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February 23, 2010
It HappensBy Greyhawk
My own experience in practice of the art of war is a mere quarter century, and from that comes the temptation to file everything under this explanation: "shit happens." But perhaps, with a bit of effort, I can offer a bit more.
Read the link (and the links within it) for background. I'm only going to quote one line from young Spencer here.
"Here's why McChrystal kept the bases in Nuristan Province open..."
What he follows with is the basis for everything else he writes, but it's not why McChrystal kept the bases in Nuristan Province open. If I thought otherwise, I'd join the lunatic fringe crowd (oddly enough, both left and right) screaming for McChrystal's head. (Screaming for various and sundry other reasons - but not for this one yet.)
Let's start by repeating this:
Everything else, from what the local governor or Hamid Karzai or the lowest private or the battalion commander said, wanted, or did is a distraction - everything was on hold awaiting word from the top.
Any commander would like to have enough troops to have reinforced Keating and its environs. It is strategically important. The area is, as Ackerman's commenter said, "a known avenue of approach" where the Taliban could come and go from Afghanistan to Pakistan at their leisure.
But this is how it was before the attack:
"It is really hard to interdict the enemy," said the base's company commander in an interview with The Washington Post in late September. "There are literally thousands of trails around here. We just don't have the numbers of troops we need to be effective."
So why were they still there? The answer "because the governor wanted them" seems sufficiently stupid and infuriating to get people genuinely outraged - but it's a load of horse shit. (As is "not enough helicopters" - another early excuse but one the US had no trouble abandoning.) They were still there because the command-level question "will we have enough troops to do this right?" was unanswered. "Probably not" was the likely answer - expected, even - but "probably" and likely" are why there was a plan to abandon the position that hadn't been executed yet. There were any number of plans for Nuristan awaiting a White House-level decision - but the enemy got tired of waiting first.
That the local governor preferred having American troops in his area (and which one wouldn't?) is coincidental. And whether anyone agreed with him or not doesn't matter now because it didn't matter then. To repeat for emphasis: everything else, from what the local governor or Hamid Karzai or the lowest private or the battalion commander said, wanted, or did is a distraction - everything was on hold awaiting word from the top.
Eight Americans died because the President of the United States delayed a decision for far too long. That's inexcusable - but the Army he commands can't acknowledge that. Ultimately the Army scapegoated the low-level commanders involved. ("Because unlike most human endeavors, scapegoat hunts never fail.") Since those commanders are involved it's easy to blame them; since they aren't at fault it's not difficult to defend them - but the McClatchy story (see "politics" section here) that actually began this discussion attempts to shift the blame up to the General McChrystal level, and that falls short, too. Ackerman, God bless him, comes tantalizingly close to grasping the thing here, then veers away.
He'll have other opportunities to agonize properly. Ultimately the President made his decision - as a result a lot more people will die.
Given enough practice - and that seems likely - Ackerman might be able to reduce his explanations for those deaths to two words.
Posted by Greyhawk / February 23, 2010 5:15 PM | Permalink
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November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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