from the past is a grave disservice to both our military and nation.

I paid an inordinate amount of attention to Vietnam while growing up. My father and two of my three uncles were career Marine Corps officers; from the mid 60’s to the early 70’s one of them was in Vietnam and all them saw heavy combat. As I was raised on or near Marine Corps bases most of my friends fathers were also participants in that war. My father and my friends fathers were heroes to us when we were young. I am blessed that I am able to say they remain so to this day. There are not many books or novels about the war I have not read so my baseline knowledge runs deep.

The book (also titled The Vietnam War) has a rhythm to it. It’s organized as a comprehensive history explaining how the United States went from supporting Vietnamese freedom fighters in World War II to fighting those same men a decade after the war. Dispersed throughout the chapters are side bars that contain the personal stories of the participants. The stories told in those sidebars are consistent; the young Americans were patriotic, motivated, idealistic, innocents who became disillusioned by what they saw and did. Those that survived (and many did not) emerged damaged, bitter, and pissed off.  The Vietnamese on the other side were also patriotic, idealistic and innocent; they battled against extraordinary hardships, fought for years on end and emerged as proud paragons of virtue who were ennobled by the experience.

American generals from that conflict are depicted as clueless liars focused on the lavish use of firepower and dated, inappropriate tactics. American field grade officers were murderous psychopaths focused on killing as many people as possible while ignoring their own casualty rates as they sought ever higher body counts to further their careers. The American junior officers experience mirrored those of the enlisted men; tricked into going they rapidly became bitterly disillusioned by what they saw and did.

The Vietnamese general officer and Colonels are uniformly portrayed as tactical geniuses who developed the perfect battle plan to use America’s strengths against her while continually besting American and South Vietnamese forces in the field. They too emerged from their decades of war wise and ennobled.

Keep in mind I’m talking about the side bars. The narrative does admit that the North Vietnamese made serious strategic errors especially when they launched their Tet Offensive in 1968. There is also a side bar that describes the massacre of Vietnamese men, women and children by the North in Hue City during the 1968 Tet offensive. Yet the book focuses a majority of it’s narrative on American malfeasance of which there was plenty. While doing so it perpetuates some stories I’ve never heard and don’t believe.

One of these was the story of Private Dennis Stout who served with Company B of the First Battalion, 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne. He contends that in April of 1967 his platoon captured, interrogated and then spent two day raping a Vietnamese teenager before murdering her. That is an extraordinary claim that requires an extraordinary amount of proof to be taken seriously. None is provided.

Where would a platoon find a place in the rear area to house, torture, rape and then murder a captured female? Why would anyone believe that a platoon could even accomplish such a deed on the off chance they even wanted to? Platoons are not independent entities, they are part of a rifle company which is part of an infantry battalion and as such they are not allocated offices or rooms or building in which they can conduct themselves unsupervised. I’ll address this incident in detail when the segment containing it is aired.

The American military did rape women and kill children in cold blood on at least one occasion; the My Lai massacre. Yet that story too is incorrect as written in the book. The photographs of that odious deed came from an Army public affairs correspondent, Sergeant Ronald L Haeberle. What the book fails to mention is that then Sgt Haeberle did not release the photos he took with his army equipment; he had a personal camera with him that day which he used to take the photos and then hid so that the real story could eventually come out. That was a brave move by a good man and the vast majority of those who fought in Vietnam were just like him; good men.

I suspected, as I read the book, that the hundreds of people who worked on this documentary had limited knowledge about the American military. That suspicion was confirmed when I got to the story of an infantry officer who was born during WW II in an Arizona Japanese American interment camp named Vincent Okamoto.

This is one of the photographs used in the Burns book. The caption starts with “Second Lieutenant Vincent Okamoto and his M16”. However the long gun in this photo is clearly an AK 47.

Vincent Okamoto is the most highly decorated Japanese American of the Vietnam war where he was awarded three Purple Hearts, The Distinguished Service Cross, both a Silver and a Bronze Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He went on to lead an exemplary life retiring as a judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court.

Here is the description from the book telling the story of his incredible bravery under fire.

On the morning of August 23, he made his twenty-third assault. Nineteen helicopters ferried the first and second platoons to a new landing zone just thirteen miles from the Cambodian border. Their task was to dig in, stay put, and somehow block a battalion of some eight hundred North Vietnamese troops, who were trying to escape back across the border. Okamoto’s unit was reinforced by a platoon of mechanized infantry, three APCs, and a tank, but they were still badly outnumbered. He and the fewer than 150 men under his command spent the rest of that day and all of the next preparing for an attack as best they could—setting Claymore mines and hanging coils of razor wire.

At about ten o’clock on the night of August 24, Okamoto remembered, “we got hit with a very heavy mortar barrage. Within the first ten seconds, all three of those armored personnel carriers and tanks were knocked out with rocket-propelled grenades.” Trip flares briefly lit up the landscape. Scores of enemy troops were running at the Americans through the elephant grass. Enemy mortar shells blasted two gaps in the razor wire. If Okamoto and his outnumbered men couldn’t plug them, they were sure to be overrun. He and the four men closest to him held their M16s above their heads and fired blindly.

The enemy kept coming. “I had my four people. And through the light of the flares, I said, ‘A couple of you guys go and man the machine guns out on those APCs.’ Well, the response I got was, like, ‘Fuck you, I ain’t going up there.’ So I ran to the first armored personnel carrier, and I pulled the dead gunner out of the turret. I jumped in there, manned the machine gun, and fired until it ran out of ammo.” Okamoto moved to the second disabled APC, then the third, emptying their guns.

That’s a great story but one that, to a military professional, makes little sense. Obviously a reinforced rifle company fought that battle so I’m not sure why a second lieutenant would be in charge. He had a mechanized platoon and tank attached yet in the opening barrage the APC’s and tank were disabled by rockets. What the hell were they doing up in the front of the D to start with? A reinforced company with attached armor should have easily been able to not only block but to destroy an NVA battalion fighting in the mountains near Cambodia. To do that they would have needed to build a defense in depth where the armor is kept to the rear and brought up as needed to hose down the enemy and then returned back into the D to reload. That is infantry tactics 101; armor is great in the D because it is mobile and has heavy firepower. Placing them up front in a linear defense is a ridiculously amateur move.

I mean no disrespect to Judge Okamoto who is a great example of the American fighting man. Brave, resolute, and a man who lead from the front. The story here if true (and I don’t believe a second lieutenant was in charge of a company (rein) task force at this battle) is why would he, as a very junior officer, be placed in charge of this task force? It takes somebody with military knowledge to recognize this and that’s my point. The people who put this series together did not include any experts on the topic at hand.

Mr Burns and Ms Novick did interview dozens of former military men and women who served in Vietnam. My favorite of that group would be Karl Marlantes who wrote the books Matterhorn and What it is Like to Go to War. I heard about this series during an interview Karl did with Mac on All Marine Radio. I’ll be interested in what he has to say but it is also clear that the majority of the material in this series was produced by people who know very little about the military or war.

There was plenty of incompetence at every level on all sides of this conflict. Focusing on American and South Vietnamese incompetence while giving the NVA and NLF a pass is dishonest and it sticks in my craw. The series  is also promotes the lingering suspicion that the men who fought this war came home as damaged goods. Which brings us back to Judge Okamoto.

Vincent Okamoto had a successful legal career after the war and his experience matches the vast majority of his fellow Vietnam Vets. I suspect that in this series/book he’s singled out for positive treatment due to his racial background and the circumstances of his birth. I may be wrong but regardless, his success in later life is the common story for most Vietnam Vets. The media never mentioned this fact over the years and instead perpetrated a series of hoaxes like the famous CNN Tailwind story (alleging the use of Sarin gas in Cambodia)  or this 1983 article about traumatized vets living in the wilderness of Washington State (not one of them, it turned out, had served in Vietnam). To this day the media narrative regarding Vietnam Vets is seldom accurate or positive.

In 1994 a Vietnam Vet named B.G. Burkett self published the book Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation was Robbed of it’s Heroes and it’s History.  The book unmasked hundreds of media and political frauds.  It told the truth about the subsequent lives of the men who served and prompted congress to write into federal law the Stolen Valor Act which made lying about military service a crime. That law was quickly overturned as the Supreme Court correctly decided that lying about being a hero, although odious, is still protected under the first amendment.

I believe, based on the companion book, that PBS is once again trying to rob the Vietnam Vet’s of their heroes and history. That is why I feel compelled to critique each episode. Our country is divided enough as it is and doesn’t need more liberal propaganda shoved down our throats. I hope the series deviates from the companion book and presents a less “nuance” and more “reality” view on the subject of the Vietnam War. If it does I’ll be the first to point it out but I don’t think I’ll be doing any backtracking over the next few months. And that’s a pity.

I intend to publish a blog post weekly recapping the episodes while pointing out the bias and distortions that deviate from the true history. Judging from the companion book that is not going to be hard to do.

Self Inflicted Wounds: Dogs and Hurricanes

In a blunder too stupid to contemplate let alone explain the US Special Forces Information Operation (IO) team in Afghanistan designed leaflets that contained the Shahada  “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet” printed on the side of a dog.  Dogs are considered unclean to adherents of the Islamic faith; placing a Shahada on the picture of a dog is a grave insult to the faithful. In fact it is so grave that there will be no way any Afghan will believe this to be a simple mistake. This is an amateur hour self inflicted wound that for which we will pay a stiff price….take that to the bank.

The leaflets were dropped over Parwan province (I’ve also seen stories that it was dropped in the northern provinces) which has a literacy rate of 27% and most of those Afghans are Dari speakers. The leaflet is in Pashto – the language of the southern provinces.  The Taliban were quick to respond sending a suicide bomber to one of the entry control gates at the Bagram airbase yesterday where he detonated his vest and wounded six soldiers (there of them Americans) and killed an interpreter.

The American military had this to say about the incident:

I sincerely apologize. We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners worldwide,” said Maj. Gen. James Linder. “There is no excuse for this mistake. I am reviewing our procedures to determine the cause of this incident and to hold the responsible party accountable. Furthermore, I will make appropriate changes so this never happens again.”

Regardless of what the review of procedures reveals there is no way to explain such a reckless mistake after 16 years of fighting in Afghanistan. All this incident does is to reaffirm the wisdom of the Prince plan which focused on getting knowledgeable trainer/mentors into the country for the duration. What general Linder is going to find is someone on his/her first deployment thought this leaflet a good idea. Which is to say someone doesn’t know a damn thing about the country of Afghanistan yet is running IO ops there. The Prince plan specifically avoided putting inexperienced people in country to avoid self inflicted wounds of this nature.

Why dropping leaflets in a province where a vast majority of the population in illiterate seems a good idea at this late stage is a bigger issue than the content. It speaks to another component of the Prince plan and that is not having people in country who do not complement the mission which we have been told is training the Afghanistan National Security Forces. This is the problem with the American military today; it is a gigantic bureaucracy designed to fight the military forces of other nation states. After 16 years of fighting in Afghanistan it is still unable to task organize into a force that reflects it’s stated mission.

Adding insult to injury former Afghanistan president Karzai took to the press accusing the U.S. of launching “a psychological war against the Afghan people”. He is correct; that is what exactly what information operations are designed to do and there is no reason for us to be doing them in Afghanistan.

Misfires of this nature are part of “a cyclic pattern to the erosion of faith in government, in which politics saps the state’s capacity to protect people, and so people put their trust in other institutions”. That quote comes from an article in the New Yorker about Hurricane Harvey yet explains well the reason Private Military Companies (PMC’s) remain a viable business model in the face of unanimous condemnation by international elites.

Titled Why Does America Need a Cajun Navy? the article, in the words of Richard Fernandez, expressed alarm that “the Texas disaster instead of emphasizing the importance of Climate Change and greater government funding has perversely glorified community volunteerism with deleterious effect”.

What the New Yorker was describing and what the world witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey was the high degree of social capitol resident in America’s fly over country. The Cajun navy is a reflection of that social capitol as was the hundreds of people who launched their boats onto the flooded roadways and started saving people.

Texas also enjoys the advantage of their own giant grocery store chain HEB. HEB is legendary for its disaster relief response. Instead of doing typical corporate IO buys on TV and radio which claim the company is doing this or that for the community HEB goes out and helps the community. They fly in truck drivers to keep stores open, forge letters to get clean up crews past police roadblocks to get stores open; even plead with national suppliers: from the linked article:

I called Frito-Lay and said, rather than manufacturing your entire product line, manufacture your bestsellers. I need Lay’s, I need Doritos, I need Fritos. I need a variety pack. I don’t need Funyons and I don’t need Munchos. Just make your best sellers. I won’t turn down any delivery. We’ll take it as fast as we can.

I don’t need Funuons….that’s hysterical…anyway the point is that the response to Hurricane Harvey demonstrated that Americans, despite years of racially polarizing IO operations from our politicians, academia, elite media and even the damn NFL we remain Americans. We’re a big country with people of every variation of color and ethnicity you can imagine who come together in times of strife to take care of each other because it’s the right thing to do.  Listen to some of the Zello calls to the Cajun navy to get an idea of what I’m talking about

We are about to see how much social capitol remains in the state of Florida. Florida has more cowboys (and cows) than Texas; but it has also seen a huge influx of life long democrats moving into the state from frigid northern blue states. This is why we have odious, ethically challenged congress persons like Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the national stage. She is a second rate hack who has the audacity to claim her support for the Awan brothers (the biggest political scandal of my life that is being studiously ignored by legacy media) is a victory of diversity and a blow against racism. Unhinged lunacy of that nature is why I suspect Florida is lacking in the human capitol department. People who elect the Wasserman Schultz’s of the world are not the kind of people to risk their lives or property helping strangers.

Diversity has never been a strength to any society at any time in history. As Victor Davis Hanson points out:

America’s melting pot is history’s sole exception of E pluribus unum inclusivity: a successful multiracial society bound by a common culture, language and values.

Is Florida a successful melting pot or a dangerous salad-bowl of politically sanctioned, envy driven separatism? We shall soon see.

Right now the evacuation efforts in Florida are being stymied by a lack of fuel. The governor has been brow beating suppliers about getting more and is urging citizens to not top off their fuel tanks if they don’t need to drive that far to local shelters. Does anyone on planet earth believe that will happen? He can hammer away at fuel suppliers all he wants but he won’t get far. The Colonial Pipeline that carries 100 million gallons of gasoline, aviation fuel and heating oil a day from Texas refineries to the east coast is closed.

Map of current fuel pipeline in America

Wait…a pipeline carries 100 million gallons of gas a day from Texas to New York? Doesn’t that make all the drama surrounding the Keystone pipeline rather moot? Yes it does and it illustrates the disservice being done to our national discourse by the legacy media and virtue signalling politicians rather obvious. America can and should be energy independent; for years the oil and gas industry has been asking to expand both pipelines and refinery capacity yet congressional democrats, blue state politicians and climate alarmists have worked in tandem to prevent those investments to our energy infrastructure. That is another self inflicted wound that is already impacting Florida and may well impact the other states in the south who are in the path of Hurricane Irma.

As the cheerleaders for climate alarmism take to the airwaves to tell you how ‘climate change’ is responsible for the intensity of the current hurricane season remember the graph below. Climate models that have their inputs artificially tweaked are not reliable. Legitimate scientific observation is as are your own two eyes.

Most Americans, just like most people in other parts of the world, do not like to wait for the government to swing into action when a natural disaster strikes. The effectiveness of the help they can provide to their fellow citizens is a direct reflection of the social capitol that resides within the affected areas. Let us hope and pray that the citizens of Florida are able to put aside petty politics and rise to the occasion. Their test is at hand; the rest of the world is watching and we will soon know if the blue state model can match the red states in human decency and real (vice virtue signaling) compassion.

The Manning’s: Chelsea and Optimal

Yesterday morning there was another article in the American Thinker website that went after Secretary of Defense Mattis. Titled Mattis Attempts To Normalize A Severe Mental Disorder.   It was written by the same author as last weeks hit piece, David Archibald and the article dinged Mattis for establishing a panel of experts to examine the issue of transsexuals serving in the military rather than just processing the individuals out of the service. Also in the article was this link to a recent GAO report: “Navy Force Structure: Actions Needed to Ensure Proper Size and Composition of Ship Crews.”

In light of the recent rash of Naval shipping incidents I found that link interesting and it referenced the Navy’s “Optimal Manning” program that ran from 2003 to 2012. Researching this program revealed a plan that, given the current problems with basic seamanship in the Navy, was alarming.  This article from a 2004 addition of Military Times explains why.

Now, instead of training sailors in large classes for narrowly defined jobs, the Navy will be looking for people who match its precisely defined “skill objects,” and have the ability and motivation to train themselves, using computer courses available worldwide.

For example, a sonar operator needs to know how to operate sonar equipment, apply deductive reasoning, understand acoustic principles and be qualified in specific hardware and software, among other skills.

In turn, those skills define performance standards that the Navy can apply to sailors’ evaluations and career progression.

Optimal manning, and the training to achieve it, are not confined to the newer ships. Experiments aboard existing ships such as the guided-missile destroyer Milius, for example, have reduced the crew size by about half.

Capt. Albert Thomas, deputy director of the Human Systems Integration Directorate.

“Right now, our entire process is based on recruiting 18-year-olds, keeping 30 to 40 percent of them and having them work full careers.” In the future, he said, “We’ll be looking to recruit 30-year-olds to perform specific functions as well.”

Computer-based training will give sailors greater career mobility, Thomas said. “Right now we tend to send [sailors] to the same kind of ship, over and over again,” he said, because of the expense of sending a sailor to a new training course. Now, “if a sailor really wants to change from one class of training to another, it will be easier to do.”

Remote training based on self motivation? Recruiting 30 year old’s for specific skill sets? Decreasing the crew of a Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer by half????!!!!! I’m not sure if that drastic reduction ever happened; information of that specificity regarding manning levels is difficult to come by (as it should be) but it sure sounds like a recipe for disaster. Which may help explain the recent disasters incurred by the 7th fleet.

The optimal manning program was designed to tackle the persistent problem for all military branches of P2T2. P2T2 stands for patients (personnel in hospital), prisoners (personnel in the brig) training (personnel in schools), and transfer (personnel moving from one duty station to the next). The service personnel who fall into one of these categories are not available to the fleet (or combatant commands for the other services) for assignment thus the desire to keep P2T2 numbers as low as humanly possible.

The optimal manning program attacked the problem two ways, it reduced the numbers attending and teaching at formal schools while simultaneously cutting the manning levels for the ships in the fleet.  Leveraging new technologies to accomplish those goals is commendable but any solution that promised to cut the manning levels of a ship by 50% should have been viewed as too good to be true.

What also falls under the ‘too good to be true’ category is the hope that unsupervised self directed study on a computer will yield technically proficient sailors capable of performing those same duties aboard a naval combatant at sea. There is a reason that military personnel have to demonstrate mastery of the subjects taught them at formal schools and one of those reasons is so they won’t drive into commercial ships traveling at 8 knots in congested sea lanes.

Planning to recruit middle aged people to serve as first term enlisted personnel is also foolish. The military has enough history accessing in older folks to know that statistically they fair poorly. They don’t tolerate having people much younger than them telling them what to do. They can’t handle advanced rank well because they don’t have the 10 or so years of service knowledge needed to be at that rank. They are a poor bet but that’s not the main problem; screwing up your sales force and sales systems by going after a low potential demographic is. That is also the same problem with establishing quota’s for females and transsexuals.

Our military is not an all volunteer force. It is a professionally recruited force and recruiting is a difficult business where only those who establish effective sales system and train a serious sales force with that system will thrive.

The Marine Corps takes this task seriously which is why a healthy percentage of Marine General Officers are prior recruiting station commanders. It’s hard to make it to the top without checking that box (for the ground pounder’s that is – pilots have a different career progression).

I did put a guy over 30 in while on recruiting duty. He needed massive waivers to be considered; ten years prior while attending college on a ROTC scholarship he had been involved in a DUI accident where one of his classmates had perished. Since that time he had become a national spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, never touched a drink again, and had been trying for years to enlist as being a Marine remained a major goal in his life. He did well in boot camp and went on to become a commissioned officer.

 

Catching up with the current head of Marine Corps recruiting and my best friend MajGen Paul Kennedy in DC last month. He wouldn’t give up any juicy tidbits for this post but did catch me up on all sorts of insider shenanigans he knows I’ll never write about. He’s such a dick like that but I love him anyway. I hope he continues on up the chain – the country and our Corps will be better off if he does.

But the only reason he got in was the Marine Corps needed him. I put his package in during February, a tough recruiting month and at that time (1998) the Marine Corps was the only service making its annual recruiting mission. I had made mission already but the district needed another shipper that month and I offered him up as one we could process and ship the same week. The district commander gave him a shot and he got a chance to accomplish a life long goal. But it wasn’t about him; it was the needs of the service that allowed him in and had we not been desperate to meet our recruiting mission that month he would have never set foot on the recruit depot in San Diego. The fact that he was a good man and ultimately made a fine Marine was and remains irrelevant.

The needs of the service drive manpower requirements which brings us to the Chelsea Manning part of the manning problem. Regardless of ones opinion concerning the mental health of the transgendered population the fact remains the service has no requirement to bring them into the force structure. By definition they will spend more time in P2T2 status if we allow them to transition to what they think they should be. More importantly the argument about their potential service is focused on them, what’s ‘fair’ for them, demands of respect for their choices etc… The military isn’t about individuals and it is sure as hell not ‘fair’; it’s about the military and what it needs.

I suspect that Secretary Mattis is working the system to come up with a policy on transgendered service people that will withstand both push back from hysterical know-nothing politicians as well as the test of time. What is more important is what he is doing about the current crisis with his Navy’s basic seamanship skills. I suspect the solution is going to require re-establishing formal schools and enforcing rigorous standards to graduate from those schools. Something in the current mindset of the navy will have to change to accomplish that and one of those things, I suspect, is the current fad of getting as many women as possible assigned to ship’s crews.

As of 2016 16% of the women assigned sea duty have become pregnant which means they cannot go to sea. If the navy has already reduced manning levels by 50% with their optimal manning program that additional loss of manpower is crippling. The catastrophic accidents we have seen this year are thus inevitable.

The problems with ship driving in the navy will be rapidly corrected. They have to be. The question with the other manning issue is this; if we cave to political pressure to recruit individuals we don’t need where will it end?

Our neighbors in the great white north provide a good example of where it could end. They provide the perfect example of neo-Marxist political dogma evolving into social lunacy. A bill called C-16 is being floated in Canada as an amendment to its human rights code. It is based on the dogma that gender is a social construct and makes it a hate crime for not referring to an individual with one of the 70 and counting manufactured pronouns for expressing non-traditional gender preferences.  It amounts to compelled speech, which should be anathema to a free peoples, while ignoring the fact that if you keep extending ‘rights’ you weaken existing rights and soon will have no rights.

One of the positive aspects of this strange social experiment is the emergence a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto named Jordan Peterson. He is now a YouTube star who came out of nowhere after posting 3 videos about his refusal to cooperate with compelled speech codes. Millions of people around the world, including me, have been receiving a world class education on psychology, sociology and making a coherent argument from his lectures, interviews and testimony before the Canadian Human Rights commission. A sample is pasted in below.

Canada can afford this kind of liberal cultural group think for a number of reasons not the least of which is they don’t need a functioning military; they have us next door and we’ll take care of them in a pinch. We have no big brother on our boarder and need to take our national defense seriously. The needs of the service should trump all other considerations concerning who gets to serve in our Armed Forces.

That imperative keeps getting harder to recognize in this age of a hostile congress more concerned with moral preening and buying votes then national defense. That will change only after we incur a military disaster big enough to force change. I don’t think North Korea is a big enough threat to do that and shudder to contemplate what will be.

History doesn’t care about feeling or about who is right or wrong; it doesn’t care about anything; it just happens and those who have prepared the best to deal with the worst survive.  The rest…..they’re history.