Monday, December 30, 2013

Mano a Mano

 --Mbeki, Mandela, Tutu,
Rainer Hachfeld (Neues Deutschland)

 We have now sunk to a depth at which
restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men
--George Orwell

Recently deceased South African activist Nelson Mandela was revered by many as a person who shifted a society away from apartheid, a repressive policy of racial separation. Mandela spent 27 years in prison based upon the fact that he founded, supervised and led the guerrilla wing of the African National Congress (ANC) movement, Umkhonto we Sizwe (abbreviated "MK"), translated as "Spear of the Nation".

Mandela was given a life sentence for his direct involvement in bombing campaigns, among other forms of terror and violence. The Mandela that emerged to be lionized by the West was this former Communist who grew capitalist spots.

Mandela was a bomber, a favored activity of terrorists and militants as it is cheap and effective, creating terror due to its spectacularly violent, random and indiscriminate nature. Onto the kindly-looking elder statesman Mandela it is easy to project the myth of the long-suffering inmate, but this image belies the other Mandela.

Here's another view of the man and his legacy:

If there is anything that the world ought to mourn, not only today, but every day, it is a horrifying reality in which a South African woman is more likely to be raped than to learn to read, a quarter of the men admit to having raped and men with AIDS believe that they can find a cure by raping a baby.

For Western liberals, Mandela’s death provides them with permission to stop caring about South Africa. Having reduced South Africa to Mandela, his death permanently removes its existence from their minds. They may show up to the theater if Denzel Washington or Jamie Foxx decide to play Nelson Mandela. Otherwise they will comfortably banish the entire country to the dusty attic of forgotten history.

Meanwhile one child is raped every three minutes and three children are murdered every day (South Africa in the Shadows).

Our relationship with terrorists is ambivalent. While we choose not to negotiate with them, we do accept them as world leaders. Why were they bad then, and good now? Are there good terrorists and bad ones, and where is the dividing line?

In an absolute sense, if terrorism is "evil", then time does not ameliorate that evil. An evil act remains so in perpetuity. Good does not emerge from evil -- is this not the basis of western legal thought?

Are we willing to see someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) as a freedom fighter, versus a terrorist? For surely as god made little green apples, he is that to his acolytes.

When terrorists used airplanes as bombs and attacked the World Trade Center, the U.S. began 12 years of continuous warfare resulting in an unknown number of casualties. History has shown that Mandela was an existential threat to the continued existence of South Africa, while the al Qaeda threat to America was a pinprick, in comparison. Yet which nation reacted in a more tempered manner to its threat?

The United States sentenced Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to death and terminated him for roughly the same type of activity for which Mandela served 27 years. PVT Manning has been delivered a 35-year sentence, eight years more than Mandela received.

Was Manning's threat to the existence of the U.S. as significant and effective as that of Mandela's to S.A.?

The facts:
  • Manning was not involved in espionage, nor did he work for a worldwide Communist or terrorist organization (as did Mandela)
  • Manning never used violence
  • Manning was not dedicated to the destruction or overthrow of the U.S. government. His actions were not tactically or strategically significant

In Ranger's opinion, Manning was railroaded in comparison to Mandela, who received a fair trial. So how do Americans justify calling Mandela a "symbol of Freedom" while throwing Manning into a black hole for 35 years?

Did Manning receive a fair trial, or has our justice system been subverted by trumped-up security concerns posing as justice? The 35-year sentence (which was noted as being "light") is Kafkaesque, while the whitewashing of Mandela as Ghandi-esque freedom fighter is like something out of a DC Comic story line.

Mandela's conviction was proportional to his crimes, while Manning's was not, and it was the result of a punitive show trial. Manning will never be a hero of mythic status. If a society is known by its enemies, we chose a poor example with Manning.

Further, how did Mandela, Sadat, Begin, Gerry Adams and before them, myriad Nazis transform themselves by entering the historical dry cleaners, emerging as clean world leaders? Where and when is the pivot point at which terrorists become no longer terrorists? Or is it that our memory is short, or that we no longer care?

In an absolute sense, if terrorism is "evil", then time does not ameliorate that evil. An evil act remains so in perpetuity. Good does not emerge from evil -- is this not the basis of western legal thought?

When U.S. national leaders praise a futile Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) while concomitantly praising a terrorist like Mandela, perhaps it is time to reevaluate our policies and practices vis a vis terrorism.

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar.]

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Весёлого Рождества!

Card courtesy of:   and their mentor Wilfred Owen.

Russian Christmas postcard, ca. 1913-1917.

Καλά Χριστούγεννα to Al.   (My mother were she alive would scold me for being 12 days too early.  Or am I thinking of Greek Easter?)  Fröhliche Weihnachten to SO.  Joyeux Noël to fastEddie.  Happy Holidays to all you Limbaugh and O'Reilly fans.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Kinda Makes You Wonder

Apparently, the Cadets of the USAF Academy, at least in the eyes of the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations, engage in sufficient inappropriate, if not criminal activity to warrant the use of "confidential informants" within the Corps of Cadets.

Now, that raises a raft of questions in my mind. Among (but not all) the reasons I might see for this practice being necessary are:

The Cadet Honor Code is a farce, as honoring the Code would preclude the need for CIs.

Inappropriate and/or criminal behavior is so rampant the Cadets must be under constant covert surveillance.

The entire moral compass of the USAFA (USAF?) is severely screwed up.  (Here, I would mention the numerous documented cases of religious "oppression" and/or discrimination by leaders at the Academy)

Both my daughters are Alumi of New York Military Academy.  NYMA subscribed to the same Honor Code as nearby West Point (and the USAFA).  They taught that the Honor Code was both an individual and collective responsibility.  They were counseled that it was a Cadet's  responsibility to guide their fellow Cadet away from unacceptable behavior, before the fact, if possible, not just report it.  As my older daughter (who was not, in any way, a Goodie Two Shoes) put it, "It's not about being a 'narc', Dad, but keeping each other on the right path."  The girl's TAC Officer, a former Woman Marine, had a sign in the girl's "barracks" (dorm) that read something like, "It isn't getting caught that is a violation of regs.  It is your actions that violate the regs."  While the TACs were understanding and aware of minor transgressions, and sometimes allowed them under a discrete and watchful eye to give the Cadets a feeling of "stretching their wings", general discipline was well enforced, yet never oppressive.   To this day, my daughters express the value of their years at NYMA in helping form their moral compass, with one often joking, "You did a good job, Dad, but getting a second opinion on the same wavelength carries a lot of weight with a kid.".  The elder of the two openly expresses how her "NYMA Experience" helped her raise her two sons.  NYMA employed no equivalent techniques such as "CIs".  It was the combined efforts of the Academy Staff and Cadets that got the job done.

If it works with high school aged kids, what is missing at Colorado Springs that requires such draconian and secretive measures?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

ADIZzy in the East China Sea

Mildly interesting activity off the east coast of the People's Republic of China this week.

First, the PRC announced the creation of an expended "Air Defense Identification Zone" that covers a fairly large portion of the west side of the Pacific that lies between the PRC to the west, Taiwan (ROC) to the south, Japan to the northeast, and the Republic of Korea to the north:

Note the gray area; that's the overlap between the western edge of Japan's own claimed ADIZ (the black line on the left side of the gray area) and the east edge of the PRC's new ADIZ.

Why is this important?

Well, and ADIZ is, in effect, a milder form of "territorial waters", an assertion of sovereignty. The FAA defines it, in part, as "an area of airspace over land or water in which the ready identification, location, and control of civil aircraft is required in the interest of national security." The PRC is insisting that it has the right to enforce the ADIZ regulations, which include
"...flight plans, as well as radio and logo identification, of all aircraft operating in the zone. The state-run news agency, Xinhua, said if an aircraft did not supply its flight plan, “China’s armed forces will adopt emergency defensive measures.”" (NYT, 11/26/13)
.The United States responded by sending a pair of B-52 bombers through the ADIZ without doing so. The message to the PRC couldn't have been clearer; bite me, PRC, we consider this area international waters and don't recognize your effing ADIZ.

Analysis of this action here, here, and here. I think "This means woah!"? No.

But it is an intriguing bit of geopolitical gamesmanship from the PRC, for two reasons:

1. The territory involved includes the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and seems to be a likely part of a stepped-up assertion of sovereignty over those ocean rocks, during a period when the issue has become increasingly contentious, and

2. The way the Chinese claiming their new ADIZ rules work. Typically these zones affect aircraft en route to the polity claiming the ADIZ; that's how the U.S. zones work:

But the Chinese are saying that their ADIZ applies to ALL aircraft transiting this zone, not just aircraft inbound for the PRC. This is actually a pretty significant reach; it would be like the United States claiming the right to query and, if not satisfied, stop or even detain any vessels transiting within it's 100-mile limit. This would have the effect, if enforced, of challenging the traditional legal standard of "innocent passage"; " long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law." (UNCLOS, Section 3(A)(19).

Why is China doing this? Why now?

Good questions. I don't know; I suspect that a LOT of people aren't sure. In some ways the PRC is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. Clearly someone is feeling cocky about the PRC's strength in the East China Sea. Who? Why? And to what purpose?

Again; all good questions and ones that it'd be nice to know the answer to.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Admiral JC Wylie's "Military Strategy" Revisited

There seems to be something of a JC Wylie revival going on over at Zenpundit . . .
I was involved in this a bit due to a couple of posts I made back at the end of 2010 . . . first concerning an analysis of Wylie's book and then a follow-up post on strategy in general.
While I can only applaud anyone considering taking Admiral Wylie up on his challenge of formulating a general theory of strategy, it is not a task to be taken on lightly. Historically there has been only one general theory in strategic theory, that of Clausewitz and that only became recognized slowly starting in the 1920s, that is almost a century after On War was first published.
A general theory of strategy would have to be able to encompass not only all types of operational approaches (such as air strategy, naval strategy, economic strategy during wartime), but also the various "arts of war" of the various epochs (such as ancient, Medieval, Napoleonic, 19th Century, early 20th Century, early 21st Century) . . . which gives an indication why there is only one today. Even what we have is not universally recognized as such and I am sure there are enough Clausewitzians of the military history persuasion who would argue against the existence of a general theory in On War, although Clausewitzian strategic theorists, like myself, would argue it to the bitter end . . .
Given this reality, why bother? Well, first off a general theory provides a great tool for military/political historical analysis, being in essence a sort of "language" which can be widely understood allowing for historical comparison. While, strategic theory is retrospective by nature, it can also provide a basic framework for strategic planning in terms of actual policy, but with the warning that is is not a recipe for success since the social complexity is simply too great and contingently based to provide an accurate means of prediction.
To finish off this short post, let me provide several guidelines as to what a general theory of strategy would require from a Clausewitzian perspective:
First, we are dealing with political collectives, not individuals. From this perspective, the goals or "strategy" of an individual would be tactics, at the most.
Second, the general theory would consist of a system of interlocking concepts which would be abstract enough to cover the immense variety and scope necessary, but with specific definitions accurate enough to avoid confusion, that is a good portion of the definitions would be Weberian ideal types. Between these concepts and definitions there would be unresolved/unresolvable "tensions", that is we are not dealing with synthesis as a result of the thesis and anti-thesis, but rather the contradictions (or tensions) between them remaining.
Third, something that would be useful in this regard would be a spectrum of political relations ranging from fraternal association on one end to existential enmity on other. Coercion for instance would span both sides of the threshold of violence someplace in the middle.
Fourth, and finally, the greatest obstacle to forming a general theory is "politics" or specifically in this case the political relations (and the various associated assumptions linked to them) of one's own political community at this point in time. The more complex the political relations, the more difficult agreeing on the specific and historical assumptions becomes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The strong do what they can...

...and thirty years ago, we sure as hell did.

And, like the annoying little kid in the Shake and Bake commercial, I helped.

For those nostalgic for the Eighties, The Great Communicator's Caribbean Triumph, or just farcical expeditionary extravaganzas, it's Grenada Month all November at Graphic Firing Table!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Open Thread

Gas attack at the Somme photo courtesy of the History Blog

Also meant to mention the 10,000 dead in Tacloban.  Wasn't that MacArhtur's HQ after the Leyte landing?  They also had trouble back then with flooding this time of year.  Nothing like this of course, which was a million times worse.  But most of the MacArthur's airfields were swamped and useless.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Guile and Valor

Just finished reading 'The Deceivers' about the art of deception in the 2nd world war.  Not the novels of the same name by Forsyth or Masters, but a well-researched nonfiction account.  Boring you say, as most everybody has heard about the phantom armies in Southeast Britain facing across the channel from the Pas de Calais and perhaps about the ‘man-who-never-was’.  But this book goes into the organized deception campaigns in the Chinese/Burma/India Theater, North Africa, Italy, the Eastern Front, and both the Central and Southwest Pacific Theaters also.  Very detailed and interesting.  The Americans and French learned it as well from the Brits.  The Soviets too but that part is not quite as detailed, due I am sure to unavailability of the appropriate Russian records to an American researcher.  

The author does not credit the British mastery of deception to any particular perfidiousness in the English character.  Interestingly he ascribes it to a 1900s era  British Colonel, G. F. R. Henderson, who was a dedicated student of the campaigns of Stonewall Jackson in the American Civil War.  Henderson was also an author and a Professor of Military Art at the British Staff College.and influenced generations of British officers with Stonewall’s systematic mystifying and misleading of his enemies.   Great generals of all nations have of course used ruses and feints since the beginning of warfare.  But the British genius was to make deception a separate staff section reporting directly to the commander or to his chief of staff and to codify it into their doctrine.  We Americans learned the game from them during the war and played it well at the time.  But unfortunately our staff system was more rigid so we added a layer between commander and the deception staff by assigning it as a tiny subsection of either G-2 or G-3.  And then in 1946 we promptly forgot about it and it and everything we had learned.

Admiral Hewitt in NW African waters and the western Med used it with his Beach Jumpers for mock amphibious landings to disguise the real intended beachhead.  The original idea came from Hollywood (Doug Fairbanks Jr) and they were later used in the Pacific.   

 Nimitz took to deception and used a notional invasion of the Kurile Islands from the Aleutians (termed Wedlock) to mask his intentions in the Marianas and later the Palaus.  That same deception plan also also benefited MacArthur at Leyte.  It worked as evidenced by the buildup of Japanese ground troops in the Kuriles from 14K in 43 to 64K in January 44 plus four air regiments were moved to Hokkaido in February 44 from southern Japan and from Manchuria.  Later Nimitz used a notional invasion of Formosa and mainland China coast (codenamed Bluebird) to disguise the largest amphibious assault of the Pacific – the Okinawan campaign.

MacArthur himself was a natural and used tactical deception brilliantly during the Hollandia campaign.  But for strategic deception requiring coordination with other theaters his imperious Chief of Staff, LtGen Sutherland, and his G-2 and G-3 did not take kindly to outside advice so lost many opportunities.  The Japanese were no slouches at deception themselves as witnessed by their outfoxing Halsey at Leyte.  But they entered that game too late and their efforts were to no avail.

Mountbatten used it extremely well in Burma, his prime practitioners being General Slim and also Peter Fleming,elder brother to Ian, the author of the James Bond novels, some even claim that Peter was a literary clone of 007.  General Stillwell did not like the concept of deception and would not allow it by his command.  His later replacement, Wedemeyer, used a notional drive to the coast of the South China Sea by a Chinese Army Group, reputedly led by Patton (?) so they could link up with Nimitz’s Bluebird ruse.

The book is not new, it was published nine years ago, so is relatively inexpensive but is well worth a look.  The author, Thaddeus Holt, is a former Deputy Under-Secretary of the Army.  He has also written articles on military history for MHQ, JMH and the NYTimes.  Good read but not for the faint of heart as it is 805 pages plus another 300 or so pages for the Appendices.  My only beef is that he seems to spend too much time on the personalities of the various deception staff officers and some of their arguments with each other.  Otherwise it is great reference work not just for deception but also for the real operations they were designed to protect with their <i>”bodyguard of lies”</i>.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Defensible Terrain

 --Paresh Nath, UAE

Does our ruin benefit the earth?
Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine?
Is this darkness in you, too?
Have you passed through this night?   
--The Thin Red Line (1998)

There were many lessons from COP Keating.
One of them is that our troops should never, ever,
be put in a position
where they have to defend the indefensible
--President Obama bestowing the MOH
on SSG Romesha

{This is an outgrowth of the commentary @ milpub to "True Colors".  This is submitted from an Infantryman's perspective -- an attempt to integrate your collective cache of knowledge on 50 years of institutional military experience.}

Per President Obama's statement above, defending the indefensible is a no-go, so why do it?

Why do we engage in combat, both offensively and defensively? The question applies to a rifle squad as well as a theatre Army. Whether fighting a counterinsurgency (COIN) or unconventional or guerrilla wars (UW/GW), why do we fight? Do we just fight to kill, or is there a military logic beyond the killing?

We put our soldiers into combat for one purpose: to facilitate future operations which will lead to a militarily achievable purpose that reflects a political reality. We do not fight for  hopes or dreams, but for observable and verifiable achievements.

Why do we defend COPs -- small battle stations set on the frontier of a battle area? What should Commander's planning and guidance indicate before we even occupy the ground?

Obviously, any occupied terrain should be defensible. There must be mutual support to include logistics, personnel and supporting fires of all consideration. Historically, adjacent units provide direct fire to mutually support a friendly unit in distress. Defense is either hasty or planned, mobile or static. It is generally thought that static defense is to be avoided (think Bataan, Corregidor and Wake Island.)

So for a COP to be effective, it needs defensible terrain with adequate resources; wishful thinking does not count. Then it needs depth to the battle space, which implies a connection among all of the involved units. Reserve units historically are positioned within supporting distance, with reliable avenues of approach. This also allows engaged units to fall back to the reserve position if the situation deteriorates (or upon receipt of such orders.)

Strangely, all reported Afghan COP battles have lacked this feature. The soldiers in these COP battles could not withdraw to a friendly position on defensible terrain.

Soldiers should not be fighting for non-quantifiable metrics such as the love of the Afghan people for their government, for instance. Ranger cares that our soldiers fight and die, if necessary, for a purpose beyond the ratings bump of a saccharine news byte.

The United States can hang four Medals of Honor (MOH) from four COP fights around the necks of four extremely heroic soldiers, but that does not alter the nature of the fight. What did our good and true and loyal soldiers die for out on those hillsides? Will Afghanistan ever be a beacon of democracy? Do we even care?

Beyond that, to risk a Thin Red Line-like reverie ...

How did the Taliban become an enemy of the U.S.? Why is it our business to kill them? Are the people of Afghanistan our enemies or our friends? Further, what of other countries whose business we have  been getting into -- Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Iraq? Can the forces of arms achieve anything beyond the imposition of death? As the character of Capt. James 'Bugger' Staros thinks in "The The Thin Red Line", The tough part is, uh... Not knowing if you're doing any good. That's the hard part.

Now, a soldier on a COP does not ask these questions, but we as citizens should and must before sending the first soldier down range. It is to our eternal shame if we do not.

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar.]

Thursday, October 17, 2013

True Colors

--Capt. William Swenson receiving the Medal of Honor
 October 15, 2013 
Show me a smile then 
Don't be unhappy 
Can't remember when 
I last saw you laughing  
--True Colors, Cyndi Lauper 

Reportage on the on the most recent Medal of Honor recipient from the Wars on Terror -- Army Captain William Swenson -- carries a misstatement:
 "[this award] marks only the second time in the last 50 years that two American service members have received the Medal of Honor for actions in the same battle.
"In 2011, Dakota Meyer, a Marine sergeant who also is now a civilian, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in that Sept. 8, 2009, battle in Afghanistan" (Obama: Washington can learn from Medal of Honor recipient.)

Ranger presumes the article's "second time" refers to the MOH's posthumously awarded to Randall David "Randy" Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon for their actions in the Battle of Mogadishu (Oct. '93).

However, in fact the Vietnam War Battle of the Ia Drang Valley (LZ X-Ray) in 1965 produced three Medals of Honor, a battle within that 50 year window. However, somehow we still give that war and its participants the short shrift.

The MOH recipients from the Battle of LZ X-Ray were 1st LT Walter J. Marm (15 Feb 67); Captain Ed Freeman (16 July 2001), and Major Bruce Crandall (26 Feb 2007). It is only appropriate that the MOH finally be awarded to an Infantry U.S. Army Captain. Capt. Swenson did what one would expect from an officer under dire circumstances; he deserves our praise. But let us not forget Marm, Freeman or Crandall. 

Let us also honor the MOH recipients from that war no so long ago -- my war -- by remembering the names of those men and their actions.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Jus Ad Bellum . . .

Interesting video from the Naval War College posted on youtube titled:

The lecturer is Professor Michael Schmitt, Chair of the International Law Department at the NWC.  He has some diverse opinions.  Some I object to, some others seem right to me.  I won't go into them now.  I am heading out of town for a short hunting trip.  So I will let you decide  which is which. 

He is also a former USAF JAG Officer and a visiting professor in three different British and Australian Universities.  He is well published, including books and articles on the legalities of Drones, CyberWar, Blockades, Autonomous Weapons, Direct Participation of Civilians in War, and many others.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Võ Nguyên Giáp RIP . . .

. . . or rot in hell depending on your point of view.  Dead at 102.  Outlived his counterpart Robert McNamara.  Outlived his fall guys, Generals Navarre and Westmoreland.   But then Giap had two things going for him that Navarre and Westy did not: 1] it was his backyard whereas his enemies were over 10,000 miles from home, and 2] he had a sanctuary, his enemies did not.  He also outlived two other of his victims.  He was still Defense Minister when Vietnam beat Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge and General Xu Shiyou's PLA.  Too bad for his country that he was too old and retired from military affairs in 1988 when China occupied Vietnam's Johnson Reef and killed 64 Vietnamese soldiers.

 He was self-taught in matters soldierly.  He did not turn to a military life until his thirties.  He went to High shool in Hue, college in Hanoi, and did further study in Paris and China.  Started his adulthood as a teacher and a journalist unlike Navarre who graduated from Saint Cyr, and unlike Westmoreland who was an honor graduate of West Point.  But even as a younger man he read extensively of Napoleon (especially of his mountain campaigns), Sun Tzu, the American Revolutionary War, and then later he read Mao.  And what Wikipedia and Vietnamese sources will never divulge, he also had some military training from an American OSS team.  Giap is the short dapper one in the white suit and my father's dark fedora hat two down on the right from a young Ho Chi Minh in shorts.  The American soldier between them is US Army Major Allison Thomas head of the OSS training team.

General Hal Moore, who co-wrote "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young" about the battle of Ia Drang, said that Giap was " ... one of the greatest military commanders of the 20th century".  Westmoreland called Giap a butcher in a 1998 interview in George magazine: "Of course, he was a formidable adversary . . . but he persisted in waging a big-unit war with terrible losses to his own men. By his own admission, by early 1969, I think, he had lost, what, a half million soldiers? He reported this. Now such a disregard for human life may make a formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius."  Both Moore and Westy may both have been right, sour grapes or not.

Giap's birthplace, Quang Binh, is the province just north of the DMZ which took the brunt of America's air war against the north: thousands of tons of bombs more than any other province in the north.  LBJ had no restricted targets in the North Vietnamese panhandle where Quang Binh was located.  Not just B-52 arclights, and Navy and Air Force Alpha strikes, but it was also a dumping ground for any returning American aircraft that could not get to their primary target for weather or any other reason.  The photo below shows Giap congratulating workers of the transport boat team on Gianh River just a few mile north of the DMZ in 1968.  I first thought it was staged, but now I think not.  He is one of their native sons, not some Hanoi bigwig.  He is talking to them in their own drawling central Vietnamese dialect, which is as different from the harsh pronunciations of the north and the tonal patois of Saigon as is the speech of an Iowan farmer from Brooklynese or Dallas twang.  They are liking him for being just a country cousin like they are and a local boy made good.

 There is an interesting story that the spot he was born in was under the shadow of a jackfruit tree.  Or interesting to this vet anyway.  The jackfruit (mít in Vietnamese), although a sweet delicacy, has some martial arts overtones in central Vietnam.  They have a thick pale green rind with thousands of sharp hexagonal spines.  There is an old ballad from that part of the country about a blind hero using jackfruit rinds as some type of brass knuckled fist coverings during a Vietnamese boxing match.  So I suspect that story may be apocryphal, sort of like Washington's cherry tree.   Anyway if there is a good Viet restaurant in your neighborhood try the jackfruit salad or mo' better try the dessert of sweet ripe jackfruit in coconut milk if they have it.  You won't regret it!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Starry, Starry Night

--A simple game of chess

Our crusade was such madness 
that only a real idealist could have thought it up
--The Seventh Seal (1957)

Ranger will draw connections among three fights: Lang Vei (Vietnam, Feb. '68), Mogadishu - Black Hawk Down (Oct. '93) and the Battle of Kamdesh at Command Outpost Keating in Afghanistan (Oct. 2009).

The key devolution over 40+ years is that the U.S. is no longer fighting enemy armies but simple assemblies of enemy fighters variously described as militias, militants, insurgents, etc., and while U.S. forces are arrayed to fight battles, they instead get roughly handled by simple street thugs ... people for whom soldierly behavior does not apply.

So, why do we fight for hills, towns and terrains which are disposable and not of worth to anyone except those squatting on that particular grid square, and then pull up stakes and leave? Have the principles of war lost their relevance? This is the Day of the Jackal; you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Has Clausewitz had his day? If so, what will direct and constrain our present and future conflicts?

From his personal discussions with battle survivor (Lt.) Paul Longgrear, the Battle of Lang Vei was the death of the United States Special Forces A-Camps, which were small and remote fighting camps with mission augmentation. The fall of Lang Vei showed that the US Army could not hold a camp if the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was determined to expend the operational assets to destroy their objective.

If the  NVA could do this at LV with USMC assets a 105 Howitzer distance away, then any SF fighting camp in VN was a potential death trap. The LV Battle was a knock-down fight between two determined armies; after LV and Tet '68, the outcome of the American war in Vietnam was sealed.

And yet, despite that death knell the U.S. continues 40 years on to emplace its soldiers in indefensible outposts which suffer the same dire fate.

Like LV, the Mogadishu battle [Black Hawk Down - "BHD'] was conducted by the finest Special Operations Forces (SOF) -- the 75th Ranger Battalion assets teamed up with SOF Delta operatives. The difference in the BHD scenario was that the enemy was an unorganized opponent lacking a detailed Table of Organization and Equipment (TO& E) and order of battle; in short, they functioned as militias lacking state apparatus. They probably lacked mission objectives beyond killing soldiers and controlling the countryside and cities by armed violence.

But BHD demonstrated that militias with platoon-level weapons (including RPG2 and 7's) could engage and kill prime US war fighting assets IF the militias were willing to take the casualties. It was estimated in BHD that the U.S. killed 1,000+ militia fighters, yet the U.S. mission was ultimately frustrated and abandoned. Somalia is still the same sewer 20 years on.

The book and the movie were an awe-inspiring view of a world-class infantry, but insurgents and militias world-wide re-learned that they can fight any army to standstill if willing to take the casualties. The lessons taken from the '79 Russo-Afghan war have been re-imagined in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2001 onward.

The Battle at Kamdesh in '09 for which SSG Clinton Romesha earned the Medal of Honor earlier this year occurred 20 miles away from a similar failure the previous year in the Battle of Wanat. While the U.S. soldiers supposedly killed 100 enemy militants, that is immaterial since the 4th Division no longer occupies any terrain in the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.

An old Counterinsurgency (COIN) metric goes, if we are killing 10:1 of ours, then we are being successful. It is doubtful the U.S. met that metric in LV and it assuredly did not in BHD. And in Kamdesh, with a kill ratio of 8:100 ... ? Did we win?

The New York Times reported the Americans following Kamdesh "declared the outpost closed and departed — so quickly that they did not carry out all of their stored ammunition. The outpost’s depot was promptly looted by the insurgents and bombed by American planes in an effort to destroy the lethal munitions left behind" ("Strategic Plans Spawn Bitter End for Lonely Outpost.")

COP Keating was not a win, and they left like Lee slinking out of Gettysburg in July 1863. The difference was that instead of withdrawing under an enemy army's pressure, they faced a rag-tag group of militia fighters who may have been simple bandits or warlord fighters. Though not a Waterloo or Liepzig, it was a total failure nonetheless.

If U.S. forces were to kill 100:1, they would still be losing in a Low-intensity conflict (LIC) or COIN environment. We no longer talk of LIC, instead pretending that we fight battles, but LIC is the order of the day, and reality demands that understanding. However, that understanding would threaten to upend the profitable military complex as we know it.

 Ranger's unit in RVN, Studies and Observations Group (SOG), is reported to have had a kill ratio of 150:1, but we still lost control of the Ho Chi Minh Trail since we never controlled the key terrain on the ground. An army can hold ground, but that is not equal to controlling the ground.

In the last 43 years, the U.S. Army has lost the ability to control the ground. It may have conquered Kabul and Baghdad, but it never controlled the ground, nor the hearts and minds of the locals. This is the fallow result of phony wars.

The latest wars prove the inability of the U.S. Army to destroy and force U.S. will on insurgencies and militia-inspired insurgencies. They are continuations of LV and BHD on another chessboard. What should we have learned?

Time is not on our side.

[cross-posted @ rangeragainstwar]