Saturday, April 08, 2017

April 7 Marine Reconnaissance Ambush, Pt. II

--Fallujah, June, 2016, after the Iraqis declared victory against ISIS
(looking very much like Fallujah, April 2017, when ISIS launched a
major decapitation mission)

[Pt II of April 7 Marine Reconnaissance Ambush] --

Actions at the objective:

The enemy had RPG's and at least three light machine guns suppressing the friendlies. Marines are taught to dismount attack, which is commendable, but it is not the best course of action.

They must break out of the kill zone and it is better to do so in a hardened vehicle than on foot (as dismounted Infantry.) While the enemy forces were effective, there were holes in their operation.

They did not seal the kill zone, nor did they have a well-conceived exit after the action. The Marine's described this as a near ambush, but the fact that it was not initiated with an explosive device suggests enemy incompetence. Additionally, the enemy's guns were neither dug in nor in hardened bunkers, also demonstrating a questionable level of proficiency.

In short, the enemies were not top-drawer soldiers.

There was nothing stopping the Marine's follow-on vehicles from swinging off the road and rolling the enemy's shoulder. Anything should have been done to break the tempo of the ambush.

Again, a mortar or 40 mm round would have been a literal life-saver: never send a man when you can send a mortar round, instead. The Marines were not carrying grenades, which are most needed when assaulting machine guns.

Now for the hard calls (which is what they pay officers for):

The lead vehicle is in a bad way, but he is still drawing enemy fire, which lessens the fire on the potential maneuver elements. A deep move right and left and a vehicle assault to the middle of the enemy's position would be a possible course of action, and one would expect this to be a normal immediate action call for recon Marines. It was not done, however.

In past battle analyses, we have discussed the need to determine if enemy fire is effective or ineffective, a key combat lesson. If a recon unit lacks air assets to do route recon and clearing, then perhaps the mission should be reconsidered and reconfigured.

That this failed mission was not casts aspersions on the Marine's training and counter-ambush techniques. Remember: if the enemy can see you, then you can see them. If they can hit you, ditto.

Ranger's take is that courage and valor are not substitutes for correct route recons and terrain analysis prior to launching a road-running event. Distance and interval should be enforced between march elements. This rule holds even for elite troops; complacence is not a military virtue.

These prior preparations and adherence to protective postures may seem tedious in the face of Marines willing to dismount and be "kinetic", but such precautions may prevent the grievous injuries and loss of life suffered when they are absent or given short-shrift, as they were on 7 April 2004 outside of Fallujah for an unlucky group of Recon Marines.

Now this is the point where the reader says, "But you weren't there!", which of course is true. But shock action and firepower are linked to keeping your vehicles mobile and to providing effective suppressive fire, and both were deficient on the side of the friendlies in this action.

Had any or all of these offensive-defensive actions been employed, another sad and tragic event in a litany of such events might have either been avoided or at least, ameliorated.

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Friday, April 07, 2017

April 7 Marine Reconnaissance Ambush

--Fallujah this week.
That Fallujah, the city a senior Iraqi Commander
declared definitively free of ISIS in June 2016, 
 the week after ISIS killed dozens execution-style in
that once-darling city of the United States, 
now abject sump 

I fear I'll do some damage
One fine day
But I would not be convicted
By a jury of my peers 
--Still Crazy After All These Years,
Paul Simon 

The earth is not earth but a stone,
Not the mother that held men as they fell 
. . .
To live in war, to live at war,
To chop the sullen psaltery   
--The Man with the Blue Guitar, 
 Wallace Stevens    

 And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.' 
Percy Bysshe Shelley 

This is a review of a 7 April 2004 ambush of a group of U.S. Reconnaissance Marines on an operation near Fallujah, Iraq.

The History Channel ran a documentary of the action on Veterans Day 2016. Of course, it was hailed as a great act of valor. And the men, as always, were valorous.

From History.com, "(t)he Marines fought their fears to stay calm and fought on--making 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, Bravo Company, 2nd Platoon one of the most decorated platoons for heroism in a single action in the War on Terror."

But the mission was a flub-up, the type of mistake executed far too many times in the 15 years of the current Wars on Terror. A military does not thrive on failures, yet we do not learn from our mistakes. So we make documentaries and sit transfixed before the simulated firepower, unaware of the depth of failure which we behold.

Ranger's Infantry mind railed against almost every aspect of the action presented.

The 7 April ambush did not have to happen, but it did, and it is not an isolated event. Several errors ensured the wounds and loss of Marine lives that day. We will look at a few:

The mission was to send a convoy of 3 to 5 up-armored Humvees down a road, doing something. The Platoon leader was a Captain (common in recon units to add some experience to the mix); the NCO's were heavily-weighted with combat experience.

The lead vehicle commander suspected an ambush, feeling he was in a potential kill zone. Hunches in combat should be dealt with as judiciously as those in civilian life, for mistakes can last a lifetime. Alas, the ambush hunch manifested.

According to the lead vehicle commander, their standard operating procedure was to stop in the kill zone and assault the hostile element, which of course, has them in a well-executed beaten zone. It is never good to start a fight from the one-down position ... not a winning proposal, even for representatives of a Superpower. 

Some questions:

  • Why did they not stop when their gut told them to?
  • Why did they have only direct-fire machine guns mounted and not 40 mm guns to put out suppressive fires? (It is not as through these are not in the TO&E.)
  • Why did they not put out flanks security in the suspected ambush site?
  • Why did they not have  artillery concentrations planned at danger areas, especially when moving in hostile territory on habitually-used roads? That is why we have organic unit -level mortars.
  • Why were there no gunships flying convoy cover?
  • And the OBVIOUS question: why not break OUT of the Kill zone, seal the near and far approaches and roll the ambush from the flanks or shoulders?

You do not stop in a beaten zone ... do NOT! (Unless you want to be on the take-out menu.)

The April 7th ambush did not have to happen. Moreover, sadly, it was not a unique event.

Setting a pattern is the kiss of death. The hostile forces knew the route of march, number of troops and assigned weapons before the Recon Marines had their chow call that morning.

Operation security (OPSEC) is vital, even in elite units. When a leader suspects anything is not right, he must take a proper unit protective posture -- even if this contradicts time schedules of the movement.

Time schedules are not worth the loss of life and limb of unit members. 

[7 April Ambush, pt. II, next.]

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Thursday, April 06, 2017

Filibustering, But for What?

 We're living in a bad dream
They've forgotten all about mankind 
--All Those Years Ago
George Harrison 

You can cry a million tears
You can wait a million years
If you think that time will change your ways
Don't wait too long 
--Don't Wait Too Long,
 Madeleine Peyroux

It is understandable that the legions hooked up to the IV of daily hatred spewed forth from the media towards every move of their newly-elected President would come to meld with that angry mindset. To cower before every condemnation, and lash out with frustrated fury to any and everyone with whom they feel will be in resonance.

But the historic partisan Democratic filibuster of  Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch -- by all accounts an outstanding jurist -- is madness.

Gorsuch was admired by most mainstream Democrats up until now (including our own Sen. Bill Nelson [D-FL], until he decided he did not), so what could be the reason to end Senate rules which have allowed for centuries of bipartisanship, other than pure spitefulness?

In the anti-Trump New York Times, Neal K. Katyal (acting solicitor general in the Obama administration) in a considered Op-Ed explained why liberals should back Judge Gorsuch for the ninth seat on the Court.

Still, the Democratic grandstanding continues. What makes Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren MDP's? Republicans will probably have to invoke the "Nuclear Option" -- a simple majority -- first used by Democrats in 2013 (when former Senate majority leader Harry Reid [D-NV] convinced Senate Democrats to change Senate rules.)

Some Republicans warned the move would come back to haunt the Democrats.

Imagine if the roles were reversed and it was Republicans who were standing on the Senate floor blocking a vote. The media would go ballistic.

Let the nomination process begin, and the democratic rule of law hold fair sway.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Police Action

--Royal Marines in Helmand Province,
Andrew Miller 

Whenever I'm weary
From the battles that rage in my head
You make sense of madness
When my sanity hangs by a thread
--Now and Forever,
Richard Marx

Change your heart
Look around you
Change your heart
It will astound you
--Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime,
The Korgis

The Department of Defense (DoD) Dictionary of Military and associated terms does not have a definition for "Police Action". Per our previous post, this is a significant omission.

This military non-thing nonetheless has various iterations. If you check online, you will find "kinetic police actions", "preemptive police actions", "unilateral police actions", etc.

The online Legal Dictionary of the Free Dictionary provides a very nice and lengthy disquisition on war and its "sort of war" variations. Wikipedia says "police action" is a euphemism for military action, sans a formal declaration of war.

Neither answers the question -- "What is a military police action?" -- though they are two of a scant number of entries that even attempt to do so.

The United Nations authorizes police actions under Article 42 (Global Actions) and Article 53 (Regional Actions.)

Early in the Korean War, President Harry Truman referred to that war as a "police action", perhaps one of the first institutional uses of the term. Korea, Vietnam and Grenada were all considered police actions.

Furthermore, is "peacekeeping" a police action? Since "police action" has been so cruelly intertwined with violent actions, perhaps we need a kinder and gentler term for the peacekeeping variety of such actions.

Ranger contends that words used incorrectly -- either intentionally obfuscated or vague simply due to lack of clarity in thought or action -- cause confusion in our political, military and personal lives. "Police action" is just such a word.

Let us take Korea as example. In that war, the United States used every weapon its defensive arsenal, except nuclear weapons. Does that sound like police work? The same occurred in Vietnam.

Admittedly, "Police Action Against Terrorism" doesn't quite have the ring, so we call that one a "war". Phony War, but war nonetheless. And of course, if it IS a war, why do we not declare it as such?

Ironically, the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) should rightly BE a police action, but it is hard to get people excited about such things these days. 

Perhaps what we need are some new acronyms -- the military can never have enough, can it? (WETSU, so to speak.)

If it is military action with no war, let's call it MOOTW: "Military Operations Other Than War". Phonetically it could be pronounced, "Mootwu"... kind of cute, like a Pikachu, and yet belying its moot-ness at the same time (kind of like a Pikachu).

Our words have become weaselly things, woody or tinny, alternately overwrought with emotion and obfuscation, so much so that it has become impossible to understand a Department of State, DoD or White House briefing.

If those first degree informational sessions are so confused, how poorer must be the information trickled down to the rest of us via our increasingly enfeebled and excitable media.

Why not define words clearly, and use them as defined?

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Sunday, April 02, 2017

the Sins of the Fathers

--STOP 11 (1970),
Peter Kennard
Jumpin' slick was my ruin
'Cause I found out all I was doin'
Was makin' it easy for the clean up woman
To get my man's love, aww, yeah
--The Clean Up Woman,
Betty Wright

I the Lord your God am a jealous God,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children
to the third and the fourth generation
of those who hate me
--Exodus 20:5

When we do for those in need
what they have the capacity to do for themselves,
we disempower them
--Toxic Charity,
Robert Lupton

This year (2017) marks the 100th anniversary of the entrance if the United States as a belligerent into World War I, The War to End All Wars (not). It is also being marketed as the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a nice halfway point. (And if Ken Burns documents it as such, it must be so.)

How the assassination of a piss ant like Archduke Ferdinand of the bizarre griffon of the Austro-Hungarian empire by a crazed anarchist from Bosnian Serb constituted a necessary military entrance by the U.S. is still contentious. Certainly, the idea of pacification by United States President Wilson left a poor taste in the mouth of a young nation eager to prove its solidarity and efficacy. So men like Wilson were milquetoasts in a world of real men with real problems.

World War II followed in short order. Why was it necessary for a nation with 5% of the world's population to save the other 95%? The arguments are legion, but it is a question worthy of consideration independent of the boilerplate that this was a good and necessary war.

We have been conditioned to believe our participation in both World Wars was necessary, but we usually do not discuss alternative actions or legitimacy issues. We bypass discussing how we can stop the next war or head it off at the pass, in favor of debating techniques for winning it. National security issues are not discussed in any meaningful way.

After WW II -- the Good War -- came the "Forgotten War", the police action of Korea. Legitimacy issues fell by the wayside as each new, unwinnable action took their place in the queue of less-than-Good-Wars..

Fifty years hence, we are still unsure of why the Vietnam War was fought.

Vietnam Syndrome came to embody and signify the wary shame felt by a nation which had lost its moral compass after the cultural upheaval of the 1960's.

Gulf War I was said by then-President George H.W. Bush to have "erased" the black mark that was Vietnam, yet no one stated what it was we were attempting to achieve in either war, or what they contributed to our national life. Even the deaths of 58,000 servicemen could be accepted if they had been killed for anything meaningful.

Vietnam has been eclipsed by the current longest wars fought by America, yet still we do not know what it is we are fighting for, or what we hope to achieve by our entrance into and persistent presence in the hostilities.

Vietnam and the Wars on Terror are intertwined in many ways. In both, the enemy is nebulous. In Vietnam, the Viet Cong were a confederated "front" of organizations with hazy and ambiguous goals, much like any of the actors in the Phony Wars on Terror (PWOT ©).

The Middle East wars were sold as the "Domino Effect" of Communism fears in reverse: with just a wink and a nod, the dominoes would stand up and form a great democracy. But not even the frailest of democracies has emerged from any of the recent U.S. military misadventures.

Our hubris is embarrassing. Many thought that once the abundance of riches possible in a capitalistic democracy was presented, the erstwhile colonized populations would latch on like a greyhound to a rabbit. Perhaps Christianity is found wanting against Islam, or is it just that Christians themselves are in the dark?

Nonetheless, this brooding will not dampen the celebrations of the 100-year cycle, for celebrate we must. That Yankee can-do spirit has brought us through many dark nights, and led to many shining moments. Sadly, our willingness also can and has been exploited to bring us into many questionable entanglements.

Our current aggressions have no meaningful chance of eliminating terrorism nor of producing anything resembling liberal democratic institutions.

For your pleasure, a Zen koan: we cannot explain what Vietnam was about, but we are doing the same things in the Middle East, today.

Why are we so addicted to war? Perhaps it is as Chris Hedges wrote, "war is a force that gives us meaning".

The U.S. finds itself often cleaning up the messes left behind by colonial overlords. Only the problem is, there is no way to leave them spic and span. Invariably the U.S. military rucks up and leaves the rubble and turmoil behind with nothing better; often something worse.

It was never ours to begin with, and we cannot teach them to tidy up in a pacific way. Ours is a toxic charity.

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