Thursday, March 29, 2012

Obama Budget Unanimously Defeated in House

That's right.  The Obama budget proposal, brought to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives by the Republican majority, forced the hand of the Democrats and showed what a political charade this budget was.  The vote was a staggering 414-0.  Everyone present (out of the 435 total) voted against it, including every Democrat.  The Democrats claimed they were working on their own proposal, which only accentuates the fact that they consider Obama useless for budgetary matters.

This echoes the last time that Obama came up with a highly touted budget proposal that was only for pounding the pulpit.  That was February of last year, in the Senate.  The result there was a proportionally similar 97-0.  It is now 1062 days since the Democrats in the Senate, which they control 53-47, have proposed a budget.

Did Obama really think that he had a chance with this?  What was his reason for the proposal in the first place?  Why is he wasting our time?

The Republicans went on to pass their budget proposal by a vote of 228-191, with the Democrats voting against that one too.  They needn't have bothered: the Democrats in the Senate will squash that one as well.

The Prosecution, Persecution, and Resurgence of Lt Ilario Pantano, USMC

There has been a trenchant and determined effort amongst the main stream media to portray the American war effort, and those who fight the battles and skirmishes, in a negative light.  I began to see this during the Viet Nam War with the deliberate conflating of the Romanov-level mismanagement of the war by Lyndon Johnson and his supremely self-confident acolyte Robert Strange McNamara (Johnson’s Cardinal Richelieu) with the heroic efforts, victories and sacrifices of the American fighting men of that war.  That denigrating effort by the Left accelerated with the election of Richard Nixon, who was then condemned for not ending what was quickly dubbed ‘Nixon’s War’, quickly enough.  The American public saw through this blundering attempt at revolution for what it was, and I believe the war effort was extended because of, not in spite of, the reaction of the Silent Majority.

I say that I noticed the trend in the 1960s, but that was when it became apparent to us all.  It actually began when Truman fired MacArthur, and with the partial exception of John F Kennedy, it continues and accelerates up to today, with certainly no evidence of abating.

One such example that I have been following is the morality tale of Second Lieutenant Ilario Pantano, USMC and his controversial encounter with two Iraqi insurgents during the First Battle of Fallujah in April 2004, which led to attempts to charge him with premeditated murder.

It can be said that Pantano is an unusual, larger-than-life individual, and his background befits his persona.  He was born (1971) and raised in New York City, in the Hell’s Kitchen area, but excelled in school and was a bright lad, attending the private Horace Mann School on partial scholarship.  He was popular there, but never really quite fit in: "he was that good guy who always did the right thing", he seemed "instinctually patriotic", he hung an American flag on his wall, he didn't touch marijuana.  Upon graduation, he enlisted in the Marine Corps ("I would venture to say no one has ever enlisted in the Marines in the history of Horace Mann," understates a classmate), trained as a TOW gunner and a Scout Sniper, and served with 6th Marines during the First Gulf War in 1991 as a Sergeant.  [Full disclosure:  I served in 1/6 during the 1970s, and coincidentally my unit was briefly with 6th Marines during that conflict.  I don’t recollect Sgt Pantano, but it was, you know, rather hectic at the time.]

Pantano left the Marines in 1993, graduated New York University, worked for Goldman Sachs for a couple of years, followed by Constellation Power, and then started a film production company.  He married a fashion model.  But Pantano was finding that there is a distinct difference between the culture of his life in New York with the Sophisticati and the camaraderie of the Marines, well illustrated by this brief exchange he had with a friend who was also from the Marines, Jeff Dejessie, at Goldman Sachs:
One day, Dejessie took Pantano aside.  “I really don’t fit in here.  Why do you even bother with me?” he asked.
Pantano told Dejessie, “These people are my friends, they mean something to me, but they’d probably try and take my job in a minute.  I trust you with my life.”
Then the attacks of 11 September 2001 hit Manhattan, where he lived next to a fire station that saw 11 fire fighters killed, including four former Marines.  He knew that he had to return to the Marine Corps, a call that bewildered his New York cosmopolitan wife (as reflected in the story that ran in New York magazine, written by an equally bewildered, New York cosmopolitan writer).  Despite his age then of 31, he obtained a waiver and returned to active duty, for Officer Candidate School.  He graduated at the top of his class and was commissioned, then deployed to Iraq as a platoon leader in Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines; he quickly became known as a dynamic and energetic officer, held in high regard by his fellow officers and his men.

He and his platoon soon found themselves on the outskirts of Fallujah, a city that was steadily becoming a rally point for the new insurgency, at the end of March 2004.  On 31 March, a convoy was ambushed and resulted in the capture, torture, and murder of four US contractors, whose burnt bodies were hanged from a bridge.  The news of the atrocity had a strong impact back in the US, and in less than 24 hours political forces – military and non-military alike – moved the Marine commanders in the area, who had just arrived with their troops to relieve the 82nd Airborne Division, into swift action that many on the scene considered precipitate and ill-advised.  The Marines began a move into the city in order to locate, fix, and destroy the insurgents.

[The operation quickly stalled primarily due to political dithering, and the effort was turned over to ad hoc Iraqi units of questionable quality and loyalty.  This allowed the insurgents to more fully fortify and consolidate their positions inside the city, doubling their numbers.  The city was finally secured after a combined assault by the Marines – supported by two battalions of the Army, Seabees, Iraqi troops, and a battalion of the British Black Watch – the following November in the Second Battle of Fallujah, the bloodiest battle of the war.]

Lt Pantano and his platoon were dispatched on patrol on the morning of 15 April.  The day before, a bridge had been mortared and a nearby house was suspected to contain the insurgents responsible. One of the 13-man squads approached the compound along with Lt Pantano, his radioman Sgt Daniel Coburn, and the platoon Navy Corpsman, HM3 George Gobles.  A car exited the compound and attempted to flee, but it was brought to a halt by Marine rifle fire into the engine.  Pantano approached it with Coburn and Gobles while the squad entered the house to search, after moving the women and children inside to a safe area.  Pantano and his men extracted and bound the two occupants with plastic cuffs, and Gobles did a quick search of the vehicle, finding no contraband or weapons.  The Marines searching the compound, though, found weapons and bomb-making material, and they passed this on to Pantano by radio.  Pantano then had the two captives released from their cuffs so that they could conduct a more thorough search of the vehicles (“pull apart the seats”) under his supervision, because he suspected booby traps (e.g., the seats were not bolted down, a common sign that the car was used to smuggle weapons or other military contraband).  He had Gobles and Coburn stand to the forward and rear of the car to provide security, and they faced outboard in accordance with standard procedure.

Pantano related that within moments, the two captives began talking to each other in low voices.  He told them to be quiet, in Arabic, twice (as Gobles later testified), but they continued to converse.  They then stood up from the car and quickly turned toward him.  Pantano feared that they were attacking him and opened fire.  He emptied his magazine, inserted another, and fired more rounds until he was certain that the two Iraqis were dead.
I then changed magazines and continued to fire until the second magazine was empty.... I had made a decision that when I was firing I was going to send a message to these Iraqis and others that when we say, 'No better friend, No worse enemy,' we mean it.  I had fired both magazines into the men, hitting them with about 80 percent of my rounds.
Pantano quickly reviewed the incident with his Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Jason Glew, who came running up at the sound of the gunfire.  With the incident wrapped up among the command element, the platoon then continued its patrol as directed and the scene at the car, with the two bodies, was left as it was, except that Pantano left a sign affixed to the windshield for the local populace, quoting again: “No better friend.  No worse enemy.”  This was the unofficial motto of the task force, echoing the Marine commander, then-Major General Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division (now a four-star in command of CENTCOM, and with General Petraeus considered to be an authority on this latest version of counter-insurgency warfare).  It is a motto that Pantano took to heart, emphasizing the former as often as possible, taking seriously the idea of winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Iraqis (“If we can bring some comfort, some democracy, some opportunity, maybe they won’t hate us so much.”), and he would often encourage his men to take every opportunity to get to know and understand the local populace and try to endear themselves to them.  But the brightness of the idea must exist in sharp contrast to the darkness of the retribution against the enemy (“My duty, as is the duty of these other Marines, is quite frankly to export violence to the four corners of the globe to make sure that [9/11] doesn’t happen again.”)  After talking with a colleague, though, Pantano returned and removed the sign.  The event was reviewed shortly thereafter by at least his Company command and probably the Battalion as well.

Several weeks later, Sgt Coburn talked about the incident to Marines in another unit, expressing his concerns about what took place.  This started the process that turned into a months-long investigation.  On 1 February 2005, Pantano, now stateside, was charged with two counts of premeditated murder, a capital offense.  On 15 April, Pantano requested that his Article 32 hearing be waived.  (Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, an Article 32 hearing serves as a grand jury investigation.)  Pantano wanted to speed up the process and ensure that valuable witnesses could testify, as many were about to deploy again and the military is only obligated to produce witnesses if they are “reasonably available”.  Further, the bodies of the two Iraqis had been buried in an area that was then outside American control, and the official explanation was that an exhumation of the bodies for a proper post-mortem was considered impossible due to ongoing combat operations.

One major item to consider here is the motivation for Sgt Coburn in reporting the incident.  Pantano had previously removed Coburn from a position of authority within the platoon, as squad leader, and re-assigned him to being a radio operator (a responsibility well below his rank).  Pantano had considered Coburn marginally capable as a squad leader, and this was at least partially due to their different personalities and leadership style, but combat is not a situation that suffers the least tolerance.  The precipitating event was during a previous patrol when, within close sight of uncleared buildings, Coburn had his squad take a break, facing inboard, helmets removed. That is a serious security breach and was enough for Pantano to remove Coburn as squad leader. 

The position of radioman is important (if you can’t communicate, you’re alone), but the assignment is typically given to a bright Lance Corporal.  The relationship between a platoon commander and his radioman has to be close and tight, and I used to gently rein in some of mine because after a time, they were smart enough to start anticipating my calls when I was actually thinking of moving in a different direction.  The entire platoon, a close-knit family, knew immediately why Coburn was moved to radioman, and Coburn had to suffer the mortification while having to continue to serve in the same unit.  I had a similar situation with a Corporal, so I can empathize with Pantano's situation.

Was Coburn trying to exact some self-serving revenge on Pantano by putting some spin on the shooting incident, which was enough to be questionable anyway?  That is difficult to assess, but my opinion leans to the affirmative.  It was clear that his statements given to investigators formed a key element of the case, even after Pantano had been found without fault by a battlefield inquiry.  Gobles was interviewed several times and, though he was generally supportive of the lieutenant, his statements changed over the course of the case until he made the statement that the two insurgents were shot while running away.  This development of his recollections over time probably is the result of continued pressure by the investigators, and it was later disproved by the physical evidence which showed that the two bodies were left half in and half out of the vehicle.

Pantano's request for a waiver of his Article 32 hearing was denied at any rate, and it was to his advantage.  The hearing officer, LtCol Mark Winn, found that "The government was not able to produce credible evidence or testimony that the killings were premeditated. . . . There was no credible evidence presented by the government that proved these men were not shot in the front. . . .  It is my opinion that the government failed to provide any other evidence that 2nd Lt. Pantano had planned to kill these two men, and therefore was unable to satisfy elements of the charge of murder."  Further, he was particularly displeased with the testimony of Sgt Coburn, saying that he “invented details to corroborate what he had built in his mind as what had happened.”
On the witness stand, [Coburn] changed his testimony more than once when he was confronted with additional facts of the case of which he was not previously aware.
Winn did not spare Pantano in his remarks either.  In Winn's recommendations to the Commanding General as to the disposition of the case, the charges were dismissed, but Winn recommended that Pantano be subject to non-judicial punishment (an idea somewhat limited to the Uniform Code of Military Justice) for Article 133 (Conduct Unbecoming an Officer), for his focus on the car and search to the detriment of his ability to be concerned with the overall mission of his platoon and the cordon and search of the area.  He was particularly critical of the sign that Pantano initially left behind, and of the excessive number of rounds that he fired during the incident.

I would have to say first and foremost that I was not there and cannot put myself entirely into Pantano’s position, but I have to concur with Winn’s opinion that Pantano, while correct in his combat assessment, went overboard in his reaction, though I disagree with the recommendation for NJP.  (This instead should have been an impromptu counseling session with his Company Commander.)  The sign was unnecessary, as Pantano himself quickly recognised, but I have to question his expending so many rounds.  No matter how effective your logistic train, and I expect that it was non-existent at that precise moment, I simply cannot see depleting my personal combat load of ammunition so haphazardly while still engaged in a combat patrol.  A very basic lesson of a Marine leader is fire discipline – ensuring that your unit uses only as much ammunition as is necessary as insurance against the next attack that is bound to pop up an instant later – and that would certainly apply to the leader as well.  In particular, continuing with a second magazine was unnecessary, and that remains my only specific criticism.  Pantano is a pretty bright fellow, and I suspect that he probably concurs at this late date.  Besides, it’s not like I never made a bone-headed decision in my time.

As icing on the cake, it turns out that the bodies of the insurgents, previously deemed unavailable due to the events of the Second Battle of Fallujah, were finally obtained with the concurrence of their families, and flown to the Center for Mortuary Affairs at Dover AFB in Delaware for examination by forensic anthropologist Dr William Rodriguez.  One of the key accusations of the trial counsel, based on Sgt Coburn’s statements, was that the insurgents had been shot in the back.   Dr Rodriguez was able to show that they had actually been shot from the front, corroborating Pantano’s account of the incident.

A further, greater significance is Dr Rodriguez’ comments about the atmosphere of his examination, published years later and recently, after his retirement last October, and taking the unusual step of going public with his criticism:

I think there was a rush to judgment. . . . In a case like this, if I was charged with something, I would insist that the forensic evidence be looked at before I would be found guilty.  They were looking at really going after him, making an example of him.
Rodriguez was moved to write a personal letter to Pantano himself, explaining his bitterness over the intervening years about how the Marine Corps and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) had treated him.

I openly expressed on numerous occasions to my colleagues in the office, including a NCIS agent assigned to our office, that I found it unconscionable to bring charges against you with simple hearsay. I informed the NCIS agent and others in that office that the remains of the two deceased Iraqis should be exhumed and examined, as that is the only way one can scientifically prove what happened.
Rodriguez wrote of the day that he examined the bodies to determine where they had been shot, either in the back on in the front.

When the remains arrived, I didn’t expect the large crowds of people to [be] present at the mortuary.  Most were NCIS agents and various representatives of the Marines.  Prior to the exams, there was much discussion concerning the case, talk of court-martial, prosecution and being guilty.  The image that came to my mind . . . was that of a lynch mob: ‘Let’s make an example of him.’
Pantano’s defense attorney, Charles Gittens, explains:

The medical examiner’s letter underscores the fact that [the] government proceeded to murder charges and the hearing without doing their homework.  For the medical examiner to contact Ilario Pantano demonstrates a concern the doctor had for the political ramifications for the case.
Gittens indicates that the bodies, previously considered too dangerous to retrieve, were sought out after Winn’s conclusion in the hearing and they were exhumed after obtaining permission from their families and the village elders.  If the autopsy showed that they had been shot in the back, that would be enough to override the hearing recommendation and proceed to court-martial.

I don’t think it was to exonerate Ilario.  I think they did the autopsies to implicate Ilario because we had blown up the hearing.  The purpose of the autopsies was to get inculpatory evidence, not exculpatory evidence.
When Rodriguez concluded his exam, the agents rushed him to complete his report immediately, which was then taken directly to the Pentagon.  Two days later, the convening officer of the case, Major General Richard Huck, Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division, elected to drop the case entirely with no further action against Pantano, citing the autopsy report as part of the reason.

As the dust was settling after the case, Lt Pantano was offered another combat assignment, which he had said that he sought.  It is one thing for Pantano to return to battle as a matter of exoneration and propitiation, but though he could weather the toll, I expect that stress was understandably too much for his family.  He soon resigned his Marine commission, and now resides in North Carolina as a deputy sheriff with his wife and two young sons.  After a hard-fought Republican primary campaign, he ran for the House of Representatives in 2010 against a incumbent conservative Democrat but lost.  He is on the ballot again for 2012 and is running a vigorous campaign, tackling the same basic conservative issues (with the same intensity) as his neighbors Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida.  He is also the author of Warlord: Broken by War, Saved by Grace, an autobiography that includes details about the case, outlines the constant and various struggles on the battlefield, and delves into his subsequent soul-searching and the impact of the grace of God.  And Pantano explains in his introduction the emotional meeting he had with Dr Rodriguez, including:

Dr Rodriguez's letter clears the air around any mystery that lingers among conspiracy theorists.  Not only was I not protected by the military, I was made an example of.
What would compel high-ranking members of the Marine Corps and the Defense Department to desperately pursue a case against one of their own on such shoddy grounds?  The trial counsel (prosecutor) did not adequately vet Sgt Coburn, their star witness; HM3 Goble’s final statement that matched what the investigators were looking for immediately collapsed in the light of obvious evidence; and they were expected to pursue charges of premeditated murder with no examination of the bodies of the purported victims.  My only conclusion must be that elements of the Left who have dogged these wars for stories such as this to disparage primarily the Bush administration in particular as well as their concept of a military composed of the stereotypes they keep pushing on the public, supported by the media (but I repeat myself), were convinced that war crimes must be happening someplace, and a public court-martial in this case would have to be vigorously pursued to demonstrate how in tune we were with human rights, and how much we agreed with the Left’s a priori assumptions. 

(It is immediately reminiscent to me of the famous court-martial in 1902 during the Boer War, wherein the British authorities tried officers of the Australian Bushveldt Carbineers in an effort to curry favor with Germany in order to secure a treaty to end the war.  The account was made famous, in Australia at least, with the publishing of Scapegoats of the Empire in 1907 by one of the survivors of the court-martial, and is known today primarily through the Australian movie Breaker Morant, released in 1980.)

No matter how movies or television may present it, even the most righteous kill under combat conditions is never taken lightly.  I can understand Lt Pantano's rationale for his actions that day, though I admittedly question his degree of zeal, but his actions were in keeping with the event as it unfolded and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity or his progress in coming to grips with the situation of that day or the events thereafter.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”  --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SBS Hostage Rescue Attempt in Nigeria Goes Awry: Lessons and Considerations

Last year, on 12 May 2011, two employees of an Italian oil construction company, Stabilini Visinoni Ltd, were kidnapped from their apartment in Birnin Kebbi in northwest Nigeria by a “horde of gunmen”.  Two months passed before any communication from the abductors surfaced regarding their two hostages: Chris McManus, a British construction engineer with the company, and his Italian companion, Franco Lamolinara.

British and Nigerian intelligence had no leads but suspicion ran high that it was a terrorist hostage operation: a large amount of cash in the apartment was left behind, and previous kidnappings in the area, as opposed to the numerous kidnappings in the oil-rich southern delta, involved Islamic terrorist organizations.

Background: Terrorist attacks in the predominantly Islamic north of Nigeria appeared to be influenced by a resurgent al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM, a successor to the Groupe Islamique Armé [GIA] with which I was concerned in 1994 in southwest Algeria and the Western Sahara, and the later Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat [Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat or GPSC]), recently active across the nearby border with Niger as well as Mali and Mauretania, after branching out from its previous focus on Algeria.

More importantly for Nigeria is Boko Haram (roughly, ‘western culture/education is forbidden’), another Salafist terrorist group which has operated primarily in northeast Nigeria but which has shown signs of expanding to the west.  They have also used the name Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah li Da’wah wal Jihad, or ‘Community of People of Tradition for Preaching and Holy War’, not coincidently similar to the GPSC title.

Both AQIM and Boko Haram swear allegiance to al Qaeda, along with Somali-based al Shabaab.  AQIM has publicly pledged to support Boko Haram through arms and training, and Boko Haram has increased its links with al Shabaab.  US Africa Command (AFRICOM) commander General Carter Ham has said that the three groups show evidence of becoming increasingly linked.  (The only major terrorist group in Africa not involved with this new al Qaeda expanded group is the Lord’s Resistance Army of Ugandan Joseph Kony.)  Boko Haram has quickly expanded in area of operations and tactics, from attacks on Christian churches and police stations to the suicide car bomb attack on the UN building in the capital of Abuja in August of last year.

In early August, a tape was left with a French news agency in Lagos.  The one-minute video showed the two blindfolded men kneeling before a group of masked armed men, like many other tapes that were released by terrorists in Iraq and Pakistan, and McManus stated that the British government “should meet the demands of al Qaeda”.  There was no mention of money, and the amorphous demand left officials perplexed about the motivation of the group other than a strictly ideological one.

After the appearance of the video, an ad hoc Cobra committee that oversees British national security operations at Whitehall took up the task to coordinate the crisis, including communication with the Italians and the Nigerian government of Prime Minister Goodluck Jonathan.  Some 20 meetings involving a variety of players took place with apparently no real progress until the release of a second video in December, staged in the same way as the first, but this one demanded that British Prime Minister David Cameron had two weeks to authorize “negotiations”, otherwise the hostages would be killed.  Again, this was a vague demand with no means of coordination with the kidnappers, and the three governments agreed to let the deadline pass as it was assessed as a “bit of macabre theatre” for the sake of posturing.

A major break came about three weeks ago with the capture of the local Boko Haram faction leader, Abu Muhammed, and four other members of the sect. The interrogations led the combined British and Nigerian task force to a small compound in Sokoto, northeast of Birnin Kibbe, with some evidence that this was a rogue operation.

A team of some 20-40 members of a squadron of the British Special Boat Service (SBS) with support from the Royal Marines were in place to conduct an assault once a target area was identified.  (The alert unit for counter-terrorism is rotated through the four squadrons of the SBS and the four squadrons of the Special Air Service.)  The plan was developed on the fly as it was believed that the kidnappers would be increasingly suspicious about the missing terrorists who were in custody, and intelligence from around the compound showed that the terrorists were preparing to move, probably up the chain to a more dedicated and deadly al Qaeda section.  A plan was initially created for a night assault, probably just before dawn, but the plan was overtaken by events on 8 March (possibly through an OPSEC violation on the part of the Nigerians), with a sudden daylight assault, hastily approved by PM Cameron, performed instead.

The attack was initiated by a Nigerian Army APC crashing through the gate of the compound.  SBS troops quickly shot dead two of the terrorists, Nigerian soldiers killed some half dozen more trying to escape after a prolonged gunfight, but unfortunately the two hostages were killed before the rescuers could get to them.  There is some speculation that they were already dead before the assault.  As for the captured terrorists, Nigerian PM Jonathan promises that they will be prosecuted “to the full wrath of the law”.  (The government also replied to inquiries that Abu Muhammed had died shortly thereafter from gunshot wounds sustained during his capture.)  Predictably, a Boko Haram spokesman denied responsibility for the kidnapping, which is likely further evidence that the group is still loosely tied, possibly around tribal affiliations, without clear coordination from a central headquarters or leadership core.

This does not mean (mark my words) that this will not be regarded as a learning experience by Boko Haram as well as Nigerians and British, and it will be a lesson impressed upon them by their new comrades in arms to tighten up, dispose of the deadwood, eliminate the internal friction and join the greater jihad against the ‘Satanic’ culture of the increasingly diluted Christian West.

As an aside, the Italian government protested that they were excluded from the final operation.  They have their own anti-terrorist troops (Incursori, or Raiders) in the form of their joint special forces command (Comando Interforze per le Operazioni delle Forze Speciali – or CO.F.S.), similar to the American SOCOM.  The Army elements are from the 9th Paratroop Assault Regiment of the Folgore (Lightning) Airborne Brigade, referred to usually by the name assigned to the unit, Col Moschin (after a famous alpine battle from World War I) or simply il Nono (the Ninth).  The Navy contribution comes from COMSUBIN (Comando Subaquei ed Incursori – the Diver and Raider Command) and its Gruppo Operativo Incursori.  (I worked with several foreign units during my career, with the longest lasting assignment being when I was seconded to what is now the Reggimento San Marco, or the Italian Marines.  This put me in a position to work with the Incursori of both services over a period of several years during the mid-1980s, and they are superb troops with a great history – the Italians, for example, invented frogmen in World War I.)  So why weren’t the Italians included?  I would have to lay that primarily on the doorstep of the Nigerians, since this was an internal operation though supported from the outside, involving an Italian company with Italian and British nationals at stake.  Nigeria needs herculean efforts to forge a professional military, still suffering even today from the excesses of the Biafra War.  They receive training from a variety of countries, and their doctrine and interoperability, not to mention logistics, appears to be a slap-dash affair.  As Nigeria is a member of the Commonwealth and maintains historic links to the British as a former colony, I expect that they wished to emphasize the principle of simplicity as best they could.  Coordinating such a complex operation with another foreign power was simply beyond its capabilities.  (Language should not have been a factor: the Italian officers in those units with whom I worked all had a credible to excellent command of English – a required course in their academies – and I have to expect that there are still links such as the billet in which I served.)  Another consideration is that while the Incursori are certainly capable, the Italian government is still hopelessly hidebound and their relationship with their Special Forces is possibly still constrained (as I saw) by a secrecy so paranoid that these specialists are prevented from a healthy contact, coordination, and cross-pollination with foreign forces of like calibre.  (I was frequently a conduit for cross-training with the Americans in particular, in a ‘wink and a nod’ authorization by their commanders lower on the chain of command.)  Evidence is the fact that no Italian military personnel were already on the ground well before the attempt kicked off, coordinating and planning with the Nigerians and British.

This mission reminds us that reality extends far beyond our movie screens.  The world has always been a truly dangerous place, and the state of nature and of man actually is nasty, brutish and short.  We celebrate the great successes of these raids and rescues, and the numbers are steadily stacking up on our side, but that doesn’t mean that there still won’t be tragedies such as this, or that the current trend will continue to be in our favour.  There are the lesser-publicized events such as the attempt to rescue Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove (which resulted in her death) and New York Times journalist Stephen Farrell (captured after ignoring the advice of the military, with the rescue resulting in the death of British Para Corporal John Harrison).  Even the press that widely touted the rescue in January of American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Thisted in Somalia is comparatively muted about another free-lance journalist, Michael Scott Moore, being captured by pirates, in addition to a French military adviser, two Spanish doctors, and hundreds of sailors of various nationalities.  A British tourist was freed last week after payment of a ransom (and then learned that her husband had been killed during her capture several months ago), and a French disabled woman died in captivity.

We are tempered still by the growing expectation that this war against Islamic Supremacists – an actual crusade, even if there are those of us who cringe from labeling it as such – is entering a new, more inimical phase.  There is the increasing trend noted above of al Qaeda-associated terrorist groups from Algeria, Nigeria, and Somalia becoming more coordinated throughout North Africa; al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – mostly in Yemen – becoming more entrenched and expansive; the ‘Arab Spring’ turning increasingly sour with replacing old Arab dictatorships with Salafist or Muslim Brotherhood religious totalitarians; Afghanistan possibly slipping from our grasp as the current administration can’t seem to withdraw quickly enough; our relationship with Pakistan becoming ever more brittle; bombings in Iraq becoming more frequent in a democracy still fragile and next to an increasingly bellicose Iran.  After having finally put a righteous bullet in Osama bin Laden’s head, we cannot simply declare the war at an end, pack our tents and go home.

This crusade will continue unto the generations.
Update: Boko Haram continues the slaughter.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Korean War Medal of Honor Recipient Passes Away: HM3 William R Charette

It is important that we remember and pass along the examples by which we should set our lives.  As I encounter the ones that strike me as exemplary, I try to post them here with the hope that they can be inspiring (requiring, I was reminded after a conversation today, a sense of faith beyond a mere observation of facts), and help alleviate that morbid post-modern deconstruction that soaks our lives around us like an Oregon squall that never seems to end.

William Richard Charette, born 1932, passed away last week at the age of 79.  That in and of itself is a bit of a miracle, since by all accounts he should have been dead 59 years ago.

Charette was awarded the Medal of Honor as a US Navy Medical Corpsman serving with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines during the Korean War.  In reviewing the citation, we see that then-HM3 Charette (later retiring as a Master Chief), in one action during the battle around OP Vegas on 27 March 1953, moved about through a “murderous barrage” of small arms fire and mortars to tend the various wounded during the see-saw engagement, in which Fox Company counter-attacked three times against a well dug-in Communist Chinese regiment, participating in its eventual destruction.

During the engagement, a grenade landed near Charette and the wounded Marine that he was attending.  Charette shielded the body of the Marine from the blast, absorbing “the entire concussion” and sustaining facial wounds, with his helmet and medical kit bag blown away.  Upon recovering as best he could from the shock of the blast, he continued to render further aid by tearing off portions of his uniform (assisted, I expect, by the fact that it was shredded to some degree) to bandage wounds of his patient and others nearby.  Another seriously wounded Marine had had his flak vest torn from his body by another shell, and Charette took off his own vest so that he could cover that patient, fully aware that he was exposing himself to the continuing barrage.  He then exposed himself to a “deadly hail of enemy fire” by standing upright to render aid to another Marine along a trench line.

It was a grim joke I would occasionally hear during my military career that the Medal of Honor was actually somewhat easy to earn; the real trick was surviving to receive the award in person.  A partial irony is that a Vegas odds-maker would have bet the bank on the ‘evidence-based’ conclusion that Charette was supposed to have been killed several times over, a fact not lost, I am sure, on Charette himself.

An interesting aside: Charette is not a common name.  Is it possible that he was related to GM1 George Charette, USN, who received a Medal of Honor for actions in the Spanish-American War in 1898?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Twelve Rangers Awarded the Silver Star

Twelve Rangers from 1st Battalion, 75th Rangers each received a Silver Star (two of them posthumously), the third-highest decoration for the US Armed Forces, for action during their recent deployment to Afghanistan.  Here is a brief explanation of each:
Often mistaken for the wrath of God

SFC Michael A Eiermann: under intense fire during an enemy assault on Bagram Airfield, Eiermann and his medic retrieved two wounded soldiers inside a minefield, necessitating several trips back and forth before they were done.

SGT Todd D Mark & SGT Dylan J Maynard: outnumbered at least three to one, they both engaged and killed enemy fighters while assisting others in rescuing two wounded soldiers.

SFC Michael A Duschene: with his platoon assaulted an enemy compound, and he was immediately wounded in his right forearm.  Assisted by his medic but refusing pain killers, he continued directing his men during the engagement, at one point giving his rifle to a squad leader whose rifle was inoperative.  He continued to engage the enemy with his platoon for another ninety minutes, killing one enemy with his pistol.

SSG Ethan P Killeen: part of a team clearing a succession of enemy compounds, he received multiple gunshot wounds and finally killed one of his attackers after trading a series of gunshots with him in close proximity.  He continued to engage the several remaining enemy fighters who were manning a machine gun position that was attempting to ambush part of the Killeen’s squad sweeping through another compound, while he was hampered by being attacked by one of his unit's attack dogs insufficiently trained in IFF.  He refused to be evacuated until the engagement was successfully concluded.

CPT Jonathan F Logan: his unit ambushed in a dry riverbed, surrounded on three sides while attacking an enemy encampment, Captain Logan climbed about 130 meters up an escarpment, under fire, to destroy an enemy fighting position.  He then climbed another 120 meters further up to mark a cave filled with enemy fighters firing on his troops.  He had to do this twice before support attack helicopters were able to locate and destroy the second position.  With his unit still pinned done by the intense fire, he then directed his Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) to guide a succession of danger-close fire missions.  He was then able to withdraw his unit, while still engaged.

SGT Jonathan K Peney (posthumous): a platoon medic, unhesitatingly rushed onto a rooftop where a Ranger team was pinned down by intense fire, to assist one of the wounded.  He was struck in the right flank and died from his wounds shortly thereafter.  His example inspired the attacking platoon to overwhelm the enemy and continue to repulse attacks for the rest of the day.

SSG Trevor D Tow: led his squad through a sweep of several compounds.  As his squad was ascending an exterior staircase, an enemy fighter on the roof dropped hand grenades and took the squad under fire, mortally wounding one of his men.  Staff Sergeant Tow moved into the open, exposing himself, and attracted the attention of the fighter away from the squad to himself.  He exchanged fire with the combatant who was only about ten feet away, and a second enemy joined the engagement, firing automatic rifle rounds at the fully exposed Tow, until a second Ranger came to assist him.  They were able to kill both of the enemy, and shortly thereafter Tow killed a third who appeared and threw three grenades at his squad, some landing as close as ten feet away from Tow.

SGT Martin A Lugo (posthumous): led his squad to a tree line where they were to pin down an enemy force with suppressive fire while another Ranger team assaulted them from another direction.  The enemy was much larger and effective than expected though, and the assault force was pinned down.  Lugo instead moved his team into an assault instead, and Lugo personally engaged two of the enemy at close quarters, killing them both but not before he was mortally wounded.

SSG John M Rowland: preparing to assault an enemy compound, his squad was spotted by an enemy observer on a roof.  Rowland climbed onto the roof where he exchanged shots with the insurgent, killing him.  His action caused an enemy machine gun team, poised to ambush his squad, to turn and fire on him instead.  Joined by another Ranger, they continued to fight the enemy while in the open, killing two and seriously wounding the third.  This enabled his squad to successfully secure the compound, and based on the enemy’s plan, likely saved the lives of many women and children in the compound as well.

SFC Keith A Morges & SGT Alan D Solomon: as Rangers moved to contact in order to secure a possible high-value target in a village, they came under fire from numerous enemy fighters in the village.  They fought their way in but were immediately taken under heavy fire from the west and southwest.  Morges moved to assist his blocking force, exposing himself many times as he moved about encouraging and directing his men, engaging and suppressing the enemy.  Solomon, the platoon medic, exposed himself to run back to the compound and retrieve an ammunition resupply.  He then ran forward to attend to seven Rangers wounded by an RPG.  Both Morges and Solomon, with each movement, were exposed to heavy enemy fire in an engagement that likely lasted well over an hour.  Morges was able to direct his unit to break contact under fire, with the Rangers moving the wounded to another position where they established a hasty helo landing zone.  Morges was the last to withdraw in order to provide suppressive fire for his men.  As the helos were inbound to pick up the wounded, they received fire from the enemy.  While Solomon shielded those in his care with his body while he tended to them, Morges exposed himself in order to return fire until his men were aboard the helos.  He was assisted by Solomon after the litters were loaded.  They were the last aboard the extract.

“Rangers lead the way.”  Indeed.  As James Michener would say of this small sample, “Where do we get such men?”

Update:  An addendum from the 2nd Battalion.