LZ Margo…The Dead Went Last

This story was published in the Naval Institute Proceeding magazine in November of 1995. It is written by my father, MajGen J.D. Lynch, Jr. USMC (Ret) who was the operations officer for BLT 2/26 at LZ Margo. This story is about a bad day in a forgotten place during an unpopular war. The men who died that day were representing this country well, some of them were draftees, none of them were happy about fighting in Vietnam but all of them did their duty. On this Memorial Day take the time to read about the kind of men we are honoring. This is history worth knowing because it is our story and the more you understand it the clearer your picture becomes of the sacrifice made by those we honor on this day.   

The 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines rarely appears in the Marine Corps’ illustrious combat history. The battalion saw only brief service during World War II. . . long enough to land in the assault wave at lwo Jima. Later, during the Vietnam War, it reappeared for a few years before its colors once again were returned to the museum curators. Its daily Vietnam experience was usually far less stressful than the Iwo Jima operation but Vietnam had its days and when it did, the late 1960s Marine of 2/26 experienced the horrors of war at the same levels of intensity faced by the generation that fought its way up the black ash terraces beneath Mount Suribachi. This is the story of one of those days: 16 September 1968.

Late 1968 found the 3rd Marine Division serving in the extreme north of I Corps, the northernmost corps area in what was then the Republic of Vietnam, controlling ten infantry battalions: those of its organic 3rd, 4th, and 9th Marine Regiments, plus 2/26. The division’s operational concept-an effective one – was as easy to understand as it was difficult to execute. Relying on few fixed defensive positions and even fewer infantry units to defend them, the defense was offense. Battalions stayed in the bush for weeks on end covering North Vietnamese Army (NVA) infiltration routes and, in general, looking for trouble. They moved constantly, on foot or by helicopter, and when they encountered an NVA unit all hell broke loose until it was destroyed.

Our battalion – I was the operations officer – celebrated the Fourth of July in an area near the coast called Leatherneck Square, where it was responsible for defending the square’s northern and western sides. In late July, the battalion was reinforced to conduct amphibious assault operations and designated Battalion Landing Team (BLT 2/26).

After training with the reinforcements, BLT 2/26 embarked in the ships of Amphibious Ready Group Alfa, including the famous World War Il Essex-class carrier Princeton (LPH-8), now an amphibious assault ship. Initially there was talk of landings just south of the Ben Hai river inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), but the pattern of NVA operations had shifted westward and the amphibious talk died out. An early-September landing well in- land marked a temporary end to our amphibious experience and the beginning of service as one of the division’s maneuver battalions. Despite the change in mission, the battalion kept its reinforcements-among them a tank platoon, a 105-mm. artillery battery, and a 4.2-inch mortar battery.

My Dad – then a major and the S-3 of BLT 2/26

Operational control shifted to the 3rd Marines, headquartered at Camp Carroll, but several days of aggressive patrolling yielded no enemy contacts. About 7 September, the BLT’s field elements were trucked to Camp Carroll and staged for two contingencies: a helicopter assault into Landing Zone (LZ) Margo, a barren hill- top just south of the DMZ, roughly l7 kilometers west-north- west of Camp Carroll, or a shift in operational control to the 4th Marines and a return to Khe Sanh where the battalion had served throughout the early-1968 siege.

To the relief of those who had served at Khe Sanh, the Margo operation prevailed – an assault into the LZ followed by movement north to the high ground on the southern border of the DMZ where the battalion was to turn east and sweep the high ground. The orders emphasized the need to take prisoners.

A typhoon brushed the coast and although the tree covered mountains inland showed no outward sign of the rains, movement became impossible. The war ground to a halt. Finally, the weather began clearing and, on 12 September, the commanding officer of the supporting helicopter squadron flew in for the Zippo brief – a planning and coordination meeting attended by the battalion and squadron commanders plus their staffs.

Zippos were businesslike affairs. Lives were at stake and the assaulting battalion and supporting squadron had to reach complete agreement and understanding. On the plus side, Margo was easy to find because of its location on the north side of the Cam Lo River inside a distinctive kilometer-wide and more than kilometer deep U shaped bend – unfortunately this plus was offset by several minuses – most of which stemmed from the tiresome but necessary subject of terrain.

Margo, which resembled a broken bowl, was smaller than the maps indicated. Using north as 12 o’clock, the rim from about 5 to l0 o’clock was the dominant piece of ground within the LZ. The southern side of the rim dropped sharply to the Cam Lo River, actually more stream than river at this point, while the interior slope provided good observation over the landing zone and north toward the DMZ. A spring near the center of the zone fed a stream that had cut a deep draw, which meandered eastward and exited Margo between 2 and 4 o’clock. Margo’s northern rim, from l0 to 2 o’clock, varied in height but was lower than the southern rim. lts exterior sloped sharply downward for a kilometer or so before reaching the steep approaches to the terrain fingers that led to the high ground in the DMZ. At its highest point, Margo was about 150 meters above sea level. The hills to the north were three to four times that height while the intervening terrain dropped to low points of about 50 meters.

It was rugged, forbidding country, made all the more so because-although Margo was clear-the heights and intervening valleys were covered with double- or triple- canopy forest.

The terrain inside the LZ made Margo a “one-bird zone,”-helicopters had to land and unload one at a time. This was hardly unusual, but it slowed the rate of assault dramatically. Margo also was too small to accommodate the entire BLT. Since the intent was to retain only G Company, the BLT command group, and the 8l-mm. mortars, engineer, and reconnaissance platoons in the zone for any length of time (a few days), the size of the LZ did not seem to be a major factor. lts rock-hard soil, however, was another problem. Digging in took time. Finally, there was Margo’s history. For a brief period, some months before, it had been used as an artillery fire support base-and the North Vietnamese were known to keep such positions under observation.

The terrain and history summed to the point that BLT 2/26 was landing, one aircraft at a time, into a zone that was:

  • Too small to hold the entire BLT
  • Dominated by high ground to the north
  • Probably the subject of continuing NVA attention at least to the point of registering mortar fires

Not good . . . but not unusual.

Friday the l3th of September 1968, a date not lost on many of the Marines, marked the beginning of several days of cloudless skies and comfortable temperatures. By 0700, a thousand or so Marines and corpsmen were waiting quietly in the Camp Carroll pick-up zone smoking, talking, thinking, and maybe, especially in Golf Company – which was landing first – praying. They were grunts, a term coined in Vietnam. While it may have been a derisive term originally, the sting was long gone, with a certain pride, it is what they called themselves.

Believing that the chances of infection dramatically increased with the amount of clothing worn when wounded, they were deliberately underdressed. Boots, socks, and trousers were the standard; no underwear and, quite often, no shirt during the day. Their faded helmet covers sported an elastic band around the outside intended to hold camouflage material when the wearer sought invisibility in the bush. More often, it held either a main battle dressing for use if the wearer’s luck turned bad or, in the case of optimists, a bottle of mosquito repellent. The graffiti on most of the covers addressed a variety of subjects but many tended toward the religious. David Douglas Duncan’s striking photographs of 26th Regiment Marines at Khe Sanh captured the phenomenon.

They all wore flak jackets, never zipped because shell or grenade fragments taken in the wrong place could jam the zipper, making it difficult for the corpsmen to remove the jacket and treat a wounded man in the field. The flak jackets, if anything, were dirtier than the helmet covers. Sweat-stained from long wear by a series of owners, they had the same faded color as the camouflage covers but their graffiti, for whatever reason, tended to more basic thoughts than those found on the helmets.

One of the famous Duncan Khe Sanh photos

They carried a haver sack holding a box of the venerable C-rations, a poncho, poncho liner, and most important of all, an extra two or three pairs of socks. They carried extra radio batteries; mortar ammunition, even though they were not mortarmen; rocket launchers; grenades; at least four filled canteens; and as much extra rifle or machine gun ammunition as possible.

They were typical grunts and corpsmen, normally unwashed, usually underfed, always overloaded and, more often than not, tired. The lucky ones, those who avoided disease, wounds, or death, did not enjoy a hot meal or cold shower for weeks on end.

Shortly before 0800 the CH-46s began landing in the pick-up zone with their distinctive whopping blade sound-unforgettable for those who rode them into combat. As the first wave launched, the sounds of the artillery preparatory fires in the distance and the roar of the fast-movers orbiting overhead helped ease the tension.

The actual landing was anti-climactic. There was no opposition, but it still took a long time. Echo, Foxtrot and Hotel companies quickly assembled and began moving north. Echo struck out for a finger on the right that led to the high ground while Foxtrot and Hotel headed for another finger on the left. Golf Company, the command post, the 81mm mortar platoon and others established defensive positions in the LZ and began digging in. Friday the 13th passed quietly.

BLT 2/26 riflemen moving up the fingers after flying in on the 13th

On Saturday, 14 September, the companies continued moving north at first light. While there were well-worn trails in the area and occasional sounds of movement ahead, there were no contacts. Even so, the companies called artillery and mortar fires on possible targets to keep the fire support system active. About mid-day, Hotel Company’s point, leading the movement up the left finger, saw movement ahead and signaled the company to move off the trail and wait. Their patience was rewarded as they watched a North Vietnamese soldier, weapon at sling arms, striding down the path towards them.

The point element was in an excellent ambush position and could have killed him. That they didn’t was a testimony to the discipline and the emphasis on taking prisoners. Waiting until the NVA soldier had passed, the point man re-entered the trail and, in Vietnamese, ordered him to halt-which he did promptly. The capture was reported to the company commander, relayed to battalion, and within a matter of minutes the 3rd Marines had learned of the potential guest speaker.  Within the hour the prisoner had been flown to Camp Carroll for interrogation.

Throughout the war, most higher headquarters consistently failed to pass timely intelligence information down to the battalion level where it could be acted upon. The 3rd Marines did not make that mistake. Just before sundown 2/26 learned that the prisoner had intended to surrender because he had been at Khe Sanh when the Marines first arrived. Stating that he “had a love of life” he added that he wanted no more of anything remotely resembling that battle, a confrontation that clearly had a psychological hold on both sides. Of greater interest was his disclosure that the lead company of the northwest finger – Hotel Company – would be attacked at about 2000 that evening. All three companies were alerted.

Echo, Foxtrot, and Hotel halted for the night and began registering artillery defensive fires. Hotel Company’s artillery forward observer (FO), controlling a supporting 155-mm. howitzer battery, had just started registering fires to cover a listening post located on the western side of the finger when the Marines manning the post reported hearing movement through the draw to their direct front. Since the registration rounds were on the way, they could only wait. Seconds later, as the roar of the explosions died away, the listening post reported screams and other sounds of panic. The FO immediately called “Fire for effect” and swept the draw with 155-mm rounds. Other than moans and the sound of some movement in the draw, the remainder of the night was quiet.

15 September dawned clear and cloudless. Visibility was so good that Marines could watch outgoing 8l-mm. mortar rounds until they reached their apogee. Again keeping the mortar and artillery fire-support systems active, E, F , and H companies resumed their slow and careful climb toward the high ground. Signs of enemy presence were plentiful but there was no contact.

The trouble started at noon, when a radio message from the 3rd Marines ordered the BLT to pull its companies back to the LZ and prepare to shift to the operational control of the 9th Marines.  The message was cryptic – it had to be because none of the radio transmissions with any of the battalions in the 3rd Marine Division’s area were secure. The encryption equipment of the day was too heavy to be carried in the field and, in any case, seldom worked in the heat and humidity of the bush. Problems with getting shackle sheets (codes) down to the company level precluded the use of even that decades-old mans of encryption. Everyone assumed that the North Vietnamese heard most of the radio traffic.

Communication security problems notwithstanding, the order was received with incredulity. There was little doubt that the NVA would follow companies back to the landing zone and less doubt that mortar and perhaps infantry attacks would follow. The three rifle companies were told to halt and then begin moving south to Margo; meanwhile, the order was strenuously argued. The regimental commander made it clear the order stood- but it was clear he agreed tactical assessment of what lay in store. Obedience would have a price, that much was obvious. What was not obvious was how much.

After a few hours, the three companies were told to halt, reorient, and return to the original northward advance. We had to know if the trailing -enemy theory was correct. The order did not specifiy how long to follow the reverse course but did tell the company commanders something they already knew – to expect contact. It came quickly on both ridges as small NVA units were surprised to find Marines heading north again. Breaking contact the companies once more turned south toward Margo. So far as 2/26 was concerned, the point had been proven. We reported this to the 3rd Marines and forcefully recommended cancellation of the withdrawal order.

The reply was more enlightening than helpful. The battalion was told that its arguing and temporary resumption of the offense had caused some difficulties (it wasn’t phrased that way) and that there would be a 24-hour postponement. Further, however, the entire battalion was to concentrate in LZ Margo south of the 61 grid line- an east-west grid line that split the LZ- by a specified time early the next afternoon, 16 September. In the interim, the BLT was authorized to do whatever it thought best to prepare for a return to the LZ. The maneuver companies were turned north again; within minutes they bumped into NVA troops following them down the ridge lines.

The enlightening section of the order was the part about moving south of the 61 grid line, It made no sense because the area remaining in the LZ south of the grid line was too small to accommodate the BLT in anything resembling tactical positions. Even worse, it did not permit a tactical defense of the LZ, especially against infantry attacks coming from the most logical direction – north. It was apparent that the order had emanated from a headquarters other than regiment of division, neither of which would have displayed that level of tactical ignorance, This, and the urgency associated with the 61 grid line provision, led to a conclusion that an Arc Light – high altitude B-52 area bombing mission- was imminent.

To those steeped in the traditions of obedience to orders, it might seem strange, but the BLT now confronted a dilemma. If its tactical assessment was correct, the order returning the maneuver units to the LZ would result in some form of NVA attack; if, on the other hand, the Arc Light guess was right there were other problems. The timing and target areas were unknown and, for security, would remain unknowns at the battalion level. Further, the tactically inane directive to move south of the 61-grid line indicated that the Arc Light was going in north of Margo – but close.

The dilemma was simple and stark: comply with the order and risk NVA action  or move the companies toward Margo, retaining some semblance of tactical deployment north of the LZ, and risk the Arc Light. To those who have seen a proper Arc Light, the choice was easy. The companies were directed to hold in place and begin moving south to the LZ early the next morning. But as a concession to common sense, that portion of the order regarding the 61 grid line was interpreted rather loosely. We would defend Margo.

The weather on 16 September matched the brilliance of the days gone by. Today, the Vietnamese Bureau of Tourism would be touting the weather, on that day in 1968, however, it turned into a scene from hell.

Occasionally stopping to engage NVA units following them, the three rifle companies slowly made their way back to Margo. Echo Company came in last. Commanded by Captain John Cregan, now a Roman Catholic priest, the company began to climb up Margo’s northern slope and by 1430 or so was beginning to take up it assigned defensive positions on the northern perimeter. Even after ignoring the order to stay south of the 61-grid line, there were too many troops in too small an area – and they had to contend with Margo’s hard ground. Digging in took more time.

Early in the afternoon there were ominous sightings of North Vietnamese soldiers with mortars fording the Cam Lo River west of Margo. Artillery fire was called, probably without effect. At the same time, there was a minor flurry of activity as the BLT shifted to the operational control of the 9th Marines and radio frequencies were changed and tested. That done, the chatter of the troops and clanging of their entrenching tools were the only sounds disturbing the quiet.

At 1500, Captain Ken Dewey, an F-4 pilot serving as the battalions air liaison officer, was looking north toward the left of the two hills that had been the original objectives when suddenly a mirror started flashing – followed immediately by the soft “thunking” sound of mortars firing in the distance. Within seconds Margo was blanketed with exploding 82 mm rounds from several points on the compass, especially the northern arc. The battalion began its “time on the cross” – as the French put it in an earlier Indochina War.

The noise was deafening. Each explosion filled the surrounding air with black, stinking, greasy-tasting smoke. The mortarmen poured it on until 200 to 300 rounds had pummeled the Marines and corpsmen, a good percentage of whom had no protection beyond that of shallow fighting holes. As the fire eased, the LZ sprang to life and First Lieutenant Al Green’s 81mm mortar began counter-battery fires, an action that won them concentrated NVA attention.

Battalion CP at Margo

Battalion machine gunners on Margo’s southern rim saw some enemy mortarmen and began to engage at long range-attracting in turn their share of the incoming. The exchange continued for a few more minutes until the mirror on high ground flashed again. The incoming barrage slowed, then stopped-but the noise in the zone went to deafening proportions as hundreds of rifles went into action. At first, it seemed as if the frustrated Marine riflemen were wasting ammunition on the out-of-range NVA Mortarmen, but a radio query to First Lieutenant Bob Riordan, the Golf Company commander revealed that from his position of the southern rim, North Vietnamese soldiers could be seen moving uphill to assault the LZ’s northern side.

Then the rifle fire stopped abruptly and, within seconds, the southern rim and center of the LZ were alive with Marines running to the northern side, Their fires had been masked by those manning the northern slope defenses and they were leaving their own positions to get into the fight. The enemy never had a chance. The NVA commander who ordered the assault probably had fewer troops than he thought as a result of previous contacts. In any case, the reaction of the defenders was too violent. No more than 20 minutes had elapsed. The cost to BLT 2/26 was more than 150 dead and wounded. The cost to the enemy was unknown.

At 1700, the mirror flashed again, and the mortars went to work. Once more, rounds rained down on Margo – fewer this time and without an infantry attack – but the BLT’s casualty list grew longer.

For the first time since the attacks began, medical evacuation of the wounded now seemed possible. It was likely that the NVA had expended most or all of their mortar ammunition and would not interfere with the helicopter evacuation.

The casualties had been separated by category…emergency, priority, routine…..and the “permanent routine” a euphemism for the dead that had crept into the radio operators’ lexicon. We hoped to MedEvac at least the emergency and priority wounded before nightfall. Several CH-46s and gunships arrived about 1830 and the laborious process of loading the casualties, one at a time, began as soon as the lead bird touched down.

MedEvac bird in LZ Margo

As always, the strength and example can be found in the casualties. I saw Staff Sergeant Donner from the reconnaissance platoon, covered with blood, as he was being escorted to the medevac staging area. He was refusing to leave, insisting that he was okay. I told him that he would leave.

Late the afternoon of 16 September, I watched as an uninjured Marine rapidly searched the rows of wounded , clearly looking for a friend. Suddenly, a large arm reached out and waved. “There you are” said the first Marine as he took the wounded man’s hand and squatted to talk. They held hands quietly until the medevac helicopters arrived.

The wounded Marine had been hit badly; I do not know if he survived. Nor do I know if his friend survived our subsequent encounters with the NVA. What I do know is that the wounded Marine was black and his buddy white. I remember thinking at the time how much better a people we would be if we were all like those two.

Recently, we have been told that the best and brightest did not go to Vietnam, When I heard that, I thought of those two Marines so long ago, the hardships they endured, and their obvious respect for each other. Maybe they were not the brightest. They were the best.

Realizing that there would be no other MedEvacs from Margo that night the last pilot insisted on overloading his aircraft with wounded. Over his objections, the loading was stopped, and the pilot told to launch. He must have been good. If not good, he was lucky. The overloaded CH-46 resembled a giant praying mantis as it struggled into the air, tail down, nose swinging back and forth in a wide arc, as though searching for escape from a trap. Finally, he nursed it a few feet higher, leveled, and began slipping sideways, just above the trees, down the slope that formed Margo’s northern rim. Again, the LZ filled with Marines running north; convinced that the 46 was about to crash. They were moving to assist survivors.

The helicopter disappeared from view behind the trees and, an eternity later, came back in view, this time in full flight , nose-high on a southerly course, jettisoning fuel to lighten the load and clear the ridge to Margo’s east. All movement stopped as everyone in the LZ watched the miracle claw its way over the ridge line taking the wounded to safety.

Quiet settled over Margo. As the troops returned to their positions, the silence was broken by a single “thunk” off to the north. This time there was only one round, but it landed precisely where the MedEvac birds had loaded. It was “Charlie”, saying he knew what had been done and could have stopped it anytime. He also was saying he was a “pro”. We knew that already.

The XXIV Corps Commanding General visited Margo the following morning. His worries about morale evaporated as he watched Marine improving their defensive positions. He then looked toward a large group of wounded waiting to be evacuated. In response to a question, he was told they were routine MedEvacs. Behind them were rows of ponch-covered objects. He looked at them, saying nothing, knowing what they were. Finally, a Marine broke the spell. “The dead go last, sir”.

______________Epilogue______________

The Arc Light went in five or six kilometers north of Margo on the afternoon of 16 September. Maybe too much had happened or maybe there was an unusually high number of duds. Regardless, it was unimpressive. Paradoxically, it hurt 2/26 more than it hurt the enemy.

Early on l7 September Golf, Foxtrot, and Hotel Companies returned to the familiar trails, attacking north. Echo Company, having lost nearly 70 Marines in the mortar and infantry attacks, remained behind. The LZ was mortared twice that day but there were few casualties. Margo’s final toll probably will never be known exactly. We evacuated more than 200 dead and wounded. some of whom doubtless died later. Before we left, we filled l8 helicopter external nets with packs, weapons, and other equipment no longer needed.

Eventually, after another long period of torrential rains, the attacking companies reached the high ground, where Golf found a graveyard-I8 graves with markers aligned in rows-near where the mirror had flashed before the mortar attack. They excavated a few to confirm that it was a graveyard. They also traced the extensive writings on the markers and sent them to the rear for translation. The writings turned out to be a history of each of the casualties. We learned that we had gotten the NVA battalion commanding officer and much of his staff. The CO had been a soldier since joining the Viet Minh in the late 1940’s; he was a professional. I think that whoever ordered all of the writing put on the markers did so, at least in part, so that we would not dig up their dead.

We stood by to attack to the west. It never happened. Near the end of September, the BLT moved by helicopter into another one-bird zone, this one in the DMZ just south of the Ben Hai River, nearly 15 kilometers north and east of LZ Margo. In a series of assaults, BLT 2/26 routed an enemy force defending a headquarters complex and artillery positions. During the last assault, Marines of Echo and Hotel companies were treated to the rare sight of North Vietnamese troops fleeing in panic.

The Marines and corpsmen of 2/26 formed a typical grunt battalion. They fought a dirty, unpopular war and they did it well. They never said that they were the best. All they said was that, if they met somebody better, they hoped he was on our side.

Free Range Starts Podcasting

As Afghanistan fades into the rear view mirror interests in the conflict wanes as does the desire to learn lesson’s that were paid for by the lives of both combatants and innocents. In an attempt to highlight some of the observations I’ve made over the years I’m venturing into the world of podcasting in an effort to determine if I can mimic the success of the masters. Dan Carlin, Daniele Bolelli, Darryl Cooper, Joe Rogan, Jocko Willink and Dave Rubin have excellent podcasts some focused on history some on current events and they are consistently interesting.

This first episode is on the Lone Survivor incident which was an easy one to do because virtually everything people remember about it is false. Once a put up a few more of these my. plan is to your an audio podcast service to get them on iTunes and Goggleplay to see if I can carve out a niche.  Enjoy.

The Jamm Minaret

 

My Panjshir crew and I at the Jamm

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 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.

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?

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.

Mattis is No Good? A Look Into Task Force Violent

The morning news brought an article critical of Secretary Mattis that immediately caught my eye. There are aspects of his tenure I’m finding troubling; the slow walking of the Presidents decree on transgender service persons being one of them. It is hard for me to imagine Secretary Mattis needs a formal study to determine if transgendered service folks are or are not a hindrance to good order and discipline or a positive contribution to unit cohesion and combat power. Women in the infantry is another liberal delusion that should have been done away with by now – he already has a comprehensive study on that from the Marine Corps; the results are unambiguous regarding the folly of placing women in the infantry.

The author of the American Thinker post sites three reasons why Mattis is “no good”. The first is his testimony regarding global warming to the senate where he stated “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.” The second was his attempt to nominate former ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson to the post of undersecretary of defense for policy. The third was his “support” of LtGen John Nicholson who now heads the Afghanistan effort. Back in 2007 he was a Brigade Commander in the 10th Mountain division who was responsible for RC East. During his tenure the Marine Corp’s first special operations company, Fox company, which had named itself Task Force Violent, was involved in a incident that resulted in them being ejected from the country. Apparently supporting the commander in Afghanistan (who was there before Mattis was nominated as Secretary for Defense) is a strike against him.

The article was silly. The statement regarding global climate change can be viewed as a solid answer to avoid democratic hysteria over “deniers”. Mattis is well read and I doubt he believes in the politically correct nonsense regarding humans ability to speed up  or slow down the climatic changes that have existed since the birth of this planet. I have no opinion on the qualification of former ambassador Patterson. If he wanted her in the department he should have got her. Tarring him with the fallout surrounding the ambush in Bati Kot district of TF Violent is ridiculous; Mattis had nothing to do with that incident or the assignment of Gen Nicholson to head up our Afghanistan efforts.

But the article forced me to look into an incident I have avoided since before I started this blog; the firefight in Bati Kot between the MARSOC Marines and unknown assailants. The story is not a pretty one and has always been of interest to me because I was there that day escorting a group of senior Japanese diplomats to Islamabad via the Khyber Pass.

Or so I thought; the MARSOC fight happened on a Sunday the 4th of March 2007. I had driven the same route the Marines took the day before on the 3rd of March. I had to check my old notes to figure that out because over the years I could have sworn this incident happened the same day we drove from Jalalabad to Islamabad via the Khyber Pass.

Going through the Khyber with VIP’s is nice. The Torkham border with Afghanistan is behind us
Doing a low budget trip through the Khyber is interesting too but the chow can be risky
This is what I mean by risky. The meal was pretty good believe it or not.

In 2015 Military Times published a five part series on the Bati Kot incident titled Task Force Violent: The unforgiven. Only the first three articles from that series would load for me today but reading those gave me a good sense of what happened. The article paints a picture of the Marines not being set up for success. The way they were deployed (they didn’t even know which country they were going to when they left CONUS on naval shipping), their task organization, their lack of support once on the ground and the way they were shoe horned into the Afghanistan SOCOM chain of command indicate significant failure by their chain of command.  I know some of the people in that chain of command and find the story, as written, suspect. Regardless, my overall view of their performance at Bati Kot remains unchanged. They over reacted and without question shot unarmed people.

The series on TF Violent contained important factual errors. Bati Kot and the adjacent Torkham border crossing were not a “a nefarious transfer point for suicide bombers and other extremists entering the country from Pakistan”. Taliban fighters and supplies went trough the mountain passes into the districts of Achin, Khogyani and Dih Bala which are not near the Torkham border crossing or the district of Bati Kot. The mountains that the Marines were interested are not the Tora Bora – they are the Spin Ghar mountains; Tora Bora is a cave complex inside the Spin Ghar range. Those errors are not minor to the story line of the Military Times articles

On the 4th of March the Marines had planned to go to the Torkham border to coordinated with the US Army MP company stationed there and then head to the Spin Ghar mountains to look at some trail heads their intelligence specialist thought might make good reconnaissance targets before heading back to Bati Kot district for a shura with some elders. They were in a six uparmored Humvee convoy containing 30 Marines from their direct action platoon. Most (if not all) of these Marines were combat veterans from Iraq which could explain their reaction after being hit by what they felt to be a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device).

Typical result of a VBIED targeting ISAF vehicles. There were no soldiers injured in this attack which occurred on the Beshood bridge outside Jalalabad in 2010 but look at the damage to the  MRAP.

In a cool interactive map embedded in the third part of the series we see the route the convoy took which appears to not have deviated too far off Hwy 1 – the Jalalabad to Torkham road. I’m not sure what trail heads they could have looked at but regardless they were heading back to Jalalabad when they were hit. While approaching the Spin Pol bridge that leads into the main bazaar of Bati Kot  (Markoh bazaar) a van loaded with fuel and explosive detonated between the first and second vehicles. The turret gunner in the second vehicle was knocked down, possibly knocked out and when he recovered he reports seeing four men shooting at them from the south. The convoy stops and other Marines report contact from both sides.

Afghan police officers stand around the vehicle allegedly shot by US Marines after they were targeted by a suicide attacker. One thing that is immediatly obvious is these Marines were good shooters (AP Photo/Rahamt Gul)

The Marines responded to the contact from both directions with controlled bursts; Military Times picks up the story from there:

The ride back to Jalalabad was tense. As the Marines hustled to get free of the danger, they hurled rocks and fired disabling shots at a few oncoming cars, a common warzone practice meant to keep the convoy moving and avoid being pinned in and attacked. Warning shots were fired to disperse a crowd and clear a path for the humvees — all in accordance with protocol, the court determined. …Afghan journalists arrived at the attack site instantly, followed by soldiers from the Army’s 66th Military Police Company who were instructed to cordon off the area and treat it like a crime scene.

Battle damage to the Marine convoy consisted of four bullet holes to vehicle 2 – the same one targeted by the VBIED,  Photo by Fred Galvin

The Marine Corps investigation of the incident concluded between 5 to 7 people were killed and 24 to 28 wounded by the Marines that day. Two problems with the story are obvious. The first is the amount of battle damage to vehicle 2 which is pictured above; compare that with the MRAP damage pictured earlier in the post. The MRAP was hit by a real VBIED; the humvee pictured above does not look like it was hit by anything. The second is that the area where the ambush occurred was benign enough to allow a handful of American MP’s to cordon it off and treat it as a crime scene.

A quick story about special operators to illustrate a point. The year prior to this incident I was heading up the effort of the first contractor awarded the American Embassy guard contract. I had already stood up the bridge contractor guards at the embassy and found myself heading this forlorn effort due to circumstances beyond my control. The company I worked for had hired another outfit to do the weapons training and they consisted of a dozen guys who were former SEALs, SF and Marines. They were a good crew with lots of trigger time in Iraq. The first thing they asked me for was armored SUV’s but we had none and gave them four beat up SUV’s instead. On the first morning of training they left early from Camp Sullivan, just outside the Kabul airport, to drive to the ranges at the military training complex just outside the city; a ten mile trip down the Kabul to Jalalabad road.

They exited the camp and drove through what we called hooterville, a narrow road with compounds on either side that was a good short cut to the Jbad road. After leaving my guards in one the towers alerted me to a problem and I ran up the ladder to observe the four vehicles reversing out of the ville, doing impressive J turns on the goat path the fed into the ville and hauling ass back to camp. When they got back I asked what was up and their team leader told me they were rolling into an ambush because they had observed local kids on the roof tops waving white flags as they approached. I took him up to the tower and with bino’s pointed out the dozen of kids waving flags from their compound roof tops to get their pigeons back into the family roosts. He turned to me and much to his credit said “don’t I feel like an asshole”. But I understood where he was coming from having been Iraq myself and just said “brother this isn’t Iraq – stay away from military convoys and armored SUV’s on the Jbad road and you won’t have problems”.

I also added he had some shit hot drivers – not dumping one of those SUV’s off the little trail and into the massive drainage ditches took some real talent. But talent alone didn’t work in Afghanistan; you needed to understand the environment and that was hard to do when you lived on a FOB and impossible if you had just arrived in country. What was a reliable pre-incident indicator in Iraq was not one in Afghanistan.

Which brings us to the days following the ambush of TF Violent. They apparently went on another mission to recover a truck and rolled both the truck and the recovery vehicle into a ditch. There were some shenanigans going on to get this mission out of the gate to include some nonsense about them fearing the Taliban were going to come into the wire and get them. That part of the story is in the third installment of the Military Times articles and is so bizarre that I don’t know what to say. Believing the Taliban could come into the Jalalabad air field which was home to a SEAL tier one outfit, a large CIA base, a brigade headquarters from the 10 Mountain Division and several aircraft squadrons was ridiculous.

The reason this incident upset me when it happened was the prospect of being on the road when the Marines were heading back to base. I had a trail vehicle full of heavily armed Tajiks from our preferred local sub contractor and these men had been with me for years. I was very fond of them and I too was armed and having been shot at before by the military while driving I was sensitive to the threat. My father and I exchanged some bitter emails on the topic as I insisted from day one the Marines had over reacted and had I been on that road at that time I could have been lit up.

When you look at the battle damage and contemplate the folly of a handful of Afghans taking on a six vehicle convoy from the side of a road it is hard to believe the Marines were facing a legitimate threat. Taking fire is not the same as taking effective fire. Knowing how the Taliban in that area conducted ambushes (they used terrain to mask SAF attacks and used road side IED’s not VBIED’s) could have allowed the Marines to recognize and apply the rule of opposites which is the most effective tool us contractors had in Afghanistan. VBIED’s didn’t show up in Nangarhar province until two years after this incident and if memory serves the UN did not classify this as a VBIED attack.

Here is a guess at what happened. A van filled with leaky fuel containers, which is how stolen diesel is transported in Afghanistan, lost control and swerved into the Marine convoy. The Marines, fearing it was a VBIED, lit it up with their turret mounted machineguns which have tracers in their links. The tracers ignite the fuel fumes and up goes the van. That would explain the lack of blast damage. The fireball alerts the rest of the Marines in the convoy to a possible ambush and because they are new in country and don’t know how different Afghanistan was compared to Iraq they spot armed males and start shooting. That’s a guess but an educated one, it is hard to explain the lack of battle damage to the Marine humvee’s any other way. The four bullet holes in vehicle #2 could have come from anywhere – Afghans have lots of guns; but were I to hazard a guess I’d say the ANP checkpoints near the bridge probably threw some rounds their way out of disgust.

Having said all the above I do not believe the Marines who participated in this event deserved the negative attention they received. Lot’s of military units in Afghanistan shot lots of civilians who they thought to be a threat to their convoys. I wrote about that repeatedly while I was there. That is why I’m so sympathetic to the men of Raven 23 who are in jail to this day for doing exactly the same thing in the same circumstances. It is also the reason why I support the PMC industry strongly. Had a contractor patrol done what the Marines did it is inconceivable that they would have escaped long stints in the Poli Charki prison. The legacy media contention that we were cowboys shooting up the countryside is as false as fake news can be.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest back the morning article on Secretary Mattis – it’s complete crap written by a guy who has not one clue what he is talking about. He probably is getting paid for that swill…..I wonder how that works? I’d like to get a paying gig like that too….inshallah.

Vultures Descend On Kabul As The Plan Takes Form

A group of senators engaged on a ‘fact finding’ holiday stopped into Kabul to glad hand troops on July 4th and demand a “coherent plan” from the Trump administration. I do not like congressional junkets because they are prohibitively expensive, make the forces in the fight focus on hosting VIP’s instead of maintaining an external focus on the various villains they are there to fight, and they accomplish little other then promote grandstanding by the very politicians who helped get us in the mess that is Afghanistan.

My observations of these delegations both at the American Embassy in Kabul and out in the field with the troops are that our elected officials drink too much, take more ambien then is good for them, understand little of what is happening on the ground and are an enormous pain in the ass to host in the field. One of my closest Marine Corps friends banned me from talking to any CODEL after an inebriated John Bonner asked me (at the embassy in Kabul) how the war was going. He was getting both barrels when Dave coughed up an ambien, told me to shut up and saw the congressman to his assigned lodging.

Sen McCain visiting the Marines in Helmand back in 2010. M y buddy Dave Furness was the CO of RCT 1 at the time and allowed me to visit only if I promised to say not one word to any elected officials. Photo by Baba T

Senator McCain, during his visit to Kabul yesterday, demanded a “Coherent Policy from Trump”  which indicates he is either stupid, because the policy is forming right in front of him, or playing politics with an administration he doesn’t care for too much. Good losers lose and they tend to resent winners as they age so McCain’s comments are par for the course and will have exactly no impact on the plan that is shaping up.

Everything you need to know about our future in Afghanistan can be found in these two places: the Enhancing Security And Stability In Afghanistan report to congress from the military last month and General Joe Dunford’s appearance at the National Press Club last week (which was awesome and a highly recommended podcast  that can be found on All Marine Radio).

The plan which we can see forming includes the recent deployment of the 3rd Squadron, 73rd Calvary Regiment, which is part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg. The 300 plus men of the 3rd Squadron have the following mission:

They will oversee security at a tactical base and serve as a quick reaction force in Helmand province, where some of the heaviest fighting of the past 16 years of war has taken place.

The squadron is part of a 1500 man deployment from the 82nd that is being sent all over the country, probably to fill a similar role. Portions of the 82nd have already arrived in the Helmand in the form of an artillery battery that deployed to both Lashkar Gah and Camp Shorabak. It’s safe to assume that is where the paratroopers will be deploying too giving TF Southwest a robust quick response force.

Airborne Arty being set up in the 505th Zone Police HQ in Lashkar Gah. Photo from TF Southwest.

Along with artillery and a dedicated reaction force Task Force Southwest received some attention from on high when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford visited Afghanistan as part of his ongoing assessment.

One of the things that is important to understand when you see this picture is how well these two men (Gen Dunford and BGen Roger Turner) already know each other. That’s an intangible worth its weight (historically speaking) in gold. Photograph from TF Southwest.

It appears Task Force Southwest is getting reinforced with enablers that it will use in support of Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). That means members of the advise and assist mission plan to get out and about with their Afghan counterparts where they can control American fires with the requisite precision.

This is a good thing, the only way the Marines can make a difference is to reinforce the procedures they are trying to teach the ANSF with practical application. This also explains why we recently lost (in a green on blue attack) paratroopers assigned to the advise and assist mission during combat operations against ISIS-K  in Nangarhar province.

However today we learned that Pfc. Hansen B. Kirkpatrick, 19, of Wasilla, Ark., died July 3, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from wounds received during an indirect fire attack. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. If the 3rd Squadron of the 73rd Cav from Fort Bragg is there how did we lose a grunt from the 1stBn, 36th Infantry who is out of Fort Bliss?

An even better question is why are we mixing Marines with soldiers on a mission where it would be advantageous to have just Marines or just Army assigned to it? Marines work better with other Marines because they know each other, have the same communication equipment and training and the Marine Corps is designed to deploy as their own air/ground/logistic task force. The 82nd Airborne is also, by table of organization, designed to deploy in an identical manner so why the mix and match?

My take is the mixing of forces has been born of the necessity to keep these training packages deploying, for seven months at a time, indefinitely. Afghanistan is not the only game in town as we are also fighting in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, the Philippines, probably Libya and who knows where else? We have our national forward deployed capable forces all forward deployed making it impossible for just the Marines or just the Army to do the Helmand mission. The timing of the flow into the Helmand is important too because it will allow a 2 month window to deploy the next Task Force Southwest while the artillery and reaction force remain in country.

Why are we planning to stay indefinitely? That argument is best summed up by Old Blue in a recent email exchange we had on the topic.

According to a Rand study of over 80 insurgencies since WWII, about a third of the time, the government wins; insurgency defeated with no significant changes in the government.  Another third of the time, the insurgency wins; total government collapse and replacement.  The final third is “mixed outcome,” meaning that the government makes changes or reforms that satisfy the insurgency without toppling the sitting government.  This was the same study that pointed out factors that successful insurgencies tended to have in common, such as external support and safe havens, such as Pakistan.

Sometimes those eggheads bring something useful to the table.

The chances of an outright win by the Afghan government are slim. The Taliban (catch-all) have too many of the prerequisites to win.  Short of a major change of heart on the Pakistani side, that leaves two potential outcomes, the most positive of which is a mixed outcome.

Back to the study, which demonstrated that time really isn’t on the side of the insurgency. In fact, the percentage of successful insurgencies declined over time.  The longer the fight went on, the likelier a government win or mixed solution.  What Obama’s ill-considered move did was breathe life into a very tired insurgency.  A few thousand troops won’t enable advising down to the company level, which is what we need to reset to, but it will show resolve.  That in itself will have an impact.  The mission will creep, based on input from those who will evaluate progress and needs, and the struggle will continue.  That is not a benefit to the Taliban, nor to their patrons.

Note on insurgency; they do not negotiate like nations do. Mao wrote the book on this stuff, and they have read Mao, trust me on that.  Mao said never negotiate unless it’s to paralyze your enemy.  There are two reasons to do so; to gain time and space to recover, or right before you deal them a death blow.  Negotiating in lieu of defeat is the one he really didn’t get to.  He wasn’t writing a book on how to lose an insurgency.  The insurgency will have to be badly damaged and finding itself outcast by the people, along with waning support from Pakistan.  That is doable with support.

The “mixed solution” described by Old Blue above is exactly the way I see things ending too. The current struggle for Afghanistan has a military and a civil component. I’m not sure what we are doing on the “civil” side but would be surprised if we were not working with tribes to split local Taliban alliances. If the international alliance is throwing its considerable weight into fracturing the various Taliban affiliates the NATO military approach will, with time, drive the ambient level of lawlessness down.

There is no winning in this scenario and there are, as of yet, no identified matrices that would indicate the job is done and it is time to come home. Which means we may never leave Afghanistan just like we never left Germany or Japan.

Is that a good thing for America? Probably not; as I have argued in many prior posts we should have smoke checked bin Laden (using our troops not war lord troops from Nangarhar province) and gone home in 2002. But we didn’t and I personally am encouraged to see we are staying. I like Afghanistan – I like most of the people in Afghanistan; were it possible I’d go back there and continue to help them.

What I’m not going to be able to do is go back to embed with the Marines in the Helmand province. I didn’t come close to raising the funds needed to do that but did raise enough to off-set my trips to Camp Lejeune and Washington DC which was phase one of the send Baba Tim back to Afghanistan project.  I also have failed to attract any media interest in sending me but have been getting some media exposure lately. Sometime this week I’ll get a copy of my second appearance on Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler on the OAN channel. Plus I’ll be the guest this week on the Reuters War College podcast. There still seems to be interest in Afghanistan but not enough to get the new or old media to send me.

I want to thank my friends and those of you who donated anonymously for supporting my go fund me effort. America is going to be in Afghanistan for years to come and I’m certain that at some point I’ll make it back to report the ground truth you are not going to hear from the legacy media. Inshallah.

D-Day In Afghanistan

The 73rd commemoration of the Allied invasion a of Normandy on D-Day (operation Neptune) is a fitting place to start an examination of what is happening in Afghanistan. One reason for that are the iconic photographs from that invasion of the firepower the Allied forces were using that day.

USS Iowa (BB-61) cutting loose with a 16 inch naval gun broadside (this photo is not from D-Day)

Battleships were part of the prep fires for that invasion and they fired 123,984 shells on D-Day. The mark 8 “super heavy” 16-inch shell, when fired with a proximity fuse would leave a crater 50 feet deep and 20 feet wide which is bigger than the crater caused by the honey dipper borne IED that hit Kabul last week. A relevant question to ask when watching the old footage of Battleships launching broadsides into the French coastal towns and village is where were the French citizens who lived there?  They were still there and to this day the civilian casualties from the D-Day invasion remain unknown although one source claims the number to be around 50,000.

Photographs from D-Day were censored by the governments involved so accurate pictures reflecting the fate of the French caught up in this massive attack are as rare as finding accurate news reporting in the legacy media is today.

As the invasion forces landed and started to move inland they were supported by M4 Sherman tanks. These tanks were named after William Tecumseh Sherman, a famous (in the North) infamous (in the South) Union general noted for his scorched earth tactics during the “March to the Sea” where he gutted the agricultural and light industrial capacity of the deep south.

M4 Sherman tanks in action after D-Day

Sherman is also famous for this quote which is relevant to the quagmire in Afghanistan today.

“I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”

Sherman knew war was hell and because of this immutable truth he felt wars had to be ended as quickly as possible. This is why he destroyed the economic foundation of the South while avoiding pitched battles when he could. He knew that in doing so he was inflicting a harsh punishment on the civilian population of the South but didn’t let compassion interfere with his mission. Although Grant ultimately beat Robert E Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia forcing its surrender at Appomattox it was Sherman’s destruction of the Confederate economic base that sealed their fate. Sherman ended the Civil War as fast as was possible given the situation on the ground at that time.

The Taliban seems to have adopted Sherman’s strategy. They have inflicted massive, morale draining defeats on the Kabul government in the past few months. The attack on Kabul’s military hospital, the horrendous slaughter of recruits in Mazar-e Shraif, the Kabul truck bomb attack (using the equivalent of one 16-inch shell) followed by the suicide bombing attack at a funeral for the victims of that truck bomb attack which has been followed by another massive VBIED in Herat. The Taliban are stepping up their relentless campaign of death and destruction with one goal in mind. They want the war to end and end on their terms.

Western armies in general and the American military specifically no longer understand the truth behind General Sherman’s famous quote. We lack the capacity to inflict the damage required to end wars quickly and (more importantly) decisively. Instead we offer solutions and forces that will string out war for decades. We come with firepower controlled by lawyers, we are more concerned with “tolerance” and putting females into fighting formations then we about winning. We adopt tactics like night raids that accomplish nothing tactical but instead drive the population away from the allies we are supposed to be supporting. We insist that taking out Taliban ‘leaders’ is important while ignoring that the Taliban gets stronger and more capable the longer we fight them.

Understanding that wars must be ended quickly to prevent unnecessary deaths and destruction does not mean there will not be death destruction. Lobbing 123,984 16-inch shells into the towns and villages of France was not humane, it exposed the civilian population to unimaginable death and destruction but it also shortened a horrible war. Going into Musa Qala or Sangin and giving the tribes a simple ultimatum; join our side or we will burn down your villages, kill your livestock, and put all of you in ‘relocation camps’ is not humane. But it would have shorten the current Afghan war by a decade.

We can see what is happening by allowing the Afghan war to enter its 16th year; death and destruction on what is now approaching biblical levels. That’s not humane, it’s not smart and it reflects poorly on our ability to think and act at the strategic level.

Telling the Pakistani’s to go into Miranshaw, kill the Haqqani clan and get those tribes under control; or we will, is not humane but it would win the Afghan war. Putting Pakistan on the horns of a dilemma by starting to advocate for a Pashtun and Baluch homeland would be humane for the tribes involved. But it would also involve diplomatic brinkmanship of the highest order. To do that the international community would have to be prepared to eliminate Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal with preemptive strikes. That would cause the same level of death and destruction we visited on the citizens of France 73 years ago but nobody in the west has the stomach for that. Yet.

The Taliban and their radical Islamic allies see our current campaigns in Central Asia, the Middles East, Africa and now the Philippines as a clash of civilizations. Western Civilization was once able to do the most important function of a healthy civilization. That is to reduce and re-direct the natural aggression of males while also reducing and re-directing the natural tendency of vanity in its females. Today in the west male aggression is crushed, starting before grade school, by a feminist dominated system that medicates them and then prosecutes them for the trivial offense of eating part of a piece of pizza so it is shaped like a gun. Our boys are drugged, punished and ostracized relentlessly for the crime of being boys.

Yet that same system promotes female vanity to such ridiculous heights that we now have females in Marine Corps infantry battalions.  If you think that’s progress you just might be a denier….of reality.

Islam promotes male aggression while crushing female vanity. Their cultural fear of female sexuality produces a bizarre dissonance reflected in increases in birth defects from intermarriage, a hatred of homosexuals but an acceptance of homosexual acts between young men and with younger boys. Large farm animals are at risk of rape when bands of armed young Muslim fighters are about; the US military has thousands of hours of surveillance video to prove that.  The repression of females by Islamic society has produced shocking levels of hypocrisy which should make it the weaker participant in a clash of cultures yet, for now, the issue is in doubt,

When an Islamic terrorist blew himself up outside a Ariana Grande concert last week the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom announced she had enough and promptly introduced measures that will do nothing to stop Islamic terrorism while reducing, even more than before, the freedom of her people. Islamic terrorist proved that point with yet another truck/suicide knife attack in London just days ago.

In response to the attack in Manchester Ariana Grande staged a benefit concert where thousands of her young female fans were transfixed as she sang about having a “wrist ice cycle (meaning her wrist was covered in male seman) while riding a dick bicycle“.  What do you think ISIS YouTube star who influenced the Manchester bomber, Shaykh Ahmad Musa Jibril, of Dearborn Michigan thought of that performance? I don’t know but I bet it was something like “we will kill them all”.

Our response for the past 16 or so years to the challenge of Islamic terrorism seems to be something along the lines of “hold my beer..I got this”.  We don’t have a damn thing; the only question is will we get a clue in time to save ourselves?

The Graveyard Of Hope

As the recent horrific bombing in Kabul is driven out of the news cycle  it is time to interject some honesty into the Afghan story. The day of the latest attack Afghans took to twitter in droves asking how can a truck bomb get into the most secure part of the city or when will they be allowed to live in peace?

The answer to the first question is the truck bomb got into the Ring of Steel the same way every truck bomb has for the last decade. Bribes combined with insiders of dubious loyalty and lax security. True it was stopped at a checkpoint at Zambaq square but that is routine; trucks are not allowed to travel downtown during rush hour, it shouldn’t have gotten that far. The fact that it did indicates it was moved into position and hidden before it took off the morning of the bombing.

The answer to the second question is you’ll be allowed to live in peace when the Afghan people rise up and fight for it. More on that below.

Today angry protesters clashed with riot police in Kabul, several were killed and all were demanding the government resign over the latest atrocity. The religious leaders (the Ulema) of both Pakistan and Afghanistan have declared the attack on civilians during Ramadan to be un-Islamic. This would be news were it not routine. Just a month ago Afghans and the Ulmea were saying the same thing after the attack on recruits praying in a Mosque in Mazar-e Sharif. The month before that it was the attack on the military hospital in Kabul (some 300 meters away from yesterday’s truck bomb) that had Afghans furious and the Ulmea declaring it an un-Islamic attack.

How does this end? It ends like it started. Back in 2001 two ODA teams 555 in the north and 574 is the south combined with anti-Taliban Afghan tribes to defeat the Taliban while Delta Force ( the Combat Applications Group or CAG) went after Osama bin Laden in Nangarhar province. As these groups rolled into the country Afghan tribes joined them in droves to rid themselves of the unpopular Taliban.

I’m not a cheer leader for Special Forces as can be seen in this post but the job they did in 2001 was one they were well suited for and one they executed like true professionals. They mimicked what the Taliban had done when they came to power – they used the power of the people to drive their oppressors out of power. Massive change comes to Afghanistan when the people of Afghanistan rise up and demand it.

The ODA teams and their unbelievably skilled brothers from the CAG were doing a mission that was squarely inside their skill set and it was an impressive feat of arms. But the momentum that gained the quick victory came from the Afghan people. They supported the international effort and they drove the Taliban from power.

Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory when generals in the rear refused to let a young Brigadier named James Mattis to throw his Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the mountains behind Tora Bora to seal bin Laden’s escape route into Pakistan. That defeat was compounded by fuzzy thinking about staying on to help Afghanistan back into the world of functioning nation states; a mission we are not equipped to do and have never been able to do.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published and editorial that reflected my thinking on the matter although I’m only in partial agreement with its recommendation. The author was Eric Prince and the article was titled The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan. Both the author and idea are a fascinating combination that explain why Afghanistan is doomed.

Eric Prince is a military genius of epic proportions. He has proven his leadership and foresight time and again and for his efforts he has been maligned by the legacy media and jealous, less capable, bureaucrats in the CIA, Department of State and Pentagon. His crime was being successful at the ancient art of contracted war making. Google his name today and the words mercenary, infamous, and notorious jump off page after page. Forget the vitriol and focus on his accomplishments as outlined in the video below:

Eric Prince recommends a MacArthur like Viceroy to consolidate power under one person and then to address the weak leadership, endemic corruption and frequent defections; he offers this:

These deficits can be remedied by a different, centuries-old approach. For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and — when necessary — fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.

An East India Company approach would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support. The U.S. military should maintain a small special-operations command presence in the country to enable it to carry out targeted strikes, with the crucial difference that the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.

His solution is correct except for the Viceroy – he has to be an Afghan. You need to find an Afghan who is a warrior and an Islamic scholar. He’s there, waiting and we need to find him, present him to the Ulmea and then to the Loya jirgia and then the Afghan people.  Find that man and give him Eric Prince to set up the modern day equivalent of the Flying Tigers and a ground component I’ll call the Fighting Tigers and Afghanistan will be saved.

The UN has got to go as does NATO because they cannot help Afghanistan now. You need low tech aircraft and infantry capable of doing Pseudo Operations. That means Afghan units with embedded western mentors who live, fight and die like Afghans. A force that is on the Afghans side; one they can rally behind as they once did when the Americans showed up in small numbers controlling big fires.

If the Afghans are to find peace they will need a military capability that does not rely on a multi billion dollar logistic tail that runs through Pakistan. Contracted armies can fight on the cheap using low tech air and the fighting power of western military men. Pakistan in not a friend of Afghanistan and there will be no peace for Afghans until they operate on the opposite side of the Durrani line to share some of their pain with the Pakistani enablers who send the truck bombs to kill their children.

A radical solution like this  would require the international community to get over their aversion to contracted military formations. And that requires the international community to admit their efforts have been wasted, their solutions wrong and their council worthless. That is a bridge too far so, for now, and well into the future, the Afghan people are doomed by international bureaucrats who learn nothing, forget nothing but never hesitate to insist on solutions that always fail.

The way forward is to accept the lessons of the past and use what has worked in the past. Western armies can no longer do this kind of work. Contracted armies can; there are no other rational alternatives.