Category Archives: Unconventional Warfare

UW Bleg: Imperial Japanese Special Operations Forces?

Every once in a while, we expect to find something in the historical record that just doesn’t seem to turn up. A perfect example of that is the special operations forces of the Empire of Japan in World War II.

What Imperial Japanese special operations forces? We could find scarcely an indicator of such a thing. Now it’s true that there were amphibious 46, which in Japanese doctrine were primarily Army forces. And it’s true that the Naval special landing force was a sort of a maritime ranger or commando force. And it’s true that they had airborne forces, parachute forces. But while every other WWII combatant except pre-1940 France (including Free France) had competent SOF, the Japanese seem not to have done.

It’s not that the officers of the army or navy of Japan were incompetent; their incredible run of victories in the first months of World War II, and the fact that much of the Japanese Army was still in the field undefeated when Japan surrendered, suggest otherwise.

It’s not that they didn’t have the technology. Their technology was limited by Japan’s industrialization but they worked around it. Lacking a robust aluminum forging capability like the US or Germany, they made parts that we’d have forged out of riveted assemblies of shaped sheet aluminum, and developed a stronger sheet alloy — one we’d reinvent as 7075, and use mostly for forging — to permit that. Lacking some of the welding technology the West had, they made ships of riveted assemblies of smaller weldments. Kaiser would have been shocked, but it worked.

When they defined a need, they met it. Japanese landing craft, whether used by the Army or Navy (command of an amphib op, except for Special Landing Force raids, chopped to the Army once the fleet anchored to launch landing craft)  were faster and more seaworthy than their American counterparts, meant to travel 150 miles overnight and surprise an enemy from outside the combat radius of his fighters and dive bombers.

So… we reluctantly conclude that either (1) we’re missing well-known sources; (2) the Japanese never defined a need for an SOE/OSS/Brandenburg/Commando capability'; or, (3) they did really, really well at sanitizing their records at war’s end and keeping us long-noses in the dark..

We’re guessing, based on their crude COIN techniques in China and the Philippines, that the answer was (2). But what do you guys know?

UW: Terry and the Particularized Intelligence

Terrence John “Terry” Peck was a cop on a rural beat, in one of the last remaining backwaters of the British Empire, but he’d retired from the force — as Chief — some time before. But the people in his community — Stanley, which passed for the capital of the windswept Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic — were alarmed by the news, and he had to do something. The Falklands were a British possession, claimed centuries before, and settled by a hardened breed who called themselves “Kelpers” and considered themselves and their community as British as a bowler hat.

But Argentina also had a claim to the Falklands, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, and to the even more remote, generally uninhabited, abandoned whaling station of South Georgia Island, remembered today primarily for Shackleton’s crossing of the island. Argentina has pressed that claim with greater or lesser vigor for approximately two centuries itself. (At one time or another, since their discovery in the 17th Century, the islands were claimed by Britain, France, Spain and even the United States; but the Falklands have been continuously British since the Spanish governor bugged out in 1806 as a result of British victories over Spain in the Napoleonic Wars). In the spring of 1982 Argentine dictator Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, struggling with the chronic bane of Argentine governments since Perón, an incompetently micromanaged economy, was looking for a good patriotic issue to distract his people from their woes.

Terry-PeckInvading the Falklands looked like a smart play. The British had a navy of similar size and power to Argentina’s, but it was one that was about to get smaller: several warships, including one of the RN’s only two carriers, had already been sold overseas and were pending delivery. Argentina had an old, but jet-capable, conventional carrier, and the British ships could carry only compromised STOVL Sea Harriers. The Falklands, moreover, were extremely distant from the UK, and only 400 miles from Argentine air bases. In early 1982 rumors spread in Buenos Aires, London and Port Stanley (capital of the Falklands) alike, that the Argentines were going to invade, to give the struggling people of metropolitan Argentina a great war victory over the garrison, which then comprised about a platoon of Royal Marines.

An Argentine “emergency landing” at Port Stanley was an excuse for senior military officers, who were onboard the military-operated “airliner”, to survey their objectives. This attempted special operation was so ineptly done that it was reported to London (and Washington) within the hour of the plane’s landing.

Despite that, the British Foreign Minister, Lord Carrington, insisted he could find a peaceful solution in negotiations. Like the Japanese before Pearl Harbor, Argentina continued bad-faith negotiations while planning a surprise attack. Now that the scene is set…

Terry Peck rejoined the force as a Special Constable. It was what he knew how to do, after all.

The next day Argentina invaded.

The Royal Marine fought with Argentine special operations forces for a while, but they were outnumbered, and finally ran low on ammunition. They surrendered. Their presence had never been intended to secure the islands against an invasion, but to make an invasion an act of war on Britain itself. They were, in fact, a bluff.

Galtieri called the bluff.

Humiliated, Carrington resigned. Some elements of British public opinion called for war.

Still, they were minority elements at this point. The smart money was on Britain caving to Argentina’s fait accompli. Regaining the islands would be costly and impractical — the Argentine garrison was going to be a lot larger than a platoon. Galtieri had plans for the islands — plans that involved a brutal Argentinization of the locals, like it or not, and a flood of settlers, rewarded with whatever might be looted there — mostly rocky pastures, and sheep. Today, we’d call the Argentine plans ethnic cleansing, but the term had yet to be coined in the Balkans Wars ten years ahead.

The British probably couldn’t do it, certainly wouldn’t do it. Why, they didn’t even consider the Kelpers British subjects, not real ones — they were lumped in with the West Indians and other former Commonwealth citizens in a literal second-class citizenship that was designed to keep them from becoming a burden on the dole: they were British, sort of, but they couldn’t come to England or Britain. Galtieri was handing them a you-know-what sandwich with Argentine citizenship, but at least it was real citizenship. It would improve their odds of immigrating to the UK!

But the Kelpers, you see, thought they were British, and so they thought that Britain might need some help. The Argentines never took the inhabitants of the city seriously, but after the invasion, an underground flourished overnight, which in the early stage primarily collected and communicated intellience to MI6, using methods that mostly remain classified, but are known to have included clandestine radio transmission and smuggling by British contract workers such as teachers, whom the Argies permitted (and even encouraged) to leave.

(One known method was an amateur radio operator, lighthouse keeper Reginald Silvey. The Argentines had a list of all hams in the islands, but Reg handed over his set and let the Argies knock down his antenna. The quick-thinking resister had fobbed the polite Argentine officer off with a spare set, and had already made another antenna — they never asked why his clothesline was made of metal wire. Silvey maintained contact with the UK throughout the occupation and transmitted, and received, a great deal of valuable information).

Terry Peck, for his part, was on the collection end of this enterprise, and provided many photographs of Argentine installations and activities. He carried a camera in a length of pipe, and told any curious Argentines that he was a plumber. Most of them weren’t curious enough to ask — everyone knows Englishmen are eccentric, right? (Meanwhile the other locals, who knew him well, suspected he had lost his mind).

Peck gathered intel for several days, but then the head of the Argentine military police element, an Irishman named Patrick/Patricio Dowling, somehow figured out who he was and what he was up to. Dowling started suspecting him, and decided to arrest him. But one of his “collaborating” local constables was actually supporting Peck from inside the Argentine effort, and the word got to him long before the Argies did.

Meanwhile, GCHQ had been monitoring Argie communications, but as the Argentines established their garrisons, they ran landlines — and went off the air, limiting the electronic spies’ “take.” Could the locals do anything? Terry couldn’t — he was on the run — but local veterinarian Steve Whitley found a castrating scissor was just the thing for communications lines. The Argies went back on the air, and patrols sought the wire-cutters, Whitley and his buddy, teacher Phil Middleton. (They also continued the clandestine photography Peck had also been doing).

Terry Peck with the Paras

Terry Peck with the Paras on Longdon

With Stanley and environs too hot, Terry Peck lit out for the country, on a “borrowed” motorcycle. Being a former policeman means you know people, and one of the people he know expertly forged a new name onto Peck’s identity documents. As he traveled to outlying farms, he was pursued by Argentine officers seeking him in a Puma helicopter. The copter would land, the Argies would search for Peck and other fugitives, and then they’d leave. Once, he hid when the helicopter showed up; at the next farm, he had to brazen it out with the altered ID and the plumber story. To his relief (and, perhaps, surprise), it worked, and the correct Argentine officer reboarded his Puma and continued looking for the man he’d just politely taken leave of.

Fearing he’d bring the wrong kind of attention to the locals (none of whom ever refused him aid, he then became a one-man reconnaissance patrol, living rough in the bleak hills. He looked like a soldier, too, having armed himself with weapons buried by the surrendered Marines (another Kelper tipped him off as to where the guns were), and dressed himself in camouflage stashed by Naval personnel. He also acquired — from where, it’s not clear — a short-wave radio that let him communicate with far-flung settlements.

It was through the radio that Peck learned from San Carlos farmer Isobel Short that the men of the 5th Brigade had landed. In her improvised code, San Carlos was hosting “a lot of friends.” He took “his” motorcycle and raced to the nearest house with a telephone, and rang up San Carlos. “Let me speak to a British officer.”

To the Paras at San Carlos, Peck was a Godsend. He knew the area, and the people. He had just covered the ground they had to, in the opposite direction. He was clearly a man of versatile ability. The 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, attached him to D “Patrol” Company and he was assigned to act as a guide during the move. But then, he overheard the British officers fretting about logistics. The Paras were not afraid of hiking the distance, “yomping” in the then-current British Army argot. But they had a lot of gear to move, and the battle plan had them moving it by Chinook HC.1 helicopter. The trouble with that plan was that one of the daring Argentine air attacks on the British fleet had hit the ship, Atlantic Conveyor, bringing up the ‘Hooks. All but one of the copters went up in in the Atlantic Conveyor inferno.

Peck had the answer to this. He dialed up the farmers whose generosity had fed and helped to equp him over his weeks of espionage and evasion, and called for help. And help came: Land Rovers, tractors, trailers and skids showed up and hauled Paras and their kit over the tundra-like pastures at speeds that couldn’t be a helicopter, unless the helicopter wasn’t there. That let the surviving HC.1, “Bravo November,” move only the most critical and urgent stores.

Terry Peck still wasn’t done. He, and fellow Kelper Vern Steen, participated in the reconnaissance of Mount Longdon, and then in the battle. At one point, Terry carried a wounded Para back to safety:

We carried him down this slope but sometimes we had to lie across him, because of the fire that was coming. We were catching it left, right and centre. It was lit up like Blackpool illuminations. It was really horrendous. We got this guy down into a crater caused by a shell. We had eight wounded in that hole with two medics, that’s how big the hole was.

The Land Rover logistical auxiliaries, under the “command” of Trudi McPhee (then Trudi Morrison), brought up munitions for the mortars and MGs. At the Argentine surrender, Terry Peck was on top of Mount Longdon with A Coy., Vern Steen was guarding prisoners, and Trudi and the volunteer drivers were still hauling stuff for the Crown.

The resisting islanders weren’t forgotten in the aftermath of the battle. Mrs Morrison was commended by the Task Force C-in-C, Terry Peck was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, and (to his greater pride) an honorary member of 3rd Para. All the Kelpers were made in law what they had been in their minds all along, as they proved with their doughty resistance to occupation: British citizens with the same rights as any in England, Scotland, Wales or Norther Ireland.

Terry Peck lost his final battle, with cancer, in 2006, but his name deserves on as an inspiration to any who chafe under hostile occupation.


Uncredited. Behind Enemy Lines. Falklands: Untold Stories of the War in the South Atlantic. Stamford, Lincs.: Key Publishing, 2012. pp. 24-30.

Uncredited. Palace Barracks Memorial Gardens: the Falkland Islands. Retrieved from:

If you Strike at the King, Strike Not to Wound

easter 1916 firing squadAs we get closer to the TV debut of the potentially-interesting Sons of Liberty miniseries, let’s consider one example of the colonial resistance, in light of how similar resistance fared nearer to the center of British power projection, to wit, in Ireland.

Every book references the mortal risks that the signers of the Declaration of Independence took, and yet readers don’t seem to take them seriously, in part because King George III’s men had scant success in bringing the signatories in. These days, little thought is given to just how serious those risks were. The punishment for treason against the Crown was specified, as of 1776 and for many years thereafter, as to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

In 1798, Irish rebels, the United Irishmen, inspired in part by the American and French Revolutions, threw a national uprising which was put down savagely. They didn’t seem to have a Declaration of Independence equivalent, but those who were caught by British forces were either summarily executed in the field (a common fate of rebel rank and file) or tried, and then hung (the most common fate of leaders). One key leader, Theobald Wolfe Tone, cheated the hangman by cutting his own throat on Death Row.

Only 5 years after that, Irish republican Robert Emmet led a new rising, and sought to justify it with a Proclamation that seemed to owe equal parts to the American Declaration and Emmet’s own prolixity. He declared:

In calling on our countrymen to come forward, we feel ourselves bound, at the same time, to justify our claim to their confidence by a precise declaration of our views. We therefore solemnly declare, that our object is to establish a free and independent republic in Ireland: that the pursuit of this object we will relinquish only with our lives: that we will never, unless at the express call of our country, abandon our post, until the acknowledgment of its independence is obtained from England; and that we will enter into no negotiation (but for exchange of prisoners) with the government of that country while a British army remains in Ireland. Such is the declaration which we call on the people of Ireland to support.

And we call first on that part of Ireland which was once paralysed by the want of intelligence, to shew that to that cause only was its inaction to be attributed; on that part of Ireland which was once foremost, by its fortitude in suffering; on that part of Ireland which once offered to take the salvation of the country on itself; on that part of Ireland where the flame of liberty first glowed; we call upon the NORTH to stand up and shake off their Slumber and their oppression.

We will not imitate you in cruelty; we will put no man to death in cold blood, the prisoners which firstfall into our hands shall be treated with the respect due to the unfortunate; but if the life of a single Irish solder is taken after the battle is over, the orders thence forth to be issued to the Irish army are neither to give or take quarter. Countrymen if a cruel necessity forces us to retaliate, we will bury our resentments in the field of battle, if we are to fall, we will fall where we fight for our country.1

Fully impressed with this determination, of the necessity of adhering to which past experience has but too fatally convinced us; fully impressed with the justice of our cause which we now put to issue. We make our last and solemn appeal to the sword and to Heaven; and as the cause of Ireland deserves to prosper, may God give it Victory.

God did not grant Emmet the Victory he prayed for in this document. Instead, in remarkably short order, He, or capricious Fate, delivered Emmet whole into the hands of the British Army, and he rapidly was tried, convicted and sentenced to be, what else? Hanged, drawn, and quartered. The sentence was at least partially carried out2, and Emmet’s body disposed of in a location that remains unknown to this day.

easter 1916 stampsWhen the Irish revolted again at Easter, 1916, they had a new Proclamation, admirably less wordy and more focused, but still owing a debt to the American document; in this case, seven leaders appended their signatures.

In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. …

We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the last three hundred years they have asserted it to arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations. …

We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God. Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, in humanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.

It was signed, at least on the printed handbill version (no actual signed version survived the Rising and its suppression, if one ever actually existed), by Thomas J. Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Padraig (signing as P. H.) Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt (pronounced “Kent”), James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett. Irish histories saying that the document was “signed in blood” by the seven appear to be exercising literary license, or to use its term in the Irish Gaelic language, blarney.

Easter 1916 destructionAll seven were captured, alive, by the British as the Easter Rising collapsed (one was wounded) under massive bombardment (the area around the GPO in Dublin looked like a bombed city). All were tried in military courts for treason in wartime and all were shot, along with many other leaders.

In the end, of course, the Irish got their independence, but all of the leaders who put their names on a document calling for it didn’t live to see it. Some of them expected such an outcome. Padraig Pearse, the foremost poet among the slain leaders of 1916, saw death coming, and s: “If you strike us down now, we shall rise again and renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom; if our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom then our children will win it with a better deed.”3

That may appeal to the moody Irish lover of the bleak Lost Cause, but it’s a cautionary tale for anyone inclined to give up on political process and go kinetic, in any place and nation.


  1. The full text of the 1803 Proclamation is available here:
  2. Emmet was hanged and beheaded, but perhaps not drawn and quartered — not that it makes him feel any better.
  3. The quote is from Pearse’s ringing, if futile, speech at his court-martial, which was of course spread far and wide by sympathizers, to the consternation of the British who had sought to suppress Irish resistance by holding the courts-martial in secret.

Terror Mosques Seek to Suppress Radicalization Study

Hatchet man: Mosques that radicalized Zale Thompson aka , who tried to murder two cops with this hatchet, want a free pass from NYPD.

Hatchet man: Mosques that helped radicalize Zale Thompson, aka Zaim Farouk Abdul-Malik, who tried to murder two cops with this hatchet, want a free pass from NYPD. Abdul-Malik had a felony record and bad paper from the Navy.

One way the terrorists try to win is by using the institutions of the Western State to suppress information critical of, or likely to reveal, their operational methods. That’s happening right now in New York City. Ongoing suits by “Muslim and civil liberties groups” — basically, pro-terrorist mosques, terrorist-support networks like CAIR (Hamas) and the MAS (MB), and the usual suspects of the well-funded terror bar — is seeking to suppress an NYPD report on the sort of radicalization that produces the so-called lone wolf Mohammedan murderers.

Mayor De Blasio, who likes the terrorists more than the cops to begin with, is eager to settle the suit, and the terror supporters, pressing this advantage, want to see the report erased forever.

The report is hardly news. In fact, Radicalization in the West dates from 2007. For the time being, it’s still on the NYPD website, but its removal, along with an end to all surveillance of the terror enablers and radical mosques, is a prime demand.

The purpose of the report is explained in an introduction by then-commissioner Ray Kelly:

While the threat from overseas remains, many of the terrorist attacks or thwarted plots against cities in Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States have been conceptualized and planned by local residents/citizens who sought to attack their country of residence. The majority of these individuals began as ―unremarkable‖ – they had ―unremarkable‖ jobs, had lived ―unremarkable‖ lives and had little, if any criminal history. The recently thwarted plot by homegrown jihadists, in May 2007, against Fort Dix in New Jersey, only underscores the seriousness of this emerging threat.

Understanding this trend and the radicalization process in the West that drives ―unremarkable‖ people to become terrorists is vital for developing effective counter- strategies. This realization has special importance for the NYPD and the City of New York. As one of the country’s iconic symbols and the target of numerous terrorist plots since the 1990’s, New York City continues to be the one of the top targets of terrorists worldwide. Consequently, the NYPD places a priority on understanding what drives and defines the radicalization process.

The document does not describe such recent terrorists as Zaim Farouk Abdul-Malik, who whacked two NYPD officers with hatchets last October before other NYPD shot him (and also, in a convincing demonstration of what a NY Trigger Glock is best at, one bystander). Abdul-Malik was a recent convert, the sort described in the report as the most radical, whose “need to prove their religious convictions … makes them the most aggressive.” The radicalization template described in the report also fits the recent French terrorist murderers.

Like card-carrying Communists who withdrew from the overt Party to become agents in Comintern days, the report describes how incipient terrorists join extremist mosques, and then leave them, when their own level of extremism exceeds that of the imam. At this point, the imam has done his job; very little time elapses before the terrorist attacks, or tries to. The report suggested, and the NYPD began, monitoring radical mosques for these extremists, and provides a descriptive and analytic framework for understanding radicalization that is broadly applicable. (It can probably be applied, with some substitutions of other radicalizing inputs to the mosques and online sermons of radical Islam, to the less-common non-Islamic extremists, like Lars Breivik or Timothy McVeigh).

A key paragraph describes why such a document is useful in Constitutional and lawful law enforcement:

Where once we would have defined the initial indicator of the threat at the point where a terrorist or group of terrorists would actually plan an attack, we have now shifted our focus to a much earlier point—a point where we believe the potential terrorist or group of terrorists begin and progress through a process of radicalization. The culmination of this process is a terrorist attack.

Not surprisingly, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, whose initial hostility to the police department has now been amplified by what he sees (understandably, from his perspective) as militant police insubordination, is inclined to meet the terror-supporters’ demands and broom the document.

NYPDThe sensitive NYPD Zone Assessment Unit (often described in the press by a previous name, the Demographics Unit), was an analytic/collection cell within the Intelligence Unit that studied the human terrain of the New York area, with a view to providing early warning of terrorist plots. The Unit was disbanded by Commissioner Bill Bratton, on De Blasio’s orders, last April, but it’s what’s happened to the officers since then that illustrates the depths of De Blasio’s contempt. Dozens of detectives and plainclothesmen nominally assigned to the NYPD Intelligence Unit have been parceled out to act as personal servants to De Blasio-allied and anti-police politicians. Eight each have been assigned as chauffeurs, bodyguards and laundry-boys for three such pols: Public Advocate Letitia James, City Councillor Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Comptroller Scott Stringer. This served De Blasio’s ends three ways: it let him give a valuable benefit to his freeloading fellow trust-fund friends; it let him humiliate the cops in question; and it undermines police intelligence against terrorists and criminals.

From the radical point of view, the next thing is to make the NYPD back away from pursuing terrorists at all, or even supporting the Feds in their pursuit. That means that Radicalization in the West must go.

If the terrorists and the Mayor get their way, sometime soon, it will no longer be available at this link:

So, let them try to eliminate it. It’s here now, too.


If you have a website, host it there. Put it on BitTorrent. Put it on Scribd and DocStoc; stick a copy on public DropBox and Archive.Org. They can’t murder us all, much as they’d like to, and they can’t sue us all, even though, lawyers being lawyers, there’s always one available to do any evil, for a price.

Je Suis Victor Charlie

That’s the line John (or is it Jean?) Kerry is getting hung with, after the USG didn’t react to the Paris crimes, except to sympathize with the shooters rather than the shot. And the cartoonists are having fun with it:

je suis victor charlie


Heh. But that’s, of course, an opposition cartoonist. Here’s one from an outlet of his own party.

obama paris


Of course, that suggests that the President reads a newspaper… as we now know, he didn’t want to take a break from watching football playoffs.

Well, a man needs to be true to himself, Hollywood always says.

As far as the assaulted magazine, Charlie Hebdo? It’s not dead. In fact, it’s got Big Mo on the cover, again:

charlie hebdo new


Showing the pedo prophet crying, with the label, “All is Forgiven.”

Somehow, we think the intolerant terrorist savages of the Mohammedan world are going to discover the Streisand effect. (Named after an intolerant savage, definitely not of Mohammedan extraction).

The magazine’s a pricey subscription, but it will improve your colloquial French….

OPSEC: A View from Fiction

OPSEC gruntThere’s an interesting short speech in the new WEB Griffin novel, The Assassination Option. Now this post isn’t a Griffin review; you either like these books or you don’t, and if you like them in general, you’ll like this one. We’ll just observe that after a rocky start, he books are now coming together much better with an unknown (but presumably large) quantity of the work being done by Griffin’s son, William E. Butterworth IV. The character who says the following, one Major Wallace, is a secondary character in the new book. What you need to know about him is that he is an OSS Jedburgh veteran, and is treated with much respect and deference by the other characters. Here’s what he has to say about operational security in planning clandestine operations:

“This brings back many memories,” Wallace said. “Most of them unpleasant, of planning operations like this in London. Specifically, one of the first lessons we learned. Painfully. And that is, unless everyone with a role in an operation knows everything about it, it will almost certainly go wrong.”

While Major Wallace is a fictional character, he is speaking the wisdom of true clandestine operations experience.

Protection of sensitive security information is generally done two ways: by trying to ensure only trustworthy personnel are allowed to see such information (in the US we call this “clearance”), and by compartmenting the information so that only those cleared personnel with a positive need to know are allowed to see  it (“access”). There are degrees of each but these two fundamentals are what keeps the intelligence officers of our enemies from cancelling their subscriptions to the New York Times. 

The US developed a background check system (completely unrelated to the silly Brady check for firearms, this is cursory at the lower levels and very involved at the higher ones) for some special programs even before World War I, but the process became formalized during the war, as did such compartmented programs as ULTRA / PURPLE (German/Japanese code breaking), BIGOT (Normandy Invasion planning) and the Manhattan Engineering Project (atomic bomb development and production).

Personnel Clearance means different things in different times and places. In Britain until well after World War II, it merely meant they the cleared officer was “the right sort,“meaning of the right social and economic class, from the right family, and had attended the right schools. This program was a disaster, actually several disasters, and began to be replaced by a clearance system called Positive Vetting in the 1950s after the Burgess/McLean debacle, the exposure of HAR “Kim” Philby, and the exposure of postwar Foreign Office advisor to the SIS Sir George Clutton, who had been blackmailed by a Soviet-controlled gay lover1. In addition, MI6’s lax vetting was blamed for atomic spy Klaus Fuchs, although it’s unclear how anyone can conduct a background check on a man whose birth, youth, education and friends were all embedded in a hostile nation in wartime, which was the situation with Fuchs, a refugee from Germany (because of his politics, perhaps?). MI6 was lax in both vetting and investigating Alan Nunn May, a lifelong Communist who spied for ideological reasons and admitted on his deathbed espionage beyond that for which he was convicted.2

But the clearance system not only failed to prevent espionage, it annoyed the men and women subject to it greatly. The Manhattan Project produced one of the first robust criticisms of the process, from scientist Leo Szilard, who cited a specific example:

[C]ompartmentalization of information was the cause for failure to realize that light uranium U235 might be produced in quantities sufficient to make atomic bombs.… We could have had it eighteen months earlier. We did not put two and two together because the two two’s were in a different compartment.3

Compartmentation and Clandestine Operations

Spy-vs-Spy-fullThe sort of operation undertaken in secrecy receives, in US government and military circles, security protections which have descended, philosophically, from those of the Manhattan Project (the literal descendants are the very similar but discrete security programs of the Department of Energy). Information is compartmented in codeword, clearance, and need-to-know protected conceptual “containers,” and the bare minimum for mission accomplishment is to be meted out.

At times, the compartmentation relaxes… until there is a spy scandal, like the Walker brothers, one of the many espionage scandals that hit in 1985, of the more recent Bradley Manning betrayal. Then it tightens back up.

Equipment recovered, mostly from the deliberately crashed HH-3, Banana-1. Note CAR-15 and Dick Meadows's bullhorn. NVA photo via the USG. (It embiggens)

Equipment recovered, mostly from the deliberately crashed HH-3, Banana-1. Note CAR-15 and Dick Meadows’s bullhorn. NVA photo via the USG. (It embiggens)

While the real answers are probably buried forever in the secret archives of the world’s secret services, you could argue that overprotection has had worse effects than underprotection. Several would-be hostage rescues illustrate this. The Son Tay raid (TF Ivory Coast /Operation Kingpin [.pdf]) planners had broad and deep intelligence access, but they didn’t know that a compartmented program was trying to alter North Vietnamese weather patterns — and had flooded the prisoners and their guards out of the camp shortly before the raid.

Likewise, every single after-action report of the attempted rescue of the Iranian hostages cited excessive OPSEC as a key reason for the failure. (Honest reports also noted that the interservice politics of making the operation four-service joint also led to the spectacular failure). Steele notes:

[President Carter’s National Security Adviser] Dr. [Zbigniew] Brzezinski stressed the importance of security when he requested DOD to begin contingency planning on 6 November 1979. OPSEC affected everything: JTF creation; organization, command and control; c~mpartmentalization of planning staff; joint training; JTF unit integrity and cohesion; pilot selection; helicopter selection, communications, etc.4

Desert One crash

The OPSEC requirements were a primary cause of many of the mission’s many fatal compromises. Steele again:

[OPSEC] frequently led to the selection of less than the best course of action. This selection of less than desirable decisions based purely on OPSEC was not wise. OPSEC was important but should have been balanced with operational considerations when included in the decision making process. OPSEC was always given as the reason to support bad decisions in the planning process.5

Bad-decision-via-OPSEC examples cited by Steele include:

  1. Using an ad-hoc JTF instead of existing command structures.
  2. Over-compartmentation damaging “cohesion, itegrity and coordination.” One example of this: weather forecasters weren’t allowed to brief pilots.
  3. Consolidation of the JTF at a single base was deliberately avoided.
  4. Radio silence which led the crew of a good helicopter to give up the mission because of lack of knowledge of weather ahead.
  5. Absence of an independent plan review, deliberately left out for OPSEC.
  6. Number and type of helicopters was dictated by OPSEC, not mission.
  7. Less-qualified Marine helicopter pilots were used to avoid having to explain where the Air Force pros came from on USS Nimitz. Indeed, the Marines, selected partly for OPSEC and partly to give the service a share of the mission, replaced the OPSEC-selected first pilots, Navy pilots who could not master the mission at all.

n addition to the deficiencies that caught Steele’s eye, the Holloway Report noted that OPSEC was the cause for the operation never having a full rehearsal.6

That’s an extreme example of an op ruined by over-tight OPSEC. But maintaining excellent OPSEC not only creates communications and coordination turmoil, but still leaves an operation vulnerable to determined espionage. MAC-V SOG had excellent OPSEC during the Vietnam War, but was penetrated by human agents and also by signals intelligence compromises by the Walker spy ring and by one or more unidentified human agent who passed information before Walker.


  1. Dorril, p.
  2. Hastings.
  3. Counterintelligence Reader, Vol. II.
  4. Steele, pp. 7-8.
  5. Steele, pp. 31-32.
  6. Holloway Report, passim.


Atomic Heritage Foundation. Security and Secrecy. Retrieved from:

Department of Defense, Rescue Mission Report (cited as “Holloway Report”). Washington: August, 1980. Retrieved from:

Dorril, Stephen. MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service.

Hastings, Chris. Deathbed confession of spy who betrayed atom bomb secrets. London: The Telegraph, 26 Jan 2003.

National Counterintelligence Center. Counterintelligence in World War II. Retrieved from:

Steele, William M. The Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission: A Case Study.  Washington: National War College/National Defense University, February 1984. Retrieved from:

507th Follow Up

We have a few small details to add to this morning’s 507th post.

Some bright spark at the El Paso Times requested, after hearing how the unit managed to have M16A2s, M249s and an M2 all go tango uniform in combat, something that seemed reasonable to the reporter: all the records about the weapons. We didn’t find the original article online, but believe that this repost here is authentic.

…all records and documents about the weapons that jammed during the March 23 ambush that led to the death of nine Fort Bliss soldiers were destroyed in the Iraqi attack and that there is no way to trace the weapons’ histories.

The Army, responding to an El Paso Times request under the Freedom of Information Act, said any official information about the weapons used by Fort Bliss’ 507th Maintenance Company was lost on a supply truck taken into combat.

The disclosure that the records were lost shocked, bewildered and further angered relatives of soldiers who were killed in the early morning ambush, which is among the worst losses for the U.S. military during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition to the nine Fort Bliss soldiers killed, two from the 3rd Forward Support Battalion were killed, five soldiers were wounded, and seven soldiers were taken prisoner.

“Capt. Troy King (507th commander) stated that he does not have any historical data on weapons involved in the enemy contact,” June Bates, Fort Bliss freedom of information officer, said in a written response. “He lost his motorpool truck and all documentation.”

Bates said King’s records, which were kept in the motor pool, were stored in his supply truck, which was also “involved in the enemy contact.”

This is a little bit disingenuous, because even in 2003 the 507th, like any unit, would have had a property book maintained on computer at a higher level. For example, the 507th’s superior unit would have had a computer run of all the unit’s property, which would have to be reconciled at intervals (annually, or at a change of command, or on deployment/redeployment) with the property actually on hand. Most everyone who’s served a hitch in the Army has endured a property inventory. In 2003, it would have required unit commanders and logistics officers/NCOs to work off a green-and-white-banded, impact-printed inventory. This document records every single piece of organizational property by NSN, quantity, and, in the case of sensitive and serial-numbered items like weapons and optics, serial number.

So all of the 507th’s paperwork could go up in smoke, but two pieces of information clearly at hand were the serial number inventory of the unit’s weapons as-supplied-by-higher, plus, the serial number inventory of the surviving weapons. The only thing you can’t do without the company level records is determine what individual was assigned which weapon. You might be missing nine M16A2 rifles, and know their serial numbers, but you can’t say that this one was the one used by SGT Walters and this other one was 1SG Dowdy’s. Those assignments are lost (although there’s a long-shot possibility some of the soldiers who lost their weapons but survived, the wounded and captured troopers, might actually know their rifle’s serial number. About 1 in 20 soldiers seems to memorize this).

The paper doesn’t seem to know what they were asking for, or where to get it from, or how to ask for it. Soldier-hating journalists that they were, they were looking for some “gotcha” that they didn’t get.

The El Paso Times had requested the history of 31 weapons the soldiers carried during the ambush. The request sought information about weapon repairs, the weapons’ ages, and the manufacturer and condition of each weapon assigned to the 507th soldiers involved in the attack.

The Army does not maintain longitudinal records on individual weapons at all, which may be a mistake. This is one of the reasons for the shot-counter initiatives we’ve seen in these pages several times. We’ve also seen that, while the Army insists they’re fully equivalent, an arsenal-rebuilt weapon is statistically less reliable than a new one. Those two claims are actually both true, as impossible and contradictory as that sounds. The reason is, the Army has a criterion-referenced standard for weapons that both new and rebuilt weapons must meet. But, unlike the Army’s own depots, where a reject just goes back through until it passes, it’s a big deal when a new weapon coming in from an industrial manufacturer like Colt, FNH or General Dynamics-Saco doesn’t meet standard, and it leads to some pain and suffering for the manufacturer. As a result, they inspect parts, processes and weapons to a higher standard to ensure that the low tail of the bell curve still clears the Army’s criterion.

Because personnel files were lost in the ambush and no duplicates exist, the 507th is now trying to re-create the information. Also, [Ft Bliss Spokesman Jean] Offutt said, some of the weapons the 507th used haven’t been recovered.

“But shortly before the soldiers deployed, all of the weapons were certified and serviceable,” Offutt said. “The weapons were fired on the firing range before they deployed.”

Again, all that means is that the weapons were Technically Inspected (TI’d) prior to the deployment and met in-service standards for that particular weapon. As we’ve also often stated, in-service standards are considerably lower than initial-acceptance standards, because they make allowance for wear and tear, and all the slings and arrows of field use by the American GI, which can include using a pistol for a hammer, and a rifle barrel for a pry bar. The example we use in explaining the standard is the M16A1 technical standard for group size: a new gun must meet a fairly loose specification of 4 MOA, but a gun is not taken out of service for dispersion until its groups are over 7 MOA.

Please read the comments on the earlier post. Kirk has a particularly good one, but it’s not the only good one by any means.

It’s all fine and good to practice maneuver warfare and tell yourself you’re punching through the enemy’s resistance and bypassing his pocketed troops. but if you’re going to do that, having the Tail-End Charlie of your corps movement be a combat service support unit that is completely lacking in the experience and mindset of combat arms units is not a good idea.

The soldiers of the 507th did well when you consider that they were a unit expected to be, “in the rear, with the gear,” but found themselves fighting against enemy regulars, regulars, and even tanks.

Their sacrifice was not in vain, because the Army has considerably increased weapons and combat training for support and service support soldiers since then. Today’s maintenance, supply and technical soldiers may suddenly be thrown into a fight like this, but if so, they’ll have some training to fall back on; They won’t be as far over their heads as the 507th was that day in 2003.

More “M16 Failures” – 507th Maintenance

As we discussed recently in the Wanat two-parter, too much rapid fire yields too much heat, yields barrel temperatures soaring to 1300-1400ºF — and then what yields is the barrel.

The guns often fail before reaching that point. How much is too much? The question is still open. We know when the guns will fail (in time or ammo count, a few minuted and ~350-500 rounds) on continuous cyclic fire. But we don’t know how the heat buildup works on semi-auto fire.

It’s interesting that in his recent interview with James Sullivan, Ian McCollum asks Sullivan about M16 failures in Vietnam. Sullivan blames the well-known powder change, which increased the cyclic rate (greatly, from ~700 to over 900 RPM) and the gas port pressure. We note that those things would also tend to increase all kinds of failures.

But it got us thinking about other M16-series failures that may have occurred due to high volumes of fire by troops unaware of the limitations of their equipment.

Consider the fate of the 507th Maintenance Company in Nasiriyah, Iraq in 2003. An Army report says that of the 33 soldiers in Serial 2 of a company convoy, which was led off route and into the city by one of the commander’s multiple navigational errors, 11 were killed or died of wounds, 7 were captured by Iraqi irregulars (mostly wounded), and 16 returned to friendly control, thanks in part to a rescue by the cavalry in the form of US Marine tankers. (Yes, that adds up to 34. We believe one of the captured died in captivity, hence, the mismatched counts). A number of the soldiers who were not captured were also wounded. Over the next few days, the Marines would suffer another 18 killed and many wounded taking Nasiriyah.

Most of the men and women in the unit had M16A2 rifles, some of them depot rebuilds. (This is a confounding factor. The Army does not track rebuilt vs. initial-run rifles, and treats them the same as new with the same NSNs and issues them on the same basis. But testing has generally shown depot rebuilds to be significantly less reliable than initial-run guns. As far as we know, the Army has not yet explored the “why” of this). The soldiers in the convoy had a limited supply of ammunition: a 210-round basic load for rifles, but no frag grenades and no AT-4 antiarmor rockets. (The unit had been issued these weapons, but their CO locked them in a base camp for accountability). Some officers appear to have been armed only with an m9 and three magazines; SAW gunners were supplied with 1000 rounds. Only one truck had a crew-served weapon, an M2HB .50 caliber machine gun.

Many factors other than weapons led to the deaths of these soldiers. The 507th Maint was tail-end Charlie of a 600-vehicle convoy, and had fragmented due to vehicle bogdowns and breakdowns. A first serial went ahead, and arrived without incident; the 2nd serial limped along later.

The company’s vehicles also had a high rate of failures. When they went into Nasiriyah, they were already towing two broken-down vehicles, and in the city, they ran one out of fuel (and refueled it from 5 gallon tanks as resistance grew around them), had another break down and then had more vehicles drop due to various combinations of breakdowns, accidents, and enemy fire.

The company also had communications failures. They had supplemented their few SINCGARS radios with handhelds, but had no spare batteries, so they had very little inter-vehicle communication.

It was the 2nd Serial of the 507th that ran into trouble. Led off the planned route and deep into the city by the company commander, CPT Troy King, the unit came under fire. King was using a handheld commercial GPS, not a map or overlay.

507th serial 2

At several subsequent, increasingly desperate, turns and maneuvers, separation between the element’s 15 or 16 vehicles (plus two under tow) grew. The vehicles such as tractor-trailers and tow trucks with vehicles in tow, the large, slow-moving, poorly-accelerating vehicles with wide turning radiuses, were left behind in what seems to have been increasing concern, and the serial broke into three elements (classified as such by the AAR):

  • Element 1, consisting of the vehicles originally 1st, 3rd and 4th in the line of march, ran through the ambush and kept on going until they reached friendlies (8th Tank Bn., US Marines). Only then did CPT King realize that he had left most of his convoy behind.
  • Element 2 comprised three 5-ton tractor trailers, a 5-ton fuel truck, and a HMMWV with trailer. These vehicles had originally been in positions 2, 5, 6, 7 and 10 in route of march order. Tractor-trailer in #5 position had the only .50 and the only mounted crew-served weapon (the others were set up with bipods only). One tractor-trailer (originally order of march 11, but the AAR describes its fate with this group) became disabled and was abandoned, and the NCO on board this truck may have been the first fatality, although the circumstances of his death are not known. He may have been left behind and fought until out of ammunition, or he may have actually been picked up, and been killed later; investigators couldn’t figure out where and how he died. The driver was picked up by Element 3. The rest of the soldiers in Element 2 made it alive out of the Nasiriyah, but lost more vehicles and 5 of the 10 soldiers were wounded, several of them multiple times. Ultimately they were stopped by gunfire south of the city, and formed a perimeter where they treated the wounded and held off the enemy until the Marines rode to the rescue. All of Element 2’s vehicles were disabled or destroyed.
  • In this vehicle (#13 in route of march, CW2 Johnny Mata was shot dead in the passenger seat, and SPC Joe Hudson tried to fire an M249 while driving. Hudson was captured and survived.

    In this vehicle (originally #13 in route of march, CW2 Johnny Mata was shot dead in the passenger seat, and SPC Joe Hudson tried to fire an M249 while driving. Hudson was captured and survived.

    Element 3 originally comprised ten vehicles, of which two were already disabled: three 5-t tractor trailers, a 5-t cargo truck with trailer, a 5t wrecker, an HEMTT 10t wrecker towing a fourth 5-t tractor trailer rig, an LMTV wrecker from another unit towing a 507th 5-t cargo truck, and the first sergeant’s HMMWV. These vehicles, originally manned by 17 soldiers, were 8, 9, and 11-18 in the order of march. They also picked up some soldiers whose vehicles had become disabled or immobilized.  In the southern area of the city, about five km north of where Element 2 made its stand, and 15 km north of where Element 1 made it to the Marines, this element was defeated in detail, its vehicles destroyed, and all its soldiers became casualties: killed, wounded and captured, or simply captured.

Map showing route and where the vehicles ended up.

Map showing route and where the vehicles ended up.

Weapons Malfunctions

The AAR is replete with references to malfunctions.

Soldiers in [Element 1] returned fire while moving. Most of the Soldiers in this group report that they experienced weapons malfunctions. These malfunctions may have resulted from inadequate individual maintenance in a desert environment.

SPC Grubb returned fire with his M16 until wounded in both arms, despite reported jamming of his weapon…

SGT Riley attempted to secure 1SG Dowdy’s M16, since his own rifle had malfunctioned,
but was unsuccessful. SGT Riley then directed SPC Johnson and SPC Hernandez to take cover.
Riley also attempted to fire Johnson’s and Hernandez’s M16s, but both jammed.

That’s three straight M16A2 malfunctions one guy experienced. Out of working guns, Riley would surrender himself, Johnson and Hernandez; the Iraqis treated the wounds of Johnson and Hernandez, and all would survive.

In the HEMTT wrecker towing a 5-ton tractor-trailer, SPC Hudson attempted to fire his M249
SAW while driving, but it malfunctioned.

Corporal Luten, in the tractor-trailer driven by PFC Dubois, attempted to return fire with the 507th’s only .50 cal. machinegun, but the weapon failed.

PFC Hernandez and SPC Shoshana Johnson were in this 5-ton tractor when it was hit at high speed by 1SG Dowdy's HMMWV. Hernandez and Johnson were wounded and captured. Dowdy was killed, PFC Piestewa was mortally wounded, PFC Lynch was knocked out and captured. How the other two occupants (SGT Buggs and SPC Anguiano) died is uncertain.

PFC Hernandez and SPC Shoshana Johnson were in this 5-ton tractor when it was hit at high speed by 1SG Dowdy’s HMMWV. Hernandez and Johnson were wounded and captured. Dowdy was killed, PFC Piestewa was mortally wounded, PFC Lynch was knocked out and captured. How the other two occupants (SGT Buggs and SPC Anguiano) died is uncertain.

The AARs and investigative reports are silent on whether the 507th’s soldiers were firing on semi, or on automatic, with a couple of exceptions.

Weapons malfunctions were not a direct factor in the deaths of most of the soldiers.

For example, two of the five in 1SG Dowdy’s HMMWV were killed or mortally wounded by the vehicle’s collision with a knocked-out tractor-trailer; four soldiers were killed “running for it” in a pair of vehicles; at least two more were killed in the seats of vehicles. But the lack of working weapons meant that the Americans had no hope of gaining fire superiority over their ambushers.


This was a defeat. Why study defeats? Because we can learn things from them that we’ll overlook if we only review victories.

Only one soldier in the company, PFC Patrick Miller, seems to have delivered accurate and effective rifle fire on the enemy. He fired his M16A2 on semi until surrounded. Persistent reports of an Amazon warrior are untrue; two of the three women in the convoy were both rendered hors de combat by the high-speed crash of the 1SG’s HMMWV, one mortally, and both were captured, and the third woman was SPC Shoshana Johnson, who was wounded in the collapse of Element 3, and was combat ineffective due to arm wounds when she rallied on SGT Riley after dismounting. (Riley was ineffective due to lack of a working firearm, and surrendered himself and his wounded subordinates when it was clear they had no means to resist). These stories seem to originate in a fabrication by the Washington Post’s Dana Priest, who claims that she got the story from a single anonymous source, that she can’t describe.

That is not to diminish the bravery of Piestewa, Johnson, and Lynch, who put their lives on the line for the nation and for their fellow unit members, with varying results.

There does not seem to have been a lot of automatic fire from friendlies’ rifles, therefore it seems unlikely that the sort of heat overstress that frustrated some of the men of the 173rd at Wanat was a factor in the defeat of the 507th Maintenance Company.

If a unit has problems with one type of weapon, it might be the weapon, or it might be the unit. But the 507th had problems with all types of weapons, and with almost all the weapons they tried to defend themselves with. Nobody seems to have funked or shirked his duty; on the contrary, they fought and fought hard, 11 of them to the very end. The soldiers that surrendered did so when they had no means to resist (and this is where some of the blame attaches to weapons problems).

The young sergeants and privates of the 507th (and the older NCOs, including a 1SG and Chief Warrant Officer who also died) didn’t join the Army and elect service support specialties, in order to seek a desperate firefight with a mixture of Iraqi regulars and Fedayeen Saddam irregulars. But that’s what Fate handed them, and they fought with desperate courage. The outcome might not have been changed by working small arms… but it might. We’ll never known. The official AAR suggests that the multiple jams are due to poor maintenance and the harsh desert environment, which is plausible, but the evidence for it seems to be thin. It’s almost tautological: your guns jammed, so you didn’t maintain ‘em right.

Would a combat unit have done better under fire? Probably. Not because they’re individually braver, but because they have combat teamwork down to a well-drilled playbook. But it’s American doctrine that our combat support and combat service support units can defend themselves in base camps and in convoys, and we make no provision for convoying them with an infantry or armor escort, unlike the way a maritime convoy is a soft, fleshy body or merchant ships inside an exoskeleton of naval escorts.

In the end, the second serial of the 507th, especially its trail element, was in an exposed position. And the enemy, reminding us yet again that he is intelligent and adaptive, picked it off. It’s a fortunate thing that the Coalition didn’t really need the 507th’s rare tools, spares, and skills that could fix Patriot air defense missile systems.

More on Wanat and Rifles: the Captain’s Journal

We’re longtime readers of The Captain’s Journal here, and probably eight times out of ten we agree with Herschel Smith’s stuff. So it’s no surprise that we agree with his latest post on Wanat (he’s posted many, many times on the battle, and has been covering it for years).

We basically agree with his conclusions, with the caveats that follow:

The force was simply too small (platoon size versus virtual battalion size Taliban force), and they were simply outgunned.  It’s remarkable that they didn’t have even more casualties.  Blaming the gun we deployed with the Soldiers is the easy thing to do.  It’s also the wrong thing to do, and it’s disingenuous.  Blaming the men who made the decision to deploy the way they did would be the hard thing to do because it gets personal.  But at least it would be honest.

via The Captain’s Journal » Blaming The Gun For The Battle Losses.

Caveats: we think he’s missing the degree to which the terrain favored the enemy, and we think he’s missing the very-close nature of some of the enemy positions. True, some of the crew-serveds were 900 meters out, but a lot of bad guys were within 100 meters, in trees, buildings and behind cob walls. It was a knife fight, compounded by the fact that the enemy alone had good covered and concealed firing positions.

Then, there’s one minor point where he’s off on a factual item: he suggests they should have had DMRs armed and designated. They did, but the only one on OP Topside was killed instantly, in the first enemy volley; he had no chance to employ his M21 (a sniper-fied M14). Topside was well equipped with machine guns (2 x 240 and 1 x 249)… and well-supplied with valor.

Topside’s crappy position didn’t offer good cover, concealment, observation, and fields of fire — only to the enemy. It was a lousy position for an OP, for MGs, or for snipers. But the officer that picked it was concerned that it would have direct line-of-sight to the main position so that it could be reinforced (or withdrawn) if need be.

The officer that selected that position, a second-generation (at least) Army officer, went and reinforced that position once the fight began, and is one of the eight men who died there, so we can’t ask him what he thinks about it in retrospect, but we can probably guess.

We strongly urge you to read Herschel’s latest and the cornucopia of links he’s got in that post, which go to his past posts, official documents, and other good stuff on the net. For example, in a December post in praise of the Stoner system (which contains an interesting video of a Knight’s Armament SR-15 torture test), he wrote the very germane:

I know all about the presumed failures of the M4 at Wanat and Kamdesh, and I still claim (like I did at the time) that the failure there had to do with ensconcing too small a force without good force protection, control over the terrain, good air support, and a clear mission.

He’s right. First, we’ve demonstrated here at WeaponsMan that the nine brave Airborne Infantrymen who fell with their faces to their foe at Wanat absolutely did not die with failed M4s, and that the people who say that are maligning both those imperfect but excellent men, and the imperfect but excellent carbine that a few of them carried. (Others were assigned 240s, 249s, and an M21, which we mentioned above. Mortars and M2HBs were rendered ineffective by incoming accurate small arms & RPG fire).

Operation Rock Move, which shifted troops from COP Bella, an untenable base even further forward (that is, away from support), and towards virgin territory for the US at Wanat, was a calculated thumb in the eye to the local insurgents. You can’t dangle raw meat over the kennel without getting jumping dogs. In a decade-plus of war we’ve seen the enemy in Afghanistan have gone from dangerous, to devastated, to dopey, to developing, and back to dangerous — and these guys are the hardened survivors, the product of a process of natural selection accelerated by American guns.

The Paratroopers at Wanat were thrown into a buzzsaw by well-intentioned and bold commanders, who thought they could get away with it just long enough for the small element there to build a secure COP. (Remember, they opened it on the 9th of July and neck-deep in malignant hadjis on the 13th, with the position still in the hasty-establishment mode). Other Taliban assaults in Nuristan had taken longer before the enemy massed, up to a month. And these prior attacks had displayed specific indicators, you might say signatures, and American leaders worked on the assumption that they had about the same time before an attack at Wanat was an enemy capability, and the assumption that they again would receive these indicators and signatures of enemy positioning. As it happened, Wanat appears to have been closer to home for the insurgents, and they didn’t generate the distinct signatures that they had done before other attacks like the one on COP Bella.

There is nothing stupid about Afghans, and their national pastime is war. Give them a good enemy to fight and they really start to excel at it.

More Bullshit from our Favorite Lobbyist

Yes, it’s Major General Scales again, last seen blaming “jammed M4s” for the deaths of 9 guys whose valiant deaths we recounted in our two part Wanat series (Part 1) (Part 2), absolving the M4 in the process. Tam in the comments steered us to more of his unique brand of wisdom, from October, 2013. She asks, “[D]id you see this eulogy-turned-shopping-list from Scales?”

Scales explains that all the Army really needs, to prevent the kind of desperate fights that produce Medals of Honor, is a few simple trinkets, gimmicks, and imaginary technologies to be produced by his defense-industry clients. We’re not making that up! Scales:

[CPT William Swenson] was the sixth soldier or Marine to receive the medal for heroism in Afghanistan. All six stories are remarkably similar in that none of these incredibly brave men should have been in a position to have earned the medal. Had soldiers in these engagements been adequately provided with a few cheap technologies perhaps they might have avoided the bloody traps that precipitated their heroic actions.

Uh-huh. “Buy the right stuff, and you no longer need people with The Right Stuff.” You can see where a Macnamara-era officer, who fled fast and far from troop leadership towards academic pursuits, might come up with that. So what are these specifics, that will render valor superfluous in our all-conquering robot army of the future?

  • “Cell phones” instead of “bulky radios.”

But did you happen to notice in the video the bulky radio stuffed in Swenson’s backpack? This battle was fought in 2009 a time when rag pickers in Mumbai had cell phones. Why can’t our fighting men and women have cell phones in combat?

"Sorry, Mom. I guess I butt-dialed!"

“Sorry, Mom. I guess I butt-dialed!”

  • Helmet cams!

Imagine for a moment that Swenson, like the medevac crewman who took the video of Swenson, had a simple camera on his helmet capable of displaying the ground situation and linked it to screens in the Operations Center. Had the officers in the center seen the action in real time though Swenson’s eyes perhaps supporting fires might have been immediately cleared long before Swenson was trapped in the kill zone. You can buy helmet cams at Walmart.

"Imagine all the peo-ple... livin' life in pee-ee-aa-a-ee-ce."

“Imagine all the peo-ple… livin’ life in pee-ee-aa-a-ee-ce.”

  • Moar Dronez!

What if our military had been able to deploy enough drones to put a set of aerial eyes over every ground patrol marching into a dangerous and uncertain situation? Surely had a drone been overhead the Taliban would never have dared to open fire.

  • People Sniffers!

[W]hat if the one of the lead element carried a sensor that detected movement or the metabolic presence of humans nearby? Such devices are easy to develop and the technology has been in use by civilian security companies for years. Again, had Swenson’s team been warned there would have been no ambush and no medal.

People Sniffers: Yesterday's Bad Idea, Today.

People Sniffers: Yesterday’s Bad Idea, Today.

  • The M25 surviving half of the OICW boondoggle (emphasis ours)

[T]he M25 “smart grenade launcher” … uses a laser beam to program a grenade to explode over the heads of the enemy hiding behind protective cover. Such a weapon in the hands of Swenson’s team would have taken out the Taliban with ease. After a decade of development the Army hopes to have the M25 in the hands of troops this year…maybe.


  • A lightweight heavy mortar!

What if Swanson [sic] had had access to a really good “carry along” heavy mortar? What if the mortar bomb had precision GPS guidance such that the first round landed directly on the Taliban? With such a weapon Swenson’s fight would have lasted about three minutes instead of nine hours.

remco long range mortar

Drat! The hard part is getting the Taliban into the included Exploding Pillbox.


We’ll get to his conclusion after we deal with these individual beefs, but as you see the essence of Scales is that everything the military has is crap, so they need to bow down before his brilliance (and not incidentally, make his defense-contractor meal ticket cash-registers ring).

So what’s wrong with the idea of….

…Combat Cell Phones?

Here’s what Swenson’s “bulky” radio could do that the retired General’s Samsung can’t:

  1. Use high-level, keystream encryption. This is kind of a big deal. Officers of Scales’s era, who don’t recognize the enemy’s initiative and seriousness, were always a problem with radios, because they could never be bothered with encryption. Yes, the Taliban and its allies do employ signals intelligence against the US and Coalition.
  2. Work with limited and even no on-the-ground infrastructure. See, a cell phone needs… a cell tower. You can’t count on those forward of friendly lines.
  3. Meet military demands for ruggedness. We’ve had military radios fall 250 feet due to a lowering-line failure on a parachute jump, and survive vehicle and aircraft mishaps. They can get wet (true, in Scales’s day, you had to put a baggie around the handsets), get hot, get cold, and the stout little beggars keep working. Anybody want to see our collection of dead iPhones?

…Helmet Cams?

That’s just what we need, a way for deskbound leaders and other rear-area drones (the human kind) to kibitz on combat. Call of Duty 5, Pentagon Edition? Does anybody remember what happened when one of the Army’s Unique and Special Snowflake™ intelligence analyst privates decided that he could interpret some gunship video?

Already, it’s a huge problem being able to fight your unit without constant demands for updates from self-important gawkers at levels and levels of higher headquarters. The sort of Type A personalities that become colonels and generals can’t resist the temptation to try to direct their younger analogues who are fighting in real time. There is a fine line, perhaps, between assistance and micromanagement. But Army culture (at echelons above combat, anyway) lionizes the micromanager and we’ve seen very few higher-echelon leaders who failed to stomp over that line with both big feet.

Then, there’s the bandwidth problem. The US military uses vast quantities of bandwidth, the majority of it for nonessential purposes. But imagine what happens when we start streaming helmet cam from everybody on patrol to the vast majority of everybodys who never go on patrol.

But that’s OK. In Scales’s world, sparkly unicorns will poop the bandwidth we need to flow all that video by satellite. Maybe he can also declare an end to communications latency whilst using satellites!

…Moar Dronez!?

This is a great one. Because the Army alone has had literally dozens of drone-development programs, distinct from those at the Air Force, the other services, Joint programs, and other government agencies, all of whom went all-in for drones after their utility was proven in 2001-02. (Back then, everybody in Afghanistan had to share 1-3 Predator flights a day). The Army’s boffins had wanted UAVs for intelligence collection long before the war. (Here’s a staff college paper (.pdf) on requirements from 1990. And yes, the joint programs described in then-MAJ Harshman’s study lost control of service UAV requirements during the war).

There are some problems with drones. They’re not, as Scales seems to imagine military technology to be, FM (that’s an old radioman’s joke: F’n Magic). People have to operate them and interpret the product of their sensors. For instance, at the time of the Swenson battle, there was a small drone, the Raven… but it would take two men out of the fight, one to program the drone’s flight, one to operate its sensors.

But the bottom line is that drones can’t replace people on the ground, and they can’t be everywhere people on the ground go; they can’t operate in crummy weather, unlike, say, infantrymen, who will cheerfully tell you that they seem to operate only in crummy weather. And for all the spending on drone development, very little of it filters through Scales’s defense contractor pals and makes it down to the war fighters.

…People Sniffers?

Let’s just re-repeat (threepeat?) some of Scales’s discussion on this,

But what if the one of the lead element carried a sensor that detected movement or the metabolic presence of humans nearby? Such devices are easy to develop and the technology has been in use by civilian security companies for years.

Because fighting a war among the population, you can just bring your weapons to bear on any hint of movement, or the waft of human pheromones, with your eyes closed. Scales is showing his “once they’re dead, they’re all VC” heritage here. But he’s also showing a remarkable ignorance of the technical history of the People Sniffer (.pdf), Projects Muscle Shoals (.pdf, in-progress whitewash), Igloo White, and all those Macnamara Line developments. Those things were all costly failures.

You know how we actually got actionable intel off the Ho Chi Minh trail? We put human eyes on it, and yes, the guys in that project got shot to $#!+ a lot and wound up with more than their “fair share” of MOHs.

…the M25 boondoggle?

Can you say SPIW? It was the Weapon of the Future® in 1960, and it still is…. There are several problems with the M25, but they basically come down to this: it’s optimized to meet a requirement that doesn’t occur all that often in combat, and that can be answered better by a well-trained 60mm mortar gunner and a lot of rounds. In other words, even if it worked 100% (which should occasion great mirth among those who worked with it), it is still inferior for its special purpose to a common general-purpose weapon already in the inventory.

But new space-age grenade launchicators are sexy and get written up in tech magazines (as well as, grease the big DOD prime contractors and their lobbyists). More mortar ammo for training is distinctly unsexy, and benefits only some dirty, uncouth infantryman, not a K Street lobbyist in a $3k suit. Which brings us to one of Scales’s weirdest demands:

…the paradoxical light heavy mortar.

… a really good “carry along” heavy mortar?

You mean like the 60 (which actually comes with a sling and can be carried with a round in place and fired with a trigger), and the 81s that some grunt units have hauled on patrols? Or a 120mm where the ammo is too heavy to carry more rounds than you need to set the baseplate?

Scales can be excused for not paying attention to mortars and understanding their current state of development, but the size of the mortar has more to do with its range than its lethality. And ammunition improvements have been remarkable over the last few decades. That light 60mm mortar is handier than the World War II vintage 60 despite its greater length, is hell for accurate, and has the range and lethality of the 1960-or-so vintage 81mm mortar.

And then, the problem is not the weight of the mortar, but the weight of the ammo. A round for the 60 weighs 2.5 to 4 lbs, a round for the 81 9 to 10 lbs.

And here’s a fun fact, that infantrymen all know but that may not have penetrated to the ranks of Retired War College Panjandrums: the M224 60mm mortar greatly outranges the small arms that engaged CPT Swenson’s advisory team, or any other small arm, for that matter. Its accurate range is over 3500 m on max charge, nearly 4,000 yards. 

As far as precision-guidance goes, in a direct-fire situation, a decent mortar gunner who has had ammunition to practice with and develop his skills is utterly deadly with a 60. The best precision-guidance computer on the planet, at least for this purpose, is attached to the relevant sensors by a pair of optic nerves, and located in the brain-case of an infantryman who has been given challenging training, multiple targets, a case of mortar rounds, and some friendly competition.

But, there’s nothing in there for K Street. Or technology magazines. Sorry about that.

Some General Comments

Some of these things amount to, “Gee whiz, maybe if you grease my clients they can repeal Newton’s Laws of Motion.” It’s an example of Full Retard, defense intellectual division. And yet Scales says that it’s he who’s against wasteful defense spending:

These and other soldier-saving technologies could have been developed and fielded cheaply and quickly years ago.

Gee, does he mean the billions blown on the Macnamara Line and its sensors in the 1960s and 70s, cheaply, or the billions blown on drones, cheaply, since the 1990s? (Well, drones go back to the Kettering Bug if you want to get all inclusive).

Yet, after ten years of war the ground services, the Army and Marine Corps, remain starved for new, cutting edge life-saving materiel

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. We call bullshit (threedundantly). The ground services have seen a vast quantity of high-quality, highly-useful, technologically improved equipment. The trooper of 2014 carries stuff that was fuzzy theory in 2001. We were there during halting, experimental and limited deployments of drones, blue-force trackers, and sophisticated counter-IED technologies, to name a few. We were there to see the capabilities of our electronic intelligence collector attached elements take off. We were there to see contact teams, and PEO Soldier, and tech reps from contractors, and they weren’t bringing all the goodies just to us in the white SOF, or our bros on the darkside, or the always high-tech Air Force, but plenty of things that eased the rocky path of the rifleman, good old 11B or 0311.

Want to see life-saving material? Shake out the M3 aid bag a retiring SF medic threw on his garage shelf in 2000, and then shake out one of today’s medics’ kir. And never mid the stuff, the training of the people is the biggest lifesaver going, and has undergone a quiet revolution. We lost guys in 2001 and 2002 to tension pneumothorax and exsanguination, and those are hardly the killers now that they were then.

[W]hile the Department of Defense and their big defense company allies continue to spend generously on profitable big ticket programs like planes, ships, missiles and computers. Soldiers’ stuff is more Popular Mechanics than star wars. But Captain Swenson and his six Medal of Honor colleagues might have had a better day had the nation spent a bit more to give them a technological edge over the enemy.

What they haven’t got is the kind of armchair brainstorms that Scales launches in their general direction, but maybe that’s because that’s not what they’re asking for.

What we need is a human edge over the enemy, not a technological one. Technology is a force enabler and, in very rare best-cases, a force multiplier. As a rule of thumb, a dollar spent on training beats a dollar spent on stuff. But what is the first thing a retrenching Army cuts?

And this confused fellow was a Major General and an Army War College Imperial Wizard or Exalted Octopus or whatever they call it. Lord love a duck. If this is the kind of talent we cultivate at that level, no wonder we haven’t won one clean since V-J Day.