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:

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. According to the Army's History Channel-esque fabuloso website transcript of Sgt. White's action, none of these precautions were employed. (note: it does, however, appear that the enemy had an overwatch element.)

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.

Further thoughts: 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?

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

[cross-posted @ milpub.]

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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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