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.
In my last post I speculated about the demise of Sgt Johnson, the SF support team member killed in Niger last month. Unfortunately, I was correct but, in all honesty, it was not hard for to see how this story was going to unfold. From my last post:
Read between the lines and you’ll conclude (and I hope the conclusion is wrong) that Sgt Johnson was captured and thus not in the ambush kill zone at the conclusion of the battle. If that proves to be the case his killing by the African land pirates would have been brutal, when discovered 48 hours later the remains a gruesome sight to behold. The Pentagon obviously knows what happened and they aren’t saying squat.
The village chief of Tongo Tongo, Mounkaila Alassane, confirmed the account in a separate phone interview.
“The back of his head was a mess, as if they had hit him with something hard, like a hammer,” recalled Alassane, who said he also saw the body. “They took his shoes. He was wearing only socks.”
In the story an anonymous (is there any other kind) American official claimed that when they received the body of Sgt Johnson his hands were not tied. This may be factually true but is a ridiculous assertion. Sgt Johnson’s remains were autopsied; how he died and any abuse he sustained both pre and postmortem is known and documented. Covering up unpleasant truth’s under the guise of waiting for an investigation to conclude is dishonest and foolish. This is especially true when a known race monger like Fredrica Wilson has inserted herself into the story using the body of Sgt Johnson to make political hay.
As the Pentagon, like the rest of the federal government, continues to expand beyond its original mandate it is relying more and more on secrecy to prevent the American public from knowing what it is up to. It is also using the old “that’s classified information” dodge to cover incompetence and magical thinking about everything from operating in countries where we have zero national interest, to aircraft readiness, severe problems with gold plated hanger queens like the F-35, to the impact of women in combat arms.
In that era a sharp decline in confidence in U.S. military leadership accompanied growing American disillusionment with the war in Southeast Asia. In February 1966, a Harris poll found more than six in ten (62%) expressing a great deal of confidence in “people running the military.” By March 1973, a NORC poll found that number had fallen to 32%.
That level of public confidence is a perishable commodity that will disappear in the absence of sustained superior performance. Superior performance is impossible to sustain in a climate of obfuscation, blatant lies, and politically correct dogma such as ‘diversity is our strength’. Killing (the right) people and breaking things is our strength; diverse peoples meeting the same high standards is our strength, diversity is our doom; not our strength.
Although it is popular to point our that the Pentagon spends more (517 Billion in 2014) than any other nation on earth that is not the correct way to judge military spending. Our spending is so high because our GDP is so high – we are by far the richest country in the world and our military spending reflects that. Military spending as a percentage of GDP is a much more meaningful measurement; as you can see in the Forbes graphic our military spending is not out of line at all.
According to health detective (and NYT’s best seller author) Chris Kressler, medicare and medicaid, by 2040, will consume 100% of the federal budget. I heard him on the Joe Rogan Podcast so I know it to be true. Arguing against the accumulated knowledge of Joe Rogan’s guests is a fools errand, go ahead and try, it can’t be done. You can judge the veracity of Mr.s Kressler’s claim by reading his latest book Unconventional Medicine; if you do stand by for some really bad news about the growth of chronic diseases. There is hope on the horizon but that would involved cutting edge bio-remediation with medical grade fungi; to understand that listen to this podcast with Paul Stamets. It is a fascinating discussion of vital importance to our collective futures that will be ignored because, although the science is there an proven, it is too far outside the box.
I mention our impending fiscal and medical doom to highlight one salient point. The Pentagon is not going to get huge increases in funding. What is needed immediately is drastic decreases in military expenditures that make no sense. AFRICOM would be one, the Service Academies another, (they produce substandard officer material, are too expensive, and run by toxic, PC Centric flag officers).
The Army is now accepting recruits with a history of serious mental illnesses which is a clear sign the Army is too big and stretched too thin. We are a maritime power protected by two giant oceans and do not need a large standing army. There is no reason for us to have bases in Europe just as there is no good reason to have bases in Okinawa. Saying you need forward deployed troop formations when the amphibious shipping required to move those forces is not forward deployed is ridiculous. If we are the world’s policeman (and we shouldn’t be) than we are spending too little. If our defense establishment exists to defend American we are spending too much.
It is past time for the Axis of Adults to start acting like adults by putting the needs of the nation ahead of the needs of the Axis of Adults. The quadrennial defense review process is a joke. The results from this so called review are always the same; cuts is service funding without meaningful alterations in the percentage of defense dollars going to each service. compounding that problem is a congress who is interested in whatever the big institutions funding them tell them to be interested in. There are no longer checks and balances; just an imperial executive branch working with a parliament of whores.
Now that we have a POTUS who is not a creature of the DC swamp we could develop a defense establishment that is oriented on rational defense strategies instead of defending service rice bowls. We also need a foreign policy that is in some form a rational depiction in the interests of the people of this country. Right now both our foreign and defense policy seem centered on the ability to conduct war in two distinct geographical locations simultaneously. Why?
We need to think about fundamental change before we run out of time; we’ve already run out of money.
The best way to avoid military losing support personnel in Africa is to not be in Africa.
The third episode of The Vietnam War aired last night and it was a good one. We were introduced to a Special Forces legend (and the founder of Delta Force) Charles Beckworth. He was interviewed just after preventing his small detachment of Green Berets from being over run in the battle of Plei Me. Then Major Beckworth had fought a week long battle pitting his 10 Americans, 14 South Vietnamese army soldiers and 300 Montagnard tribal fighters against the 32nd and 33rd Regiments of the North Vietnamese Army. Beckworth had 324 fighters against of force totaling 4,800. In last nights clip he paid his enemies the respect they were due with this quote “I wish I had 200 of them under my command”.
The attention Beckworth has received in the historical record and the subsequent attention another exceptional American commander, Hal Moore received was made possible by a third exceptional an American (reporter type) named Joe Galloway. Galloway was featured prominently in the broadcast, his book about LtCol Moore’s fight at LZ X-Ray (We Were Soldiers Once and Young) is a classic as is the movie of the same title. I’m not sure that those stories would be with us today were it not for the presence of Joe Galloway, who hails from Refugio Texas, a small rural town known for producing scrappy high school football teams, not great war correspondents.
We also heard from the NVA commander who fought against Moore’s battalion, Lo Khac Tam. Like Beckworth’s small force Hal Moore was facing an enemy 7 times his number. Despite the advantage of numerical superiority, effective direct fire weapons and surprise the NVA not only failed to destroy the Americans they took a savage beating.
Now promoted to General, Lo Khac Tam said the lesson he learned (one repeated in the companion book ad nauseam) is that one had to “grab the Americans by the belt” to negate their firepower. The North Vietnamese didn’t need to “learn” that lesson; they were trained by the Chinese who had discovered that bitter truth 15 years prior in Korea. That lesson didn’t help the NVA any more than it helped the Chinese. Getting inside the American indirect fire envelope did allow the Vietnamese to inflict more casualties on American units but they never dominated one. As soon as they broke contact they were still subjected to a beating from Tac Air and artillery.
Did we have stupid generals? Of course we did; the military history of America is littered with stupid generals whenever we get into a shooting war. The only time we ever caught a break was World War I where General Black Jack Pershing was placed in command (well ahead of many senior generals).
Did the NVA have stupid generals? They had Beucoup dummies which cost them dearly. During last night’s episode a Vietminh soldier is interviewed about the performance of the Marines and soldiers as they entered the war. He said they were big and slow and didn’t know the terrain like the local fighters who ran circles around them. True enough but thanks to some spectacularly poor NVA generalship and a steep learning curve by the Americans those local cadres were gone 14 months later. They had all been killed, wounded or fled north after the disaster of the 68 Tet offensive.
The myth that the American military was outclassed in Vietnam is just that, a myth, but one still being promulgated in this PBS series. But tactical lessons were not the focus of last nights show; how we got into a major shooting war was. That story, as Burn’s tells it, is complete, total, garbage and a significant disservice to anyone seeking an understanding of the Vietnam War.
Last night we heard a sage rebuke of General Westmorland who told a visiting Senator, Fritz Hollings that; “We’re killing these people at a rate of ten to one.” Hollings warned him, “Westy, the American people don’t care about the ten. They care about the one.” No doubt true but what about the American leadership? Did they give a damn about the one?
Watching the documentary you may think they did and this is where the whole story goes off the rails. As we listen into President Johnson’s anguished phone calls and watch what we are told was an uber competent Sec Def Robert McNamara cognate on how to win what we are not shown is their arrogance, naive stupidity or their contempt for their military leadership. Their refusal to listen to or follow good advice and their collusion with the North Vietnamese that led directly to the downing of American pilots is never mentioned.
“The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C.”
How is it that the most important book of the last decade that details exactly how we got into Vietnam is left out of an 18 episode narrative about Vietnam? Did you know that President Johnson and Secretary McNamara would crawl along the floor of the oval officer over a map of North Vietnam to select individual targets? Did you know that having selected those targets the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk would then pass those targets to the Swiss embassy who would tell the North Vietnamese (through their embassy in Hanoi) where and when we’d bomb them?
Here is what Rusk had to say about that:
“All we wanted to do is demonstrate to the North Vietnamese leadership that we could strike targets at will, but we didn’t want to kill innocent people. By giving the North Vietnamese advanced warning of the targets to be attacked, we thought they would tell the workers to go home.”
How stupid can ‘smart’ guys be? All of our previous history with communist governments would indicate that they not only would not tell workers about impending air strikes (civilian casualties being a huge boost for their propaganda machines and the lives lost meaningless to their leaders) but would move their anti aircraft artillery into the target area to down American planes. That’s exactly what they did too and it is beyond remarkable that Burns could ignore this fact and the scholarly rigor of H. R. MacMaster. What the hell is going on with these people?
What is going on with this series is exactly what has been going on inside big corporate media for decades and that is the promulgation and reinforcement of a narrative that is anti American exceptionalism, anti military in orientation, and an attempt to give the anti war left a pass on their dishonorable treatment of Vietnam veterans.
America is not Sparta. We are not a war-like people and as mentioned above normally lack competent generals and adequate force structure when the balloon goes up. We also normally lack good weapons; from the crap machineguns of World War I to the shitty tanks we started with in WW II to the completely inadequate anti tank weapons of Korea all the way to the unarmored Humvee’s of Iraq in 2003 our country always starts behind the curve militarily.
But we learn quick. What the military learned after Vietnam was how to take a hollowed out, racial divided, plagued with drug abuse, unpopular institution and turn into one of the most trusted segments of American society. Somehow I don’t think that story is going to make the cut with Burns and crew. And that, in the words of our Vietnam Vets, is number 10.
“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?
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?
History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books – books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?’
That quote unquestionably applies to early Christian history, the topic Mr. Brown has gained a worldwide following writing about. It is probably true about our history up to and including World War II. It is demonstrably not true about our more recent history; mostly because we have had no clash of cultures; just clashes.
This Sunday (17 September) is the premier of a 10 part Ken Burns PBS documentary titled The Vietnam War. The premise behind this series is enough time has passed to allow us to go back and “remind ourselves of the things we don’t want to talk about”. The series will unquestionably be an excellent feat of journalistic production; visually stimulating and emotionally resonating. I’m looking forward to watching it.
What it will not be is what the producers, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick promise it to be and that is a fair, unbiased accounting. I have spent the last four days pouring over the companion book to this series with growing concern. There is no indication in the book that the liberal narrative regarding the men and woman who fought that war is being challenged. Given the amount of turmoil this war caused in the American public; creating fracture lines that exist to this day, reinforcing a discredited narrative from the past is a grave disservice to both our military and nation.
I paid an inordinate amount of attention to Vietnam while growing up. My father and two of my three uncles were career Marine Corps officers; from the mid 60’s to the early 70’s one of them was in Vietnam and all them saw heavy combat. As I was raised on or near Marine Corps bases most of my friends fathers were also participants in that war. My father and my friends fathers were heroes to us when we were young. I am blessed that I am able to say they remain so to this day. There are not many books or novels about the war I have not read so my baseline knowledge runs deep.
The book (also titled The Vietnam War) has a rhythm to it. It’s organized as a comprehensive history explaining how the United States went from supporting Vietnamese freedom fighters in World War II to fighting those same men a decade after the war. Dispersed throughout the chapters are side bars that contain the personal stories of the participants. The stories told in those sidebars are consistent; the young Americans were patriotic, motivated, idealistic, innocents who became disillusioned by what they saw and did. Those that survived (and many did not) emerged damaged, bitter, and pissed off. The Vietnamese on the other side were also patriotic, idealistic and innocent; they battled against extraordinary hardships, fought for years on end and emerged as proud paragons of virtue who were ennobled by the experience.
American generals from that conflict are depicted as clueless liars focused on the lavish use of firepower and dated, inappropriate tactics. American field grade officers were murderous psychopaths focused on killing as many people as possible while ignoring their own casualty rates as they sought ever higher body counts to further their careers. The American junior officers experience mirrored those of the enlisted men; tricked into going they rapidly became bitterly disillusioned by what they saw and did.
The Vietnamese general officer and Colonels are uniformly portrayed as tactical geniuses who developed the perfect battle plan to use America’s strengths against her while continually besting American and South Vietnamese forces in the field. They too emerged from their decades of war wise and ennobled.
Keep in mind I’m talking about the side bars. The narrative does admit that the North Vietnamese made serious strategic errors especially when they launched their Tet Offensive in 1968. There is also a side bar that describes the massacre of Vietnamese men, women and children by the North in Hue City during the 1968 Tet offensive. Yet the book focuses a majority of it’s narrative on American malfeasance of which there was plenty. While doing so it perpetuates some stories I’ve never heard and don’t believe.
One of these was the story of Private Dennis Stout who served with Company B of the First Battalion, 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne. He contends that in April of 1967 his platoon captured, interrogated and then spent two day raping a Vietnamese teenager before murdering her. That is an extraordinary claim that requires an extraordinary amount of proof to be taken seriously. None is provided.
Where would a platoon find a place in the rear area to house, torture, rape and then murder a captured female? Why would anyone believe that a platoon could even accomplish such a deed on the off chance they even wanted to? Platoons are not independent entities, they are part of a rifle company which is part of an infantry battalion and as such they are not allocated offices or rooms or building in which they can conduct themselves unsupervised. I’ll address this incident in detail when the segment containing it is aired.
The American military did rape women and kill children in cold blood on at least one occasion; the My Lai massacre. Yet that story too is incorrect as written in the book. The photographs of that odious deed came from an Army public affairs correspondent, Sergeant Ronald L Haeberle. What the book fails to mention is that then Sgt Haeberle did not release the photos he took with his army equipment; he had a personal camera with him that day which he used to take the photos and then hid so that the real story could eventually come out. That was a brave move by a good man and the vast majority of those who fought in Vietnam were just like him; good men.
I suspected, as I read the book, that the hundreds of people who worked on this documentary had limited knowledge about the American military. That suspicion was confirmed when I got to the story of an infantry officer who was born during WW II in an Arizona Japanese American interment camp named Vincent Okamoto.
Vincent Okamoto is the most highly decorated Japanese American of the Vietnam war where he was awarded three Purple Hearts, The Distinguished Service Cross, both a Silver and a Bronze Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He went on to lead an exemplary life retiring as a judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Here is the description from the book telling the story of his incredible bravery under fire.
On the morning of August 23, he made his twenty-third assault. Nineteen helicopters ferried the first and second platoons to a new landing zone just thirteen miles from the Cambodian border. Their task was to dig in, stay put, and somehow block a battalion of some eight hundred North Vietnamese troops, who were trying to escape back across the border. Okamoto’s unit was reinforced by a platoon of mechanized infantry, three APCs, and a tank, but they were still badly outnumbered. He and the fewer than 150 men under his command spent the rest of that day and all of the next preparing for an attack as best they could—setting Claymore mines and hanging coils of razor wire.
At about ten o’clock on the night of August 24, Okamoto remembered, “we got hit with a very heavy mortar barrage. Within the first ten seconds, all three of those armored personnel carriers and tanks were knocked out with rocket-propelled grenades.” Trip flares briefly lit up the landscape. Scores of enemy troops were running at the Americans through the elephant grass. Enemy mortar shells blasted two gaps in the razor wire. If Okamoto and his outnumbered men couldn’t plug them, they were sure to be overrun. He and the four men closest to him held their M16s above their heads and fired blindly.
The enemy kept coming. “I had my four people. And through the light of the flares, I said, ‘A couple of you guys go and man the machine guns out on those APCs.’ Well, the response I got was, like, ‘Fuck you, I ain’t going up there.’ So I ran to the first armored personnel carrier, and I pulled the dead gunner out of the turret. I jumped in there, manned the machine gun, and fired until it ran out of ammo.” Okamoto moved to the second disabled APC, then the third, emptying their guns.
That’s a great story but one that, to a military professional, makes little sense. Obviously a reinforced rifle company fought that battle so I’m not sure why a second lieutenant would be in charge. He had a mechanized platoon and tank attached yet in the opening barrage the APC’s and tank were disabled by rockets. What the hell were they doing up in the front of the D to start with? A reinforced company with attached armor should have easily been able to not only block but to destroy an NVA battalion fighting in the mountains near Cambodia. To do that they would have needed to build a defense in depth where the armor is kept to the rear and brought up as needed to hose down the enemy and then returned back into the D to reload. That is infantry tactics 101; armor is great in the D because it is mobile and has heavy firepower. Placing them up front in a linear defense is a ridiculously amateur move.
I mean no disrespect to Judge Okamoto who is a great example of the American fighting man. Brave, resolute, and a man who lead from the front. The story here if true (and I don’t believe a second lieutenant was in charge of a company (rein) task force at this battle) is why would he, as a very junior officer, be placed in charge of this task force? It takes somebody with military knowledge to recognize this and that’s my point. The people who put this series together did not include any experts on the topic at hand.
Mr Burns and Ms Novick did interview dozens of former military men and women who served in Vietnam. My favorite of that group would be Karl Marlantes who wrote the books Matterhorn and What it is Like to Go to War. I heard about this series during an interview Karl did with Mac on All Marine Radio. I’ll be interested in what he has to say but it is also clear that the majority of the material in this series was produced by people who know very little about the military or war.
There was plenty of incompetence at every level on all sides of this conflict. Focusing on American and South Vietnamese incompetence while giving the NVA and NLF a pass is dishonest and it sticks in my craw. The series is also promotes the lingering suspicion that the men who fought this war came home as damaged goods. Which brings us back to Judge Okamoto.
Vincent Okamoto had a successful legal career after the war and his experience matches the vast majority of his fellow Vietnam Vets. I suspect that in this series/book he’s singled out for positive treatment due to his racial background and the circumstances of his birth. I may be wrong but regardless, his success in later life is the common story for most Vietnam Vets. The media never mentioned this fact over the years and instead perpetrated a series of hoaxes like the famous CNN Tailwind story (alleging the use of Sarin gas in Cambodia) or this 1983 article about traumatized vets living in the wilderness of Washington State (not one of them, it turned out, had served in Vietnam). To this day the media narrative regarding Vietnam Vets is seldom accurate or positive.
In 1994 a Vietnam Vet named B.G. Burkett self published the book Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation was Robbed of it’s Heroes and it’s History. The book unmasked hundreds of media and political frauds. It told the truth about the subsequent lives of the men who served and prompted congress to write into federal law the Stolen Valor Act which made lying about military service a crime. That law was quickly overturned as the Supreme Court correctly decided that lying about being a hero, although odious, is still protected under the first amendment.
I believe, based on the companion book, that PBS is once again trying to rob the Vietnam Vet’s of their heroes and history. That is why I feel compelled to critique each episode. Our country is divided enough as it is and doesn’t need more liberal propaganda shoved down our throats. I hope the series deviates from the companion book and presents a less “nuance” and more “reality” view on the subject of the Vietnam War. If it does I’ll be the first to point it out but I don’t think I’ll be doing any backtracking over the next few months. And that’s a pity.
I intend to publish a blog post weekly recapping the episodes while pointing out the bias and distortions that deviate from the true history. Judging from the companion book that is not going to be hard to do.
When dealing with news out of Afghanistan we must start with what we know to be true before speculating on the remainder in an effort to understand what happened. The soldiers were killed in Achin district where the Afghans with American Special Forces units in direct support, have been battling ISIS-K. I suspect the soldiers were in the field operating with Afghan soldiers when this unfortunate incident occurred. That would explain how four them were hit by a loan assailant. That also means the units assigned to the ‘advise and assist’ mission are engaging in direct combat. They have to do that to gain even a shred of credibility with the Afghan army but I bet they won’t be out and about much longer.
What additional troops were doing rolling around in Khogyani district requires speculation.
I suspect they were moving from the base at Jalalabad (FOB Fenty) into Achin district using the back roads to avoid the exposure of the Jalalabad – Torkham main road. Regardless of circumstances the killing of a car load of locals, something that was all too common when there were large numbers of NATO forces moving on the roads, is bad.
It appears the Taliban are trying to force Kabul to the negotiating table by inflicting massive casualties that the population can no longer endure while driving a wedge between the NATO advise and assist troops and their Afghan colleagues via green on blue attacks. That is a sound strategy. When those same American troops, while moving through a countryside they know to be hostile, kill civilians who happen to be too close to them when an IED goes off…..that’s a perfect storm. NATO doesn’t trust the forces they mentor to not kill them, the forces they mentor risk being shot every time they are getting mentored. The people are getting hammered by the Taliban and by NATO if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s a storm alright (a s–t storm) and one for which NATO, the UN and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have no answer.
When the problem of Green on Blue attacks reached a crisis stage in 2012 the response by NATO was to separate themselves (even more) from the Afghans they were supposed to mentor. Then they instituted a ‘guardian angel’ program to protect themselves from the Afghans they were there to help. Here are the Green on Blue numbers (hat tip Long War Journal)
US military commanders in Afghanistan have assigned “guardian angels” to watch over troops as they sleep, among a series of other increased security measures, in the wake of rogue Afghan soldiers targeting Nato forces.
The so-called guardian angels provide an extra layer of security, watching over the troops as they sleep, when they are exercising, and going about their day.
Among the new measures introduced, Americans are now allowed to carry weapons in several Afghan ministries. They have also been told to rearrange their office desks so they face the door.
Now the Guardian Angels will have to be standing, at the ready, prepared to shoot any Afghan who makes a move for his gun too fast during every interaction between Afghans and NATO. How that will work out in field operations is obvious – it won’t and thus we are going to suffer more of them.
The issue is trust and trust is something that can only be built over long periods of time in Afghanistan. Governments in the West have been proving, for years now, they are incapable of taking the steps needed to protect their citizens from Jihadist terrorism. Sovereign citizens have little reason to trust their ruling elite who are more concerned with inclusion, diversity, various ‘phobias’ and not being perceived as racists then they are with protecting the population. Afghans have no reason to trust their ruling elites and the question is when you can’t trust the government who do you trust?
Tribes and clans are still used when information security and omerta are paramount. No technical solution yet devised can beat treachery. Only loyalty can do that — and we have made loyalty, to nation at least, a bad word.
The Afghans who are committing these Green on Blue (and Green on Green) attacks are trusting the Taliban to take care of their clans when the dust settles. That is probably a solid bet. The Americans and other NATO troops in Afghanistan are not able to build trust networks during their seven month tours so they have to trust their fellow soldiers to have an OODA loop quick enough to protect them. That is not a solid bet – being that quick on the trigger will result in Blue of Green deaths that were unnecessary and further divide allies who are supposed to be fighting together.
The Perfect Storm is building and it is obvious that it will break soon. When that happens we can be certain of one thing. The elites who masterminded this fiasco will ignore it and continue taking us down the path of multi culti madness. It is too late to save Afghanistan the only question now is do we have the intestinal fortitude in the West to save ourselves?
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.
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.
The Trump administration is casting about Europe in an, as of yet, un-successful attempt to find more troops to deploy in Afghanistan. As they ponder future force levels in that country the one idea that never dies is adding more special forces to the mix. That will not work; in fact what they should do is remove the remaining Special Operations Forces (SOF) units from the fight entirely.
FRI favorite Herschel Smith at The Captains Journal recently posted on the over-use of special operators where he contends the repeated use of SOF is a symptom of the loss of fighting capacity in the general purpose force. Long time readers of FRI know I’m a big fan of the Captains Journal; Hershel has a no-nonsense, direct style of writing that appeals to me and the thousands of loyal followers he has accumulated over the years.
One of the big selling points of Special Forces is their alleged competence in unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense. These are two of the five missions (the remaining being special reconnaissance, direct action and counter-terrorism) that require specialized language skills and deep understanding of the host nations culture. The performance of our special forces in Afghanistan over the past 16 years have proven these alleged core competencies are marketing hype designed to attract money from Congress and talent from the segment of our population who can qualify to serve in the armed forces.
What you are looking at is an SF A team commander who is wearing his body armor over a cut off tee shirt. He is going into a village he doesn’t know searching for an alleged high value target (HVT) who is known to these soldiers as ‘Red Beard’. He is operating in Khost province where every village elder dies his beard with henna; which is red….are you getting the picture?
The only way you could offend Afghans more than showing up bare chested and forcing your way into their compounds is to walk around naked. The level of cultural tone deafness on display (from an SF guy who is supposed to understand the culture) in the linked video is beyond my ability to explain. If I had showed up in any Afghan village (especially a remote mountain village) without wearing a long sleeved shirt and long trousers I would have never returned. Failure to respect the local culture is the first step in mission failure and SOF guys like this one have a 16 year (and counting) run of mission failure.
Now look at the picture I lifted from the Captains Journal post Abolish Socom:
Same guy; proof that great minds think alike. Here is what Herschel had to say about the photograph:
If he is SOF performing direction action operations along with other SOF operators, then with the backwards ball cap, sleeveless shirt and lack of a uniform, he simply looks like an undisciplined thug. Nothing more. He doesn’t need to look like he does. He has no compelling reason to appear thuggish and silly.
He does indeed appear thuggish and silly and while doing that he is sending a message to every Afghan he comes in contact with. That message consists of two words starting with the letter F and ending with the word you.
Around the same time that Herschel wrote the post linked above I wrote one on a 60 minutes segment called the Quiet Professionals. The post was titled Laura Does Special Forces and it was one of the more popular posts I ever wrote. This is from that post:
Want to know something our ‘elite’ SF guys don’t seem to know? Afghans don’t cuss. To call an Afghan a motherfucker (a word used frequently in every conversation by the American military) is a grave insult that would, in the local context, need to be atoned by blood. I cannot stress this point enough and if, during my frequent forays into the tribal bad lands, I used that word even in jest I would have been killed long ago. One of the secrets that I and my fellow outside the wire expats use in the contested areas is respect for local culture coupled with big confident smiles; that’s why we are able to do what every USG expert contends cannot be done.
The way the SOF team in that 60 minutes video treated the Afghan Commando’s they were supposed to be training was deplorable. The soldiers displayed a complete lack of cultural understanding and were dismal failures at training their Afghan charges on the most rudimentary soldiering skills. Worse yet during one of the missions they conducted with their poorly trained Afghans one of the SF team members shot two children for reasons I found to be questionable. Read the post and you’ll see what I mean.
Last March I wrote about the introduction of SF teams into the Helmand province back in 2003. In a stunning display of cultural unawareness the first thing they did was offer bounties for ‘Taliban’ which resulted in the arrest and deportation to Gitmo of street orphans who had no family or tribe to protect them. This misguided policy was followed by the introduction of nighttime raids; a tactic that never resulted in any metric of success which is obvious as the Taliban grew stronger each year despite the constant loss of ‘High Value Targets’ to these raids. If your enemy continues to get stronger and take more ground while you take more and more of their leaders in dubious night raids how would you consider the tactic successful? I don’t know but we never stopped doing them which is a symptom of linear thinking in a nonlinear world.
Night raids enraged the Afghan population for what they considered a gross, cowardly, violation of their people which resulted in an unknown number of dead innocent Afghans. A grade school level of cultural understanding would have allowed SOF to predict the negative consequences of their night raid policy but they either didn’t know or didn’t care.
The Village Stability Operations (VSO) introduced late in the war were a joke. Only one SF officer (Jim Gant) had the balls and ability to do it correctly and he was done in by a chain of command who resented his success. Mimicking his methods was something his fellow SF officers refused to do because that meant no DFAC with it’s hot chow, unlimited ice cream and pecan pie; no cushy FOB with central air and nice bunks, no gyms to work out in, no internet and no crappy AFN TV to watch. I’m not making that up. The lack of amenities was sited the book American Spartan and several news articles as the reason Jim’s qalat in Chowkay was abandoned by the team that replaced him.
It turns out everything the SOF community said they could do they couldn’t do with the exception of night raids. And, of course, they can fight like demons; decimating any formation foolish enough to stand and fight them. That’s a good skill that should be directed at the other threats that have developed after 8 years of leading from behind. Marine and army infantry can do the same thing which was the point of the posts in The Captains Journal.
With an unending list of commitments that grows by the day in places like Somalia, Yemen, Syria and Iraq it is time to for the SOF teams to leave Afghanistan. Without SOF in-country the Afghans will not be able to launch operations into the countryside and thus will be forced to pull back into important towns and cities to guard them as well as the roads that are vital to the Afghan economy.
That would mean the Afghan government would control only the provincial administrative centers, the main roads and Kabul which, historically, is all the central government has ever controlled. Afghanistan is a complex problem that will never be solved by the American military who has always solved both tactical and strategic problems using linear thinking. If we remove our SOF units the Afghan government will be forced to do more talking and less fighting with the various insurgent factions it faces today. That is the only rational way forward and although it will be painful in the short run it will result in an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem.