Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thank you, Hitch

This is, necessarily, a non-political blog. I, like every other military officer of whatever political persuasion, will faithfully discharge my duties under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, regardless of his political party. When he is sworn on on 20 JAN, President Obama will be the fifth Commander-in-Chief I have served.
Still, I have to say, I find a lot of the vitriol and venom directed at our current Commander-in-Chief to be disheartening. I have no qualm with anyone who has a problem with any of his policies. There are some of his policies that I have disagreed with over the years. But the constant personal attacks against President Bush are unseemly and uncalled for. And none of the attacks are more so than those which call the President stupid. I'm not an extremely well-read guy. Okay, discount books by Louis L'amour and Mickey Spillane, and I'm really, really not well-read. But I respect people who are, and the President is. He's well read, smart, and principled, and he has had to make some incredibly difficult choices during some of country's most trying times. Calling him stupid is beyond the pale. Maybe he's not the most well-spoken politician on the face of the planet, but public speaking can sometimes be, you know, difficult--despite an Ivy League pedigree.
So, I'm glad that Christopher Hitchens said this.

h/t Blackfive

Dear Bill Gates

Dude, unfuck yourself.

Oh, my

Didn't know this when I started Mongo's Montreaux. Definition #1. Okay, I think it's growing on me.

What about Tap, Nap, or Snap?

The Economist has an article out articulating what President-Elect Obama can learn about the Mid-East Peace Process from the Clinton years. Couple things about it:
Mr Clinton faced far riper circumstances in the 1990s than Mr Obama inherits today. He had in Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister, a visionary leader willing to return the Golan Heights to Syria and negotiate directly with Yasser Arafat, whom previous Israeli leaders considered an incorrigible terrorist.

Uh, that's because Yasser Arafat was, in fact, an incorrigible terrorist. Granted, he was what Ralph Peters would call a "rational terrorist," unlike our current Al Qaeda cabal, but now we're differentiating between cockroaches and maggots.
Second, the article (which promulgates advice teased from a book by Martin Indyk called Innocent Abroad) asks:
Should the next president pile greater pressure on Israel? For all Rabin’s courage, notes Mr Indyk, he was “deeply cautious” towards the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories because he wanted to preserve his domestic political capital. Mr Indyk now thinks America should stand up to Israeli leaders when they plead political trouble at home to fend off pressure to curb settlements.

How about (ain't gonna happen, but one must ask) piling greater pressure on the Palestinians? In fact, given the recent events in Gaza, how about we tell the Palestinians "look, we'd really like to help you out, but until you stop your terror attacks on Israel, we are, in fact, going to encourage the Israelis to keep knocking the snot out of you. We endorse the kinetic solutions that the Israelis are taking to make themselves more secure, if not actually safe. We regret any loss of innocent life that result from Israel's actions, but if innocent life were truly one of your concerns, you wouldn't place your rocket launchers in schools, hospitals, and residential neighborhoods. Until you act like adult fucking members of the world community, we are going to encourage Israel to keep spanking you. Maybe, someday, you'll grow up."
Also, I recall reading somewhere that a good percentage of the Hamas rocket launchers were located in former Israeli settlements in Gaza. Sheesh.
Of course, that'll never happen. Everyone is going to keep kissing the Palestinians' asses and acting like they've got a legitimate beef (which, this generally pro-Palestinian article demonstrates they do not) and everyone will keep criticizing and "piling pressure on" Israel, which bends over backwards to avoid the collateral damage that the Palestinians take such glee in fomenting.

Using Precise Terms Precisely

The Vatican has released the names of this year's Christian martyrs. Man, it's been a long time since I've heard about Christian martyrs. And check it out: unlike some other religions I could mention, none of the Christian martyrs expired by blowing a suicide vest in a crowded market, or ramming a VBIED into a bunch of school kids (Pull Quote: "A surveillance video shows that the bomber could have waited for the children to walk past but decided instead to detonate his explosives, U.S. officials said. A Taliban spokesman was quoted calling the bomber a martyr."). Wow, a list where "martyr" doesn't equate to "murderer." It's a little disconcerting.

A Christmas Tragedy

We took indirect fire on Christmas morning. Through the day, the details trickled in, and we knew in short order that we (US Forces, not Mungadai) had taken casualties. For the Mungadai, Christmas was, more or less, just another workday. We heard and felt the blasts, but as the fire wasn't impacting right on us and it was sporadic, we just drove on with our day. Although we didn't really get the full story until a day or two after Christmas, we knew pretty quickly that one US Soldier died, two were wounded.

The doctor who was killed is survived by his wife and three children. Every Soldier lost is a tragedy--this is a phrase used so much that one could consider it a cliche, if it weren't so heart-rending. The saddest part of the whole thing is that his poor kids have not only lost a Father, but will forever be reminded of it on Christmas, a day which should be about joy, fellowship, and eternal hope. Our prayers go out to the Pryors.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Israeli Spokesman on Iraqi TV

Had lunch with the Knights' Raid Commander today. Per usual Iraqi luncheon operations, we huddled up over a big plate of chicken and rice with various veggies and sauce bowls piled around the edges and dug in (with hands). Being a southpaw, this is kind of a bitch for me, as I've got to use my right hand for most of the tearing and sundering going on in the middle of the plate.
The news was on while we ate. Not sure which station (whether it was an indig Iraqi program or from some other Arab state). The show's anchor had a young IDF officer on to discuss Israel's retaliatory strikes into Gaza. The young man was bright and articulate; his Arabic was, as far as I could tell, flawless MSA (I'm not a subject matter expert, here, I'm only qualified to give my impression). Interestingly, the spokesman was an Arab Israeli. The discussion between the Muslim anchorman and the IDF spokesman was measured, congenial, and truly looked like a no shit dialogue. Never expected that.
Later, the anchor cut to Hezbullah's Nasrallah stating that Israel had better not try to export its shenanigens to LH and southern Lebanon and protesting that Israel's "indiscriminate" attacks had killed three girls in the Gaza strip. Around our chow (the cadence of which is best described as grab, rend, scoop, squeeze, stuff) both of my lunch companions, one a Sunni Kurd, the other a Shi'i Arab, expressed these sentiments:
-That fat asshole, children get blown up here all the time by "Muslims" and I don't hear him saying anything.
-Yeah, I'd like to beat that fucker like a dog in a mosque.
Interesting. My counterparts aren't shy about voicing thier criticisms of the US, the nascent Iraqi political system, Iranian interference in Iraq, or any other subject. Some of their opinions are wildly off base, some hit pretty close to the mark, and all are delivered with the passionate yelling and gesticulations that invariably accompany any Iraqi conversation. At no point during the newscast was there any vehemence or vitriol directed at Israel.
There are itty-bitty, teeny-tiny cracks appearing in my own perception of Monolithic Bloc Muslim anti-semitism.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Me Too! Me Too!

Outstanding evening/morning of night raids last night. After a couple hours of sleep, I had some shopping to do; Baby Bro Mongo recently got hisself a Jag. That's unacceptable, he's supposed to be trying to catch up to me (guess his tastes don't run to big-ass pickup trucks). So, not to be outdone, the Mungadai went out an procured a Jag, too. Hey, new tires, new windshield, and some spackle over all the bullet holes (or some whatever it is with which one repairs bullet holes), and we'll be stylin' and profilin'.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Essential Elements of Information

Okay, chances are that this guy is totally wrong, and that his acts were thoroughly detestable and unjustified; but how do we know?

The newspaper leaves out the most critical piece of information needed for the reader to make an informed decision: What was the movie?

If it was a Disney movie or some other family fare, then the guy was way, way out of line. If it was, say, a Tarantino holiday film fest, then the victim should've fuckin' known better.

I'm just saying, actions have consequences.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One Man's Cold Oatmeal

My biggest criticism of the GEN(R) McCaffrey report on his most recent trip to Iraq was of his statement that one of the mistakes we made in the war was that we had
issued illegal orders which resulted during the initial years in the systematic widespread mistreatment (and occasional torture) of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan detainees under our control.

My objection was that the US military does not and will not systemically direct nor tolerate torture, abuse, or mistreatment. When individuals do act in a manner that would be categorized as such, the military demonstrates--quickly--that it can and does police itself. One of the problems of discussing abuse/torture is the wide variance of definitions, and the spectrum of interpretations as to what is, and is not, permissible under international law, the US law of land warfare, and the Geneva conventions with regards to the treatment of detainees, prisoners, and prisoners of war.
The National Review published the best article I've seen yet as to the muddying of the waters on the torture dialogue. I guess that one man's cold oatmeal is another man's torture.
You can identify abuse or mistreatment anywhere, if your predisposed to find it. Sometimes, prisoners are "mistreated" because it is not physically possible to care for them any better. My counterpart's current detention facility is pretty austere, dirty, dark and gloomy--as are the barracks, offices, and common areas. The detainees are housed as well as the police, is that good enough?
Ironically, I think that under the current (hysterical) definitions of mistreatment of detainees/prisoners, you could make an argument that the 24th ID--commanded by then-MG McCafferey-- mistreated prisoners during the first Gulf War. We cared for them as well as we could while we continued to prosecute our mission. Had I deferred mission accomplishment in order to ensure that our prisoners were warmer, dryer, better fed, and all around more comfy-cosie than we were, MG McCafferey would've been the first to dig into my ass--and rightfully so.
One of the problems our military faces today is the highly partisan nature of the scrutiny of detainee/prisoner operations. The rules used to pass the common sense test, but now that the rules are being parsed in the rarefied air of partisan politics, common sense (guided by the experience and judgment of military professionals) is out the window. Our system is now insane (see Boumediene v. Bush).
The Geneva Conventions and the US' Law of Land Warfare were inspired specifically "by the desire to diminish the evils of war." These covenants unambiguously forbid the
manner in which Al Qaeda wages war, and are meant to encourage warring parties to kill each other in a civilized manner.
Prior to 9/11, I would have said that if I came across my enemy on the battlefield dressed as a civilian and wantonly killing non-combatants, it would be perfectly legal to execute him on the spot. That I wouldn't do so would be as a matter of military policy and procedure, not law. Were I to take him into custody, I would treat him IAW the Geneva Conventions because that is what we are wont to do (we're the good guys), not what we are mandated to do.
I get the feeling that the extraordinary protections accorded US prisoners/detainees are a result of the fact that we are sitting fat and happy, and secure because of the lack of follow-on attacks since 9/11. Following another (as or more pernicious) attack, those who scream the loudest about the brutality of our military/security forces will be the ones screaming loudest that we haven't done enough.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Airman up for Medal of Honor for Actions in Laos, 1968

CMSgt Richard Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his valorous actions at the destruction of Lima Site 85 in Laos in 1968. 40 years later, the request to upgrade his award to the Medal of Honor is on Secretary of Defense Gates' desk. The link goes to a site detailing the story; the AF lost 11 of 19 men at the site, the largest loss of AF personnel during a single engagement in the Vietnam War. As is too often the case, the loss of life was preventable but for bureaucratic friction. These guys were at the sharp, shitty end of the stick.
Etchberger's sons only ever knew that there father died in a helicopter accident. I can't access the Army Times story on-line (yet) but one thing that stood out was
For 14 years Etchberger's sons didn't know the truth of their father's death, Cory Etchberger said.
His mother was briefed on the mission when she went to DC with her husband [before the mission], but was sworn to secrecy. Not until the mission was declassified did she tell her sons about what their father did in Laos.

That's hardcore.
The citation for Etchberger's Air Force Cross reads
On 11 March 1968, Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger was manning a defensive position when the base was overrun by an enemy ground force.

The enemy was able to deliver sustained and withering fire directly upon this position from higher ground.

His entire crew dead or wounded, Chief Etchberger continued to return the enemy's fire thus denying them access to the position.

During this entire period, Chief Etchberger continued to direct air strikes and call for air rescue on his emergency radio, thereby enabling the air evacuation force to locate the surrounded friendly element.

When air rescue arrived, Chief Etchberger deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to place his three surviving wounded comrades in the rescue slings permitting them to be airlifted to safety.

As Chief Etchberger was finally being rescued, he was fatally wounded, by enemy ground fire. His fierce defense which culminated in the supreme sacrifice of his life, saved not only the lives of his three comrades but provided for the successful evacuation of the remaining survivors of the base.

Sounds like a Medal of Honor to me.

The Mungadai salute CMSgt Etchberger, his family, and all the Airmen who gave their last full measure on that hilltop in 1968 and their families.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back in the Saddle

The week of the Hajj is over. The week of home station celebrating by everyone who didn't get to Mecca tamped down attacks (despite the SVIED attack at the restaurant in Kirkuk). The week is over, the celebrations ended, so we can expect to see an uptick in both OPTEMPO and attacks.

The slow week was a good break, but I'm looking forward to resuming our normal (insane) OPTEMPO. At least then I've got an excuse for not catching up on paperwork, doing admin, going to the gym,etc.

I'm just saying, is all...

Soldiers bitch. They're great at it. I marvel everyday at the incredible support we get here, and derive great amusement from listening to Soldiers bitching anyway. Oh, sorry troop, was your lobster overcooked again? War is hell.
I had to go to the PX today, and wandered down the book/magazine aisle. Who procures for AAFES and decides what to sell to the guys? Case in point, they're selling Robin Cook's Coma. Nothing against the book, but it came out in 1977. What in the world makes someone think that there will be a market for it in the Mosul PX? I've seen that book in paperback aisles for as long as I've been looking at books in paperback aisles; what, is AAFES trying to introduce a new generation to the medical thriller?


The AAFES folks can ensure I can get my hands on a 30-year old paperback, but they run out of Copenhagen? And it's the plastic canned Cope, so it's not even like it'll go stale. It's an Army PX in Mosul, for crying out loud, are you afraid you're going to order too much friggin' Copenhagen?

I'm just saying...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What The...?

Man, I didn't even know this was going on. What the hell...I didn't even know his damn tomb was in Mosul...or that the tomb was missing a damn whale tooth.

Guess I need to check out BlackFive more often to find out what's happening in my own backyard. I suck.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Counterinsurgency, Infrastructure, and the Rule of Law

About two nights ago (they kind of seem to run together, sometimes) we spent the evening with the Knights checking the occupants of local hotels. That is, we ran up, secured the street, secured the building, then brought all the guests downstairs for interviews and ID card checks while the Knights checked the rooms, primarily for people hiding.
I'm not going to critique the various TTP on display, that's for Knight and the Mungadai internal consumption. But, what struck me was:
How, exactly, does one impose the rule of law when civil infrastructure is almost zero?
The biggest infrastructure issue that we've bumped up against previously is the leave policy. At any given time, a quarter of the ISF is on leave. They take leave because, once they get paid, they've got to go home and pay the bills. No banks, no internet for wire deposits, no checking accounts, no direct deposit. The troops get paid in cold cash, and then go home to pay the bills and take care of Momma and give her enough money to get through until the next pay day. And, because ISF at some point have to devolve from a unit taking leave and going out the gates together to individuals splitting off to go home, the troops are often incredibly vulnerable when they go home, susceptible to ambush, kidnap, and assassination. My last deployment to Iraq (05), the Iraqi chain of command would mandate that the troops leave the base in uniform. The troops were afraid to even carry their uniforms off base in a shopping bag, so we had to constantly replace uniforms that wound up in a ditch somewhere between point A and point B.

The problem here and now, in Mosul, is that the National Police (for that matter, all the ISF) are trying to segue from military operations to a combination of military and law enforcement activities, with the goal being to end up having to perform only law enforcement. As the rest of Iraq settles down, the rule of law becomes more and more important. The Iraqi Government needs to enforce and--more importantly, follow--the rule of law in order to gain and maintain its credibility and legitimacy. The hard part is doing that in an area like Mosul, where there is little to no infrastructure. I'm defining "infrastructure" here as all the shit that happens back home that we don't even have to think about. The hotel checks were an object lesson in the friction between the rule of law and social infrastructure.
How does one verify an address when there are no addresses? An Iraqi will generally say something like "I live near Haifa Street, in Baghdad" or "I live near the Zangeli traffic circle." There aren't any building or residential numbers, and a lot of the streets are not named.
How does one check a phone number when landlines are virtually nonexistent? You can check a guy's cell phone call log (if he hasn't erased it), but so what, unless you know the numbers on the register. In the US, the police need a warrant to get someone's call history from the cell phone company. Here, they are striving for the same standard, but what is the probable cause for the warrant? That the guy looks fishy?
The police were suspicious of all the hotel guests; they were from out of town, and who the hell decides to visit Mosul now? One guy had a huge wad of cash--suspicious. But Iraq is a cash-only economy right now. One guy had numerous sets of car keys on him, and stated that he was in the business of buying and selling cars. The National Police (and the Coalition) have been hit hard by VBIEDs the last couple of weeks, and anyone with access to multiple cars needs to be thoroughly investigated. But investigation equals more than interrogation, and without a sound infrastructure against which to check facts, gathering evidence becomes problematic.
We often hear references that Mosul (or at least parts thereof) are "like the Wild West." That's especially true when it comes to law enforcement. However, there is a definite difference between the imposition of a lawman's will and what we would think of as the "rule of law." Let's not forget that the men who "tamed the West" would probably suffer some pretty bad PR these days. From a law enforcement point of view, the Iraqi National Police are walking a tight rope--while people are shooting at them.

Movie Comments

Due to time constraints and OPTEMPO, I end up watching any movie in about a week-long series of 10-20 minute increments. As anyone who knows me knows, this drives me absolutely nuts. Still, it's better than putting a TV in my room (some of the guys have bought "garage sale" televisions from re-deploying troops; we procured an AFN dish and--boom--we're cooking with gas. I've abjured the television option, as I know myself well enough to know that if it's on, I won't be doing something productive that I should be doing. This approach will be modified when AFN starts broadcasting the new season of 24; at that point I'll be hanging out in Top's or Buddha's room for an hour a week--and yes, Voodoo, same thing whenever AFN puts a Chuck Norris flick on). Two movies that supplied something worth commentary were:
The Hulk: the new one with Edward Norton. Okay, liked it better than the first, and enjoyed the inclusion of Brazilian JiuJitsu into the screenplay. Tim Roth (much as I like the guy) was sort of miscast as the Bad Ass Operator that volunteers to take on the Hulk through similar treatments as those that transformed Bruce Banner. Roth looked reasonably kick-ass all kitted out in black; he probably could have pulled it off if the screenplay hadn't called for him taking off his shirt. After years of being an Operator in the Royal Marines, wearing full kit, the dude has to have developed something resembling traps, right?
So, when offered the opportunity to participate in the "Bio Tech Force Enhancement"--Super Soldier--program, he tells LTG Ross:
If I could take what I know now, put it in the body I had ten years ago...that would be somebody I wouldn't want to fight.
Isn't that the perpetual lament of professional soldiers everywhere, through history? That, when one finally reaches the apogee of technical and tactical proficiency, one has to perform despite the bum knee, the fused vertebrae, and/or the shredded rotator cuff? A good example of Hollywood accidentally stumbling on the truth when making a movie (despite the speaker of the truth being an unshaven Royal Marine wearing the US Army Class A uniform).

Equilibrium: Not too shabby. One has to swallow some wild improbabilities to get to the story, but okay, used to that. The one thing I appreciated, though, was the introduction of the "gun kata." I'm sure that, like me, most folks who have spent innumerable hours over the years training and adapting the Weaver stance (or modified Weaver stance), and concentrating on breathing, site picture, and trigger squeeze in order to deveolop a functionally sound and reliable handgunning capability, are driven to distraction by the point-the-weapon-anywhere-while-rolling-around-and-still-hit-the-target nature of shoot 'em up movies. At least this movie gave a plausible explanation for wild assed firing techniques and showed people actually having to train it. Kudos. Like any skill worth having, shooting takes practice, practice, and more practice.
Note to Hollywood: if you still want to strip out realism and keep showing movie characters shooting their pistols one-handed while holding the weapon lateral to the ground to the people (terrorists, insurgents, criminals) I may have to engage one day, by all means, feel free.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


We all know that Mungadai and knives go together like peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, blood and guts...
And no one makes a better knife than Relentless.
So we'd like to congratulate Relentless Knives on Hollywood's selection of the Relentless M4X as the blade-of-choice for Frank Castle in the new Punisher movie.
The Mungadai have a great affinity for The Punisher; he adheres to exacting standards, asks no less of anyone else than he would ask of himself, and metes out the appropriate measure of justice to those members of society who cannot or will not follow the basic precepts of the social contract.
If you go to the Relentless Knives ENewsletter, you'll see some friends of Relentless patrolling the streets of Mosul.

PS-For all the Mungababes out there, nothing says "I love you, Poopsie" like a Relentless Knife. It's the gift that keeps on Al Qaeda, to the Mahdi Army, to the Badr Corps, to the Quds Force...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mumbai I: Radicalizing Moderates

One of my ongoing frustrations about the dialogue on the War on Terror is the assertion that when we (generally The West, particularly the United States) don't develop a perfect Course of Action that will appease the Islamic masses while we surgically cull the psychotically violent Islamist extremists, we radicalize the moderates and "create more terrorists." The two main branches of this theory are:
1. There is some type of moral equivalency between the actions of the United States, which takes measured, rational approaches to employing force, often limiting our actions and effectiveness and assuming greater risk for our troops in order to attenuate collateral damage, and the Islamists, who--as evidenced by Mumbai--prefer to take the Mad Dog Killer approach to their tactics.
2. While the Mad Dog Killers' actions are extreme, they are rational reactions to legitimate grievances over the policies of the United States, which has subjected the Islamic masses to all sorts of indignities (basically because, in short, we do stuff that they don't like).
Thus, the Mad Dog Killers of the Islamic Extremist set are justified in their passions and grievances, if not their actions, and it is incumbent upon the United States to address these grievances so that we don't continue to "make more terrorists" by radicalizing Muslims who would prefer to be moderates, but just can't overlook the indignities heaped upon them by the United States and therefore become terrorists.
Some big-brain thinkers, like Deepok Chopra think that we need to employ a Marshall Plan for Muslims in order to keep good Mohommadens from going bad, and that much of the Islamic terrorism the US has been subjected to over the years is the result of our not executing such a plan earlier.
My response to that? Fuck you.
Anyone who could be swayed to strap on a bomb and blow himself up at a school bus stop, or a market place, or a hospital is a fundamentally flawed sociopath. Ditto for those who finacially or materially support such people. Actually, the facilitators are even worse. Anyone who could be swayed to overtly target innocent non-combatants is not a moderate forced into terrorism out of desperation, he's a psycho who finally found an excuse. Can anyone imagine an American condoning the actions of a terrorist because, well, you know, he was responding to really egregious poliitcal policies?
Timothy McVeigh is reviled by every one of the disparate segments of US society, and rightfully so. Any apologist who tried to argue that he had legitimate grievances that need to be addressed by the US Government, that we, as a people bear some responsibility for his actions because of our failure to reform ourselves in order to allay the "root causes" that made him park that car bomb outside the Murrah Federal Building would be unanimously shouted out of the public square, and rightfully so.
The victims taken hostage in Mumbai were horrifically tortured before they were executed. No social, political, cultural, ethnic, or religious grievance justifies this. To all those Muslim "moderates" who faintly damn this type of atrocity with "yes, but..." there are no buts.
To all those who think that the US should change its evil ways in order to prevent otherwise moderate Muslims from turning to terrorism as a last-ditch effort to right a wrong, I've got a counter proposal: let's ramp up our OPTEMPO and get these fledgling terrorists radicalized now, in order to sooner get them on the target list.

*As an aside, I'm reasonably sure that, given his personal philosophy and fondness for the Bhagavad Gita, ol' Deepok, in a world where the US wasn't protecting his sorry ass, would find his head separated from his body by a rusty hacksaw blade wielded by a Muslim inspired by a host of "root causes." I note that Deepok hawks his New Age-ism from the US and not from, say, Karachi...or Mumbai.


The terror attacks in Mumbai require a whole host of posts. I've read some good commentary and analysis on the attacks, and their place in the War on Terror. A whole lot has been written about the attacks, and I'm not certain whether I can add anything new. As soon as I get done thinkin', and start writin', I'll do a series on them.