Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sergeant Kyle J. White's Medal of Honor

--Congressional Medal of Honor

 Don't ever march home the same way.
Take a different route so you won't be ambushed 
--Roger's Standing Orders 

 Then I'm going to Hell,
and I'm taking the renaissance with me 
--Hit of the Search Party,
 Every Time I Die

Lies written in ink can never disguise
facts written in blood
--Lu Xun

Today, Ranger will discuss the 2007 action for which Sgt. Kyle J. White was recently presented the Medal of Honor (MOH) on 13 May 2014.

But first, why did it take almost seven years for Sergeant White to receive his award? In addition, why are there only nine living recipients of the MOH from the wars formerly known as the War on Terror? Why is there a cluster of MOH's coming out of the 503rd Infantry-- do they have a corner on the MOH market?

Now to the action:

On 9 November 2007, an element of the United States Army descended into what was known as "Ambush Alley" outside of the Afghan village of Aranas, meeting their own ambush; five soldiers and a Marine were killed in their turn of the screw. What is truly tragic is that the unit traversed a known danger area without a proper support plan.

An old combat axiom warns against following roads or trails, or crossing danger areas without proper application of what should be unit standard operating procedure (SOP). The failure of Sgt. Kyle's unit originated in higher headquarters, far from that fated day in Ambush Alley. Battalion (Bn) level is where the Operations Orders originate for sqauds, platoons and companies of the Bn. (in this case, the 2/503rd/173rd Airborne.)

It would be instructive to see the Regimental Operation's Order, but of course these are classified for OPSEC purposes, never-minding that the OPSEC was seven years ago. So Ranger's analysis will be based upon the official record, and his experience as an Infantry small unit leader.

In danger areas (like Ambush Alley), several steps can be taken to minimize the risk of traversing the ground prior to engagement:

  • Traveling overwatch
  • Having friendly units covering the far ends of the danger area while bounding through the area
  • Having far and flank security (in this fight, flank security was not an option)
  • Having pre-planned artillery concentrations along the route of march ready to fire on-call. (Alternately, launch harassing and interdicting fire (H & I) along the route while the troops move through)
  • Use a nighttime movement through the danger area (an undesirable solution)
  • Have an alternate route
  • Have a helo lift to move the troops on the patrol. Gunships should be on-station

These are preplanning considerations that should have been considered before issuing an OPORD or patrol order for an action. It is unrealistic to criticize anyone on the patrol for the oversights. The patrol leader was only a 1st Lieutenant, and they lack the knowledge to ask these questions or make these plans. That is the role of senior commanders and staff planners.

The official report online indicates only some overwatch elements, but this was clearly ineffective. An old Army adage says, "You must give medals or Courts Martial for dereliction of duty"; medals are preferred as the most expedient course of action.

Clearly, it is not Sgt. White who was derelict. As mentioned previously, the fault lies in higher HQ. Sgt. White's actions were reactive rather than proactive, and therein lies his valor. The enemy held the initiative, to include when to break contact. The enemy's planning and execution trumped ours.

Because Sgt. White's leaders failed to provide proper preplanning and support, Sgt. White's element was out-soldiered on that day. He lacked the tools that are in the inventory, and should have been immediately on-call.

Where was the Regiment or Bn. intelligence officer in this fight? Was the patrol provided fresh satellite photos of the battle space? Did agents indicate any hostiles in the area of operation (AO)? Were drones available to cover the unit's movement? 

The breakdown at Ambush Alley was at the Bn level command and staff functions. Sgt. White's MOH citation states that he "provided information and updates to friendly forces, allowing precision airstrikes to stifle the enemy's attack ..." At this point there were five U.S. KIA on the field and it is doubtful that the enemy would wait for supporting fires of any sort to arrive before the ambush element had left the kill zone. Enemy units know the sweet spot in which they can operate before being subjected to U.S. firepower.

The men who fought and died that day are very special soldiers and men. Sgt. White was honorable and valorous, and deserved his MOH. But our soldiers are not sacrificial lambs. They deserved better leadership than they received.

There is nothing to celebrate from the actions on 9 November 2007 in Nuristan Province.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bunker Buster

The flash from a distant camera
Reconnecting thoughts and actions
Fragments of our missing dream 
--Distant Camera, Neil Young

Today's entry is an analysis of a bunker of the 1/502/25, a slice of life in today's United States Army. [The bunker was caught incidentally in a photo of the recently returned U.S. Army soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, rt. of photo.]

As background, think of all the wonderful photos of World War II, German, Japanese and U.S. fighting positions: there are always grenades laid out for final defenses. There are no grenades in this photo.

Why is the Light Machine Gun (LMG) not protected from the elements (or at least, the $1,500 sight)?

As for the gun, it is too high of a silhouette, forcing the gunner to expose his body to enemy suppressive fire. The gun needs to be dug into a lower firing platform. The ammunition is open to trash, dirt and the elements, and the gun does not have the belt in the feed tray. This means the gun is not ready to fire.

A military axiom says that Machine Guns are employed in pairs, to provide interlocking fires through coordinated defense. The lay of the land in the photo would seem to make this impossible. Does this fighting position have room for an assistant gunner/loader to service the gun? Does the position have a rear egress and entrance? Must the soldiers enter the bunker from the enemy side?

Now see the roof of the structure: it is weak, unsupported and would not provide any appreciable protection from either direct or indirect fire. An enemy assault could chop this bunker into smithereens with direct rifle fire. An RPG would spell disaster. The bunker's supports are 2 x 4 white pine, like you'd buy at a a home supply store. (Ranger hopes the Army got the military discount.)

Ignoring the troops' casual and non-technical demeanor, we will not ignore the mortar to the left rear seen between the three troops (with hands in their pockets.) The gun is clearly not dug in, meaning that it could not be serviced if this position were attacked. (We have noted this deficiency in several past Afghan battle analysis here at RAW.)

Further: why would a mortar be placed directly on a firing line of a defensive position? This is just wrong, and violates the logical placement of the weapon, which should be protected from direct fire.

If the situation were dire, move the gun forward (in what would be a tactical leadership call), but dig it in and have connective trenches so that friendly movement could ensue, crawling if need be under enemy fire.

Last comment: what were these troops defending, anyway?

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Rainy Day People

--Not your typical day at the beach,
soldiers playing volleyball at Camp Long Thanh

 Rainy day people always seem to know
when it's time to call
Rainy day people don't talk,
they just listen till they've heard it all 
--Rainy Day People, Gordon Lightfoot   

Stand aside, everyone. I take large steps 
--Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

But when the thermometer goes way up
And the weather is sizzling hot
Mister God, for his squad
A marine for a queen 
A G.I. for his cutie pie, is not 
--It's Too Darn Hot, Cole Porter

Only mad dogs and U.S. soldiers would play volleyball in a monsoon. Englishmen, we're not. Sorting through photos recently, Ranger found a picture of him and his fellows not enjoying tea and crumpets.

In the left background just before the defensive berm are two tall telephone poles -- our shake-out area for cleaning and rigging our parachutes. They were placed off the flight line to keep helos from crashing into them. When gun ships were on-call they would park near the poles; when combat-loaded, they could barely clear those berms.

In the far left, back row in black T-shirt is my only photo of Captain Norm Dupuis (he of "the OER in the eye" fame.) The man with the volleyball is Master Sergeant Benny Dunakowski -- a World War II combat  Marine and hard as nails. (After retirement he worked as Service Officer for a fraternal organization. He died several years ago.)

We played volleyball and basketball daily as exercise; the Vietnam soldiers loved the sport, too. But lest you think it was all fun and games, this was not Gidget or Beach Blanket Bingo. This was rough sport. 

Sadly, the Olympics have never adopted Combat Volleyball or Combat Basketball -- a sport much-beloved by U.S. veterans of monsoon zones.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Xin Loi

--Iraq, Arend Van Dam

  Where's my $50? I for one am checking out
of this motel right now!
I'm not going to be two-timed by you
-- you parlor sheik! 
--Everybody's Crazy (1933) 

Those who don't know history
are doomed to repeat it
--Edmund Burke 

Is he still on about Vietnam?
--a local history student trying to board
the latest bandwagon

The United State's military is loathe to admit failure, therefore it never dissects them. Therefore, it repeats them.

Let's walk a few steps back, in order that we might move forward.

Our previous failed Counterinsurgency (COIN) war was fought in Vietnam, a classic war of anti-Colonial proportions fought by a superpower backing up the residuals of the colonialist heyday, under the flimsy and faulty aegis of the Domino Theory. It was really the Second IndoChina war (following the First fought with the French. Just as with Algeria later, the French learned that they were unwilling and unable to pay the cost of maintaining their colonial outpost in Vietnam. We would learn their lesson later.)

It was a conventional military battle between the North Vietnamese and the surrogate South Vietnamese forces propped up by the U.S. But it was also a counterinsurgency of the National Liberation Front. Both were fought in the battlespace of the Republic of Vietnam (with safe havens in Laos and Cambodia.) This divided project violated one of the main Principles of War: Unity of Command.

Both conventional and NLF forces enjoyed the advantage of facing a riven adversary; ultimately, they won. This should have taught us a lesson, but it somehow went missing, namely: the U.S. can fight and win a conventional war in places like RVN, Afghanistan and Iraq, but it can't win the counterinsurgency, too.

No Army can win at both concurrently, as evidenced by the Axis efforts in World War II. The Japanese and Germans could fight conventionally or unconventionally with probabilities of success, but they could not do both. COIN has never been a U.S. battle, but rather a battle between the host nation proxies. We cannot win because they are not fighting us; they are fighting for something beyond our control.

The weak, corrupt and venal governments which are the U.S. proxies can never defeat a popular insurgent force because the former lack legitimacy. When the tanks rolled down Tu Do Street past the whorehouses and bars, past the opium and heroin dealers, achieving their objective of the National Assembly and the National palace, this was a moment of truth.

Were those dens of iniquity the deciding factor of Vietnam's fate, or was it whatever animated those soldiers in the North Vietnamese tanks?

Next: A conclusion, of sorts.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

VA Healthcare Shame

You see my problem is this
I'm dreaming away
Wishing that heroes, they truly exist 
--Oops! ... I Did it Again, 
Britney Spears

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. 
Shovel them under and let me work— 
I am the grass; I cover all
 --The Grass,
 Carl Sandburg 

Now you will not swell the rout 
Of lads that wore their honors out,
 Runners whom renown outran 
And the name died before the man 
--To An Athlete Dying Young, 
 A. E. Housman

The gross failures recently revealed within the Veterans Administration Health Administration are nothing new, and they reflect the true priority which the United States places upon its veterans.

Are we producing more disabled veterans than the system can support? The question of deciding whether to enter a conflict should not center primarily on the ability of the nation to muster the men and materiels to lodge the war. The primary consideration should be the ability of the nation to fulfill its obligations to those who are charged with executing that war after they return home.

The United States has failed abysmally on this account. It has reneged on its most important promise -- that of caring for its wounded fighting men, those who have borne the scars of the battle on their bodies and minds.

The VA healthcare system has long been held up as an exemplar of functional medicine: efficiency via in-house treatment and drug dispensation, and managed care on the vanguard of electronic record keeping. Redundancy was reduced, as were unnecessary tests, and procedures often enlisted teams from civilian medical systems, when necessary.

There has long been a backlog of care in the system, but with the casualties from within the system becoming younger and from more obvious malpractice or non-treatment, abdications in the chain of command were a necessary palliative. Now money will be thrown at civilian doctors to meet the need -- but why? If this has been such an exemplary system, why has it not kept its staff at the correct levels in-house to meet the need? 

The promises of medicine today are boundless: bionic men, artificial limbs actuated by thought and growing organs in the lab, but if the promise outstrips the ability to implement the new developments, what is there to celebrate? The Army's "No Soldier Left Behind" rings hollow. The myth does not back up any reality.

When the U.S. sends soldiers to be killed and seriously wounded in discretionary foreign wars, then pours money into chimerical projects of rebuilding these nations -- without the slightest hope of success -- while U.S. wounded soldiers are left to languish on the roles of the labyrinthine VA medical system, we have left these soldiers behind.

It is a cold truth: we soldiers are not left behind because we were never with it to start with. Out of the gate, we are tools and pawns, destined for irrelevance. Soldiers are expendable, and we know this.

The only thing we expect is that our lives not be wasted, and that if fractured, our lives will be as meaningful as possible. All the dead and wounded in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) have been in vain. The double shame of the nation which proudly hails the heroics of its soldiers and assumes the treatment of those damaged, is that has not only used them frivolously, but it did not fulfill its promise to the survivors.

The shame of the VA system is that it has shuttled off its charges, consigning to Kafkaesque hallways of confusion those least able to navigate them.

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Monday, July 07, 2014

Appearances Can be Misleading

--Objects in Mirrors

We are strong 
No one can tell us we're wrong 
Searching our hearts for so long 
Both of us knowing 
Love is a battlefield 
--Love is a Battlefield, 
Pat Benatar 

Riffing off of the Army's most recent field manual, "Tactics in Counterinsurgency" (2009), which lays out its "latest big shift in thinking", Business Insider recently ran graphics supposedly showing "America's Shifting Views on Modern Warfare" (and you thought American's don't care about much beyond Beyonce, Jay Z and Mrs. Kardashian.)

That counterinsurgency is considered as "warfare" is troubling enough. Can you "fight" for hearts and minds? Pat Benatar's ode to young love thinks so, but most adults know better.

The 10 June Insider piece states, "Al-Qaeda in Iraq proved so brutal that the Sunni traditional leaders who had supported or tolerated them effectively switched sides in the war, allowing the U.S. to deal a decisive blow to Iraq's Islamist insurgency."

Except -- the Sunnis did not switch sides. They simply played the United States for fools and let us and our Surge "appear" to be successful. They same Sunnis are now conquering Tikrit and Mosul, so the U.S.'s Big New Idea -- counterinsurgency -- did not prevail (just as it did not prevail in any of its past incarnations.) Success is gauged by the final outcome.

Another error is the statement, "In a democracy like the U.S., voters can decide whether a war effort is worth sustaining or not." Not so! When did American voters ever get to vote in any plebiscite to determine if we desired war or not? This applies to World War I, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq?

A graphic of the 1950 Malaysian Insurgency (1950)  lays out the roles of the fighters, but in fact an insurgency can exist sans actual fighters if the active support is radical and militant. Insurgents do not need to be militants, guerrillas or unconventional soldiers -- an insurgency only needs willing participants and a very small core of specialized bombers and shooters, which are readily found, recruited and replaced in any CI environment.

Active and passive support is the only requisite.

In a scenario like Iraq or Afghanistan, the paradigm represented by the graphic is not realistic, yet it appears that the best analogy to today our Army intellectuals can offer is a counterinsurgency diagram from a 1950's British effort vs. Communist insurgents.

The cool, new Counterinsurgency manual also uses diagrams that look suspiciously like the Terrorism Counteraction (TC/A) manual 3-19 of the 1980's U.S. Army. The only difference is, 3-19 gave a cross-pyramidal view, and Figure 2-3 is an aerial view:

Today's Army of One (the Next Generation) wouldn't be cribbing our work, would it? (It's OK -- just don't call it "new".)

Of course, beyond these diagrams, the U.S. fails to address the concept of "legitimacy" as affects any CI effort. No country can impose its will upon another and call this counterinsurgency. The insurgents are indigenous, and we are the foreigners supporting corrupt, illegitimate leaders who do not govern. Nothing we say can tip this equation in our favor.

The U.S. government should stay out of other countries internal affairs. That is the first and last chapter of Ranger's CI manual.

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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Out on the OP - LP: Comfortably Numb

--Moderne Terrorisme 

--cryptic ending to, "MS. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie,
C. M. Kornbluth 

There's more to life than a little money, you know.
Don'tcha know that?
And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day.
Well. I just don't understand it 
--Fargo (1996) 

Property. The whole fucking thing's about property 
--The Thin Red Line (1998)

Being an American today is an overwhelming and frightful reality.

However, tune into the 6 o'clock news and you will see a fusillade of "news" to the contrary: one heavy lead story of the "world out there" will be followed by a bevy of distractions showing you how your fellow Americans are bucking up when their food trucks explode or a tornado snatches the family dog, followed by the final "feel good" conclusion.

Then you are free to follow your usual evening of diversionary programming, numbing you off into sleep. 

We think we are a democracy, but the events of our daily and national lives are beyond our control. When was the last time you, as a citizen, influenced the actions of government through your vote? Here we are in a war on terror, living in a security state of the first order, yet this contradiction escapes us. Life is a text, Tweet or Facebook entry and we think all is good to go.

We are entertained by the story of returning Prisoner of War Bowe Berghdahl, and what kind of a nutcase is he, yet never ask why Qatar was instrumental in facilitating this prisoner swap.

We watch the "civil war" unfold in Iraq, yet never ask the hard questions:

1) What is the Saudi role in Iraq? Ditto Qatar. Since both support the rebels in Syria, does it not follow that they support the Sunni fighters in Iraq?
2) Is Saudi Arabia really a U.S. ally? Do U.S. and Saudi interests intersect? Did they ever?
3) Has Saudi Arabia (S.A.) split off from U.S. policy by supporting an invasion army in Iraq? If so, how does this differ from previous U.S. actions which sought to create buffer zones a la the Monroe Doctrine? U.S. foreign policy has followed its principles since 1945, making the whole world our buffer zone.
The new Sunni caliphate zone being established in Iraq by Sunni fighters of unknown provenance sure looks like the Saudis establishing a buffer zone from the Shia Iraqi state -- understandable, if not justifiable.

Further, the current incursion into Iraq is being peddled as a "civil war", yet for the previous decade the U.S. has denied that descriptor. So -- is this a civil war, or an invasion? Without reliable facts, how do we know the make-up of the anti-government fighters?

If they are foreign fighters, then it is incorrect to call them insurgents, as they are not Iraqis. So who are they?

And more questions:
4) To those who favor bombing Syrian government forces: by adding U.S. air power to the battlefield, we enable the Sunni groups to pull more fighters out of that front and transform to the Iraqi theatre -- how does this benefit Iraq or the U.S.?
5) Is the fight in Iraq really a Sunni - Shia event of a religious nature, or is it an oil - money event?
6) Are the Russians really the bad guys in the Ukraine, and in the Syrian scenario? Ditto Iran.
7) If S.A. can establish a buffer zone in Iraq, why can't Russia establish one in Ukraine? Why does S.A. get carte blanche, while Russia does not?
8) Doesn't the Russian - Syrian - Iranian nexus stand in direct opposition to Saudi and Qatar oil interests regarding pipeline projections to Europe?
9) Why does the U.S. need allies like S.A., Pakistan and all the rest of the jokers we call "NATO allies"?

Sleep well.

[cross-posted @ milpub.]

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Asymmetrical Warfare, II: How We Lost the War

--Iraqi Problems, Arend Van Dam

 He has knocked the pistol out of his hand
-- small room was there to strive,
"'Twas only by favor of mine," quoth he
 "ye rode so long alive:
There was not a rock for twenty mile,
there was not a clump of tree
*   *   *
So thou must eat the White Queen's meat, and all her foes are thine,
And thou must harry thy father's hold for the peace of the Border-line,
And thou must make a trooper tough and hack thy way to power--
Belike they will raise thee to Ressaldar when I am hanged in Peshawur
 --The Ballad of East and West, 
Rudyard Kipling
 What we want is more humane killers!
--How I Won the War (1967)
The First Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq in '03 share similarities in terms of their naive "“irrational exuberance” (thank you, Alan Greenspan.)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said you fight the army you have, and the army we had was geared for land combat opposing Soviet Warsaw Pact adversaries.

Our soldiers wore uniforms with shoulder patches, unit patches, helmet patches, flags on their sleeves, fine rifles, sights and individual and unit equipment. Our air and artillery were unequaled, and we kicked ass and took names. We booted the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and later destroyed their army and political system.

In March of '03, the United States invaded in a theatre Army assault with prep fires and an air war that unleashed an impressive fury of World War II proportions, yet we did not win the war, at least not in any strategic sense, adding another one to Korea and Vietnam.

In contrast, the ISIS and ISIL forces are rag-tag, like the Viet Cong, Castro and Mao forces. They lack uniforms, use simple weapons, and their organizational items are captured or simply commandeered from civilians. It is easy to imagine Lawrence of Arabia leading such a rabble group.

ISIS/ISIL forces are successful because:

1) The Shia Iraqi forces lack legitimacy and a broad popular mandate, except for the Shi'ites who repress the Sunni minority. This is democracy as tool of oppression

2) ISIS/ISIL forces have popular support, both active and passive. 

3) ISIS/ISIL has safe haven and short lines of communication, with simple plans that are not phased or overly complicated.

4) The ISIS/ISIL forces are strictly following the principles of war [though not the Geneva Conventions (GC's)]

5) They live off the land, gaining momentum daily

6) They enjoy an unlimited pool of replacement fighters

7) They have combat-experienced leaders rather than executive-style corporate managers directing their operations. They do not mistake motion for progress

8) They have nothing to lose, and everything to gain

9) They are ideologically- and religiously-motivated

Though the ISIS attack is the opposite from that of the U.S. forces, it is moving with the same momentum that carried U.S. forces to Baghdad.

Their success shows that the rules of warfare have not changed in several thousand years. Reliance upon distractive theories like "asymmetrical warfare" is smokescreen to hide the fact that the U.S. war machine is struggling to find strategic significance in any of its current actions.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Assymetrical Warfare

 There are only murderers in this room!
This is the life we chose, the life we lead.
And there is only one guarantee:
none of us will see heaven 
--Road to Perdition (2002)

 Going forth with weeping,
sowing for the Master,
Though the loss sustained
our spirit often grieves 
--Bringing in the Sheaves, 
Knowles Shaw 

 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun
--Ecclesiastes 1:9

The military pundits who bandy about terms like "asymmetrical warfare" and "4 G warfare" are entertaining but dead wrong.

The principles of war have not changed since the institutional study of war began, and the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) proves this.

The 14 June 2014 ISIS incursion into Iraq is yet more proof of "everything old is new again", and it shares a pedigree with many previous actions, including those of Quantrills' Raiders, Sherman's March to the Sea, Mao's China campaigns, the Viet Minh against the French, Castro in Cuba, and the National Liberation Front (NLF) fighting the U.S. and its Republic of Vietnam proxies.

A gloss:

--Quantrell was an irregular creating terror and killing for little of military value, sharing the behavior of al Qaeda prior to its push into Syria and Iraq.

--Sherman marched to the sea sans a logistical tail, living off the land while destroying Southern infrastructure, proving the inability of the Confederate States of America (CSA) to protect their deep territory. ISIS/ISIL are following this template, too.

--Mao transitioned from guerrilla and unconventional warfare to conventional, establishing the Red Chinese dynasty in the process. The NLF in Vietnam followed Mao's strategy, too.

The Sunnis are following a similar campaign. They are proving that power comes from the barrel of a rifle, but unlike the U.S., they know where and when to apply this power.

--The Viet Minh progressed through all stages of the spectrum of conflict, defeating the French in conventional warfare. Ditto Castro is Batista's Cuba.

All successful asymmetrical campaigns share similar strategies: they have popular support and interior lines of defense, and they enjoy a support base and safe haven outside of the battle zone. (Sherman is the exception in that he lacked popular support, though he did have an organized army.)

The U.S.'s combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has been therapeutic violence to placate America's need for vengeance, but vengeance is not a policy.

Vengeance is not a principle of war; it is a road to perdition.

Next: The beginnings of the PWOT and how we lost the war.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

There Ain't No Good Guys

 --Middle East Countries, 
Arend Van Dam

 So let's leave it alone 'cause we can't see eye to eye.
There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy,
There's only you and me and we just disagree 
--There Ain't No Good Guys, 
Dave Mason 

Isolation is much less dangerous than the dangers
of being dragged into wars that don't concern us
--Lord Salisbury

 --How old are you? 
--Twelve... more or less
 --Let the Right One In (2008)

The first thing a young military leader learns is that the choices in most situations do not follow a simple algorithm to a good outcome. This is especially true when the problems are multi-layered and entrenched, often in place long before you arrived on station. Like the hostilities in Iraq, for example, which are not "twelve (years old) ... more or less," but more like 600 years old.

The choices are rarely between good and bad, but rather, bad and worse. Leadership instruction omits this critical point.

Witness Iraq, Syria and the muddle that is United States foreign policy in Asia and the Middle East, or what passes for policy. One principle of leadership says great leaders outstrip the power curve and anticipate, so as to mitigate the negatives presented by a scenario.

Looking ahead, the U.S. in June 2014 has two choices:

1) It can bomb, reinforce and support the al Maliki Shia government, or
2) It can abstain from action, letting the situation develop locally.

If we choose #1, we are admitting the failure of nation-building, Counterinsurgency theory (COIN) and the entire Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) Why, even COIN poster boy Gen. David Petraeus is saying, don't go back into that briar patch. “This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shia militias, or a Shia on Sunni Arab fight.” No, no.

Our policy is then revealed to be the sham it is in thought, spirit and action.

However, if we choose #2, we are admitting the intellectual deficiency from which the PWOT© emerged. This choice verifies that al Qaeda, et, al -- include the Taliban -- never were a major threat to the U.S. homeland as the nation had been led to believe; if it were, we would have chosen #1 instead.

It is futile to say the unspooling situation is the result of our elective invasions, erroneous assumptions and illogical command choices following the attacks of 9-11-01. Whatever choice the U.S. makes now is "bad" or "worse"; there are no good choices.

Do nothing, and the region is destabilized with ethnic combat the outcome. National entities will breakdown as the nations revert to being tribes with flags. The Iraq the U.S. built was not a nation-state, but merely a pale facsimile. The effort is like suturing a ruptured organ too tattered to hold, and reinforcing it will be another hoax committed upon the American taxpayer.

Iraq is neither a U.S. friend nor an ally, because there IS no Iraq -- just a bunch of radicalized tribes. If we bomb in support of al Maliki's Iraq, then we are killing the same people that we have been supporting in Syria. Despite this obvious fact, we are fed the lie that U.S. policy supports "moderate" fighters there.

Uh, "moderates" don't usually carry out armed activities. In fact, all the fighters in Syria are extremists in thought and action. There are no "good guys" here, and it is a pathetic charade to say otherwise. If neither the Syrian opposition nor the Iraqi's are our friends, why support either?

Another deception being perpetrated by the press is that al Qaeda now has an army in Iraq which poses an existential threat to Europe and the U.S. Strangely, some Americans believe the lie, but the Europeans do not fall for this canard.

The U.S. wants its cake and to eat it, too. It wants to call Saudi's "friends", as well as the Iraqi's which we have created. But it is impossible to befriend two countries that are irreconcilable foes. The U.S. maintains the same fiction with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  We pretend that these countries are our friends and allies, when in reality they do not share any of our strategic interests.

Ranger believes that the U.S. has been outplayed and out-classed by the Arab leaders like those of Saudi Arabia. We have been flanked, and they are rolling our lines. The man in the Arab street is not pro-American, nor will he be.

As we used to say, will the last man out please bring the flag home and turn out the lights. There is only one good we can see: the World's Largest Embassy, costing over a $ Billion and bigger than The Vatican, will make a great hotel for Iranian tourists visiting the sacred Shia sites in Iraq.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

June's Bustin' Out All Over

It was from us they learnt the secret of life:
that we grow old without growing wise 
--A Murder of Quality, John le Carre

I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize
--Steven Wright  

When you told me 
You didn't need me anymore 
Well you know I nearly broke down and cried 
--Oh! Darling, The Beatles 


Subtitles: Deadneck Hootenanny; Sisyphus; House of Cards

Iraq, such it was, is disintegrating. Goodbye U.S.A.; don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Absolutely NO surprises here, no siree, Bob. Take a cauldron of seething generational hatreds (Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds), throw in hundreds of Billions of United States greenbacks and strong soldiers and materiel on a jihad-to-overthrow-a-jihad, a little apocalyptic fervor, overthrow the country's Head Honcho (the late Mr. Hussein) who was keeping a lid on the boil and -- Bob's your uncle -- June, 2014 Iraq.

It's a not-proud day for American war hawks everywhere. Just like after the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam debacle (1975), the words are already forming: "We should have stayed there longer!" "We could have headed this off at the pass." But the truth is, should we have done that we would have merely hemorrhaged more precious tax dollars and lives for the arrogant privilege of staving off the inevitable Iraq civil war for another -- five years? Ten?

It's not our job, man (like Chico said.) Not our job to prop up our straw men, like Nouri al-Maliki. Not our job to train up security forces who drop trou at a moment's notice. Not our job to "spread democracy" at the tip of a gun, because it can't be done.

Building an Army and a police force does not = building a society.

In a sad attempt to snatch some failure from the jaws of defeat, CBS news reported last night that the Iraq government has "lost all the advantages and victories and progress that our soldiers bought with their lives." What piffle.

The PWOT has been an example of faulty logic and monumental stupidity and ego posing as strategic national policy from the start. It is cold comfort to re-state the obvious: the Iraqi Army is throwing down their arms and uniforms and melting into the woodwork like the cockroaches we constantly opined they were.

The building of the Iraqi Army and Police was an act of folly not founded in any historical reality.

We were going to link to some humdinger pieces we had written, but why? The raison d'etre of RangerAgainstWar has been to oppose the Phony War on Terror (PWOT©) since its inception. We have never wavered (unlike former Secretary of State Clinton who said on NPR's "Fresh Air" today that she just didn't know it was wrong at the time; she's "learned". ) Type in any relevant identifiers and you will get back tons of insight here on RAW as to why this pathetic expedition was doomed to failure.

The big cities have fallen (Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi) to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) -- the the bigger and better al Qaeda, constituted of battle-hardened pros mentored by generations of occupiers. Kirkuk has just been taken by the Kurds, perhaps the most reasoned members of the Iraqi cock-up. They have wisely been sitting on their haunches, licking their talons and waiting to join the fray to claim for their piece of the pie in the North.

Iraqi officials told the Guardian that two divisions of Iraqi soldiers – roughly 30,000 men – simply turned and ran in the face of the assault by an insurgent force of just 800 fighters. Isis extremists roamed freely on Wednesday through the streets of Mosul, openly surprised at the ease with which they took Iraq's second largest city after three days of sporadic fighting.
Senior government officials in Baghdad were equally shocked, accusing the army of betrayal and claiming the sacking of the city was a strategic disaster that would imperil Iraq's borders.
The developments seriously undermine US claims to have established a unified and competent military after more than a decade of training. The US invasion and occupation cost Washington close to a trillion dollars and the lives of more than 4,500 of its soldiers. It is also thought to have killed at least 100,000 Iraqis. (Iraq Army capitulates to ISIS militants in four cities)

Hang it up, America. We are the designated losers in this misguided war. We cannot via force of arms change the flow of history or reality.

We told you so. It's cold comfort.

--Jim & Lisa

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Smiley's People

 Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the West behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia's always on m-m-my mind 
--Back in the USSR,
The Beatles 

 There will be no war, but in the pursuit
of principle no stone will be left standing 
--Absolute Friends, John le Carre

Subtitle: Designated Hitters

It is said that President Obama doesn't smile much, that he has the sang froid of an attorney-academic. But we will see him as "Smiley" for just this post.

The press has been having their day with the recently-released Prisoner of War U.S. Army SGT Bowe Bergdahl. Some call him a traitor; other say he nuts. The more charitably-minded say it is right that the five supposed Taliban prisoner at Guantanamo Bay be traded for his release, while others claim those released will go right back to being carbuncles on the back of Democracy.

Funny we call Bergdahl a former P.O.W., yet the five men traded for his release were not designated P.O.W.'s; at best, they were called "detainees". When the U.S. was gunning for war, the Taliban leaders (once and current leaders in Afghan's government) were "terrorists". Assuredly, al Qaeda types may be terrorists, but Taliban membership requires meeting a far different bar than does al Qaeda.

But our topic today is not the terminology applied to the incarcerated, or the legitimate leadership of Afghanistan. The topic concerns the intention behind the choice of these five Gitmo detainees.

Rather than seeing the released prisoners all through the narrow glass of radical ideological caricature, what if one or more of them is now something different after 12 years in captivity? What if, after 12 years of mind-breaking incarceration, one or more of these Taliban have been turned?

What if, possibly -- and just that -- one or more is now an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency, and enjoys the best of legend and cover? These men are the real deal, and if they've been turned, that could be one reason for the trade (after Bergdahl's five years in captivity.)

You can tell Ranger if you think he has read one too many le Carre novels.

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Monday, June 09, 2014

Pay the Fiddler

--U.S. forces landing at Normandy,
6 JUN 1944

Friday was the 70th anniversary of D-Day, that horrible day when United States troops so bravely stormed the fortress Europe to tackle the gargantuan task of eliminating Fascist powers from the scene.

We know how we did it on the Western Front, but the question is, "Why?" The European Wars I & II were caused by Europeans and the savagery and inhumanity of those endeavors is unquantifiable, so why did the U.S. get involved?

Same-same today regarding Libya, Egypt, the Sinai, Syria, Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East. If there is a concept called "responsibility", why isn't France and England shouldering the burden of the colonial messes they created? Why must the U.S. always carry their water?

It is possible to start with the Crusades and end with the balkanization of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires following WW I. This created the majority of the fault lines in the Middle East extending to Kashmir, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The only place the U.S should feel any responsibility is Iraq and mainly Iran, as we created or enabled the sepsis of their society via our interdiction in their national situations. However, war will also not solve either country's dynamics, as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) clearly demonstrated. The answer to these society's ills will never be settled by proxies on the battlefield.

American security is secured by oceans, intercontinental missiles and our vast military, economic and political structure.

So the question is, why does the U.S. continue to fight other people's battles to the detriment of our own welfare? Is that not why so many Americans died on the beaches of Normandy 70 years and three days ago?

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Making Hay

Beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.  I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other 
doesn't make any sense 
--The Field, Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks) 

How does it feel to feel what I had to learn
Baby, don't say you're sorry
'cause I'm just not concerned 
--Tell It to the Rain, 
The Four Seasons

Ranger has 20 acres of fertilized grass that he swaps to local cattleman in return for their cutting it and keeping the pasture productive -- the best of bartering.

Recent rains caused the grass crop to prosper, but there were concerns that there would be a sunshine period to harvest the hay. Jumping on a brief window, two trucks, five men 3 trailers one tractor, bailer and thresher showed up and the men worked three nights processing the hay (a chore which they tackled after their day jobs.) That's America, and it always has been.

But on the final night the skies broke open, wetting the hay, meaning mold and mildew will ruin the bales. There was no tarpaulin to protect the hay, and the overhang of my outbuilding was not enough to cover them. A minor tragedy at ten, there will be no news at eleven.

In this comedy of errors Ranger saw a microcosm of modern day existence in the U.S.A. All the work and effort was negated for the want of tarps. The hay ended up like our efforts in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©); there was not enough to close the deal. Look at the actions of the latest Medal of Honor recipients, CPL William Carpenter and Sergeant Kyle White.

They had everything that a soldier needed to engage in combat, but they couldn't get the hay out of the field. They were shot up and rattled, and produced nothing for the benefit of anyone. They may as well have been out in the field without a tarp.

Men were killed and wounded, and command outposts (COPs) were abandoned, as ever, after all the needless violence. Even if they had won a decisive unit level victory, there was no hay hauled away. {The same goes for the previous actions of MOH recipients Carter, Romesha, and Swenson.}

Whether in a far-flung COP or my field, all the effort is meaningless unless the sun can shine on our efforts. Nothing can change the rain, the sky or the earth. Life is about fighting for the right reasons, which are always life-enhancing.

The bales of hay are expendable, but our soldiers should not be, even if we pretend and perpetrate the fiction that they were mowed down for a purpose.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Harem Scarum

--The Week magazine, 5.19.14 issue

Said I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown
Oba, ob-serving the hypocrites
As they would mingle
with the good people we meet 
--No Woman No Cry, 
Bob Marley 

Woman is the nigger of the world...yes she is
If you don't believe me,
take a look at the one you're with
Woman is the slave to the slaves 
--Woman is the Nigger of the World, 
John Lennon

 “I have reason to believe Boko Haram
will see reason and let these girls go.
I think they will have a conscience
to let these girls go.”
Oronto Douglas, special adviser on strategy 
to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan

The New York Times reported last week that Nigeria's army was "Holding Up the Hunt" for the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria. "Foreign diplomats say that the Islamist group Boko Haram appears to be winning the struggle with a weak military." Yet Nigerian President Jonathan's policy strategist says "reason" and "conscience" will hold the day.

Good luck with that. 

And ... why is it we care? Not in the human, Christian, Enlightened sense, but would we take any military action (U.S. Sends Troops to Chad to Aid Hunt for Nigerian Schoolgirls)? Puppies, kittens, girls -- most people become upset when the innocent are abused, but why would we risk even one soldier's life or limb over Nigeria's endemic problems?

Is it because this Muslim group chose a really scary name? It sounds like the bogeyman from hell. Is it because they're taking young women and returning them impregnated -- the oldest "survival of the fittest" ruse in the book? Are we afraid there are sleeper cells of Boko Haram in Detroit or Cleveland, or that they'll come over here to get our women and children? 

Islamist groups do these things, have been doing these things, for a long time now. Our intervention in the Middle East had nothing to do with it, unless you think they are clever enough to be committing these abductions to provoke the guys in white, like catnip to the cat. Nigerian's Islamic leader Abubakar Shekau said of the girls in a released video, "They are slaves and I will sell them because I have the market to sell them"

If the military in their own nation is not too gung-ho on the matter, why should we be? Is it because we have a blackish President who is as angry over veterans dying for lack of medical care as he is over women in Nigeria nation being kidnapped? 

It's not our sense of immense paternalism toward the weaker sex, though I'm sure the military would like to feel or project the notion that they really are doing some good in the world. No -- if this were so we'd be intervening in too many countries to name that subject their women to servitude, prostitution and worse. Women will continue to be the Second Sex until enlightenment reaches all humans.

Since this has not happened here in the belly of the democratic beast, do not expect it to be enforced upon a tribal warrior mindset anytime soon.

No matter how many cups of tea you lay out, even with clotted cream, berries and scones.

No uh way.

[expanded version @ milpub]

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Reform School, Redux

 Productivity is getting
higher and higher oh, oh, yeah

But profitability is getting

tighter and tighter oh, oh, yeah

--Think Visual
, The Kinks

Maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events,

but we just got our asses kicked, pal

--Aliens (1978)

Status quo, you know,

is Latin for "the mess we're in"

--Ronald Reagan


{This is a re-post from 14 MAR 2009 @ RangerAgainstWar.}

DAV Magazine
reports this month, ""New VA Secretary Pledges Reforms." That the new Veterans Administration Secretary Shinseki "pledges reforms" does not fill Ranger with HOPE for CHANGE.

The dictionary defines "reform" as "a change from worse to better," "to amend by removing faults and abuses"; "an improvement via alteration." And just how, you may ask, will the VA accomplish this rectification?

It seems the VA, with the appointment of Shinseki --
the fourth consecutive U.S. military graduate to head the VA -- is hoping to hit a roving banker quinella. If these previous heads were so crackerjack, why does the DVA need reform? Since the previous appointments failed so spectacularly, one can see why they might think the fourth time will be the charm.

The VA has a
"dire backlog of 840,000 unprocessed disability claims" seven years into our elective wars. Shinseki, who is being touted as a maverick who spoke truth to power and was "unceremoniously ushered in retirement," is their magic elixir to turn things around.

Ranger wonders if any DVA Secretary has ever gone into a VA Outpatient Clinic for a medical appointment? Has Shinseki ever used the VA health care system?

Not to attack the man, but Shinseki did not oppose the phony and aggressive wars of invasion.
He simply did what a General does -- requested more troops, which probably would have contributed to that many more wounded and disabled veterans. To have opposed the war would have been an actually maverick and courageous stance.

Shinseki, like the rest of the officer corps (until they retire, that is) supported the illegal invasions, yet now he is being hailed as a role model.

He is no maverick. He is No. 4.


NOTE [20 MAY 2014]:

Five years ago, everyone was cheering on the appointment of Shinseki. However, not Ranger nor his buddy "Minstrel Boy", whose unedited comment we append below --
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...
there's a long, long, list of veteran's issues. many attribute the fall of rome to the generals of great personal wealth, like gaius marius, pompey magnus, crassus, and, after gaul and egypt, ceasar. the changing of the makeup of the legions during the 2nd and 3rd punic wars meant that many of the provincials, many of the urban poor, flocked to the standards when the property requirement for service was removed. many times, like during the years of hannibal running amok on the italian peninsula there would be promises of settlement in conquered land, or on public lands. with marius, pompey, and ceasar, when the state failed to compensate its veterans by keeping even a fraction of the promises they used their personal wealth to make good on those broken vows.

the upshot was that rome ended up with a military that held allegiance to a general, an admiral, or ship captain. they knew where the funds rolled from. this, in turn, led to many civil wars. for bloody conflict in the ancient world, it is impossible to be roman legions against roman legions. parnassus where caesar and pompey clashed was like a roman antietem. 5 hours of fighting and an ocean of roman blood.

after every u.s. war, one of the first orders of business in washington is to try and "move on" and find some way to forget the folks who fought for them. one of the few times that wasn't bordering on the criminal was after ww2. eisenhower knew what his soldiers and other men sacrificed and he would not allow things like the g.i. bill to be dismantled. it took reagan to do that. eisenhower made war, reagan made war movies. yet, they both had war stories. thing was, because his fighting front was in hollywood, reagan loved to tell his war stories.

when i was wounded for the last time, i was struck by how uncomfortable the sight of me was for my old buddies. the guys at silver strand training to go over there certainly didn't walk to look the fact that the shit's dangerous in the eye. i'm sure that even well intentioned soldiers feel that way.

when max cleland was in charge of the v.a. there was some progress made. max has a full and clear personal perspective on that system. absent a maimed or wounded vet who has dealt with that monolithic structure, how about nominating a doctor, or primary care giver?

i've met many doctors in the v.a. system who feel as obstructed and unable to do the work of healing as the patients they try bravely to bring care to. why not one of them?

rather than somebody with five rows of REMF ribbons on their chest, how about somebody who walks with a permanent limp, or needs a cane, crutches or chair?

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Is That Right?

Our faith is our strength
--motto of Tristan da Cunha 

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the
Heart's affections and the truth of the Imagination
--John Keats 

Freedom is a bourgeois prejudice
V.I. Lenin 

"Truth", "Freedom", "Rights", "liberties", endowments ... these terms occur in our foundational documents, but have never been definitively explained. That is why a person like Edward Snowden is either deified or demonized -- we are not sure what we are allowed to do.

The most famous line from the Declaration of Independence (1776) states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But in a society based upon laws, definition is important. How can these be "self evident" when at the time of the Declaration's writing, all men (= people) were not treated as though they had been "created equal[ly]"? If they are "truths", then they would have trumped behavior to the contrary.

It would take the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments to confer freedom, full citizenship and the right to vote upon black males. It would not be until the 19th Amendment (ratified in 1920) that women would gain the right of suffrage.

Perhaps one may believe in universal equality of the construction of man, yet still believe that some few ubermensch retain the right to overmaster them. However, that is not societal equality, of the sort that a government document may confer. Further, how can it be "true" and "self-evident" that all are created equally when the observed evidence is so contrary. 

If rights are inalienable, they why need they be conferred by a "Creator"? If one were a citizen atheist, one still maintains his rights even though he denies they have been conferred upon him by a Creator. If rights are inalienable to my existence, then they need not be conferred, and are just a fact. 

If rights are "inalienable", then they are indwelling in the human, and may not be divorced by fiat or behavior. The Existentialists argued for man's radical freedom, even in cases of incarceration or death sentence, but that is a philosophical argument arguing for freedom in one's head space, a domain on which the government has not yet intruded. 

Justice Brandeis sought to protect that intangible freedom in his dissent in Olmstead (1934), when he foresaw a time when governments might develop and enlist technology to invade even that private sphere -- a "thought police", of sorts. However, one's actual physical condition may indeed be constricted, either by one's violation of his contract with the State or bad faith behavior of the State itself. So one's essential "liberty" is not a truth.

Liberty is not so much a right as a very tenuous condition. While an enlightened individual may eke out a mental zone of free thought when physical freedom may be denied to him, liberty is only the result of an agreement between the free man and his government, and only exists in the zone when both are performing their responsibilities correctly. Slavery and servitude is more generally man's state. 

"Life" is the one given among the "truths", but even it is not a "Right" -- life is simply a biological imperative. It is the seed seeking rich soil, the egg seeking fertilization, and then implantation. The impetus to life is a dumb fact if one is existing on this planet, much as when life has been extinguished, death and the absence of life will be a fact.

The Articles of Confederation also alludes to the “Great Governor of the World.” Were these references to a Big Guy just sops to simple people fleeing religious persecution? Many of the Founders were Deists, but they also believed in an "unmoved mover", a disinterested creator of all that is.

In Jefferson’s view, the rising generation, once sustained by complete liberty of conscience, would abandon religions based on biblical revelation in favor of those founded on reason. “There is not a young man now living in the United States,” he predicted in 1822, “who will not die a Unitarian.” (Separation of Church and State.) But reason had its day with The Enlightenment.

In fact, there are NO inalienable rights; ask Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. There are "rights" conferred by government, rights which may be abridged, abrogated or annulled, either judicially or extralegally.

We must be honest about who we are and what we want if we are to understand our present condition, yet who can do this even on a personal level? Our founders were brilliant and brave, their rhetoric soaring, but the words belie terrific contradictions and outright misstatements.

We are a riven society because men are riven, and men have created these concepts called rights.

[cross-posted @ milpub]

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