As our two-decade involvement in Afghanistan winds down to an inevitable withdraw there are an increasing number of memories’ being published by participants. I have been looking forward to this as it is the first large conflict in which there was no draft. The military participants were all volunteers, actually all professional recruited (there is a huge difference), and I’ve been interested in seeing their perception of war compared to the men who fought in earlier times against a different enemy. What I experienced when I read Gus Biggio’s book The Wolves of Helmandwas déjà vu.
Frank “Gus” Biggio competed for and won a commission in the United States Marine Corps gaining a coveted slot in the infantry back in the 1990’s when the Corps was fat with cash, and overseas deployments both enjoyable and interesting. Unless you pulled a unit rotation to Okinawa in which case you were semi screwed. Sitting on island where you could not train while the yen/dollar exchange rate was around 70 (meaning the dollar was damn near worthless) was misery unless you got nominated to be on the Oki Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in which case you got aboard naval shipping and enjoyed yourself like the rest of the Corps.
I don’t know if Gus pulled a MEU float or a unit deployment rotation to Okinawa, but he enjoyed his tour as an infantry officer and after completing his five-year obligation he moved on, as most Marine officers do. Gus completed a law degree, got married to a physician, started a family and was safely ensconced in Washington DC when the military went to war. Gus held out for years before succumbing to a virus, planted in all Marine infantry, that makes life intolerable unless we see the elephant.
The six blind men touching an elephant parable is an ancient Indian fable that has come to demonstrate moral relativism and religious tolerance. That’s not the fable Gus and the rest of us are talking about; we don’t do moral relativism and assume religious tolerance to be a God given right. When we talk about touching the elephant, we are referring to a Civil War era euphemism for experiencing combat.
Gus was in DC, working a damn good job. He’s not a name dropper but mentions that he started taking morning runs in 2008 to prepare for returning to active duty he would sometimes chat with his neighbor Michelle until she moved into the White House with her husband Barrack. So, Gus was doing pretty damn good on the outside, but he had a problem on the inside. His best friends were in the fight, some of them coming home on, not with, their shields. He is a highly competent adult who has sublimated a serious competitive streak towards the development of an impressive law career and a stable, thriving family. But he doesn’t yet know what his nature demands that he know, information that he’ll only know if he gets to touch the elephant. His closest friends had touched the elephant repeatedly so his volunteering to go back in? He had no choice; I did the same thing for exactly the same reason.
Gus is exactly the kind of guy you want as your lawyer if, for no other reason, than he talked his wife into letting him deploy. Obviously, he married a perceptive woman who probably understood he had to go, but she’s a physician and they’re normally rule followers, so this was by any measure an impressive feat. He then signs on with the 1st Battalion 5thMarines (1/5) and heads to God’s country (Camp Pendelton, California) to start training.
From there he deploys, with his small team, directly into the Nawa district administrative center weeks ahead of the Marine offensive that will secure that portion of the Helmand province. No air conditioning, no working toilets, no hot chow, no roof or windows, and no ability to patrol 100 meters beyond the roofless district center because the Taliban had laid siege to small British garrison who arrived the year prior. Surrounded by Taliban, with the nearest help fifty miles distant, living in the dirt, patrolling constantly, fighting often – the entire time exposed to the elements 24/7; does that sound like fun to you? Of course not, and Gus tries to convince the reader that it wasn’t that much fun for him either. But you can tell by how hard he tries to make his experience seem like no big deal, that it was a big deal through which he earned an intangible that only those who touch the elephant can understand.
Gus is a throwback in a sense in that he is a citizen soldier, not a professional Marine. As such he joins the pantheon of Americans who wore the uniform to defend the country, not as a profession. Like all Marine reservists he was exceptionally well trained and had years of small unit leadership to develop his military skills. Yet still he left his young family, an obviously lucrative career in the most powerful city in the world to get dropped into a primitive hell hole. Does that sound like normal guy behavior to you? Me either but Gus is lawyer and musters his arguments well about the reasons behind volunteering to be dropped into the middle of Indian country.
When the rest of 1/5 arrived in Nawa they did so in a pre-dawn combat assault that overwhelmed the Taliban and drove them from the district in a matter of days. That never stopped the little T Taliban (local teens and young adults with little to do mostly) from trying their luck with random small arms fire attacks or improvised explosive devices (IED’s) but the days of the Taliban traveling openly or intimidating the locals passed, for the most part, in most of the Helmand province.
During the year Gus spent in the Helmand province the Marine Corps actually did by the book COIN operations using a completely unsustainable deployment cycle that, while it was being sustained, was the most impressive damn thing you have ever seen. In 2010 when I moved into Lashkar Gah as the regional manager for a USIAD sponsored Civil Development Program, I drove the roads from Lash to Nawa, to Khanashin and to Marjha wearing local clothes in a local beater with a modest security detail and had no issues. The people seemed happy, business was thriving, the poppy harvests returning serious cash into the local economy.
Jagran (Major in Dari) Gus and his six Marine (and 1 corpsman) Civil Affairs Team were yet another combat enabler for the 1st Battalion 5th Marines counterinsurgency battle. The weapon they employed was cash money, they were the carrot that offered to help the Afghan people. The Marines in the line companies were the stick and they were everywhere, deployed in little squad size patrol bases in every corner of the district. Gus and his team did as much patrolling as the grunts which they needed to do in order to deploy the money weapon. There are few times and few places in Marine Corps history where a major gets to be a gunfighter but that is what the civil affairs team in the Helmand had to do. He was a lucky man to get such a hard corps gig, he could have been deployed to a firm base support role and never left the wire, a fate worse than death for an infantryman.
Jagran Gus tells some great stories about everyday life in rural Afghanistan. I spent much time there myself and appreciate his depiction of normal Afghans going about their business. Sometimes that business involves shooting at Marines for cash and there is an interesting story about catching some teenagers in the act and letting them go to the custody of their elders after the district governor chewed them out.
It’s the little things that are telling; the Marines loved to be the stick, few things are more gratifying than a stiff firefight where you suffer no loses and that is how the vast majority of firefights in Afghanistan went. The Marines were also perfectly cool with safe’ing their weapons, yoking up the dudes that were just shooting at them, treating their wounds and releasing them to the district governor. It didn’t matter to them how a fight ends as long as they end it. This type of humane treatment of wounded enemies is expected of American servicemen, it isn’t even worthy of comment in the book. I’m not saying we are the only military that does this, but a vast majority of militaries don’t, and most people are amazed when we do.
My experience with Afghans in the Helmand, like that of Jargan Gus was mostly positive. That part of the world is so primitive that it’s like a time machine where resilient people carve out an existence with primitive farming methods and zero infrastructure. The Afghans are from old school Caucasian stock which is why the Germans spent so much time and money there in the 1930’s after Hitler came to power. They’re white people who do not have any concept of fragility and who cultivate a fierce pride in their Pashtun tribal roots. Living and working with them was an experience that is hard to capture but Jargan Gus has done that well.
Gus goes on to discuss the futility of his efforts, Nawa fell to the Taliban shortly after the Marines left in 2014. But there is no bitterness when he covers that as there is none concerning the always turbulent re-entry into normalcy when he returned home for good. Touching the elephant always changes a man, but Jargan Gus is a bright guy who explains the unease he felt as he tried to ease back into normal life in a very reasonable manner. He is a perceptive writer and his book will (I bet) be useful to future historians writing about the Afghan war. It is a great story about normal Americans thrust into exceptional circumstances and thriving.
I bet sixty years from now whoever the Tom Hanks of the era is will do a movie based on this book. The movie would be a ground version of the current hit WW II movie Greyhound only with dirt and lots more explosions. So, watch the new Tom Hanks’s Greyhound movie, then read this book when its released and you can tell me if you don’t see Hollywood gold. I’m going to email Gus and give him heads up.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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”.
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.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Qatar’s capital city, Doha today for the signing of a peace deal with the Taliban. In a rare demonstration of presenting both sides of a contentious deal the Washington Post opinion section featured dueling pieces that capture this unique moment in time. The peace deal is a clear win for both the Trump administration and the Afghan people. As usual the devil is in the details but it appears we are on the way out of Afghanistan.
Barnett Rubin who is a senior fellow and associate director of the Center on International Cooperation of New York University and non-resident senior fellow at the Quincy Institute, outlines the agreement in his WaPo OpEd.
The agreement provides a timetable for troop withdrawal, counterterrorism guarantees, a path to a cease-fire and a process for political settlement. Implementation would also require dismantling Taliban infrastructure in neighboring Pakistan and assurances by external powers that none will use Afghanistan against others.
Mr. Rubin has considerable time on the ground in the region and his take on the peace deal (which is it is a good deal) is identical to mine.
Max Boot, who is a Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, took the opposite view. In his WaPo OpEd he outlines three different scenarios for the near future in Afghanistan. He then goes onto to predict the worst case scenario (the Taliban rolling into Kabul and taking over the country) as the most likely. I can tell you unequivocally that is the least likely scenario.
Many of our foreign policy experts and more than a few of my friends caution that the Taliban is not a cohesive monolithic organization, and that negotiators are only speaking for the Quetta, Peshawar, and Miranshaw Shura’s. This is a fact that is true, but means nothing now. The Taliban were able to enforce the peace during last years Eid celebration across the country and I believe they can do so again. Regardless of what I and my friends believe the only thing that counts is how the Afghans feel about the deal.
The Senior Vice President-elect of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, published his opinion on the Time website. I Fought the Taliban. Now I’m Ready to Meet Them at the Ballot Box is the title of his piece and that’s a strong endorsement of the process. Amrullah Saleh is the former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), a former Interior Minister and he survived a serious assault on his election headquarters last July. That assault started with a car bomb and was continued by suicide vest equipped assault teams. Amrullah Saleh survived by jumping off the roof of his four story headquarters onto the roof of a neighboring building.
It is reasonable to assume Mr. Saleh had engaged in a running gun battle before escaping to safety, he is that kind of guy.
The recent campaign in Nangarhar is one example. Effective operations by US/Coalition & Afghan security forces, as well as the Taliban, led to ISIS-K losing territory & fighters. Hundreds surrendered. ISIS-K hasn’t been eliminated but this is real progress,” Khalilzad tweeted Tuesday
Remember a few posts back I highlighted this article in the Washington Post about the defeat of ISIS because it failed to mention the Taliban’s direct role? It seem like the first draft of history is up for grabs regarding the defeat of ISIS-K in Eastern Afghanistan. There is little to gain but much to lose in suppression of the truth. I doubt an experienced reporter would have not known about the Taliban’s role in fighting ISIS-K so it is hard to figure out why the WaPo would print such obviously fake news.
Regardless, ISIS is now gone in Eastern Afghanistan and the remaining pockets in the north now the problem of the Taliban. Who seem to be very efficient at rooting them out.
What I cannot determine is how many troops will stay and what those troops will be doing. If the plan is to leave the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) in place to hunt down ISIS and al Qaida that is not going to work. ISIS doesn’t need to be serviced by us any longer and separating al Qaida trainers from Taliban students is impossible.
If Amrullah Saleh is willing to give the Taliban a chance, and they reach an agreement, men like Sirajuddin Haqqani, who have been at the top of the JPEL for years, will be allowed to go in peace. The JPEL is the Joint Prioritized Effects List which is essentially a lethal version of the FBI’s most wanted. Allowing the men on that list to walk free, get passports and travel is going to be a bitter blow to the people who have been hunting them. But that may be the price of peace.
I have to add that CJSOTF-A is not going to be able to operate behind the back of the Senior VP. Mr. Saleh has decades of experience working with the CIA and CJSTOF and he will have a say on what the Americans can and cannot do if they leave CJSTOF-A in Afghanistan.
This deal with the Taliban is how it ends. It is the only way it can end. The only question in Afghanistan was when, not if, we were leaving. The Taliban cannot beat the Kabul government in battle. The Kabul government cannot beat the Taliban in battle. The continued presence of American SF teams, tactical aircraft and trainers brought the Taliban to the negotiating table which is the best they could do. It is up to the Afghans to decide what happens next. It is also time for us to leave.
General John Allen, USMC (ret) who is the president of the Brookings Institute, lashed out at the New York Times for publishing an Op-Ed Sirajuddin Haqqani. His article, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Terrorist was an unfortunate response that reinforces a growing narrative regarding incompetence in the elite, ruling class.
The most glaring mistake in General Allen’s attack on the New York Times was repeating the thoroughly debunked “very fine people on both sides” hoax. That hoax was spread by the legacy media despite the fact that President Trump was talking about people protesting the removal of Confederate battle monuments. He specifically condemned the white supremest’s if you listen to the whole quote. General Allen is the direct descendant of a Confederate Cavalry officer (I forget his name but remember he fought at Culpepper), for which is he justifiably proud and I suspect he , too was not happy about the removal of confederate battle monuments. I know General Allen, he was my boss at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course, I respect and admire him greatly so it is disturbing to see him trafficking in hoaxes.
Worse was his endorsement of Forever War by implying we should renege on our Peace Agreement with the Taliban. This is his discussion of the Haqqani group:
This organization was and continues to be a central component of the Taliban, a major connecting file into al-Qaida, and a darling of Pakistan’s ISI. The Haqqanis, the Taliban, and al-Qaida endorse a radical interpretation of sharia that deprives women of any meaningful rights, to include the right to an education, and the freedom to pursue their own wants and interests, such as, for example, the legal profession. Countless lives were lost – and many, many more were wounded and otherwise terrorized – at the hands of this group and its peer terrorist entities, and had they not been formally designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, we would have had little means to diminish their influence and stop their violent activities. And at the very center of this violence was Sirajuddin Haqqani, operational commander of the Haqqani network as well as the #2 of the Taliban.
All of that is true and every bit of it irrelevant if we intend to sign a peace deal with the Taliban. It is none of our business if the Afghans decide to reconcile withTaliban leaders including Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani is a bad man, so is Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, who reconciled years ago, and ran in the recent Presidential election. The notorious warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has been a member of the Kabul government when he wasn’t in exile dodging human rights tribunals, is a bad man. He was nominally on our side, so he’s a good, bad man, but to the Afghans he’s little better than Haqqani.
What the Afghans do to reconcile the rift in their civil society is their business. If they want to reconcile with and guarantee the freedom of warlords like Haqqani it is their right to do so. There are reasons to doubt Taliban commitment to a more inclusive civil process, but again, it is no longer our concern.
It is important to acknowledge the reality on the ground and that reality is the Taliban cannot win militarily and the same holds true for the Central Government. Given that context I believe it is time to let the Afghans work this out for themselves.
Last week news broke of a possible peace deal in Afghanistan leading to a firestorm of speculation in the media about what’s really going on. The reporting was not consistent but the consensus is the peace deal would call for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict to start next month, an eventual countrywide cease-fire and a commitment from the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups like al Qaida, while setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
A famous quote incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill dictates “Jaw Jaw is better than War War” (actually he said “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war” which makes more sense ) reinforces this is (potentially) good news. The devil is in the details and we do not know what “reduction of violence”means to the United States or “withdrawal of U.S. troops” means to the Taliban.
TheTaliban are not a monolithic organization but several competing factions. We have been dealing with the Quetta Shura who is representing, but cannot speak for, the other players like the Miranshah Shura (primarily the Haqqani Network) or the Peshawar Shura. That being said the Taliban did deliver on an Eid ceasefire agreement last year and that ceasefire held.
We can get a reliable read on what the Taliban considers a reduction of violence in this detailed report from the always reliable Afghan Analysts Network. From the linked report:
Another Pakistani newspaper, quoting an un-named Taleban official, reported that the movement had agreed not to carry out attacks in major cities including Kabul and would not use car bombs and that the Taleban had also offered not to attack US bases and US soldiers, and that they wanted the US to cease air strikes in return. The newspaper said it had learnt “that Khalilzad had urged” the Taleban to agree to more measures, including a halt to IED attacks, but that they did not agree “as they have planted IEDs in many areas and it is difficult for them to remove all [of them].” Furthermore, the paper reported, the US also wanted a pause in Taleban attacks on Afghan government forces’ check posts, “which was also a concern of the Afghan government.”
Senior U.S. military officials (speaking off the recored) in Afghanistan stressed that U.S. counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida will continue, separate from the truce agreement. This is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which is that ISIS-K in Nangarhar Province has been defeated.
Their fighters have mostly surrendered to the government or gone to ground. There are ISIS-K cells in the north of the country but they are not large or powerful and are in the sights of the same fighters who rid Nangarhar Province of ISIS and those fighters are Taliban.
The counterterrorism mission in the eastern part of Afghanistan has been focused on ISIS-K (Daesh to the locals) for years. Now that ISIS-K is gone the Special Forces teams are flying around the province conducting ‘Key Leadership Engagements’ like the one I wrote about last week. That occurred in the Sherzad district which is very close to Jalalabad and full of former HiG fighters who have cooperated with the Taliban on and off over the years. They cooperate mostly because Taliban shadow courts settle land disputes quickly and, they feel, fairly.
The time for our SF troops and the Afghans varsity Commandos to be running around district centers meeting with key elders seems long past. The local elders know all about the dysfunctional government in Kabul and are not going to be convinced it has their interests at heart until the government demonstrates it.
With ISIS-K on the ropes trying to separate Taliban connected fighters from al Qaida will be problematic. The remaining senior al Qaida leaders have successfully gone to ground inside the tribal areas of Pakistan and have no need to move anywhere. al Qaida has a presence at Taliban training camps and may even run a few but I have no doubt the Taliban understand the consequences of allowing them to use their territory for international Jihad.
If there no independent al-Qaida formations so if you go after them you are still going after the Taliban.
The incident rate in Afghanistan has plummeted this year. Some of this is due to the pounding the Taliban have taken from American air attacks which increased dramatically in 2019. Some of this can also be attributed to the Taliban winding down operations as the peace talks continued. The stats below come from The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Time will tell but it seems that the end to American involvement in Afghanistan is near. But if you pull all the training support mission out and leave a Special Forces task force to continue hunting “al-Qaida and ISIS” it will test, if not break, the fragile peace. We need to pull everyone out and let the Afghans settle things themselves. Continuing night raids and killing bad guys in Afghanistan does not reduce any threats to our homeland. It’s time to admit that and act accordingly.
I have no idea why the destruction of ISIS-K by the Taliban in Nangarhar Province has remained virtually uncovered in the legacy media. That has changed with an excellent interview of the Taliban leadership in Nangarhar Province by The Washington Post. The Taliban were celebrating their recent crushing of ISIS-K (or the F’ing Daesh in local lingo). They gave an interview in Khogyani district, which is close to Jalalabad and was once solidly under government control.
The Taliban were direct and to the point regarding continued military operations. Check out this quote from one of the Taliban commanders:
Mullah Nik Muhammad Rahbar, 28, a Taliban commander responsible for Kabul province, pointed to the resources freed up by the conclusion of the fight against the Islamic State in Nangahar, saying the Taliban would be able to shift back to conducting more high-profile attacks in Kabul and elsewhere.
“Thank God you saw what we achieved against Bagram today,” he said. “We launch attacks in Kabul because there are many foreigners there, many targets for us.”
The Taliban went on to claim that they are not targeting Afghan civilians (the UN attributes 922 civilians killed and 2,901 wounded just this year by the Taliban) and that they will now shift their attention to the Government and ‘foreigners.’
This is not good news because there are bunch of ‘foreigners’ stationed at the Jalalabad Airfield and with ISIS-K gone they have little to do except support the Afghanistan National Army trainers at the nearby whatever the former Camp Gamberi is now called. Khogyani is not far from J-bad and back in the day the Muj would pick off Soviet Hinds on the approach to the J-bad airfield on an alarmingly regular basis (when they had the Stingers).
The United States cannot afford to throw a bunch of soldiers inside an Airbase without some kind of active patrolling to keep the Jihadis from getting too comfortable squatting within mortar or man packed anti-air missile range. Patrolling like that takes boots on the ground which are in short supply.
Anybody who thinks the Taliban will fail to take a shot at inflicting serious casualties on an American military formation doesn’t understand Afghans. This is what they do and they will pay a steep price if they think they can generate some serious casualties and destroy some aircraft in the process.
The United States Military is not agile enough to withdraw resources from the eastern provinces while maintaining the relentless air campaign that has dropped more air-delivered ordinance this year than any prior year in the Afghan War. Throwing around 1000 pounders will result in collateral damage and we now know that the generals running this war know that collateral damage incurred while blasting Taliban creates more Taliban and is a losing strategy.
But it is all they have for now; the Generals and senior government Mandarins have no problem stringing this out for years to come. The President isn’t happy with the status quo, I’m not sure what the Democrats position is on Afghanistan as they seem to have lost their minds with the sham impeachment they inflicted on us. I have said before, and will say again, this is not going to end well.
I opened a large package that arrived in the mail last week and out fell an encyclopedia sized book on leadership. There on the cover, larger than life, was Mike Ettore, who I served with in the Marines 20 years ago. He was staring off in the distance with a sense of purpose and the moral rectitude that one associates with famous men like Vince Lombardi. I was elated; my friend Mike Ettore must have become a famous football coach because who the hell is going to read 549 pages on trust-based leadership if there was no insight into how to approach a third and long with just seconds to go in some kind of game? I stopped watching the NFL over a decade ago, long before it was cool, so he could have been dominating there for all I knew.
I held it up to my wife and said, “hey I know this guy he must have gotten into football coaching or something and become famous”.
My wife held out her hand, she has a Ph.D. in organizational leadership and is an educator, so she knows the industry. She starts scanning the chapters and looks at me;
“You know Mike Ettore”?
“Of course, he sent me the book, but I didn’t know he was a pro football coach”.
“He’s not, he runs executive leadership training and I’ve heard of his Fidelis Group; …. they’re out of Tampa”, she adds just in case I thought she was joking me.
I never saw the book again, off it went to her office and a week or so later I’m sitting at my computer doing writer stuff and up pops this notification from LinkedIn, a platform I rarely visit, it’s a note from Mike Ettore asking if I got the book. I had to move a yellow sticky on my screen that said “send Ettore a thank you for the book” to read the notification.
I wrote to Mike immediately explaining the book had been highjacked (as if that meant anything) and then apologized for being a scumbag. I added I’d write a review on Amazon and retrieved my copy, but realized the book needed a blog post. Mike took the time to write what I consider the definitive book on leadership and it’s entertaining. I want to be entertaining back with the review.
Mike wrote this book as a text to be used for developing leaders in every human endeavor where there is a hierarchy. His biggest, dare I say controversial, contention is that leaders are made, not born. Coming from Mike Ettore that is hard to believe, at first, as is the idea that Marine Crops leadership doctrine can be injected, in any meaningful way, into a civilian business environment. I could easily see Mike as a successful, innovative, football coach because Mike was an exceptionally gifted infantry leader. But coaching executives on the importance of eating last? That seemed to be a bridge too far.
Mike Ettore, at age 20, after just two year in the Marine Corps, was a drill instructor at Parris Island. First term enlisted drill instructors are as rare as finding a diamond in a goat’s butt. Ettore left the Marines after his first enlistment to complete college and returned as an infantry officer. As a rifle platoon commander, he saw action in Grenada and Beirut making him one of the rare combat vets back in the 80’s and 90’s when we served together. As a company commander he won the Leftwich Trophy, an annual award presented to the best infantry company commander in the Fleet Marine Forces. An award that means little to most people but everything to an infantry officer.
When I met Mike, he was heading up the tactics department at The Basic School (TBS) which is a six-month course every newly commissioned officer of Marines must attend after their commissioning. TBS is designed to train new lieutenants in the art of leading Marines by training them how to be infantry platoon commanders. The Marine Corps takes the “every man a rifleman” thing seriously so every Marine, regardless of gender or military occupational specialty (MOS) is trained to fight as dismounted infantry.
I was an instructor at the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) and for reasons that need not be explained here there was friction between the tactics department and IOC. That ended soon after Mike’s arrival, he understood the difference between entry and advanced level fire and maneuver. He also understood our need to start at the squad level in an aggressive 10-week course that had over twenty, increasingly difficult, live fire events.
Drill Instructor at 20, rare combat leadership experience as a Lieutenant, winner of the Leftwich as a Captain; one would think Ettore is one of those hard asses who insists on blind obedience to regulations and strict attention to orders. He’s not and that his the first of many family jewels in the Marine Corps leadership doctrine revealed to readers who did not enjoy the opportunity to experience them firsthand. Despite what you have seen in movies or read in books a successful Marine infantry leader can only be successful if his troops respect and love him.
Not every man who passes through the Marine Corps leadership training pipeline masters the nuances of infantry leadership. There are both bad leaders and bad units in the Marine Corps as there are in every large organization. I’ve always thought bad leaders were missing an ingredient the successful leader obviously enjoyed. In other words, I thought good leaders were born to the task.
Readers who are not familiar with the military in general or the Marine Corps specifically will be overwhelmed by the exacting standards of Marine Corps Leadership. You will be dubious at the contention that the Marine Corps instills these traits and principals in young men and women who have just completed High School.
I have a short cut to understanding the dynamic, but it’s a little long. Listen to this 4-hour 15 minute Jocko Willink podcast about an incident that played out in less than 10 seconds; 15 years ago, involving a young Marine Corporal named Jason Dunham. Jocko is joined by four Marines who were with Jason that day. They explain who Jason was, how he became a squad leader at such a young age, his training for Iraq and the events leading up to the day he was mortally wounded. All four of the Marines and Jocko lose their composure several times during the discussion. It is fascinating listening; a truly inspiring tale about an iconic Marine Corps small unit leader.
Executives in the civilian business world do not lead men in mortal combat so what does the leadership system designed to do just that have to do with running a for profit enterprise? Everything. The Marine Corps trains to fight but combat is not where any Marine spends a majority of his career. Unlike Mike I am not a combat veteran, but I have seen infantry battalions fold in the field after 96 hours of cold, wet, wind driven rain in the normally sunny Southern California winter.
Good units with solid leadership thrive in nasty weather, they consider it a challenge, and answer it with solid sleep and foot hygiene and active, aggressive tactical measures (patrolling, digging, fire support planning etc..) while ignoring the cold wet. Good units with solid leadership cannot be beaten by terrain or weather. Units without it fold every time they are exposed to a good dose of adverse weather.
Every leader faces diversity and it is through navigating that diversity that effective leadership is demonstrated. This seems to be a self-evident truth that is often absent in today’s business and social environment. I suspect that is because leadership training is confused with leadership techniques and procedures. Good leaders work by developing and implementing effective techniques and procedures, poor leaders mimic the techniques but never achieve the same results. Tactics and techniques cannot be substituted for leadership if you are in a dynamic environment where rote routine and detailed instructions are counterproductive.
I take that back; Amazon fulfillment centers have got to run on rote routine, I would think, and if the management of those centers adopted Mike’s approach to the tasks at hand I doubt the media would be full of stories about dismal employee morale.
If you are in the military and aspire to a leadership role at any level, buy this book, read it, highlight it, and then read it again, and again, and you will accelerate through the ranks at a blistering pace. If you are a Marine Corps Officer or SNCO and have not ordered this book yet you’re wrong, so fix that quickly. For everyone else I am telling you that this book will make you a more productive leader and better human being if you accept the challenge Mike has laid out for you.
When you read and understand this textbook you will know exactly how to develop and manage human capitol. Mike Ettore has distilled 244 years of Marine Corps Leadership guidance and doctrine into one book designed to be used throughout a career of ever-increasing responsibilities. If you desire to excel in any leadership role this book will grow your talent stack exponentially. If you put the work in to master the material and make the effort to mentor and develop your subordinates.
As I said in the beginning not everybody who is exposed to Marine Corps Leadership doctrine gets it. Those that do become legends, everybody likes being associated with a good solid leader. Now there is a book to tell you how to become one. If you have the drive and the desire to work at it. Nothing worth having comes easy in life.
I was finishing up a post for the Freq about riot control and migrants when I suddenly discovered I was being oppressed, endnote just a little, but on all four recognized levels of oppression. This insight jumped out at me when I went looking for information on a topic I know something about. When I first saw it I didn’t think much of it but after spending hours on additional research and days thinking it through I decided it was time to write a post, an important one, free of F bombs (to show I’m serious) in hopes of restoring a sense of calm. Calm is good when dealing with “isms”.
Let me set this up; the discussion was about the requirement to use overwhelming force to remove leaders, agitators and natural fighters from a rioting mob. I was writing about the Marine Corps experience with Haitian and Cuban asylum seekers in the early 90’s. The post on that topic can be found here on The Freq website that I contribute to weekly.
As I was describing how the SNCO’s managed their snatch teams I mentioned the “rule of opposites”, a term first coined by Gavin Debecker, in his world famous (should be mandatory reading) book The Gift of Fear.
The rule of oppisates is mentioned frequently in law enforcement and shooting publications, I searched FRI for that term and four articles with that phrase pop up. I went to goggle to get a hyper link and guess what I found?
What are the chances there are more people looking for Native American counseling paradigms then the definition of the most common heuristic used in the law enforcement and firearms training industry? They are zero, the results from that phrase are being manipulated to present material considered, by the companies running the search engines, more acceptable.
That has little impact on news consumers like myself who know what they are looking for. But what is the impact, over time, of this kind of deliberate manipulation of search engine results?
Keep in mind references to the “rule of opposites” in law enforcement journals appear just after the examples in the screen shot above. I’m not trafficking in conspiracy theories, just pointing out an inconvenient fact when it comes to search engines.
I can promise you one thing about search engine manipulation; it will not work as planned and the unintended consequences could be significant. They always are when you launch a cleaver plan inside a complex system in the belief everything will work out exactly as you think they will.
As I was milling this over while procrastinating (i.e. looking at facebook) I saw a post about Global Warming by my FB buddy and fellow IMOA Frank Gallagher; look what was inserted below it:
I challenge anyone to go through that cimatefeedback.org rebuttal and find one citation that backs the claims they are making in their report. It is difficult to decipher their academic speak, but I can sum up their point. It is an argument from authority and the authorities say that climate change is real therefore skepticism is wrong.
The author of Manhattan Contrarian, Francis Menton, is a partner in the Litigation Department and Co-Chair of the Business Litigation Practice Group of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in New York. Mr. Menton specializes in complex and technical commercial litigation, and has a nationwide trial practice. Mr. Menton is not a climate scientist, he is a demonstrably competent man with a passion for analytics coupled with a refusal to be bullied by “experts”. That is a very American trait which is interesting because what is, or is not, an “American trait” is now a point of bitter partisan debate.
I don’t care what you believe about climate change. I find the argument from authority approach suspect after living through global cooling, the population bomb, the “running out of food” scare, the “you can’t drill your way out of energy dependence” fraud, AIDs, bird flu, acid rain, alar on apples, etc… All of these emerging global emergencies proved to be wrong; and not a little wrong; completely wrong.
This is why I self identify as a “public defense intellectual” during my weekly gig on All Marine Radio with my fellow expert Jeff Kenney. It’s an ironic dig at the pretensions of self identification validated through ‘lived experiences’. Mac, Jeff, and I aren’t experts on American foreign policy, we are victims of it, which is why our weekly podcast is so popular.
In a perfect trifecta of outrage I then stumbled upon the new trailer for Top Gun II. I even wrote an intemperate comment a friends FB page about the trailer I was so pissed, but it took me hours to figure out why. And it is not just this:
It’s the premise of the movie that I found so offensive. Cruise is a 30-year Maverick who refused promotion like the other corporate shills and stayed in the cockpit. He routinely flies along the southwestern desert mere feet off the deck and keeps his cat like reflexes sharp with some sort of vertical ascent high speed, low drag move used to inverted over a Mig. The admirals admonish him saying he should be in command like them, not bumming around navy fighter squadrons for 30 years, but Cruise knows better, he’s a singleton with his own creed. In the end he’ll show them all that he, the anti social, non-conformist, was right all along and is the true hero.
We have long known that China dictates to Hollywood what is and is not acceptable for new releases and Hollywood always complies. It does not work the other way around. The newest Chinese hit, Wolf Warrior II, pits elite Chinese Special Operators in Africa battling former US Marines turned corporate mercenaries for some international evil corporation that I assume is not Goggle.
Top Gun II is not a movie about naval aviators or naval aviation, it’s not about the American military – non conformists don’t last there and “mavericks” fly desks, not aircraft in the American armed forces. It’s not about traditional American military virtue or an accurate reflection of the military culture. It seems the Top Gun movie is about Tom Cruise and making big bucks off nostalgia for another re-boot.
The character in the Tom Cruise movie is an anti-American he is used to show that our traditional values, mores, and systems are corrupt. Read this description of Wolf Warrior 2 from the National Review article linked above:
“In Wolf II, China is the only powerful, responsible, and benevolent world power. Chinese workers help Africans build their economy. Chinese doctors work to discover a cure for a deadly endemic. And the film unabashedly takes several swipes at the U.S. When African and Chinese civilians inside a factory are under attack by rebels and mercenaries, the only good American in the movie, Rachel Smith, a Chinese-American volunteer, fanatically tries to contact the U.S. embassy for help. Leng asks her, “Why are you calling the Americans? Where are they? It is a waste of time.” After she tells him that she tried to reach American government by Twitter, Leng responds that “the Americans are good for nothing.”
Why do I care that Hollywood movies bash America just like Chinese movies?
Consider the following propositions:
There is no truth, only competing agendas.
All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But “oppressed” people are allowed to use violence anyway, they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you’ll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein “world system” thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by “progressives” (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia
esr and the (actual) intellectuals he references in his writings may be spot on or they may be wrong. It does not matter how that list of propositions got here; it has been here, for decades.
What I know is that 50 years ago, on this very day, when I stayed up all day and night with my family to watch Apollo 11 land on the moon; the ideas listed above would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.
Joel Kotkin, in his post Age of Amniessia at Quillette, describes the consequences of progressive policies as they are manifesting today:
Liberals like Cass Sunstein suggest that students raised in an atmosphere of homogeneity “are less likely to get a good education, and faculty members are likely to learn less from one another, if there is a prevailing political orthodoxy.” Yet too few university administrators counter these trends. One college President in Canada, for example, justified efforts to tamp down on “free speech” by arguing that doing so created “better speech.” At many schools, professors are now asked to sign “diversity” pledges that eerily reprise the kind of “loyalty” pledges common during the darkest days of the Cold War. This passion for thought control extends even to comments such as “America is the land of opportunity” or professing to believe in a colorblind society, views which can now be categorized as punishable “microagressions.”
This ideological rigidity has shaped a generation of progressive activists who also now represent the best educated, whitest,and most politically intolerant portion of the American polity. A common tendency among progressives is to designate certain conversations as “hate speech,” an approach to free speech recently endorsed by the California Democratic Party.
That doesn’t sound like trends that bode well for a free peoples. My considered opinion on the topic , and I am a self identified defense intellectual, is that the progressive experiment is creating an enormous backlash that will sweep it into the dust bin of history.
It will not happen soon, there are potential large setbacks that could derail progress against progressives. I am confident that a major political change is at least six years away but Trump could lose in 2020. If he does the promises being made by the current field of democrat candidates will spell doom for their party if attempted. My post at the Freq talks about the last time they did that (Clinton’s first inauguration) and the consequences that followed. Consequences the press did not report on extensively and that are hard to find in search engines today. But the consequences were real and we now have an internet full of reliable sources who are not connected with the media or government. The next time around burying the story will not work.
Change is coming because the one thing you can take to the bank is our political system is functioning on borrowed time in its current configuration. Reality is going to introduce this change, let us hope the lesson it inflicts is not too painful.
I have articulated a theory based on two known facts concerning the loss of our newest national hero, Droney McDroneface, to Iran last month. I based my theory from two known facts; the drone that was shot down was a demonstration model for a program that has been completed. It was, to the pentagon, an expendable asset, and it was shot down four days after arriving in theater.
To buttress my speculation I have been searching the news for more information the cyber attack. What I have found was not what I was looking for.
First up is the New York Times and I have the perfect cartoon to set this up:
The article states that the CIA has been running a program for years targeting the supply chain for Iranian missile components. It implied that allies such as Great Britain, France and Germany are cooperating with us on this program. There is something the observant professional knows to be true, but is rarely written about, and that is the CIA’s use of leaks to disseminate misinformation. when I read a story saying the CIA has gotten dozens of parts manufacturers, in Europe (where the CIA is less popular than President Trump), to insert flawed parts into a supply chain, I am skeptical.
The CIA historical record regarding human intelligence is spotty at best. An intelligence operation involving some many different people, firms, governments and international organizations would be an extraordinary achievement requiring extraordinary evidence to be considered believable.
Then I noted the insertion of legacy media spin as fact to enhance the believability of the story. Here is an example:
When Mr. Pompeo arrived at the C.I.A., there was relatively little nuclear activity underway in Iran. Most of Tehran’s centrifuges had been dismantled under the 2015 agreement, and 97 percent of the country’s nuclear fuel had been shipped to Russia.
There is not a shred of evidence to back that claim. The United States (and the UN) have no idea where the 8.5 tons of enriched Iranian Uranium, reportedly turned over to Russia, is currently located. Hit this link and you can watch youtube footage of Ambassador Stephen Mull, the Obama administration’s State Department lead coordinator on Iran, tell the house exactly that back when he was testifying before congress.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to tease facts from the media narrative. The New York Times does some excellent, in depth reporting, but they have often been accused of publishing damaging national security secrets. Everyone in the game knows this, and it is another reason to doubt their sources are intentionally revealing real secrets. If I were concerned with information operations for the United States Government the first thing I would do is establish a reliable back channel feed to the New York Times. That way I could get them to print deception pieces when I needed that done. It’s not like it’s hard to get a bite from the press these days; any Orange Man Bad angle will do.
Digging deeper into the mystery of Cyber Warfare I turned to my facebook buddy and managing editor of the Lima Charlie website, John Sjoholm who just published Cyber Warfare Now – Tales From the Digital Battlefield. John is a former Swedish Army Ranger as well as a contractor who I consider a trustworthy source, particularly in the cyber warfare realm.
I was working my way briskly through the piece thinking it was great stuff (and it is an excellent read that I recommend highly) when I ran into this:
One of the premier Russian hacker signatures, Guccifer 2.0 has been tied to the GRU as well. Guccifer 2.0 became known for the so-called “DNC Hack”, the 2016 Democratic National Committee email theft which appeared on Wikileaks.
In March 2018, details from the Mueller investigation leaked attesting that Guccifer 2.0 was in fact a collective of persons working for GRU’s Unit 26165 and Unit 74455. This after server logs revealed that on at least one occasion someone utilising the Guccifer 2.0 persona had failed to activate a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to obfuscate his IP address. It was then revealed to investigators that his connection originated from a computer at the GRU headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.
I don’t know John well enough to know his political leanings (if any) and I acknowledge that the Muller report may well make this claim. What I also know, for a fact, is the data breach on the DNC server was an inside job. The data transfer rates were too high. The narrative has always ignored this point which is how it finds it way into legitimate reporting by guys like John. This is from the website Knowledge is Good:
The time stamps contained in the released computer files’ metadata establish that, at 6:45 p.m. July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes (not megabits) of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. This took 87 seconds, which means the transfer rate was 22.7 megabytes per second, a speed, according to VIPS, that “is much faster than what is physically possible with a hack.” Such a speed could be accomplished only by direct connection of a portable storage device to the server. Accordingly, VIPS concluded that the DNC data theft was an inside job by someone with physical access to the server.
The truth is that Muller and the FBI never examined the DNC servers and have no idea what was or was not on them. The reporting concerning the data breach was done by a firm hired by the DNC. My assumption is whoever included the time stamp did not realize that it invalidated everything that followed regarding “Lucifer 2.0.”. But it did, and it is the one fact that cannot be explained away, so the narrative moves on knowing full well their story is false, but that you won’t care because Orange Man Bad.
For two years and counting the American public debate has been focused, by our media and elites, on a story concocted out of thin air, and paid for by the DNC, concerning the legitimacy of our elected President. While that has been happening our economy, stock markets, and jobs have grown while federal taxes dropped. North Korea is not launching missiles over Japan or South Korea. Iran’s missile control systems are crippled, the European powers are escorting their own tankers through the Persian Gulf. Which caused the Iranian President to accuse the United Kingdom of being “scared” of Iran’s military prowess.
Things appear to be on a positive trend which defies the predictions of imminent doom, by our credentialed elites, featured prominently in the recent resignation of the British Ambassador to America. The reason President Trump is so popular with the American people is he is not a politician or one of the credentialed elite. He is getting things down while pissing off all the right people.
For progressives virtue signalling has replaced civic virtue. This is how open borders and giving free health care and a college education to any person in the world who wants to come here becomes acceptable rhetoric.
The war in Afghanistan took a catastrophic turn for the worse when General Abdul Raziq was assassinated last Thursday (18th of October). He was killed after attending a regional security meeting with the commanding general for the NATO forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller. The Kandahar provincial intelligence chief, Gen. Abdul Momin Hussain Khel was also killed. The governor of Kandahar, Zalmai Wesa, and Gen. Nabi Elham, a senior police commander responsible for several provinces were also hit as were two unidentified Americans. At this point it is a safe assumption that the wounded Americans were from Gen Miller’s PSD team. They’re high end contractors, not American military and so their names may never be reported as contractors are not normally included in DoD personnel reporting procedures.
General Raziq was from the Pashtun Adozai Achakzai tribe in Spin Boldak which is a port of entry with Pakistan. The tribe has always opposed the Taliban and Raziq had lost several members of his immediate family to the Taliban over the years. He got his start as a border guard at age 17 and steadily advanced through the ranks the way all warlords rise to prominence in places like Afghanistan. He was ruthless, efficient, a natural leader with a knack for making money; he hated the Taliban and was relentless in driving them out of his area. That attracted the attention of the American Special Forces and the CIA who mentored him for years. By the time the Americans pulled out Raziq was a general officer who was responsible for the security of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. He locked Kandahar down, making it one of the safer cities in Afghanistan and he did it the old fashioned way; he didn’t take prisoners.
For this the foreign policy establishment condemned him. The most positive establishment spin is summed up well in a paragraph from a 2016 Foreign Policy article:
Considered by many as a “special case” due to his outsized and abnormal means of exerting influence and holding power, Raziq serves the interests of the state-building elite by crafting an image of strength and stability in southern Afghanistan, even if that comes at the expense of accountable governance, human rights, and long-term stability. Raziq road the coattails of a coterie of ruthless warlords empowered by western intelligence and security organizations like the CIA, U.S. Special Forces, and NATO military allies. He is a leading figure in the Achakzai tribe, a major power bloc along the southern border and strong auxiliary security component through formal and informal militias. Raziq grew up in Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar, and was mentored by strongmen such as Gul Agha Sherzai, Ahmad Wali Karzai, and Asadullah Khalid, who protected Raziq from prosecution when 16 Nurzai tribal members were murdered in 2006. Numerous stories link Raziq, or men working for him, to human rights violations, torture, and murder of prisoners. While such stories of abuse are disquieting, it seems even more alarming when Raziq openly boasts of such acts. In the summer of 2014, Raziq, along with other Afghan security officials, issued a take no prisoners directive: “My order to all my soldiers is not to leave any of them alive.”
There are very few military leaders who, if lost, cannot be replaced. Ahmad Shah Massoud was one and Raziq is the only other when it comes to modern Afghanistan. His loss is a crippling blow in a year that has not seen any positive news concerning the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). ANSF is taking casualties on the battlefield that are unsustainable. We have no idea what their true desertion rate is but can assume it’s not good in those formations that have taken a beating all summer long.
The most important election since 2001 in continuing despite sporadic attacks in polling sites. In Kabul a suicide bomber detonated inside a polling station in northern neighborhood of Khair Khana killing at least 10 people. The station is inside the upgraded Kabul Ring of Steel which is yet another failure on the part of the Kabul security forces who are being mentored by the Turkish army.
The established narrative is that the US and her allies are going to stay in Afghanistan and continue to train Afghan forces while helping them fight by providing enablers in the form of brigade level operational support, fixed wing close air support and ground to ground rockets. Over time the increasing proficiency of the ANSF’s combined with the casualties being inflicted on the Taliban will force them to realize they cannot win and thus come to the peace talk table.
Here’s a news flash for the credentialed elite who are leading our efforts in Afghanistan: the Taliban already know they cannot win. They don’t have to win, they just need to keep doing what they are doing and that is controlling the population where they can and pressing the government forces in the rest of the country. They don’t have to win to get what they want which is a degree of autonomy in the areas they control and the areas they control seem to be increasing.
Any hope that the Taliban is going to reach an agreement with the government on anything other then their own terms is fantasy which you can see by their behavior. In 2011 the Taliban opened an office in Qatar to conduct peace talks. The US asked that they not do is use the name of the old Taliban regime in Afghanistan which was the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The day the office opened they put up their sign identifying themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and that is what they are called to this day. Does that sound like a group who are looking for a way out of continued fighting? Of course not and they’re winning anyway so why even bother with negations?
There is a lot going on in Afghanistan and it is being driven by one simple fact: the burn rate for operating the ANSF and the central government is unsustainable. The aid dollars that run the country are going to dry up soon but our operational strategy for Afghanistan is playing the long game. If we can keep the Afghans in the fight long enough they should, according to historical statistics, prevail.
Eric Prince has been in Afghanistan seeking local support forces plan to introduce contractor trainers down to the battalion level along with contracted air crews and air frames for close air support. President Trump also inserted a powerful player into Kabul in the form of U.S. Special Advisor Zalmay Khaliizad who was the ambassador to Afghanistan when I arrived in Kabul back in 2005.
Zalmay Khalilzad is popular with the Afghan people but I remember him mostly for the introduction of the SNTV election system which is why the elections going on today will be a gigantic mess. I wrote about this in 2011 saying: SNTV stands for single non-transferable vote and it is one way to ensure that opposition political parties cannot be formed or sustained. Afghanistan went to the SNTV system after some sort of back room deal was cut between Karzai and our ambassador at that time Zalimay Khalizad. Khalizad is an Afghan-American, fluent in the local languages who served here as Ambassador before being sent to Iraq to be the ambassador in 2005. He did not last long in Baghdad and is now heading his own consulting agency at a time when an Arabic/Pashto/Dari speaking US Ambassador would be of great use to the administration.
If you want to read some in depth, original reporting on the inherently flawed Afghan election system check out this outstanding piece by Mattieu Aikins.
Kahlizad is not sitting around Kabul waiting for something to do. One would assume he is working closely with the ambassador and General Miller but who knows? He’s a deal maker and problem solver who had been known to go his own way for reasons unknown which is what I think the SNTV incident clearly shows.
I also hear, although I’ve found no verification yet, that China is most interested in assisting the Afghan military with tons of equipment, aircraft, trainers and both combat and combat service support. The combat service support piece is, to be honest, about 10 times more important than contractors advising at the battalion level. And I think having contractors take on that role is a good idea, particularly in the cost effectiveness category.
The Chinese, like Mr. Prince, are also interested in mineral extraction which can only be accomplished with significant infrastructure development that can only be accomplished if people stop blowing things up and shooting at the ANSF.
Unlike Mr. Prince the Chinese are self funding, and there are more of them, but my understanding is there is significant pushback from both the US and India on the matter. Which may not, in the long run, matter because the donor money has already started to dry up and that trend will continue. If the Chinese really want to come into Afghanistan and invest in both security and natural resource development I don’t see a better option.
As long as Secretary Mattis and General Dunford remain in their respective positions both the Prince and Chinese plans are D.O.A. But both Kahlizad and President Trump are practical men who are not afraid of counter narrative options. The narrative is a product of elite thinking and the billions spent on credentialed elites, both in and outside the government, to think, has not produced in reasonable path forward. What the elites don’t think about is the fact that they have little idea what is happening in Afghanistan outside the wire of our embassy and military installations. If they could get their brains around that and mitigate it maybe reality and the narrative would come in closer alignment.
But that ain’t happening and I do not believe the elites narrative will survive much more contact with reality.