As reported in the update to my last post the Army has started a friendly fire investigation into the two most recent deaths in Afghanistan. Why would the they start a friendly fire investigation when the soldiers who were there are adamant that enemy fire killed sergeants Rogers and Thomas? That’s a question with two answers; the first being the pentagon is required, by law, to notify next of kin if there exists the slightest chance that their loved one was killed by friendly fire. The second reason is the Pat Tillman case which also involved the Army Rangers and was one of the more disgraceful cover-ups in the last 15 years. Or so I thought until I looked into the matter over the weekend.
The Pat Tillman case is worth examining not just because of the cover-up the incompetence of the staff officers who sent Pat’s platoon on the ‘clearing villages’ mission in the first place was a story too. Pat Tillman was killed during a multi day sweep of villages on the Pakistani border of Khost province. They were ordered to search villages for Taliban fighters or weapons and to do so on a strict timeline dictated from on high.
Let me inject some reality into that mission. The maps being used back then, just like the maps used today, seldom identify villages by their correct name or location. What appears to be secondary roads on these maps are most often dry stream beds or goat trails. Instructing men to clear villages that don’t exist using roads that don’t exist is the epitome of 2nd generation military thinking.
If 40 Rangers go into the a village and search every dwelling (an unspeakable insult to highlander Pashtuns) finding no weapons is the village clear? If they come under fire while leaving the village are the villagers Taliban? The answer to both questions is no. The mission was a fools errand that could not have accomplished anything other than getting the villagers on the war path and our men wounded or killed for no reason.
It is difficult to track down the Tillman story today because of all the legacy media garbage that populates the search term. 60 minutes did a segment on him which told the viewer nothing other than his mother was pissed. ESPN did a segment which I assume was crap but I won’t watch ESPN propaganda so I’m not sure. The only good source I found over the weekend was the book Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer. He got to the story late and took four years to research and write the book so when it came out it was OBE (military slang for overcome by events) and few paid attention to it.
The ensuing cover-up should have ended the careers of the generals who created the story and put it into play. I was talking to some of my Marine buddies years later and they hated General McChrystal because his blatantly unethical behavior in signing off on a fairy tale (that he himself concocted) made it impossible for them to get the Silver Star awarded to men who had earned it.
Did you know Pat Tillman was part of the Jessica Lynch rescue package? Me either; that fact was uncovered by Krackauer; he was part of the quick reaction force standing by in reserve and did not participate in the mission because the reserve was not needed. The reason they were not needed was the Iraqi fighters had left Nasiriyah days earlier. Lynch had been well cared for by the Iraq staff of the hospital she had ended up in after sustaining serious injuries when her vehicle crashed. The story behind that incident is a parents worst nightmare – having a child in combat who is poorly trained and incompetently led.
The large rescue to get Lynch was not only unnecessary but stage managed by a Bush administration official named Jim Wilkinson to deflect attention from the fact that 17 of the 18 Marines killed in the battle for that town were killed by friendly fire. Two A-10’s from the Ohio National Guard killed them during repeated strafing runs. Wilkinson was able to shunt special operational forces into the area and have them cool their heals until he could get a special operations media team there to cover the rescue. How a junior White House staffer could do that and why the generals he was brow beating didn’t throat punch him remains a mystery.
Another mystery is why the cover-up of the Marine friendly fire incident remains in place to this day despite the fact that one of the Marines on the ground, who had been attacked by Air Force A-10’s during the Gulf war, knew exactly what was happening as soon as he heard the chain guns. I’ve heard that sound too (coming from a range thank God) and it is not a sound you’ll ever forget.
In all three of these cases the men on the ground knew what had happened and knew the official stories were lies designed to cover the asses of senior officers and political figures. Jessica Lynch never fired a round, did not battle with Iraqi soldiers and could not have fought after her truck crashed knocking her unconscious. She was not abused or raped but instead protected by the hospital staff from the Iraq military and that staff tried several time to give her back but were thwarted by Marine sentries who would not let them approach their lines.
The slaughter of Marines from Charlie company 1st Battalion 2nd Marines was recognized as friendly fire instantly by the survivors yet it took a year for the investigation to be completed and the results were a bold face lie. The Rangers with Pat Tillman knew he was killed by friendly fire within 90 seconds of it happening yet were ordered not to tell anyone, to include his brother, who was a member of the platoon but was not close enough to witness the act. That, by the way, is an unlawful order that no military man was obligated to follow and I would hope that were I in their shoes I would have enough balls to ignore it out of hand.
There were a ton of irregularities in all these investigations that should have sent up red star clusters to the media and senior leadership. But in all three cases the senior leadership participated in the lie and there were no competent media (for example C.J. Chivers of the New York Times) on hand to look into the story. There are few (if any these days) members of the media who could even understand what it was they were looking at which is why I’m trying so hard to get back to Afghanistan.
An optimist would conclud the Army has finally learned it’s lesson about cover-ups and now follows the letter of the law regarding potential friendly fire incidents. I’m not an optimist and sense something is not right with this story.
So what do we know? News reports generated from pentagon press releases tell us 50 Rangers and 40 Afghan Commandos took part in this mission. It was a raid targeting Abdul Hasib, the self-described “Emir” of ISIS-K who reportedly runs their tactical operations.
I have long argued night raids in Afghanistan were counterproductive but have no problem with this night raid because the local folks living in the Mamand valley of Achin district departed long ago. This raid was targeting a known commander who was holed up in a series of compounds we knew to be inhabited by bad guys. We could have dropped another MOAB on him (just to make a statement) or used any of a hundred other weaponeering choices to destroy those compounds and all who were in them. But instead we chose to do a raid with Rangers and Afghan Commandos. Why?
Why did we use that option? I have no idea but fear the answer will be every bit as unsatisfactory as the answer to why Pat Tillman was combing through the valleys of Khost province chasing wild geese. The American public still holds our military in high esteem thanks to the the generation who served ahead of them. In the 70’s, when I was a teen, the military was universally despised for being liars and hypocrites. The men serving back then did not deserve the antipathy that washed over them from the Carter White House, the congress, the press and academia. The men serving now are not maintaining the trust passed down to them and if the lying, obfuscation and meaningless missions continue they will deserve every bit of the scorn the country they are supposed to be serving will be heaping on them.
There is no way to determine what the hell is going on over there without competent reporters on the ground digging up truth and reporting that in context. That is why I’m trying so hard to fund an embed back there but I cannot do that without your support. If you can please consider a donation to the Baba Tim Go Fund Me page in support of accurate reporting from the front lines.