Bad Eyes, Good Shooting
My overall impression of the Ranger operations with Tillman's unit in Afghanistan is that it was a Cowboys and Indians type of situation. Command and control was loose and personnel were everywhere, and it seems, without proper support and coordination.
Using Rangers willy-nilly, having them running up and down roads looking for people to kill, is not the hallmark of combat effectiveness. Ranger Infantry is perfect for fighting units like the Taliban, as both are light infantry. But usually, military missions are defined by clear intelligence of the enemy situation. This information was sorely lacking in theis scenario.
In the Tillman situation, clearly defined mission or objective orders were absent--it was the old "seek and destroy" concept resurrected from the Vietnam War. All the time B52's and B1's are flying patterns, just drooling to drop bombs on the dastardly Taliban. But first the Rangers must find them and fix them. Unfortunately for us, the Taliban has been playing this game longer than any of the Rangers have been alive.
High technology war is great, but it's kind of useless without proper intelligence upon which these assets may be employed. This weakness is exemplified by a low-tech Vespa motorbike escape early on from U.S. forces. The finest Ranger infantry in the world is ineffective without specific targeting data. Like B1 bombers, they're useless without this enemy information.
Back to Tillman. We'll never know what happened on the ground because the Army has zippered the case. I've read that some witnesses have left the Army and are no longer available for questioning by agents. The Chronicle article says investigators are "hindered by a failure to locate key witnesses, even some who are still in the active military." If we can't find former U.S. Army Rangers--some in our own military--how do we ever expect to find Osama bin Laden?
This is garbage. All the enlisted men released from active duty in this incident are within the legal reach of vthe Army. All discharged personnel are in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) and could be ordered back to active duty (if the Army wanted them back.) Hell, we could even Padilla them, if we desired. After all, the rules have changed.
What we do know is the same old story. Three officers were involved at unit level, and so far, two of the three have been promoted. The third was expelled from the Rangers, but even money says he'll be promoted, too. Contrast this with the discipline received by the involved enlisted men.
As always, the enlisted men take the fall. I wonder if the officers were West Point Grads. If so, the situation becomes clearer. As a historical example of what I mean, Lieutenant Colonel Schwartzkopf was investigated and exonerated for a friendly fire death incident in which he was involved in Vietnam. The WPPA (West Point Protective Association) rules prevailed, and Schwartzkopf was promoted.
The questions which are pertinent and should be asked in this incident are:
(1) What and where was the indirect fire support for the engaged units? Where were the forward observers? If there was no communication, then there was no fire support. Why?
If air assets were overhead, they could have been used as radio relay assets. Why wasn't each platoon given direct support mortar fire? This fire was essential, and appeared to be AWOL in the operations in question. This is a company/battalion commander function.
(2) The revelations about the eyes of the personnel involved are revealing. There are several visual problems reported.
According to the AP report, "One of the four shooters, Staff Sgt. Trevor Alders, had recently had PRK laser eye surgery. He claimed his vision was "hazy," and he couldn't make out "friendly identifying signals," despite recognizing two sets of hands "straight up." Another, Spc. Steve Eliot, was "excited" by "shapes." Squad leader Sgt. Greg Baker, though blessed with 20/20 vision, said he had "tunnel vision," apparently of a unique type which makes some of your fellow squad team members look like the enemy. The fact that the S1 and medical personnel cleared these soldiers for deployment is questionable.
The battalion and regimental commanders are responsible for this certification, and should be questioned on the veracity of their readiness reports.
(3) All reports indicate the platoon had operational shortages of food and water. Why?
In addition, the vehicle beakdown ultimately led to the split-up of the unit. Where/why/how was there no maintenance support available? Where was the normal combat resupply for essential combat mission-related items?
(4) Where were the reserve forces or reaction forces to extricate units in extreme situations? How were they contacted by the requesting units? Didn't/haven't the Rangers absorbed the lessons of Mogadishu, Somalia?
(5) Where/when/how did Tillman's personal diaries disappear? What about his reported desire to see Noam Chomsky after Tillman returned stateside? As the SF Chronicle and others have reported, Tillman supposedly said, after being stationed in Iraq, "You know, this war is so f---ing illegal." This is a damning statement from a patriotic and well-read individual in the midst of things. A person of Tillman's celebrity would be heard. It is a provocative thought that in order for the conservative darlings to claim him, he would have to go down in a blaze of glory. And of course, the timing (one week before Abu Ghraib broke) killed two birds with one stone, or three bullets, as the case may be.)
(6) Three shots to the forehead?! This is not bad luck--this is the result of excellent shooting. Three in the head is not the result of "spray and pray" shooting. One round in the head is bad luck; three is murder. Did the rounds come from the same weapon? That's right, all the evidence was destroyed.
I know the M4 and current issue black rifle has a three shot Atcheson burst regulator. It fires only 3rd auto bursts. This head shot is not the result of a burst regulator, which is incapable of firing such a tight shot group.
(7) Why was Tillman forward of his fellow Rangers? Spec 4's do not move without permission or the direction of their fire team, or squad leaders in combat. Soldiers and Rangers in combat should maintain visual contact even when fulfilling bodily functions. So why was Tillman in the End Zone when everyone else was on the 50 yard line? Why were no other Rangers forward with Tillman, as Rangers usually operate in buddy teams, esp. in combat?
Why was Tillman awarded a Silver Star? The Army regulations require close combat with an enemy force for the award of this medal. There were no enemy engaged at the time of Tillman's death. Hush money?
If Tillman wasn't who he was, and his parents were less dedicated, this would never have come to public scrutiny. Here was an obviously fine American. The finest, really, in that he served, and he spoke his conscience. The loss of Tillman is a heartbreaking story.
To borrow from Joseph Heller, this is not a feather in the Ranger's cap; it is a black eye.