Monday, March 26, 2012

This is what I was talking about...

The image below is from the March 19 Reader's Express, a Washington Post publication aimed at transit riders (h/t to Greenwald for the image):Can you imagine the insane furor - at least and especially from the Right - if Saudis or Iraqis were quoted as saying "Well, bin Laden was just stressed from too much Koran study..." or "Well, in wartime, you have to excuse his captors cutting Dan Pearl's head off..."

I'm sure that this SSG probably was stressed, and probably did go violently nuts because of some fucked up thing.

And, again, in the Great Geopolitical Game we're supposed to be playing in the Paimirs, that means two things; jack and shit.

If counterinsurgency/rebellion suppression depends on the "strategic corporal", it depends even more on the quick, public trial and death of the strategic staff sergeant - even if it's the wrong staff sergeant.

Because if you're really serious about "winning", the important thing is that the village remains quiet.

We still don't seem to fucking understand that. And that is unimportant for 98% of the United States, which has no fucking skin in this Great Game and never did.

But for me, it is important, because it means that more of my Army brothers will die, or return home without arms, or legs, or functioning brains.

And that is a keening and a grief to me, regardless of what most of my country seems to think.

Assuming it even fucking does.


Anonymous said...

I don't normally comment on these sort of matters, but I will say this with regards to your strategic assessment.

a) Rumors have already circulated in the Army that this guy was going to get handed over to the Hague or non-US justice. That's really bad for morale. Not the most important thing in a war, but considering the burden that is being born and the quiet way the military has dealt with it, you should also factor that into your strategic equation. Yeah, SSG Bales is a murderer. But even the whiff that the American government doesn't have your back while you are out putting your life on the line could be really bad. It's been ten years. Rome needs pacified legions more than pacified villages.

b) When I served in Afghanistan one of the first meetings I had with the outgoing unit was about an engagement where the troop called in CCA on a house with fighters in it. Apaches missed their target and hit another house. They still killed half a dozen Taliban. Distinctions between civilians and combatants are vital but hard in the "right wars" when bombing cities into oblivion was somehow essential to preserve democracy. You can find evidence of America blurring this distinction all the way back to when colonists and Native Americans clashed and both sides butchered women and children.

My point with this is not to say that what was done was in any way less than murder. It was, though, to draw and important attention to the fact that I bet this Sergeant thought he was winning the war this way. He couldn't distinguish between the civilians and combatants, not because he was a PTSD'ing monster, but because its near impossible in certain situations. Afghanistan is full of soldiers who wished they had shot a S.O.B or really wished they hadn't. Of course, they don't do this is cold blood like this Sergeant is accused of doing so its different. But I expect the conditions at this base would make most sane people question the the difference being one of degrees versus one of type.

Regardless, it's well past the time when getting out would have been the wise decision and into the time when it is fast becoming the only decision.

FDChief said...

Anon: You don't get it.

It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter WHY this guy did what he did. Or even IF he did. Or what's "bad for morale" amongst the boys out at the FOB. Or airstrikes, or conditions in the unit, or ROE, or policy, or FM 21-20

What matters is that someone pays the blood-price for this and is seen to be paying it.

You have a wonderful comment. It's full of tactical wisdom, historical truth, and human insight. And it's the perfect, exact, priceless example of the very thing I am talking about. It's the reason that we will continue to farkle about in central Asia, leaving a litter of bodies, and nothing more.

Because from where I sit there is one known way to succeed at occupying a hostile foreign country. That way is, indeed, the Roman way. And that way, yes, "Rome needs pacified legions more than pacified villages".

Y'know why?

Solitudenem faciut et pacem appellant." Recognize the term? Ring me when the U.S. decides to suppress foreign rebellions that way so's I can look hard at our country and what we stand for.

I'll be the first one to tell you; outside the Roman way I can't come up with another. But the way this is being handled - and your comment - show me that no one; not someone who has been there, not my government, not Jesus Christ on a pogo stick has any better idea.

But the way this one is going is surely worse.

FDChief said...

And I should add this; if "the burden that s being born" is such that handing a guy who did something like this over to the locals for execution, or to the ICC for trial, is "bad for morale"?

Then the guys really need to stop and think about that burden they're bearing.

Because this guy just made that damn burden a lot heavier.

This isn't a he said-she said. This isn't a whodunnit, or some wingwiper knocking down a hut and killing half a wedding party by mistake.

This is some dude busting a cap in some kiddies from socializing distance. This isn't "winning the war" in any way; this is putting one in the center of mass of a granny and smelling the stink as she shits herself as she dies.

The Hague? Hell, the Hague would be merciful compared to what I'd want to do to some joker from my outfit who did this. Other GIs are gonna die because of the locals this character pissed off by killing their women and kiddies.

I mean, if you're gonna try and win wars by pure frightfulness, then you have to go full Roman; line the Appian Way with crosses and fuck the Hague.

But if you're going to try and fight and still stay Americans, then handing over a cold-blooded killer of helpless civilians to the Hague - or, hell, to their relatives to tear limb-from-limb - shouldn't cause a single U.S. trooper to lose a moment's sleep.

We all agree that the mission comes first, right?

Well, this guy's welfare comes AFTER the mission, and if the mission is worth a shit the troops need to buy into that, suck it up, and drive on.

basilbeast said...

A FB friend put this up and at the time I thought it vulgar.

But, it's the shit we poop out here at home.


FDChief said...

I just keep coming back to this because it seems such a perfect way to sum up this entire fucking mess in central Asia.

The fundamental principles the U.S. Army used to use to guide its actions (at least when I was in) were the accomplishment of the mission and the welfare of the troops. Both were critical tasks; the mission always came first.

And that ALWAYS meant that some guys were going to die to accomplish the mission. That was the officers' and sergeants' job - to make the hard decisions that meant that some of your guys were going to die. But the mission ALWAYS came first.

So Eisenhower sends the 101st into Bastogne knowing perfectly well that the entire division might be destroyed, thousands of his guys killed - but the troopers HAD to hold as long as possible to buy time for 3rd Army to turn north and the rest of Bradley's and Montgomery's forces to stiffen.

Here we have a similar set of circumstances. The mission is pacification, and one soldier's sacrifice could make the accomplishment of the mission more practical - and refusing to make that sacrifice might make the mission VERY much less possible.

Yet here we're suggesting that the 101st should get flown to Paris for R&R. That'd be nice for them - but what about the mission? What about the other guys who will die because the commander chooses to put their welfare first?

I saw a little item in the news today; as we were writing this Monday some Afghan emptied his magazine into two Brits in Lashkar Gah. He was described as a "rogue" and the news article reminded us how cunning those Talibs are at infiltrating the ANA and AP.

No suggestion that this might just - might just possibly - be just a regular ANA grunt pissed off because an ISAF guy is killing his homies.

Perfect. Sweet. This really is madness.

At this rate, "getting out" won't just be a wise decision OR the only decision but not our "decision" at all - our own damn sepoys might just do an 1857 on us.

Jesus wept. WASF.

Anonymous said...


The mission shit the bed years ago. My guess was McKiernan in 2008 was the first to really tell his bosses this and he got canned for it and they sent in the next set of guys to keep a lid on the growing disaster that is Afghanistan. Since then it's only been glowing reports and inverted stories of how more attacks is a good thing.

You are right about a lot this stuff, but from my experience, I bet this guy made his guys safer. As fucked up as that is, Afghans respond to this sort of violence in a way that most Americans don't get. They are the weaker party so they sigh, take the money and try not to get in anyone's way. This just gets put on top of a huge list of things used to justify attacks, but in that village, I doubt people are talking about fighting back just over this in that village.

A friend of mine's platoon encountered a local national who literally threw his daughter under an oncoming MRAP to get some money. It is such a mess over there and life is cheap. I got more reaction from locals over perceived slights towards their women than an ANA soldier beating the crap out of a local who caught him (the soldier) stealing food from his land.

Finally, I'd tell you that the mission piece means very little when everyone knows the mission is broken. Hold the bottom of this canyon until Afghanistan improves is not a mission, but it is what folks are working with over there. When that's the mission, people come first, IMO. I think it's more apt to compare the situation with Hamburger Hill than Bastogne, but I get your point.

Afghanistan has a long memory, it's a good thing that they don't have any power or they would probably try to payback their current and former enemies... which would be pretty much the whole world.

FDChief said...

Anon: I'd agree with you - except that the only way to really scare these guys is to fucking SCARE them.

The Brits used to do that all the time - read Churchill's The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War. Written in 189-fucking-8; the Brits go through the Pashtuns like a does of salts; burn their crops, burn their villages, fill their wells in with stones, and butcher the bastards in job lots when they attack.

Churchill says of them: "Every influence, every motive, that provokes the spirit of murder among men, impels these mountaineers to deeds of treachery and violence. The strong aboriginal propensity to kill, inherent in all human beings, has in these valleys been preserved in unexampled strength and vigour. That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword--the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men--stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism."

So, yeah - if you're ready to go Full Roman on them, you can "pacify" the bastards for a generation. But remember what Britain had to do to get there - become the Huns of Africa and Asia. Pioneer the concentration camp. They were the first ones to use terror bombing on raggedy-ass tribesmen. I love to hear people complain about how "soft" the Brits and the French are. The bastards are just resting - they spent the preceding 500-600 years raping and pillaging to a degree that would have brought a sentimental tear to the eye of Attila and Ghengis Khan...

But - you have to stop kidding yourself about "fighting for freedom" and "helping the Afghan people" if you're gonna do that. The Brits were out-and-out conquerors - they didn't give a shit about Afghans - they were defending their own peeps in what is today Pakistan. AND they didn't have CNN and Al Jazeera. AND they lived in the day when a white man was worth fifty wogs and their own publics accepted that.

We could go there...but do we want to?

Is there anything in this fucking wasteland worth turning our Army into the sort of people who crucified 6,000 helpless slaves to crush the Third Servile Rebellion?

I'm willing to hear that argument, if anyone was willing to make it honestly. But so far no one is.

So we're left with these little massacres; too small to terrify, but too big to overlook. They're the equivalent of bitchslapping a bouncer in a biker bar, and the results are about what you'd expect...

Anonymous said...


Never intended to argue that "making a desert" was the solution in Afghanistan. In all reality, the problem in Afghanistan is that it is a social desert. Any act of organizing to make things better for locals is seen as a threat by either the insurgents or the government/ISAF and gets a violent reprisal. Afghanistan is one of those fun regions which has made chaos sustainable. Without any additives, Afghanistan will be a violent and unstable state forever.

My point was that this Sergeant is not a strategic corporal. He is a murderer. He has dishonored his Army and nation, but Afghanistan is built to shrug off those sort of violent acts. The end of America's adventure was written long before this. Hell, if he had killed everyone in Kandahar with a nuke it wouldn't change the outcome of this war. Afghans and Americans have no way to impact this war, it just is. It's like no one read 1984.

This war went Orwellian the moment Obama decided that war forever was more politically expedient than ending the war. When War is Peace, well, fuck it. That should count for something in this guy's case.

Lisa said...

I cannot add anything, other than I've appreciated this honest commentary between FDC and the soldier. I have rarely read this level of honest insight in any national publication.

FDChief said...

Anon: I can't count anything in this poor bastard's favor. He has fucked himself, the people he killed, his fellow soldiers, his country, and the mission he was there to support. He is truly branded with the Mark of Cain, and there is no chasm so deep or shadow so dark that can hide him and us from that, if he and we were to be honest with ourselves.

There is simply no longer a "happy ending" here, if there ever was.

FDChief said...

Lesson #10: Rethink U.S. grand strategy, not just tactics or methods.

Because it is not clear if any U.S. approach would have succeeded at an acceptable cost, the real lesson of Iraq (and Afghanistan) is not to do stupid things like this again.

The U.S. military has many virtues, but it is not good at running other countries. And it is not likely to get much better at it with practice. We have a capital-intensive army that places a premium on firepower, and we are a country whose own unusual, melting-pot history has made us less sensitive to the enduring power of nationalism, ethnicity, and other local forces.

Furthermore, because the United States is basically incredibly secure, it is impossible to sustain public support for long and grinding wars of occupation. Once it becomes clear that we face a lengthy and messy struggle, the American people quite properly begin to ask why we are pouring billions of dollars and thousands of lives into some strategic backwater. And they are right.

So my last lesson is that we shouldn't spend too much time trying to figure out how to do this sort of thing better, because we're never going to do it well and it will rarely be vital to our overall security. Instead, we ought to work harder on developing an approach to the world that minimizes the risk of getting ourselves into this kind of war again.