Blood on the President’s hands

Featured

Yesterday I read the speech given by the President on his evolving position on the Global War on Terror, also known as contingency operations, also known as The Atlantic tells us now as “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.” or The PTE for short.

At the end, the speech was a poor rationalization for the blood on the hands of the President. The Establishment had its opinion. I have mine.

The speech was pedantic; a recital of the history of where we have been in conflict for the past 30 years, invoking the Beirut bombings of 1983 and Lockerbie in 1988 and even the murder of Leon Klinghoffer by Palestinian terrorists aboard a cruise ship. Historically and philosophically the president was rolling the history and motives for Middle Eastern terrorism into a great big ball and declaring victory.

He declared victory a couple of years ago after Bin Laden was killed, but then came Benghazi and Boston and now London. Now he is really declaring victory, I guess.

With over 7,000 military deaths and the imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan, the President also declared victory in Somalia and Yemen and that we have driven Islamic radicalism into the shadows. He ignored the reality of the radicals in Syria who have taken to beheadings and ritual cannibalism and of the Shia/Sunni divide that is being fought out and threatens to engulf neighboring states.

He minimized the underlying nature of the conflict in North Africa where the militants want to establish their own state or where Sudan has been waging war on non-Muslims for 20 years. Boko Haram in Nigeria is a recent phenomenon. And through all of this runs the thread of Al Quaeda.

Radical Islam has extended its influence throughout the tenure of this administration; in Egypt; in Yemen; in Libya. In Pakistan. The resentment and hatred have waxed rather than waned. While Brand Al Qaeda has been damaged, it has also gone underground and gone viral. Al Qaeda is now live on the internet 24/7.

As rioters take to the streets night after night in Sweden radical Islamists in Britain and America go DIY. Whole sections of French towns and some major cities such as Marseilles are no-go zones for the police where Sharia is the law and drug gangs and violence rule. There is an inherent contradiction in that last sentence, isn’t there? Why don’t we recognize this?

And our president has taken our security posture  to the next level. We live in a police state for our own protection with a constant erosion of civil rights.2509226125_174d71b55d

And the president would just as soon change the subject right now. Why not close Guantanamo? Problem gone and political voucher obtained. He now wants to convene a committee on drone strikes. Imagine this scenario: A terrorist is on the loose. A drone picks him up. Obama convenes a panel. This is worse than LBJ’s micromanagement of the Vietnam War.

There have been over 200 drone strikes. Hundreds of civilians and bystanders have been killed sparking outrage in Pakistan, where most of these strikes have taken place. The drone strikes have more than any other factor turned that country into an enemy.

The President has refused to account for the actions of our government during and after the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.

For over three months the President dithered in making a decision to attempt another Surge in Afghanistan in 2010, a surge that was undermanned and undercut by unrealistic timelines. We declared victory in that as well, if you recall.

Three years after that Surge, our troops now do ritual patrolling, much as we did in Vietnam before pulling out in 1972. Our soldiers and sailors will still die, but the spirit of construction and nation building was lost long ago in a miasma of corruption, underfunding, and a refusal to institute the rule of law.

From the moment in 2011 when the president telegraphed his intentions to withdraw by next year, the Taliban had already won. They just had to wait. But then, magically, the Taliban are no longer the issue. Only Al Quaeda and its defeat is the issue, at least as of yesterday. Declare victory and go home.

So for the past 5 years, every ounce of the blood of our military and of our international allies and of good Afghan allies can be considered wasted. The mission was not accomplished.

How does a leader live with himself or herself knowing that they have sent their best to to a death that strategically or tactically has little meaning? The sand will simply blow over our FOB’s and our COP’s as if they never existed. The Taliban will pose on what’s left as mongrel victors who simply outlasted their enemies.

Al Quaeda was always a distributed network and became even more so as we chalked up our successes against it. In response it morphed. Bin Laden was holed up in a safe house using messengers to communicate when he died. We reduced the organization’s effectiveness for a time, but it has not gone away as we would be led to believe. Jihad burns in the hearts of more people than ever before.

In the end, the buck stops in the oval office, much as the current tenant has tried to avoid this fact. He began by blaming Bush. But his vacillation and his poor decisions are his own and the blood is on his hands now.

It is Memorial Day weekend. I hope that our President remembers this and the cost in both the lives of our own and those whose lives we have taken.

Resurgent Jihad

Today’s Congressional hearings on the 9/11 Benghazi attack shed new light on the circumstances surrounding the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in a raid now attributed to Al Quaeda. For one month, the Administration portrayed this raid as a response to an offensive videotape by local residents when the truth was that a heavily armed band of Islamic radicals intent upon one specific mission; the assassination of Ambassador Stevens.

The military and State Department security officials testifying to the Congressional committee were unanimous in recognizing the highly fluid and dangerous state on the ground in Libya and repeatedly requested additional assistance and to extend the mission of a security team already on the ground. These requests were denied by Foggy Bottom.

There were specific and credible warnings of an impending attack. These were ignored. The president of Libya just a few days after the attack spoke the truth which the Administration is only now admitting regarding the source of the attack.

In Afghanistan, the suicide mission at Camp Bastion was the most successful act of jihad in the war to date. Green on Blue violence is now an integral part of Taliban tactical planning and has taken over 55 ISAF lives this year. This does not include an accelerated rate of civilian massacres.

The Taliban is sending a clear message that they are back and that they are ruthless.

In a controversial speech in Chicago last week, CBS senior foreign correspondent Lara Logan ripped the narrative that we are winning the war against terrorism apart.

Having covered the Afghanistan War since 2001, her perspective is unique as she has seen the war the war has changed over the past 11 years. Her most recent project was to investigate the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

She interviewed many of the key players including several of the commanding generals, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Taliban emissaries, and Afghan government officials. The Taliban and their Al Qaeda and Pakistani allies do not see themselves as insurgents. They were the legal government of Afghanistan and are completely committed to retaking power once the international forces leave next year. Both the Taliban and Al Quaeda have set up training camps in the remote provinces of Nuristan and Kunar. That has not made the morning news.

Our own leadership has been minimizing this threat in the interest of internal American politics. Ms. Logan pointed out that unlike the Vietcong and North Vietnamese in that war, the Salafists see the struggle as a clash of cultures and faith. The caliphate is a real and attainable goal. But like the Vietcong and North Vietnamese, they have remained unchanged in their ideology. There is no kinder, gentler Taliban. It is a fiction being sold to us.

Salafism has now spread to Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Mauritania, Somalia, Mali, and Nigeria and has become much more virulent.While many of the governments and even the people wish for peace, the Salafists are infiltrating much as they have done in Pakistan. It is never the mass of the populace but rather small cliques who have asymetrically been able to commit terror whether the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, or the Salafists.

Most of these countries without strong, pro-Western dictators would be considered failed states. The primary missions of AFRICOM now are to combat Islamic terrorism and help prevent the failure of existing national governments. We may not agree with the political systems in some of these countries, but we must help prevent chaos as best we can with limited resources and involvement.

The Obama administrations support for the Arab Spring would be sorely tested in the political arena regardless of the Salafists. Nascent governments are almost impossible to predict. But the the role of the Salafists and the resurgence of Al Quaeda should be a strobe light for the next administration.

The Afghan people were never completely with us. Night letters, assassinations, and attacks have always created a barrier to international aid and the modernization of the country.There is a fatalistic expectation that they will once again be deserted and must make their accommodations with the Taliban.

On the other side of the border, Pakistan has multiple personality disorder coupled with extreme paranoia. It has a toxic political environment pitting sect and ethnicity against each other while the ISI and Army use the  both Taliban and Haqqani Network to both fund the insurgency through the narcotics trade and and counter Western and Indian influence in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has gone from a shaky ally to a frenemy to an undeclared enemy. That Pakistani agents have been behind some of the worst terrorists incidents in Afghanistan is another data point in both the destabilization of Afghanistan and the growing sophistication of asymmetrical warfare.

Despite the narrative, the world is a much more dangerous place than it was in 1998, or 2001, or 2006, or even last year. We are perceived as weak and weak-willed. The retreat from Afghanistan will be the cause for rejoicing throughout the Islamic world. Not by all, but by the powerful minority willing to proclaim jihad.

There will be many unintended consequences caused by our fickle policies. A nuclear Iran is only one of our worries. As Ms. Logan concluded in her remarks,

” When I look at what is happening in Libya, it’s a big song and dance about whether this was a terrorist attack or a protest. And you just want to scream “For God’s sake, are you kidding me?”. The last time we were attacked like this was the U.S.S. Cole, which was a prelude to the 1998 embassy bombings, which were the prelude to 9/11. And you are sending in FBI agents. I hope to God that you are sending in your best clandestine warriors who are going to exact revenge and let the world know that the United States will not be attacked on its own soil. That its ambassadors will not be murdered. And the United States will not stand by and do nothing about it.”

General John Allen was suddenly promoted out of his job as commander of ISAF last week because he spoke the truth. This is the third commander who has been relieved in theater in the Afghan War.

Instead of the truth that needs to be told and heard there is a narrative at large that must be countered, or we shall pay a much higher price sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

Purple Fox YK-13

As you may know, my original blog was taken down by hackers recently. I am trying to retrieve some of the blog posts that I thought were worth something.

Originally Posted on October 2, 2010

Driving north from Fredericksburg, Virginia is driving through history. From the scene of one of the worst battles of the Civil War in that town, one drives past other battlefields and in many ways the heart of our Republic in Central Virginia. Not far off is Monticello, Jefferson’s home, and further north is Manassas and then Mt. Vernon.

Driving above the speed limit on I-95 a few days ago on the way from one meeting to another for which I was already late, I saw a sign and was forced to veer off of the highway suddenly. It wasn’t an emergency, but it was something I had to do. For you see on February 4, 1968 my friend Jim earned a Silver Star, and the helicopter he had been flying that day was enshrined at the Marine Corps Museum, which is visible from I-95.

Airframe 153986 is a CH-46, the same medium lift helicopter the Marines are using today. It was built near Philadelphia and delivered to the Marine Corps in August 1967. The CH-46 was introduced in 1962 and is still the backbone of Marine transport. The last one was built in 1971. If it needs moving in the vertical plane, it’s usually a CH-46 doing it even after 48 years. It’s absurd, really,when you think about it.

When you step into the Khe Sanh exhibit at the Marine Corps Museum, you enter through the fuselage of 153986. I could smell the oil and solvents and gak that had built up during its service life. Probably some smoke and burned insulation as well. You walk off just like the troops and supplies would drop in, with sandbags and mortars around you and a narrative of the battle by survivors on the sound system.

On February 4, 1968 my friend Jim was the maintenance officer for HMM – 364, the Purple Foxes, a typical Marine can-do unit. Their motto is “Give a Shit” and they surely did.  In Vietnam, especially at Khe Sanh at the height of the Tet Offensive when the whole country was on fire, the odds didn’t count for very much. You did your job and maybe you prayed you would survive the day.

Khe Sanh was bait right in the middle of Planet NVA. It was Custer and the Indians all over again. Every ration and every bullet had to come in by air, and the enemy had the runways and flight paths registered and zeroed in.  As a pilot you had under 30 seconds to get a load down on the ground, load back up with wounded or dead, and back out again. That’s how long it took for the mortar rounds to hit from the time you heard the thunk from the barrel. Usually, they could anticipate you as you flew up the valley, so you were screwed anyway. There was a junkyard on the side of the runway of aircraft that didn’t make it out. It was the most dangerous place on earth.

On February 4, at the height of the battle, Airframe 153986 (YK-13) had been damaged while landing.  Jim and a crew chief  and couple of mechanics had been flown in to try to repair it and fly it off. Mortars and artillery and accurate automatic weapons fire did their best to kill the crew as they tried to fix the beast.

Late in the day, they were ready for a check flight. Jim took up a co-pilot and pick up crew with him, expecting to check the airworthiness and maybe get back to Phu Bai for the night. A call came in. Another helicopter had gone down near Hue with 17 Marines aboard and they needed help immediately. He responded that 153986 would take the call despite the fact that the navigation system was broken.

The weather was virtually unflyable except there they were. Fog and mist and rain and every sort of ground fire imaginable. Jim and his crew went in the first time. No joy. Heavy small arms fire mixed with .50 cal machine gun fire. He cleared the fog and went in again. No luck. At that point the helicopter had taken heavy fire. A gunner was dead and another crewman wounded.

They chanced it one more time, and this time they were able to land. They were able to pick up the wounded Marines and evacuate them back to base. They were on the ground for close to 10 minutes, more than a lifetime.

The next day, another crew was flying 153986. They weren’t as lucky. They went out on a medevac call not far from HMM-364′s base at Phu Bai to pick up three wounded Marines. On the way, the corpsman, Jack Ehrhardt, was badly wounded through the thigh as the helicopter took very heavy ground fire. They continued to fly towards the landing zone until the ground fire hit cables and wires and fuel lines and hydraulics. The aircraft was screwed at that point. With no hydraulics or control, the helicopter pitched up, somersaulted, crashed and burned. Everyone on board was killed except Ehrhardt and the crew chief, Corporal Conner. Ehrhardt was thrown from the helicopter into a rice paddy covered in the flames from burning fuel. One of the dead was Sgt. Jim Shelton, who had crewed on the rescue mission the night before. The wounded were evacuated by 153986′s wingman, but Cpl. Conner died 2 weeks later of his burns in the Air Force hospital at Cam Ranh Bay. The wounded Marine survived.

Later on 153986 was retrieved.  The casualty report said that it was a bunch of pieces held together by pipes and cables that bore no resemblance to a helicopter. Whether the fuselage in the museum is in fact 153986 or how it ended up at Quantico is a story I don’t know.

Yesterday, we went down to MCAS Miramar  for the Air Show. I met a young Marine pilot down there from the Purple Foxes and asked him if he knew the story of 153986 and my friend Jim. He did, and had been to the museum and seen it and knew what it was all about. He didn’t know of the final act in Vietnam, and I told him what had happened. We paused for a just a moment. I asked him where HMM-364 was based and he told me and gave me his phone number and said they would love to have Jim come down sometime. Hopefully that will eventually happen.

Most of the time heroism is just doing your job or taking care of your friends. You don’t think about it.  You just do it and maybe you tell the story to a friend who remembers it driving 75 on the interstate when a light bulb goes on over his head.

And remember, there are young men and women out there right now from HMM-365 and 1,000 other units continuing in the same traditions and putting their lives on the line for their brothers and sisters every day. I hope someone remembers this story 40 years from now.