Thursday, September 15, 2016

Roberts Ridge, Revisited

 --USAF Technical Sgt. John Chapman 
(KIA, 2002)

 "It was just a moment of pure panic."
--Pilot of Razor 4

Fourteen years after the first publicized meeting engagement in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) -- the Battle of Roberts Ridge -- USAF Technical Sergeant John Chapman (KIA) is being considered for a posthumous Medal of Honor (MOH) based on "newly accessed" graphic data.

The new data? A grainy and indistinct film recently released in the New York Times. But this fuzzy footage is superfluous because the Sergeant's 2003 Navy Cross award citation already told the story of an action which clearly met the bar for a MOH.

The Blair Witch Project-style footage seems an absurd criteria for reconsideration of Chapman's award. 21st century photo technology could render clearer footage (or what's a DARPA for?).

In a 2010 post on his blog [War and Remembrance], Ranger said that Sgt. Chapman should have received the MOH. Why is the Air Force only now considering the upgrade of his Air Cross?

What was being hidden, and why now?

In an incompetent mission, Airman Chapman was left for dead on the battlefield by SEALS. He continued fighting for an hour, before dying from his injuries. Were the authorities waiting to release this Bad News until all living players had received their retirements?

Certainly the war effort and the concept of a viable Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) would have been harmed if it had been acknowledged that the SEALS had abandoned a member of a sister service. Special Operations have not come far since Desert One, despite the Hoorah and exorbitant funding.

The Special Operations Command ratholed a clear MOH action because it would have shed light on the fact that the vaunted SEALS left a seriously-wounded man to die on the battlefield. While they returned to find injured fellow SEALS, they did  not do so for Air Force member, non-SEAL, Sgt. Chapman.

The SEALS have gained a cachet following the release of Marcus Luttrell's book, Lone Survivor (later a movie). Luttrell was the first of the literary SEALS in the PWOT.

But Ranger questions why the Navy even has an element like the SEALS. They are essentially Naval Infantry which lack the training, experience and institutional knowledge to be infantry. Why does a United States fleet Navy need its own infantry personnel thrown into a fight which is remote from any fleet activity?

Why were the SEALS on a frozen Afghan hillside with nary a whiff of salt in the air?

The Navy has the United States Marine Corps (USMC) for land combat purposes. The Marines have  depth of knowledge and Combat Support (CS) and Combat Support Services (CSS) to support their mission. The SEALS are a redundancy.

This battle lacked the hallmarks of advanced military thought or action. In addition, the players lacked for functional equipment. A quick review of the enemy situation reveals the irrelevance of this mission for which Sgt. Chapman died on a meaningless piece of real estate:

They were a squad or platoon minus, or a reinforced squad, occupying an isolated high-altitude observation post; one could stretch the point and call it a combat outpost. Whatever we call it, it was probably occupied by Chechens who got there by climbing the mountain.

This means that United States forces could have interdicted their support and utilized ambush and blocking positions to kill them as they went up or came down the mountain. This is Infantry 101,  of the sort any Army or USMC grunt instinctively understands.

The Battle of Robert Ridge is reminiscent of the Battle of Ia Drang (LZ X-Ray, 1965) in the Republic of Vietnam, the first meeting engagement of the North Vietnamese Army against a heliborne U.S. Army. The Roberts Ridge debacle could also be equated to the Battle of Mogadishu ("Day of the Rangers", Blackhawk Down, 1993) in Somalia.

The truth is simple: if the enemy is assaulted, he will fight back and accept the losses. Our technology means naught when the equation is reduced to rifle against rifle. At that point, you have already lost..

Obviously, the SEALS have no patience for the basics of ground combat, and assaulted an objective without proper visual reconnaissance.

The Operations Orders for this action are still classified -- why?

[cross-posted @Rangergainstwar.]

Sunday, September 11, 2016

75 Years Ago

75 years ago on 16 September 1941 Tehran was occupied by a joint Anglo-Soviet force.   

The stated reason was to rid the country of German nationals and German influence even though Iran had declared neutrality in WW2.  Perhaps there was some minor Axis sentiment in Iran.  But it was rather more anti-Russian and anti-British than pro-German because Russia and England had played their Great Game in Iran since the early 19th century alienating most Iranians.  

But the two major reasons for the occupation were different.  One was to open up the Trans-Iranian Railway to provide supplies and armaments for the Soviet war effort.  A land route to Russia was critical with the limited lift capacity of, and danger to, the Arctic Convoys to Archangelsk and Murmansk.  Reason two, which was crucial for the Brits was to secure the Iranian oilfields for the British war effort and for the stockholders of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.  In addition to the oilfields, the Abadan refinery was the largest oil refinery in the world at that time.
The invasion into Iranian territory started on 25 August.

The Iranian Army in 1941 was basically a counter-insurgency force.  Their only combat experience was subduing internal insurrections by ethnic Kurds, Azeris, Turkmen, Lurs, Baluchis, Gilaks, Arabs, and Qashqais.  Or the army was busy suppressing tribal unrest due to Reza Shah’s attempts at de-tribalization and urbanization of nomads.  The Army had no experience against a modern military force.  They were trying to go through a period of modernization promoted by a group of young western educated junior officers.  But the high command was useless in that effort as they were mostly  old cronies of the Shah from his days in the Persian Cossack Brigade.  Sycophants and yes men, they were more interested in building up their personal wealth than building up the army.  The Shah himself as a former gunnery sergeant was somewhat of a micromanager, which lead to a lack of resourcefulness in much of the officer corps.  Plus there was the fact that horse cavalry and peasant conscripts did not do too well against tanks and artillery.

So the Shah sued for peace three days later on August 28th.  But the Brits and Soviets ignored him until they jointly seized Tehran on the 16th and forced him to abdicate his throne and replaced him with his son as their puppet.  

The Soviets invaded with three armies and 1000 T-26 tanks.  In the west the 44th and 47th Armies of the Transcaucasus Front pushed in from the Azerbaijan SSR.  And in the east they invaded from Turkmenistan with the 53rd Independent Central Asian Army.  There are not a lot of English sources available on the Soviet aspect of the invasion.  The only one I have read is Professor KavehFarroqh’s book “Iran at War”.  It is amazing to me that the Soviets had the wherewithal to conduct this operation because in the first week of August alone at the Battle of Smolensk they had lost over 750,000 men, 3000 tanks & self-propelled guns, and 900 aircraft.  

The British, using mostly Indian troops, also split their advance.  In southern Iran in Khuzestan the 8th Indian Infantry Division sent the 24th Brigade in an amphibious assault across the Shatt-al-Arab to take the Abadan refinery.  Abadan reportedly had to be taken against fierce resistance as some Iranians reportedly fought to the last man.  Another amphibious landing was made at Bandar Shahpur (now known as Bandar-e Emam Khomeyni).  Bandar Shahpur was critical as it was the terminus of the Trans-Iranian Railway needed for supplying the Soviets with war materiel.  The rest of the division in Basra forged east to take Khorramshar.  

The central Iran advance was led by General Slim (later of Fourteenth Army fame in Burma).  I believe that is Slim on the left sitting next to General Novikov of the 47th Army.  Slim led a scratch task force consisting of one brigade from his own 10th Indian Infantry Division, plus the 2nd Indian Armored Brigade, and the 4th British Cavalry Brigade.  They crossed into Iran from Khanaquin, Iraq.  They traversed the Zagros mountains at Pai Tak pass driving to the Naft Shahr oilfields and Kermanshah with a lot less opposition than the 8th had in the south.  General Slim called it an ‘opera bouffe’.  The wikipedia page claims General Slim “directed the battle remotely via radio from India”.  Not so according to author and Gurkha officer John Masters who is quoted as saying that Slim in his khaki colored station wagon did a personal recon of the Pai Tak Pass well in front of the Task Force spearhead.

The aftermath:  The US Army Transportation Corps soon came in to run the railroad and provided 3000 additional freight cars and 148 locomotives.  They built wharves and improved roads and airfields.  American contractors came in and established assembly plants for aircraft, trucks and other factories.  So the Soviets got 5 million tons of armaments and supplies by rail and road thru that ‘Persian Corridor' plus 4800+ combat aircraft flown in and 180,000 trucks driven in.  That materiel was of significant importance (if not decisive) to the Battle of Stalingrad.  By the way, the 53rd Army later fought at the Battle of Kursk and after the war participated in the Soviet occupation of Manchuria.   The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company got their oil and eventually were renamed British Petroleum of Deepwater Horizon infamy and before that the Prudhoe Bay Oil Spill and the Texas City Refinery Disaster.  Reza Shah died in exile in South Africa.  Reza Shah’s son got the throne for 38 years until he too was deposed in 1979.  General Slim went on to become a Field Marshal, a viscount, Governor General of Australia, and was voted Britain's Greatest General by UK WW2 veteransRear Admiral Gholam-ali Bayandor who led both the land and sea defenses against the Brits in Khuzestan and was killed there is today still commemorated as a hero and martyr by the Iranian military. 

September 11, 2001 -- 15 Years On

 --A Little Firework to 911
Marian Kamensky (Slovakia)

Once there was a way to get back homeward,
Once there was a way to get back home
--Golden Slumbers, The Beatles

All the fakeness just rolls right off them,
maybe because the nonstop sales job of American life
has instilled in them exceptionally high thresholds
for sham, puff, spin, bullshit, and outright lies,
in other words for advertising in all its forms
--Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016)


Mankind survived the last ice age.
We're certainly capable of surviving this one.
All depends on whether or not we're able
to learn from our mistakes
--The Day After Tomorrow (2004)


This is a call for a momentary cessation in hostilities, whatever your stripe.

It is a reminder of a time, not so long ago, when we were able to cohere.

I live near the top of a little hill. It's not much, but it's what suffices for such here in our state capital. As such, I am privileged to watch the cast of regulars who summit the hill daily.

There are the high school ROTC runners and their barking drill instructors, and the local marathoners. There is the elderly gent with the broken straw hat who travels the route daily atop his John Deere tractor mower.

But yesterday, it was an old woman who stopped my attention as I saw her make her way along her familiar daily route.

She is always to herself, speaksing to no one, inscrutable, with an air of self-contained pleasure about her. She often stops and bends to pull weeds to tidy a neighbor's planter, to gather twigs or to set aright a fallen recyclables bin. She is usually silent.

My friend Rhett, lifetime resident and self-proclaimed "dirt-road country boy", diagnoses her unwavering sashay as being the result of some good lovin' when her husband was alive.

This week, she reminded me of the events of 9-11, and this particular woman on that particular day.

That infamous day began when I walked into the office to be confronted by the stricken look of a co-worker, who directed me to go to the staff room and watch the events on the television, what was to become the unceasing loop to which we would be served for weeks to come, the burning towers of NYC's World Trade Center.

In my next class that morning, I shared my supposition that this was an Islamic terrorist act. Most students did not yet know what Islam or terrorism was, a blissful ignorance from which they have since awoken.

As I drove through downtown on my way home that day, I was struck by the silence. No planes, but more than that, the road noise was brought to a hush. It was as though no one dared to crack the uncustomary silence.  There were no horns, and no music blared out of windows.

In retrospect, it seems that most windows were closed, even on that pleasant Indian summer day. Perhaps they were listening to the radio. Most faces stared obediently -- stunned? -- straight ahead.

In stores, there was a palpable politesse. What had just happened to us, by whom, and why? But the questions were not asked aloud.

When I arrived home, the lady on the hill soon passed my window singing a mournful spiritual. She knew what time it was, figuratively -- a knowing that we seem to have lost today.

Her dolorous dirge was a snapshot in time for me, and when I saw her yesterday, in context of the ceaseless strife and chatter during this election season, I thought about her Cassandra-like break in her silence.

15 years later, proportionately few Americans have served in the so-called Wars on Terror. Many of those who have done so have returned with poor or ambivalent views of their actions in the Middle East theatre.

Taking a parachute view of our country, we are still a nation of law, we still have a Supreme Court (though we cannot seem to fill the vacant seat.) We remain a capitalistic democracy, and many people continue to so very well. But some things seemingly remote from the events of 9-11-01 have changed.

We are two months away from a Presidential election, and our papers of note shaves till failed to adequately cover the candidate's positions, in lieu of squeezing the humor value, tabloid-style, out of personality gaffes. Everyone wants to be on someone's feed, and one must be absurd or outrageous to get "Liked" in that way.

Other changes are recently released studies which show middle-aged white males are the one demographic no longer making gains in longevity; in fact, they are losing time. Cheaper adulterated drugs like heroin are resulting in more deaths among users, especially in that demographic.

So much has changed for the worse in the 15 years the start of the 21st century, and much of it wrought through our our own malfeasance.

Most people are now preternaturally connected to their smartphones and other devices, an era-defining development. It is difficult to imagine a time when life was lived in real color, and not pixels.
When we let the genie out of the Middle East bottle, we ensured that we would have a perpetual problem to hold our interest for the remainder of our lifetimes, at least.

But by putting these people -- who had mostly been quietly living their lives in a pre--modern fashion -- on the world's stage in such a spectacular fashion, the U.S. has unfairly ensured the rest of the world face the fallout from our discretionary wars. As a result, it is they who live in closer proximity to the region of unrest who are suffering the brunt of the problems.

My philosopher-cabdriver friend called that afternoon 15 years ago to say, "Everything has now changed."

I thought that was a bit of an overreaction at the time.

[Note: so enamored are we with the piffle which has characterized the last year of public national life that when I searched on my political cartoon website, I found predominately European cartoonists who had remembered today's significance.

Most U.S. cartoons still featured GOP candidate Trump's cotton candy coiffure in some disdainful manner. Life in 2016, U.S.A. Go, team