Monday, November 29, 2004

Humiliation of a Violinist 
Israel is all in a tither over an incident in which a Palestinian music student was on his way to a music lesson through a checkpoint, and some Israeli soldiers apparently told him to play something.
Apparently that constitutes "humiliation."


Well, if it were a banjo, that would be different. THAT would be humiliating. But this guy's a violinist.

To be sure, the incident is heavy with subtext for the Jewish people, who keenly remember the women's orchestra at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Nevertheless, to draw any kind of analogy between some bored idiots at a checkpoint and Auschwitz-Birkenau is patently absurd (no pun intended.)

I don't want to belittle what happened there, but but it's easy for us to sit in judgement. We weren't there.

Sure, what happened was evil. What happened was far beyond the pale.

But there are times when a musician noodles between tunes. Or play too fast. Or worst of all, -- and this seems to be a particularly virulent infection among the Gypsies and Ashkenazim -- use too much vibrato.

Yeah, you know the type.

I'm not saying what happened wasn't bad. I'm just saying, as one who's played in a variety of settings, that I can see how some people might want to take justice into their own hands.

Besides. We need to keep exposing the radical elements of Islamic society for what they are, until the Palestinians finally reject violins as a means of settling political disputes.

Splash, out


Court upholds ban on military recruiters from college campuses 
An amazingly stupid decision.

You know, with our nation at war, you'd think our enlightened centers of learning would put aside this juvenile pettiness.

But most of these pathetic dweebs didn't have the balls to even name their own schools in the lawsuit.

Splash, out


Court upholds ban on military recruiters from college campuses 
An amazingly stupid decision.

You know, with our nation at war, you'd think our enlightened centers of learning would put aside this juvenile pettiness.

But most of these pathetic dweebs didn't have the balls to even name their own schools in the lawsuit.

Splash, out


Minor Correction on TSP Expense Ratios 
A reader writes in correctly pointing out that the 10 basis point expense ratio on the "C" fund in the Thrift Savings Program is arrived at after adding in unvested employer (that is, Federal) contributions to the fund.

He also rightly points out that the "C" fund actually owns shares of a master fund, and so may have underlying expenses not listed in the expense ratio.

Nevertheless, one can guage the true expenses of this index fund from its tracking error, which is still very small.

Moreover, the Vanguard Group manages to run institutional money in an S&P 500 index fund for 10 basis points without the benefit of unvested federal matching contributions remaining in the fund.

My original point still stands--critics pointing to the "average" mutual fund which charges 1.5% in expenses are constructing straw men, and overstating the expense problem by a factor of at least 15.

At the same time, though, they're understating the true expenses of mutual funds, because actively managed mutual funds tend to trade more -- 100% is a typical turnover ratio -- and thereby rack up anywhere from a half percentage point to several points per year in trading costs, bid/ask spreads, etc. These are also not included in the expense ratio, but are a much, MUCH smaller factor with an S&P 500 or Wilshire 5000 type index fund.

Splash, out


Letters, I Get Letters... 
I do not feel too sorry for Riverbend or the Jararr families. They were among the privleged in Saddams time and have not expressed grief over the suffering under Saddam. Notice that the complainers usually do not want comments that may try to explain our hopes for the Iraqi people.

Patricia, North Carolina

Meme fighting on taxes 
Meme: George W's tax cuts only benefited the very wealthy.

Fact: The average $20,000 per year wage earner pays 28% less in taxes in 2004 than he did in 2001. (A $90,000 pays 15% less.)

Source: Aon Consulting: Retirement Ratio Study 2004.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Anti-American view 
Riverbend and Khalid Jarrar at Secrets in Baghdad are expressing the view of a lot of Iraqis.

Riverbend asks "where is Sistani? Why isn't he speaking out against the attack on Fallujah?"

Well, because Sistani knows it was Fallujah that was acting as a safe haven for those who would murder his people, the Shia. If Fallujans wanted more support from the Shia now, they could have thought of it before they burned their villages, drained their swamps, raped their women, murdered their men, and gave shelter and succor to Zarqawi and his henchmen who made a point of murdering Shia last year in a series of bombings.

Sistani knows who the enemies of his people are. It isn't the Americans.

Riverbend gets hysterical, but I can't say I blame her.

And it is important to note that their ARE human costs, and that not everyone in Fallujah was a combatant, by a long shot (though given how the insurgents were openly using mosques to construct car bombs, a lot of them were, in effect, coconspirators.)

But the plight of the families fleeing Fallujah, and the plight of those who could not flee, shouldn't be ignored.

Riverbend also suggests that there is no Al Zarqawi. Ok, maybe not. But SOMEONE is setting off car bombs at police stations and blowing up crowds of children and kidnapping, torturing, murdering, and mutilating women with aid organizations.

Maybe you don't call it "Zarqawi." But whatever IT is exists. And Falluja allowed it to live with them, and provided IT shelter, succor, and cover.

My heart goes out to the women and children of Fallujah. But they've had numerous chances and brought it on themselves. It was inevitable.

It's not nobility of spirit. It's stupidity. It's banality.

Maybe after what happened in Fallujah, people in other cities will be a little more reluctant to provide safe harbor to the terrorists.

I don't call all insurgents terrorists. I can respect an honest insurgent who attacks military targets because we're there.

But the term is fitting in Zarqawi's case.

I support hunting him down like the rat that he is because I care about Riverbend.

Splash, out


Evidence of a pagan god... 
My alma mater, the University of Southern California Trojans, for the third year in a row, have given the Fighting Irish the biggest asswhuppin' they've seen since Oliver Cromwell.

I now declare open season on bears.

Splash, out


More stupid Social Security arguments: 
It's gonna be a long, stupid year.

Here are just a few of the dumb ideas, misconceptions, and foaming-at-the-mouth from Kevin Drum's message board:

The reason the financial experts won't talk about this is that the fund managers will be charging 1% to 2% of the total amount of invested money each year as the fee to manage it.

Misconception: The writer is relying statistics for the average retail money manager.

The problem is that these expense figures are wildly out of line with those that are available to institutions.

The "C" fund - the U.S. large cap stock fund within the Thrift Savings Program, had an expense ratio of about 0.06 percent, or six one hundredths of one percent.

So this guy's overstating the costs of the program by a factor of twenty.

Even the more expensive asset classes - the international stocks or small cap stocks, let's say, could be managed by institutions for 20-50 basis points or so.

So this argument is a flaming straw man.

But you'll hear it screeched over and over again, no doubt.


At the macroeconomic level, aren't surpluses in the current social security trust fund and contibutions to private retirement plans both elements of national savings? If they are, the argument about "savings" is economically specious.

No, surpluses in the current social security trust fund cannot be considered 'national savings.' The entire surplus goes into the general fund, where it is then spent by congress. The treasury then sells a bond to the SSA. The social security surplus, as currently practiced, does not represent national savings. Every dollar represents an increase in the national DEBT.

Unless the law is changed to allow privatization in SOME form, there is no fix. Congress HAS to spend the money, because there is simply nothing else they can do with it, other than take it out of circulation.

This scheme breaks Social Security. Breaks it so good that no one will realize it's been broke until it's far too late to fix. Social Security works because of survivorship. Everyone pays in, but not everyone lives to collect.

You don't think the SSA has heard of actuarial tables?

What happens to the invested worker who's last day at work is one-day after the stock market tanks and loses perhaps 30% to 40% of its value. (It's happened before, it will happen again -- although last perfromance is no guarantee of future returns).

Let's say the worker enters the work force at 18 and retires at 65, with a portion of his portfolio invested in equities the whole time. That's a 47 year time horizon.
Has there ever been a 40 year period in history in which equities have failed to outperform treasuries?


A 30 year period? No.

This commenter ignores the risk of underperformance, and ignores the risk premium altogether.

Which is less risky: a pure treasury portfolio, or a mix of treasuries and equities? Well, equities are riskier. But Modern Portfolio Theory demonstrated back in the 1950s that adding a mix of equities to a treasury portfolio actually DECREASES volatility.

What happens to a guy who retires at the end of a secular bear market in bonds?

The author makes no mention of the possibility--he just assumes the risk as if it isn't there.

1) How much of GDP growth can be attributed to population growth?

2) How much of stock market growth is attributed to population growth?

Excellent questions. Will stocks continue to expand if population levels off?

Also, how much is attributable to inflation? (I seem to remember very little--inflation doesn't give a boost to stock prices. It's in Jason Zweig's edition of "The Intelligent Investor" somewhere. I don't have it handy just now.)

What I want to know is, what problem are we trying to solve here? On NPR this morning I heard talk of a $2 trillion deficit over the next 75 years. The Social Security Act was signed in 1935, so we're talking about projections farther in the future than the whole history of SS to this point. Are they kidding with this? Bush and his cronies care about 75 years from now when he doesn't care about today's deficit? No, that doesn't make sense.

Well, we actually know quite a bit, because the next 75 years' worth of retirees have already been born. We know the birth rates in previous years. We don't know their mortality rates, but we can hazard a pretty fair guess, and we can assume that medical technology and nutrition is going to improve, expanding their lives.

We also know the number of US born workers for the next 65-70 years, because they've been born already, too. So it's an easy matter to compare the number of workers with the number of retirees out over the next 65 years, at least.

Season with immigrants to taste.

As noted upthread, the tradeoff -- as in pretty much any investment -- is between risk and return. Currently, SS funds are invested very safely and yield relatively low returns. Privatizing some portion of it would boost the AVERAGE long-term yield, but at the cost of increased risk, and because of that risk there would be some long-term losers.

Again...Modern Portfolio Theory demonstrates that a mix of equities and income investments are LESS risky at many points along the risk-return continuum than an all-bond portfolio, with no corresponding decrease in return at some points.

You can tweak this to improve returns, or you can tweak it to reduce risk. Institutional money managers do it all the time. You will not find a major pension fund invested 100% in treasuries right now, because financial pros know this.

Put simply, with privatization, some people will be wiped out. And the greater the degree of privatization, the more people will be wiped out. At the extreme -- as was the case before the advent of Social Security -- an entire generation can be wiped out. This is what happened in the late 20s and 30s, and it's why we have Social Security in the first place.

How many people does this guy think owned stock in 1929? How is it that equates to an entire generation?

Doesn't he think 90% margin lending (impossible today) may have something to do with
the extent of the crash?

Since incomes are now more volatile than ever before, bankruptcies are a lot more common. 401(k)'s, IRA's, and 403(b)'s are all considered in bankruptcy to pay your creditors. Your Social Security is protected from that.

Suppose you or a family member has a serious illness that depletes all your income and savings, throwing you into bankruptcy. Today you still have SS to retire on at a minimum.

The other two main causes of bankruptcy are unemployment and divorce.

Can your ex-spouse take your personal retirement account the way they can your 401(k)? They can't touch your SS at this time.

Wrong on more than one count. 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and TSP balances are NOT considered in bankruptcy to pay off creditors. IRAs have somewhat less protection, depending on your state. (If you are a frequent lawsuit target, or expecting a judgement against you, you may not want to roll your balances over after leaving your old employer.)

Moreover, your ex-spouse does have a claim on social security earnings after 10 years of marriage. (9 years, 364 days and she's out of luck, though.)

It's probably worth asking who will be in charge of these "private accounts". The money will probably end up being diverted to large Wall Street firms, naturally large Republican donors, who will promptly blow it.

Huh? Why?

but, but what about all the brokerage fees made by churning sheople accounts...and the yachts, oh the yachts.

It's kinda tough to churn accounts in an index fund with an expense ratio of 0.06 percent on US large caps, and a benchmark to keep the bastards honest. This guy's been watching too many movies.

However, under the current system the payout is level across the board. Same for everyone. This will not be the case when private accounts are enacted. So, a person would have the right to say that the government forced them to invest, but their return was inequitable, prompting, IMO, justifiable lawsuits.

Don't worry. Private SS accounts along a TSP model won't have any trouble beating self-directed 401(k)s and IRAs, by 1-2 percentage points a year, MINUMUM. (You can do your own research on Watson Wyatt.com).

American goods abroad are obtaining a patina reserved for despised empires.

Fucking idiot.

Splash, out


Saturday, November 27, 2004

Social Security Reform 
Brad DeLong is hosting a promising discussion here.

Whether we go to individual, self-directed accounts or not (I believe we should not, because that would just increase the variability of returns without any compensating increase in aggregate returns, and we'd wind up bailing out the foolish investors, anyway), we can expect the aggregate return in the equity portion to run approximately equal to the growth rate in the economy, plus dividends.

The question is, will we see a greater return in equities and private debt than we will see in the unmarketable treasuries currently held by the Social Security system?

I think the answer is clear: we will see greater returns, in the long run. Private debt commands higher yields than treasury debt almost by definition, thanks to the risk premium on any given security--a risk premium not an issue with treasuries.

Some criticisms are already nonstarters:

1.) Some people will burn through their nest eggs and we'd have to bail them out.

--The burn rate can easily be made irrelevant by annuitizing some or all of the nest egg. The downside is that the annuitized portion cannot be passed on to heirs. But the underlying objection is easily dealt with.

2.) Some people will go hog wild with brokerage accounts. Remember the Internet bubble?

--There's no reason we need to offer a brokerage window. They were a disaster in the 401(k) world. Why would we repeat the same mistake here? I suggest a series of "lifestyle funds," managed for a given age cohort. If there's a self-directed element to it, you could enable people to choose between aggressive, moderate, and conservative portfolios within the lifestyle framework, but that's about as far as I'd go.

3.) The Social Security funds would quickly bid up the price of securities, lowering the eventual expected returns, and therefore counterproductive.

--No. This would be true for any given individual security. But in the long run, the expected returns measured over decades, will be approximately equal to the real GDP growth rate, plus dividends, regardless.

Even if we accept this criticism as true, then the effect would be to keep a lid on interest rates as the price of private sector bonds is bid up by the demand--thus making the dream of home ownership more affordable.

The other issue, though I do not see this as a critique, is that a few years into such a plan the US government would effectively have nationalized its way to noticeable minority stakes in all publicly traded US businesses. Sure, those stakes would be held in "personal accounts" but that would be even more accounting fiction than the current trust fund.

As a crazy leftist, I wouldn't much mind for a well-run federal government to have a seat on every board of directors in the country. However, though I doubt George Bush wants that, that's where his plan is headed.

Just when you thought the command economy was dead, nationalization is back!

The temptation to intervene in the internal workings of companies, and to divest out of controversial industries du jure, would be powerful, and should in every case be resisted. The Federal government should be a passive investor. This is pretty much the case, though, with the Federal Thrift Savings plan already. If it's clear that any shares held by the SS system are nonvoting shares...or proxy vote rights were passed on directly to the pensioners, it shouldn't be too big a problem.

Splash, out


Death of a warrior 
Superb war journalism from Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter.

Read it.

Jason attracting incoming fire! 
JTB in Texas is raking me over the coals for violating the patriotic orthodoxy here.

"I would have aired it, too." So we know where you stand. And it's apparently not on the side of the troops still over there. Or on the subject of objective, contextual truth.

No, I've never been in combat; but I know the Geneva Conventions /do not/ protect terrorists--who don't fight in uniform and kill civilians. All of these people can be captured and summarily executed according to accepted rules of war, just like spies...

What the Marine did may haunt him for the rest of his life; but it was legal and if he thought he was saving his team from a threat in combat circumstances, it was right.

Well, I think one can disagree without coming down on some side opposing US troops over there.

As for whether all of these people can be summarily executed, that is clearly not the case.

To wit: Article 1 from the UN Human Rights Commission's Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra Legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions.
1. Governments shall prohibit by law all extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions and shall ensure that any such executions are recognized as offences under their criminal laws, and are punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account the seriousness of such offences. Exceptional circumstances including a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of such executions.

Such executions shall not be carried out under any circumstances including, but not limited to, situations of internal armed conflict, excessive or illegal use of force by a public official or other person acting in an official capacity or by a person acting at the instigation, or with the consent or acquiescence of such person, and situations in which deaths occur in custody. This prohibition shall prevail over decrees issued by governmental authority.

The fact that the marine was wounded in a booby trap incident the previous day is evidence in mitigation, not of innocence. The marine has excellent recourse in a claim of self-defense, if he thought the Iraqi was a threat. But US troops are not authorized to perform summary executions. That idea is simply a nonstarter, under current law.

I think this contradicts something I wrote the other day, to the effect that those captured wearing ING uniforms are subject to summary execution, which is what the JAGs were telling us in IOBC way back when. The protocol clearly forbids summary execution in this context (though they could be tried, and executed as spies, under the due process of law.)

Even if we were to recognize summary executions--a concept I am deeply, deeply uncomfortable with--it's not something to be settled at the fire team level.

Maybe the way to have dealt with it was for the USMC to get out in front of it and pay a few hundred dollars "blood money" to the guy's tribe or family. (Most Iraqis carried some form of picture ID.)

It's a practice that's accepted and understood in the tribal Arab world, and it's a lot better than giving the radicals the propaganda value. Most reporters would have held on to the tape for a couple of days in order to give the staff some time to work the deal out with the sheikhs.

Not an ideal solution by any means. But when life gives you lemons, make hay.

On the other hand, if this marine did nothing wrong, then why is the idiot wing of the Republican party calling for vigilante justice to kill Kevin Sites?

What makes these morons any better than those who called for a fatwa against Salman Rushdie?

Splash, out


Friday, November 26, 2004

"There is a whiff of crisis in the air" 
I sold out of my Emerging Market holdings last May or so (I dodged a correction, but it's more than recovered now, so I might have been slightly premature. But after a 57% 2003 I don't feel too bad) and brought them over to a total international index approach.

The Vanguard Total International Stock Index fund is up over 14 points in the last three months! (Emerging Markets are up 18 points over the same period). A chunk of that gain is simply the exchange rates of a falling dollar, since the fund's stock holdings are denominated in the foreign currencies, whatever they happen to be.

The declining dollar doesn't hurt me in the short run...nor should it hurt anyone with a well-diversified portfolio too much.

The question: Will the Federal Reserve allow the inflation of the dollar to continue? We almost have to, in order to allow consumers to pay off the huge debts they've run up. The average family has over $9,205 in credit card debt alone, according to Cardweb.com (2003). If interest rates should rise, so will their debt service payments, as most of these families have very little by way of a cushion, and can't just pay off their cards on a whim.

The debt service money will have to come from somewhere. And it's going to come in a combination of decreased consumer spending, inflation, and bankruptcy.

Financiers are already becoming more and more desperate to bring in customers offering zero-interest mortgage payments (AFTER a long run-up in real-estate prices? Helllooooooooo!!!!!!!) and now 40-year mortgages.

But don't take it from me. Look at what Bill Gross is doing:

The U.S. spends too much; eats too much; drinks too much; TOO MUCH, (thank you Dave Matthews). And we pay for it with our debt and 80% of the world’s excess savings. In so doing our creepy crawly balance of payments deficit has inched its way up to 6% of GDP – a level never seen in the U.S. and reflective of third world nations in financial crisis. The imbalance has been tolerated by those nations on the surplus side of the ledger – read “Asia” – in a strange sort of mercantilistic Faustian bargain that promises China and Japan the benefits of a strengthening economy now for the perfidy of falling dollar denominated Treasuries bonds later, an arrangement that once again will prove that there is no free lunch, or that hell often follows heaven on Earth.

Read the whole thing. Bill Gross is a demigod to the credit markets, and a bigger dog than George Soros was. Bill Gross bullies entire nations.

Bill Gross rocks.

Bill Gross has been sounding the alarms for some time now, and has considerably shortened his average maturity, slipped into TIPs, and looked abroad to get out of US debt altogether ahead of the crisis.

So read the whole thing.

What's he doing?

1.) Looking at German debt, which offers a better yield, denominated in a less shaky currency.

2.) Buying TIPS at shorter maturities...mostly under 5 years, but a few in the 5-10 year range. My sense is he'd like to get out of treasuries altogether but his fund is so big he can't.

This passage is a little thick, but it's huge:

To sum up this CATCH 22, a deteriorating balance of payments deficit may actually have a positive effect leading to lower interest rates until a large creditor turns tail. It’s another way of saying that U.S. yields depend upon the kindness of strangers and that the time to not own them is when the strangers become less kind. I suspect that is just around the corner but Beijing and Tokyo have the ball in their courts.

If he's right, the rug could get pulled out from under us at any time. Tokyo will be ok. But the precarious debt situation we find ourselves in potentially has national security implications. It's not hard to imagine China calling up the Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of State, or George Dubya himself on the phone, and saying "play ball or else," essentially blackmailing the President with the threat of a massive and sudden sell off of treasuries, which could push interest rates through the roof, choking off the housing industry, putting the screws to the automotive industry, reaming anyone holding an adjustible rate mortgage, hanging anyone on an interest-only mortgage by their ankles come refinance time, and pushing the US economy back into a sharp recession.

The president clearly can't afford for that to happen. And so a back room deal is quietly cut. Maybe one already has been. We may never know about it.

This was the best argument for a Kerry presidency. By the end of Dubya's first term, he was simply no longer credible as someone who would be able to keep a lid on U.S. spending. Kerry, for all his faults, was more credible to the debt and currency markets. And while he had a chance at winning, the world held off on the selloff. But no sooner does George Dubya win the election does the selloff begin.

Who knows where it will end?

But you don't see me buying long treasuries. But maybe I can invest in an American hotel chain catering to foreign tourists?

Splash, out


Capital is at Hazard 
Now this is interesting:

It's not my fault. I'm mentally ill. That's the argument a woman is using to sue American Express for two (M) million dollars after she ran up nearly one (M) million dollar in charges and couldn't pay the bill.

Prosecutors say the woman - 40-year-old Antoinette Millard - posed as a Saudi princess to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. She is now suing America Express saying she was mentally incompetent when she opened her account and the company should have known it.

I'm not sure what grounds she has to sue American Express, because I'm not sure what damages she'll be able to show.

But I also can't say that American Express doesn't share some culpability.

Once upon a time, I worked several years as a behavioral health technician (read: psych ward guy). One of the most common ailments was bipolarism, or manic-depression. And it wasn't at all unusual for people coming in off manic phases to report that they had racked up tens of thousands of dollars in debt during their manic phase.

Yes, their mental illness was real. They weren't making cheap excuses. Judgement in the manic phase is legitimately clouded. Now, I never saw anything like the scale reported here, and it appears that this lady may just have been a common con artist who got caught.

But the fact that a certain percentage of American Express cardholders are going to be mentally ill, and run up debts they can't afford simply has to be one of the calculations they make when conducting their risk management procedures. American Express has a long and dubious history of extending credit on college campuses, and mistakenly marketing cards to toddlers and pets.

In this case, someone made a decision to extend a credit card to this woman designed for customers who charge six figures a year.

Did they do any due diligence on this woman? Is there anything in her background that would suggest that such a card, with no credit limit, is appropriate?

I doubt it.

American Express made a series of reckless and stupid loans to this woman, and got what was coming to them.

I hope they learned their lesson.

Splash, out


(via Drudge)

Come Join Me... 
...In voting for Pat Tillman in Sports Illustrated's online Sportsman of the Year poll.


Adopting a soldier made easy.

My Soldier is a program that puts politics aside and lets U.S. soldiers know that someone back home cares. When a person enrolls in the My Soldier program, they agree to adopt a soldier. They receive a “starter kit” containing guidelines for letter writing and care package preparation, a red My Soldier bracelet, and a specially designed My Soldier baseball hat to include with the first letter they send to their deployed United States Armed Serviceperson. The first letter/care package they send is addressed to their soldier's platoon contact who then distributes it to their soldier. The soldier then replies and direct correspondence begins (about 80% of soldiers respond, but 100% appreciate getting the letters). The program is free.

Hat tip: My good friends and number 1 fan club at Pandagon.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Super photo essay 
Via INDC Journal comes this fine photo essay from the editors of USA Today.

I thought the floating staircase in photo 19 was pretty cool, too.

Splash, out,


Army troops in Fallujah 
Fallujah was primarily a light infantry show, which is what the Marine Corps does best, as they have excellent, tough, and physically fit infantry with excellent marksmanship skills. As I gather, every couple of marine battalions was supported by a mechanized battalion from the Army, which is a good idea. The commander on the ground has the flexibility and agility of light infantry to maneuver over walls and through windows and up alleys...but when the infantry runs into something too hot to handle, or when the enemy decides to make a stand, they can call on the firepower of the mechanized infantry, the 25mm chain guns of the Bradleys or the Strykers, each company of which is likely supported by a platoon or so of M1A2 Abrams tanks...their 120mm main gun HEAT rounds can pretty much blow out a room or two full of muj at a shot, and settle an argument real quick. Then the light infantry can still mop up, search the houses, and deal with the prisoners under a shield of fire superiority from the mechies.

Properly done, it's a well-choreographed ballet of brutality.

This nice piece from Time magazine travels with some dismounts apparently from one of the Army mechanized company teams, and captures the intensity of the house-to-house fight.
Bellavia, a wiry 29-year-old who resembles Sean Penn, is pacing the street, preparing to go back in. Bellavia’s bluster on the battlefield contrasts with his refinement off it. During lulls in the fighting, he could discuss the Renaissance and East European politics. “Get on me now,” he says, ordering his squad to close in. There is little movement. He asks who has more ammunition. Two soldiers stand up and join him in the street. “Here we go, Charlie’s Angels,” Bellavia says. “You don’t move from my goddam wing. You stay on my right shoulder. You stay on my left shoulder. Hooah?” The men nod. “I wanna go in there and go after ’em.”

Reaching the barred window near the front door, Bellavia tells two soldiers to perch by the house corner and watch for insurgents trying to leap out the side window. He looks at Staff Sergeant Scott Lawson and says, “You’re f______ coming. Give suppressive fire at 45 degrees.” Bellavia and Lawson step nervously into the house. From the living room, Bellavia rounds the corner into the hallway. The insurgents are still alive. Their AK-47s fire. Bellavia fires back, killing them both. “Two f_____s down,” he says.

Lawson stays downstairs while Bellavia scours the first floor for more insurgents. A string of rapid-fire single shots ring out. Then silence. Then a low, pained moaning. The two soldiers waiting in the courtyard call out to Bellavia, “Hey, Sergeant Bell,” but get no response. “Sergeant Bell is not answering,” a message is shouted back to the platoon members across the street. “We need more guys.” The platoon’s other staff sergeant, Colin Fitts, 26, steps up. “Let’s go,” he says.

Fitts takes a small team over the road. “Terminators coming in,” he bellows as he goes inside, using the unit’s name in a code to warn that friendly forces are entering. Inside they find Bellavia alive and on on the hunt. Upstairs he scans the bedrooms. An insurgent jumps out of the cupboard. Bellavia falls down and fires, spraying the man with bullets. At some point another insurgent drops out of the ceiling. Yet another runs to a window and makes for the garden. Bellavia hits him in the legs and lower back as he flees. When it’s over, four insurgents are dead; another has escaped badly wounded. To Bellavia, Fitts says, “That’s a good job, dude. You’re a better man than me.” Bellavia shakes his head. “No, no, no,” he mutters.

A couple of things strike me as particularly interesting:

1.) The insurgent use of road barriers to channel Americans into kill zones prepped with IEDs. I hadn't seen that before, but it's something you get to do if you have the run of a city for months.

2.) The use of combat engineer assets (MCLICs?) to clear IEDs 90m at a time down city streets

3.) The use of chem lights to mark channels for the tanks (strikes me as a very amphibious idea, but it's also right out of the manual for conducting breaches). They were very likely infrared chemlights, which would be clearly visible to tankers using their thermal imaging devices, but invisible to insurgents without NVGs.

Of course, eventually, you run out of IR's, and then you use what you got.

4.) The insurgent was wearing Iraqi National Guard uniforms. Which has a lot of interesting ramifications under the law of war. Insurgents wearing ING uniforms would not receive the protections afforded to prisoners of war, and could be shot as spies.

5.) The decision of the insurgents to seek contact near EENT and BMNT, with just enough light to operate by, in order to negate the thermal advantage to some extent. The old stand-to procedures, in which every soldier is awake, packed up, and scanning his sector, ready to fight, still make sense after centuries of warfare.

6.) The use of a combination of mortar fire and tank fire to engage insurgents spotted beyond small arms range. The mortar fire fixes him in place, while he is forced to seek cover...the tank rounds kill him where he is. It does my heart good to read.

7.) I particularly like this part:

Late that night, while waiting for the Marines to match the pace of 2-2’s advance


I do take exception to the reporter's statement that "the victory over the insurgency isn't neccessarily any closer."

You don't kill more than a thousand screaming muj and not get closer to victory. Really, the reporter misses the point, entirely:

Every day we get closer to an election in Iraq, every day another police trainee gets trained, every day another Iraqi National Guard unit confronts the enemy and doesn't flinch, we get closer to victory over the insurgency.

And there's nothing Zarqawi can do about it.

He's doomed.

Iraq is bigger than a counterinsurgency war. A few thousand radicals cannot overcome the impulses of a nation.

Splash, out


Pictures from Falluja 
The Donovan has an interesting slide show of photos depicting the use of mosques and cemetaries as defensive positions in violation of the Law of War here.

Highlights also include evidence of atrocities...including walls and floors in slaughterhouses and torture chambers covered in blood, and sacks of bloody sand (used for scrubbing).

There's also photographs of torture wounds suffered by the taxi driver they had imprisoned.

Hat tip: Belmont Club.

Hurricane Battalion Featured in US News and World Report 
This time the focus is on North Miami's Charlie company.

Recio had just put a dip of chewing tobacco in his mouth when there was suddenly a blistering white flash. It looked like thousands of tiny meteors were flying around the humvee. No one was sure whether it was a rocket-propelled grenade, a bomb, or a land mine. There was silence, then bullets spattered the humvee. "Anyone hit?" Mateo yelled. Baar was sprawled on the steering wheel. Mayorga was screaming, holding his left hand minus several fingers. "Doc got hit! Doc got hit!" Lora yelled. Nearby, Recio cried, "My leg! My leg! My leg!" Shrapnel had torn through his calves. Mayorga wrapped his hand in bandages, then turned to Lora, the only man uninjured, giving him step-by-step instructions on how to save Recio's life. In pain, Mayorga quipped, "Hey, Lora, I'd give you a hand, but I only have one left." Mateo remembers a salty smell and thought it was the nearby river. It turned out to be blood. It was everywhere in the humvee.

I hadn't realized Lora was the other guy in that Humvee that night. I always liked him, though.

My little part in that action was peripheral...behind the scenes. I was in the Aid Station when Adams and Recio were brought in. You can read about it here.

As with many of the wounded soldiers returning from Iraq, Adams's future is uncertain. He, too, is still on med hold, taking home about $3,500 a month--a substantial increase from the $1,600 a month he used to earn cutting lawns. Even though he's been home for more than a year, he hasn't gone through the med board process yet. But VA counselors have told Summer his disability most likely will be rated at 100 percent, for which the VA will pay him $2,239 tax free. He may get extra amounts for Summer and the boys.

As for Adams, he hopes to go to college and perhaps work with computers someday, unless he can somehow realize his fondest aspiration: "If I could and if they wanted me, I'd go back to Iraq."

These guys never stop amazing, inspiring, and humbling me.

Splash, out


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Bigotry in the Big Apple 
Columbia University's rapidly becoming an embarrassment to itself, and to the Ivy League.

In the world of Hamid Dabashi, supporters of Israel are "warmongers" and "Gestapo apparatchiks."
The Jewish homeland is "nothing more than a military base for the rising predatory empire of the United States."

It's a capital of "thuggery" - a "ghastly state of racism and apartheid" - and it "must be dismantled."

A voice from America's crackpot fringe? Actually, Dabashi is a tenured professor and department chairman at Columbia University. And his views have resonated and been echoed in other areas of the university.

There's lots more to the Jew-baiting climate at Columbia than just this one cracked professor, though. Read the whole thing. (Via LT Smash)

Hey, Al Gore was a visiting professor there.

How come we don't hear him didn't speak out against this nonsense?

Splash, out


"You could just feel the intensity of the marines and soldiers." 
An insider's account of the Battle of Fallujah by a Marine staff officer.

We'll be studying this fight for decades. Maybe longer.

Must read.

The night prior to the actual invasion, we all moved out into the desert just north of the city. It was something to see. You could just feel the intensity in the Marines and Soldiers. It was all business. As the day cleared, the Task Force began striking targets and moving into final attack positions. As the invasion force commenced its movement into attack positions, 3rd LAR led off RCT-1's offensive with an attack up a peninsula formed by the Euphrates River on the west side of the city. Their mission was to secure the Fallujah Hospital and the two bridges leading out of the city. They executed there tasks like clockwork and smashed the enemy resistance holding the bridges. Simultaneous to all of this, Blackjack sealed the escape routes to the south of the city. As invasion day dawned, the net was around the city and the Marines and Soldiers knew that the enemy that failed to escape was now sealed.

3/5 began the actual attack on the city by taking an apartment complex on the northwest corner of the city. It was key terrain as the elevated positions allowed the command to look down into the attack lanes. The Marines took the apartments quickly and moved to the rooftops and began engaging enemy that were trying to move into their fighting positions. The scene on the rooftop was surreal. Machine gun teams were running boxes of ammo up 8 flights of stairs in full body armor and carrying up machine guns while snipers engaged enemy shooters. The whole time the enemy was firing mortars and rockets at the apartments. Honest to God, I don't think I saw a single Marine even distracted by the enemy fire. Their squad leaders, and platoon commanders had them prepared and they were executing their assigned tasks.

As mentioned, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry joined the Regiment just prior to the fight. In fact, they started showing up for planning a couple of weeks in advance. There is always a professional rivalry between the Army and the Marine Corps but it was obvious from the outset that these guys were the real deal. They had fought in Najaf and were eager to fight with the Regiment in Fallujah. They are exceptionally well led and supremely confident.

This guy's got me feeling sorry I missed it.

Splash, out


The Invisible Hand Job 
Given a large enough population sample to draw from, soldiers, like any other labor, are a commodity. And you can judge the percieved scarcity of any commodity by fluctuations in its price. When labor is scarce relative to demand, the price of labor increases.

Behold: a bull market in grunts.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

LA Times Hits the Most Important Story of Fallujah 
You know good things are happening when freshly blooded troops get to bragging.

And things are even better when those freshly blooded troops are Iraqis.

Iraqi troops interviewed here displayed great pride about their part in the operation, eagerly recounting their exploits.

Staff Sgt. Adel Ahmed led a reporter to a spot outside a yellow schoolhouse in central Fallouja. There, he said, his troops had finished off a fighter carrying Syrian identification. The Iraqis pointed to a protruding mound of earth behind the school where, they said, the Syrian was buried.

"We are fighting to save our Iraq from foreigners and terrorists," Ahmed declared.

Impressively, there were no mass defections of Iraqi troops during the fight for Fallujah. The newspaper article casts it improperly, but Iraqi troops took casualties at a rate nearly equal to the Marines...and their wounded were actually more likely than the Marines to stay in the fight. Look at this amazing statistic:

More than 90% of the Iraqi wounded returned to the battlefield compared with fewer than one-third of injured U.S. troops.

It's probably partly a function of relatively poor casevac. Iraqi wounded can't leave the battlefield, so they HAVE to stay in the fight. That, and possibly relatively unsophisticated medical care meant that Iraqi wounded were more likely to die of their wounds than Americans, and so don't count against the wounded totals.

Very commendable, as Stonewall Jackson would say. Very commendable.

But don't discount the fact that these peshmerga-laced units have some raw guts of their own.

One of the three battalions attacked independently, which is great news -- as I had written before, it's one thing to see Iraqi squads and platoons conduct a raid on a mosque. But now we're seeing Battalion level operations in the Iraqi National Guard. Which means that we have the rudiments of a trained battle staff at work. The leap is one of two orders of magnitude.

Yes, they required a lot of help from American advisors. But they would anyway, just to coordinate with American arms. At a minimum, even a seasoned professional force would require a liberal smattering of American forward observers and RTOs to synch up their operations with ours, to call in American close air support and artillery where neccessary, and to monitor the battle in the American sector.

That one battalion was able to function independently is excellent news indeed. The other two battalions will be itching to operate more independently as well, just as soon as they hear their buddies start to brag.

It should also be noted that the Iraqi battalion didn't draw a cotton candy mission: they were responsible for assaulting the Old Jolan neighborhood--one of Fallujah's toughest.

Iraq should be proud of their Guard. They have some good men.

Splash, out


Monday, November 22, 2004

TCP Tactics from the Brits 
Good stuff from our British friends. (Read past the first passage on an investigation into a shooting of a suspected suicide bomber)

The traffic control point is one of the most useful counterinsurgent techniques in the arsenal. It's most effective on a reverse slope, where approaching traffic doesn't see the TCP until within small-arms range, and in the open desert where a vehicle would have to be really obvious about turning around.

Things get a little hairier around built-up areas, but you've usually got about 30 minutes before the enemy figures out what you're up to and manages to organize an attack. And when he does, he's got the rooftops and windows and catches you at a disadvantage.

So once we got smart, we tried to set up a TCP at random somewhere, and be in and out real quick. We took wounded a few times doing that--usually after staying too long, or showing up too often in the same place. Setting a pattern can get you killed.

We never had the airlift support to do the airmobile TCPs...our sector was very compact and almost all built-up, and so would not have lent itself well to the airmobile concept. But it's an outstanding technique, which gets the job done, and will be very difficult to target.

This technique would have been at its most effective in the deserts outside of Fallujah in the runup to the assault and in the early days of the attack, catching insurgents as they were forced to move.

At worst, it would have forced the insurgents to leave all their gee-whiz communications gear and much of their weaponry behind. At best, you catch al Zarqawi himself.

It's an old technique--what Tecumseh Sherman called "putting the enemy on the horns of a dilemma."

Either he stays and dies in Fallujah, or you force him to run the gauntlet in the open, at every disadvantage.

I guarantee you we nabbed some bad guys out there doing just that. Our own soldiers in the 1-124th used to pop open the trunk of a car and find a 155mm shell inside, once in a while.

Reminds me of David Hackworth's airmobile hunter-killer teams when he was a 9th Division battalion commander in Viet Nam, trying to "out G the G."

Splash, out


Kevin Sites on the Shooting He Filmed 
NBC cameraman and veteran war correspondent explains what happened on his blog here-his account of which is a nice, heartfelt piece of journalism in its own way.

I have not seen the film. Originally I felt that the marine was probably guilty of murder, but the extenuating circumstances were compelling.

Reading Sites' account, it seems clear that the marine in question didn't realize that the wounded Iraqis had already been disarmed, and expressed remorse at the time. More importantly, though, it seems to me that a case can be made that since this marine didn't know the bodies had already been cleared, he thought that the wounded Iraqi was still a clear and present danger to him and his squadmates.

Given the precedent the muj have already set boobytrapping their wounded and dead, I would likely be willing to give the marine the benefit of the doubt. I think a reasonable man would certainly have doubts here.

But should an investigation go forward?


I've gotten a lot of hate mail over this one. Some rational, some not. I can only imagine what Kevin Sites is receiving.

But I'm a commissioned officer, and it's my job to uphold the rule of law, even when it's not popular.

International law clearly prohibits the shooting of troops rendered hors de combat from wounds. Yes, it's possible that this wounded Iraqi could have been concealing a grenade. But ANY wounded ANYWHERE could be concealing a grenade. And so when we allow the shooting of wounded on the assumption that they are carrying grenades, then the Geneva convention prohibition on killing those who are hors de combat, and even those who are actively trying to surrender, become meaningless.

There are great arguments to be made that since the Fallujah muj are illegal combatants, since they frequently do not carry arms openly, do not typically wear uniforms recognizeable at a distance, were illegally using places of worship as pillboxes, and generally do not conduct themselves according to the laws of war, then they cannot be entitled to Geneva convention protections.

I would be sympathetic to such an argument myself. I think letting the world know that if they act like rabid dogs, we will hunt them down like the rabid dogs they are will probably send a healthy message to the human pondscum like those fighting us in Fallujah.

But if so, this is not a matter to be decided at the E-3 level. let the JAGs and the senior command go on record with it. Force them to. Clarify it for the troops and for the rest of the world.

Splash, out


No Greater Love 
Put Sgt. Rafael Peralta in for The Big One.

Peralta, 25, as platoon scout, wasn't even assigned to the assault team that entered the insurgent safe house in northern Fallujah, Marines said. Despite an assignment that would have allowed him to avoid such dangerous duty, he regularly asked squad leaders if he could join their assault teams, they said.

One of the first Marines to enter the house, Peralta was wounded in the face by rifle fire from a room near the entry door, said Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison, 20, of Tacoma, who was in the house when Peralta was first wounded.

Moments later, an insurgent rolled a fragmentation grenade into the area where a wounded Peralta and the other Marines were seeking cover.

As Morrison and another Marine scrambled to escape the blast, pounding against a locked door, Peralta grabbed the grenade and cradled it into his body, Morrison said. While one Marine was badly wounded by shrapnel from the blast, the Marines said they believe more lives would have been lost if not for Peralta's selfless act.

"He saved half my fire team," said Cpl. Brannon Dyer, 27, of Blairsville, Ga.

To put this in perspective, Peralta had already been shot in the face. A lot of guys would have checked out of the net right then, and become passive. "I've done my bit...get me out of here."

Not Peralta.

Which makes draws his courage and selflessness into even starker relief.
Even after getting shot in the face, his first thought was for his brother marines.

Semper fi, sergeant.

Hat tip: Blackfive

Leadership Lessons from Iraq 
Dexter Filkins can't capture it all. But he captures a lot:

Eight days after the Americans entered the city on foot, a pair of marines wound their way up the darkened innards of a minaret, shot through with holes by an American tank.

As the marines inched upward, a burst of gunfire rang down, fired by an insurgent hiding in the top of the tower. The bullets hit the first marine in the face, his blood spattering the marine behind him. The marine in the rear tumbled backward down the stairwell, while Lance Cpl. William Miller, age 22, lay in silence halfway up, mortally wounded.

"Miller!" the marines called from below. "Miller!"

With that, the marines' near mystical commandment against leaving a comrade behind seized the group. One after another, the young marines dashed into the minaret, into darkness and into gunfire, and wound their way up the stairs.

After four attempts, Corporal Miller's lifeless body emerged from the tower, his comrades choking and covered with dust. With more insurgents closing in, the marines ran through volleys of machine-gun fire back to their base.

"I was trying to be careful, but I was trying to get him out, you know what I'm saying?" Lance Cpl. Michael Gogin, 19, said afterward...

And more...

On one particularly grim night, a group of marines from Bravo Company's First Platoon turned a corner in the darkness and headed up an alley. As they did so, they came across men dressed in uniforms worn by the Iraqi National Guard. The uniforms were so perfect that they even carried pieces of red tape and white, the signal agreed upon to assure American soldiers that any Iraqis dressed that way would be friendly; the others could be killed.

The marines, spotting the red and white tape, waved, and the men in Iraqi uniforms opened fire. One American, Corporal Anderson, died instantly. One of the wounded men, Pfc. Andrew Russell, lay in the road, screaming from a nearly severed leg.

A group of marines ran forward into the gunfire to pull their comrades out. But the ambush, and the enemy flares and gunfire that followed, rattled the men of Bravo Company more than any event. In the darkness, the men began to argue. Others stood around in the road. As the platoon's leader, Lt. Andy Eckert, struggled to take charge, the Third Platoon seemed on the brink of panic.

"Everybody was scared," Lieutenant Eckert said afterward. "If the leader can't hold, then the unit can't hold together."

The unit did hold, but only after the intervention of Bravo Company's commanding officer, Capt. Read Omohundro.

Time and again through the week, Captain Omohundro kept his men from folding, if not by his resolute manner then by his calmness under fire. In the first 16 hours of battle, when the combat was continuous and the threat of death ever present, Captain Omohundro never flinched, moving his men through the warrens and back alleys of Falluja with an uncanny sense of space and time, sensing the enemy, sensing the location of his men, even in the darkness, entirely self-possessed.

"Damn it, get moving," Captain Omohundro said, and his men, looking relieved that they had been given direction amid the anarchy, were only too happy to oblige.

A little later, Captain Omohundro, a 34-year-old Texan, allowed that the strain of the battle had weighed on him, but he said that he had long ago trained himself to keep any self-doubt hidden from view.

"It's not like I don't feel it," Captain Omohundro said. "But if I were to show it, the whole thing would come apart."

These marines are doing the Old Breed proud.

Splash, out


Sunday, November 21, 2004

WaPo Drops Rall 
The Washington Post has finally come to its senses and dropped the execrable Ted Rall from its pages.

Apparently this vile piece of tripe was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I hit the wall when Rall dishonored the memory of one of our fallen brothers.

If you read the Editor and Publisher piece, the guy's self-centered narcissism just oozes from the page. The thing is, he has all the editorial maturity of a precocious 15-year old drawing for his high school paper. Except I've seen better cartoons in high school papers.

The guy simply isn't very good. He has a poor grasp of irony and satire, his technique as a writer and cartoonist is awful, and he confuses cruelty with being "hard-hitting."

But good art is not cruel.

It's about time the Washington Post realized he's a disgrace to their pages.

Splash, out


The Fishman Violin Transducer V 100 Design is Retarded. 
There. I finally got that off of my chest.

My old one - the V 200, was great: it clamped to the side of the fiddle with a carpenter's clamp, and had a sturdy 1/4 inch jack. And you just slipped a little wedge of copper or brass into the bridge. You needed to preamp and EQ it pretty heavily...the design sounds really screechy without it. But show up early for the gig and that's not a problem (I've been told that if you put the transducer in the bass side of the pickup it fixes that problem, but I haven't tried it, yet. Too lazy to take out a nail file and carve room in the bridge lately.)

It took some sound away, in the bass, but overall, it worked pretty well, was reliable, and if you wanted to just play acoustically, you could take the whole thing off in about 20 seconds.

But the little brass wedge is fragile, and it finally broke. I had to drop 109 bucks on a new one on short notice for a gig.

But when I opened the box, I had a different model: the V-100. They went from a 1/4 inch jack clamped on to the body to a 1/8th inch jack, which you have to tie on to the tailpiece with a zip tie.

And it only comes with one zip tie. So once you put it on, you can't take it off if you want to put it on again later.

And you can't transfer it from one violin to another.

And you can't fix it in place without crazy glue, which again would attach it permanently. So it flops around on the tailpiece.

And the 1/8th inch cord will get yanked out of the plug if you so much as look at it wrong. It fell out twice the other night.

It's a disaster, but the boneheads at the only stringed instruments department within reasonable driving distance didn't carry anything else. In fact, they didn't even know about the Fishman V 200 version or the Concertmaster hybrid system even existed -- much less carry it. (Way to stay up on the latest gear, guys!)

Didn't know anything about RL Baggs, either, although Baggs requires a luthier to fit the bridge to it, which I didn't have time for.

I think I'm going to switch over to RL Baggs, soon, anyway.

Splash, out


Saturday, November 20, 2004

Should Sites Have Aired the Marine Shooting Video? 
Some members of the idiot wing of the political spectrum think so.

My take:

Sites is a reporter. Not a houseplant.

You cannot shoot someone who is hors de combat in front of a rolling camera and expect a reporter not to cover it. It's what reporters do. It's their job.

It's not his job to edit himself and only cover stories convenient to the military. It's not his job to whitewash anything.

His first loyalty is to the truth.

And the truth is the Marine shot that man.

I would have aired it, too.

Splash, out


New York Times Imitates William Carlos Williams Department 
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning.

Check out the very last paragraph on page two of this article by the New York Times.

This is the power and the beauty of the strategic offensive.

Also, here's another little splash in the corner:

American commanders have expressed disappointment in some of the Iraqis they have been training, especially members of the Iraqi police force. Other troops have performed well, the officers have said.

Imagine: your local police department isn't up to a pitched battle. But hurrah for the Iraqi National Guard forces. They're actually coming along, and are now able to operate in companies and battalions.

This is what will win the war.

No, the Times won't run a headline: Iraqi National Guard Comes Into Its Own in Fallujah.

The Times won't run a headline: Attacks in Ramadi down 40% as Fallujah is Choked Off.


But these two items are far, far more significant than the stupid Marine intelligence report the Times places in the foreground.

You have to listen carefully. Momentous events can sometimes make very small splashes.

Firm Grasp of the Obvious Department... 
I guess if you want to make a buzz in the New York Times these days, all you gotta do is state the obvious.

The headline reads: Senior Marine Officers See Risks in Reducing U.S. Troops in Fallujah.

Well, no shit, Sherlock.

You cannot practice war without a measured acceptance of risk. And common sense would tell you that if troop availability is finite - and it is - then keeping every battalion in Fallujah for months would be risky, too. Because if you don't accept risk in Fallujah, you accept it somewhere else. Simply put: there's not an officer in today's military who DOESN'T see risks in reducing U.S. troops in Fallujah. But similarly, there's not an officer in the military who doesn't see risks in NOT reducing troops there, either.

It's one of the principles of war: economy of force.

The Marine intelligence report also reaches the earth-shattering conclusion that the insurgents are not going to stop fighting. Oh, let the Manhattan cocktail party fetes begin!

Although the resistance crumbled in the face of the offensive, the report warns that if American forces do not remain in sufficient numbers for some time, "The enemy will be able to effectively defeat I MEF's ability to accomplish its primary objectives of developing an effective Iraqi security force and setting the conditions for successful Iraqi elections.

...And this is news? What's "brutally honest about calling the sky blue?

General Freitas also states the obvious: "We have no intention of walking away and creating a power vaccuum in Fallujah."

Ok, so what, then is the point of the NYT article? To criticize a position nobody is holding?

The report offers a stark counterpoint to more upbeat assessments voiced by military commanders in the wake of the Falluja operation, which they say completed its goals well ahead of schedule and with fewer American and Iraqi civilian casualties than expected.

Well, will someone please explain to me how one undercuts the other? Both can certainly be true at the same time.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Another reader and former Army officer weighs in on the shooting in Fallujah:

I'm not too torn about the Marine who shot the enemy that he thought was "playing possum." I have not seen the video, but friends have said it "doesn't look good." Of course, these friends are used to Law and Order and NYPD Blue and think everyone needs his rights read to him. When I explain that one can kill the enemy even if he is not shooting at you, and even if he is fleeing, they get it. In this situation, there are Syrian fighters strapped with suicide bombs, so there is no requirement to wait until the enemy shows you a weapon to shoot him. Too many people seem to think this is a duel where both sides say, "Reach for it, Mister." That ain't how you win gunfights in combat.

My concern with this situation is that apparently some Marines came through the day before and did first aid, but left this group behind. I fully understand the exigency of being in a gunfight, but remain concerned that they had prisoners, and failed to safeguard them. This causes potential problems of being shot from the rear if the prisoners had secreted weapons, or escape by the prisoners. Or, as here, a follow on force not knowing that the bad guys in the room were prisoners.

I agree with this reader--the fact that wounded were left behind, without medical care or security apparently for a whole day, gives one pause.

The SOP in the Army, which they teach you from basic on, is to remember the "Five S's" of POW handling: Search, silence, segregate, separate, sodomize, and speed to the rear.

Oops. That's six. There's one too many.

But "shoot" still isn't one of them.

These guys weren't exactly sped to the rear, in any case.

Regarding medical care for Iraqis, civilians and otherwise, was pretty simple: "You shoot 'em, you own 'em." That meant you didn't leave enemy dead or wounded on the field. You brought in the wounded for medical care. You brought in the dead so word doesn't get out that he's dead. Meanwhile, the Red Crescent can work to arrange a proper Muslim burial.

Obviously, there is no way to secure the corpses of the hundreds of Iraqis recently fitted with ventilation apertures in Ramadi in a timely manner, under fire. But I'm surprised that clearly wounded Iraqis were left in place.

Tells me there ain't enough MPs.

But we already knew that much.

Splash, out


The Double Tap 
Regarding the question: is it legal to make double tapping every piece of meat on the objective that isn't clearly hors de combat or trying actively to surrender:

Here's the straight dope from a cabal of JAG types:

Once you identify a hostile force, you can engage until they clearly and
unambiguously surrender; you become aware that they are wounded and "out of
action," or they're dead.

Thus, when you clear the objective, double-tapping each person on the
objective is okay in most circumstances -- unless the person is clearly
signalling that they have surrendered or you know that that person is out of
action because of wounds. When you run across the objective and see the
body there, you don't yet know the extent of their wounds, if they're
concealing a weapon (or bomb), or anything else. In those few instances,
the double-tap is probably fine. But once the action has died down, the
objective secured, and you can determine more easily that person's
condition, if you determine that person is incapacitated by his/her wounds,
then that person shouldn't be engaged.

So the double-tap is probably okay unless the person is clearly

Ok. But what about the double stop?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Why the low casualties? 
Another reader emails:

[Casualties in Fallujah have been]Remarkably low for a week of
urban fighting. Any idea what is going on?

Low numbers of enemy?
All the urban combat training paying off?
Massive firepower?
Corpsmen in the right place at the right time?

What do you think?

It's a variety of things, although "low" casualties is always a relative term. Casualties can be above or below your expectations, and above or below what you planned for. But if it's you bleeding out...or worse yet, one of your troops...then casualties will seem unbearably high.

Nevertheless, military doctrine does provide some guidance regarding casualty expectations. As an assistant Brigade 4 (very briefly) and a Bn S-1 (twice), when I was doing planning and manpower projections, I used an operating assumption of 25% casualties in the offense, and 10% in the defense for a given battle, plus an assumption that on any given day, infantry in the field would suffer 2% casualties from illness, sprained ankles, car wrecks, heat exhaustion, etc. You HAVE to do these progressions, because you have to anticipate your casualty figures BEFORE the battle, in order to order your replacement troops (by rank and military occupational specialty.

The 2% a day figure was usually pretty good. Fortunately, the 25% casualty estimate was far too high in Iraq (although far too low at the National Training Center.

Given the amount of time the insurgent had to prepare the Fallujah battlefield, casualties are about what I thought they might be in Fallujah. Perhaps a little higher...it's tough for me to get a sense of how big the fight is. I.e., are the battalions in the fight reinforced with additional companies?

But then again, this is no Stalingrad for US forces. Casualties are very low by historical standards. There are several reasons for this.

1.) Most importantly, the Iraqi insurgent is a terrible marksman. The AK 47 is a fine assault rifle, but often the insurgent will use a sawed off stock and engage using the 'spray and pray' method. The Marines, in contrast, are excellent marksmen. And as a result, any given engagement will turn one-sided very quickly.

2.) Air power is being used in lieu of close assault. In WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, it was almost unheard of to devote a 500 lb. bomb on a building occupied by a measly two squads of irregulars. Now it's a matter of course. As it should be. Bombs are cheaper than Marines and soldiers. I believe in reconnaisance by fire, the forgiveness of sins, and the chemlight everlasting.

3.) Body armor. We have body armor, they don't. Which means that a good number of marines and sailors who would have been wounded or killed in past wars now just have collectors' item ceramic plates. And in an engagement, our guys who might have been wounded in past wars keep putting rounds down range. Which contributes to fire superioriority.

4.) Good troop quality. In Viet Nam, urban warfare was the exception. In Iraq, urban warfare is the norm. The platoons have competent infantry who've been around the block a few times, and TTPs for urban operations have already been well developed.

5.) Overwhelming firepower.

6.) Better communications than we've ever had,coupled with GPS and satellite imagery, and troops down to the squ allowing better articulation of forces, and quicker maneuver to the decisive point. If the insurgents take a stand anywhere, they will quickly find themselves pinned down by Yankee .50 cal fire, and an element from out of nowhere appearing in their flanks and rear. So he must withdraw. But when he withdraws, he exposes himself to be hit again.

That's how things went down in Najaf. That's how things are going down in Fallujah.

Splash, out


Remarkably low for a week of
urban fighting. Any idea what is going on?

Low numbers of enemy?
All the urban combat training paying off?
Massive firepower?
Corpsmen in the right place at the right time?

What do you think?

...He holds no currency... 
A reader responds to this posting, in which I limned out the basic options for averting the Social Security crisis:

1.) Cut benefits (i.e., means test it, raise the retirement age)

2.) Increase Social Security taxes.

3.) Get a greater return on surplus dollars, sufficient to keep up with the expansion of the 65+ demographic, plus hedge against inflation risk. Bill Clinton at one point thought this was a good idea.

The reader says I left out a fourth option:

Quietly allow inflation to run about 5 percent a year for the next 10 years. Hide the true inflation rate by removing items from the Consumer Price Index. Fail to increase Social Security payments by the inflation rate. Pay seniors their promised dollar amount benefit levels, but in inflated dollars. Yeah, it'll take a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a peanut. But you were promised $800 a month and here it is so quitcherbitchen.

It's happening already. Look at the adjustments to the CPI in the last two years and you'll see the government systematically removing higher priced items to understate the true inflation rate. Greenspan himself mentioned that a little inflation wasn't such a bad thing, last Spring.

And he's right...I don't know a soul who doesn't think the CPI doesn't somewhat understate inflation. I mean, not to be a goldbug, but it is true, too, that the dollar yet hovers near 9 year lows against other currencies, while gold is bouncing off 16-year highs.

Weakening the dollar somewhat to take the edge off of the 2001 recession made sense. Especially for anyone who wanted to win electoral votes in manufacturing and export states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

But that was a few years ago.

What happens when bondholders catch on?

Let's get it together, Fed. Get it together, Treasury.

Splash, out


Monday, November 15, 2004

Technically speaking, I'd have to say that this Marine is probably guilty of murder.

I might article 15 him and fine him a couple hundred bucks.

To tell you the truth, I'm torn.

Clearly, the murder of prisoners cannot be tolerated.

But I can't bring myself to care much about this victim. I care more about the due process of law and the discipline and order of the force.

Personally, I don't think anyone who gets caught fighting from a mosque needs to have any expectation of quarter. Especially nonuniformed scumbags like these guys. Maybe that's a healthy message to send to would-be guerrillas elsewhere.

I'd just as soon put all these fuckers down like so many sick animals. And I'm a world-reknowned softy compared to a lot of guys.

It's not personal; it's just business.

I have a lot of respect for the honest guerrilla warrior.

But the Fallujah insurgents are just dogs.

Now, another question for you legal eagles out there:

From very early in my military career, I was taught that standard operating procedure, when in the offense overrunning an objective or an enemy position, was for every soldier to pump two rounds, center of mass, into every enemy body in his lane on the way through the objective, out to the limit of advance. That is, unless the enemy in question was actively trying to surrender to you, or otherwise clearly incapacitated. Once you pass him, though, you cannot go back and shoot similarly arbitarily, Once you secure the objective, you can't just shoot all the bodies again; you have to pop them on the first pass.

This seems to me to be reasonable enough. It's simple, it's easy to explain, it lets soldiers and marines protect themselves from getting hit in the back as the pass through the objective.

But assuming that the presence of civilians on the objective can be ruled out, is an SOP to do so technically a legal order?

Splash, out


...the kinds of people we're up against.

The body of a blonde-haired woman with her legs and arms cut off and throat slit was found Sunday lying on a street in Fallujah, a notorious Iraqi enclave for hostage-takers, marines said.

“It is definitely a Caucasian woman with long blonde hair,” said a military official, who cut open a cover that had been over the corpse.

The gruesome discovery was made as the marines moved through the south of Fallujah, hunting out the remaining rebels after a week of fierce fighting to regain control of the city.

“It is a female . . . missing all four appendages, with a slashed throat and disemboweled, she has been dead for a while but only in this location for a day or two,” said Benjamin Finnell, a hospital apprentice with the Navy Corps, who had inspected the body.

An Agence France-Presse photographer embedded with the marines noted that the woman was wearing a blue dress and her face was completely disfigured.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Happy Birthday To Me... 
CounterColumn turns 1 year old today!

If you just started reading recently, this blog used to be called IraqNow, and was started in Ramadi, Iraq one year ago today.

It was a good war blog before it became a mediocre current events blog.

Maybe I'll get back to my roots.

Or dump it all and just write about acoustic music and personal finance topics.

Who knows?

Thank you so much for reading, and for thousands of supportive emails.


Take THAT, you semicon Europhile! 
Captain Ed delivers a righteous bitchslap to Brent Skowcroft.

Deep Thoughts  
From Patrick Lasswell:

A tremendous intellectual failure on the part of American liberalism is the assumption of European tolerance. This assumption is predicated on a belief among American liberal intellectuals that all things European are superior. While it is argued that having more than a hundred different kinds of cheeses is conclusive evidence that France is a tolerant nation, it ignores a central truth that the French do not import another hundred kinds of cheese.

Where are the photographers, Kenneth??? 
Hey, the media published all kinds of photos from Abu Ghraib. They even published fake photos as if they were real.

So where are the photographers now?

How come we aren't seeing the photographic evidence of the war crimes perpetrated by the enemy in Fallujah?

How come we aren't seeing photographs of the blood-soaked straw mats?

How come we didn't see photographs of the Iraqi taxi driver who had been chained to a wall for 10 days after being brutally whipped with an electrical cable?

How come we're not seeing photographs a young men found dead with his feet hacked off?
How come we aren't seeing photographs of the IED factories and arms caches within schools and mosques?

Why isn't the media telling the full story about what cretins we're fighting? Why are they candy coating the terrorists?

Why isn't the media documenting their atrocities in as vivid and striking a fashion as it documented the crimes at Abu Ghraib?

Why isn't the media doing its job?

Splash, out


UPDATE: A reader writes in: "Fox (predictably) had a video running all day yesterday showing the bodies recovered and also had an interview with the taxi driver. Their embed even strolled through the slaughterhouse, stepping around the murdered civilians as he went."

That's what I get for not having a TV set.

Diversions, diversions 
A London newspaper is reporting that the insurgents' demonstrational attacks have succeeded in siphoning off US forces from Fallujah.

An entire light armoured brigade has been sent to bolster US forces in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, after insurgents stormed police stations and looted weapons, ammunition and body armour.

Well, the US may have reinforced Mosul from somewhere. But I doubt it was from Fallujah. What light armored brigade could they have sent? The Marine Corps doesn't have armored brigades, and the only US Army battalions in action in Fallujah are the 2-2 INF and the 2-7 CAV.

The Fallujah attack wasn't much bigger than a Brigade (+) sized operation, anyway, to begin with, with a total of six battalions, plus support troops. For the US to pull an entire brigade out of Fallujah would be to gut the attack at the decisive point.

I doubt it.

(The graphic doesn't include units responsible for the cordoning of the town, unfortunately.)

This element reinforcing Mosul doubtless came from elsewhere in Iraq. And I doubt it was an entire brigade. Have these people ever seen a brigade on the move?

It's a huge logistical undertaking, an order of magnitude bigger than a battalion. Especially in the mechanized world.

So, you can't believe everything you read in the paper.

But you knew that already.

Splash, out


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Breaking News... 
IraqNow News Service. Dateline: FORT LAUDERDALE, FL -- In yet another sign of increasing manpower woes in the U.S. Army, Jason Van Steenwyk, author of an obscure war blog called "Countercolumn," was promoted to the rank of Captain.

Although the world equity markets had already largely discounted the news, which had been expected since April of this year Yields on the 10-Year treasury rose slightly on security concerns, while the dollar continued to flirt with historic lows against the Euro.

The promotion means a modest pay increase for CPT Van Steenwyk, thus rendering the Bush deficits even more unmanageable than before.

Witnesses in Fallujah are telling reporters that when the news of CPT Van Steenwyk's promotion became public, the insurgent-held sections of the city exploded in celebratory gunfire.

"The infidel promotion of this officer is like a beacon of hope to terrorist assholes everywhere," said insurgent leader Majid Hamad al-Sabah, who asked that his name not be used.

In related news, Coca Cola cut back on previously optimistic earnings targets upon learning that CPT Van Steenwyk was cutting back sharply on sugar intake.

CPT Van Steenwyk denies having shorted Coca Cola stock, but says he hopes Coca Cola employees had learned from Enron's example and had managed to lighten up their allocation to Coca Cola company stock in their 401(k)s, all the same.

Assessing News Reports from Falluja 
Pay little attention to comparative body counts. There's no reliable way to tell who's an insurgent and who's a civilian. Both sides will manipulate body counts to suit their own purposes.

There's little doubt that we're killing far, far more insurgents than they are killing our guys. Don't worry about the body counts. Just make sure the town is hermetically sealed and kill the insurgents where you find them.

Body counts aren't totally meaningless here, because the number of insurgents is finite. Even more finite is the number of insurgents willing to make martyrs of themselves in Fallujah. And the more of them we kill now, the better -- they won't be around to disrupt the elections. But since we don't know how many insurgents are there to begin with, then there's no point in counting down. Just kill, kill, kill, until they give up fighting. And keep killing them some more, just as quickly as they can be identified.

I cannot emphasize enough how brutal and ruthless the U.S. and Iraqi forces must be here. There can be no quarter asked nor given. War to the knife, and knife to the hilt.

But the media's obsession with body counts and casualty figures is pointless and counterproductive.

Even the media's obsession with friendly casualty figures is counterproductive. More US wounded in the short run is not neccessarily bad news - it means pursuing American forces are maintaining close contact with the enemy. We should be much more worried if Americans were overrunning the town and not taking ANY casualties - which would indicate that the insurgents had all escaped, or had successfully gone to ground to avoid the American onslaught, in order to plant more IEDs and engage American troops on more favorable terms later.

It's not about the body counts.

Don't worry about how much of the town has been overrun, either. If it really wanted to, the US could operate in any part of the town at any time, all along. If it showed up in enough strength, the insurgents would simply go to ground and strike somewhere else.

It makes no difference if the US controls 10% of the town or 70%. Because at that stage of the game, it's all about a house-to-house search, which could take weeks. It's very easy to imagine a scenario where the US controls the streets but the insurgent is able to hide out comfortably inside the apartments waiting for the heat to pass.

But if the Iraqis and US are methodical and successful in searching these neighborhoods and finding caches, we can put a serious hurting on the insurgency.

In this instance, more fighting, again, would be a GOOD sign, since it would indicate that the insurgents had tried to go to ground for a while, but are being flushed out and forced to fight or die trying to flee.

Again, we should be more worried if things are quiet. We don't want things to be quiet now. We have found the enemy, and must now ruthlessly close with and destroy him in an orgy of one-sided violence reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, to coin a phrase.

The recent attacks on police stations elsewhere in Iraq, such as Hadithah and Mosul, are very interesting to me. They indicate that the insurgency is able to concentrate in company strength or better, sure. But this we knew already. But the fact that the insurgency is flaring up in demonstration attacks elsewhere in Iraq hundreds of miles from Fallujah confirms that there is, indeed, some sort of central command and control node to the insurgency. Which is both a strength and a vulnerability, because any command and control node can be attacked.

The primary means of communication is likely by cell phone, which can be intercepted. Alternatively, they can communicate by courier. But couriers can be intercepted as well.

The insurgency's goal with the demonstration attacks, in part, is to force the US to transfer resources from the cordon around Fallujah to other areas, hopefully permitting part of their force in Fallujah to escape.

I doubt they will succeed. Meanwhile, the more the insurgents expose themselves in demonstration attacks the better. They can be more efficiently dispatched that way. The more die now, the fewer who will be available to disrupt and discredit the January elections.

It is much better to bite the bullet and kill them now.

What historical models come to mind?

I'm thinking the Russians outside of Berlin in 1945, or the German destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943.

My sympathies, of course, is to the ghetto fighters of '43. But this isn't about sentiment. This is about firepower. This is about winning. And not so paradoxically, it's also about saving lives, in the long run.

In the short run, let the insurgents' corpses stink up the streets. Gun their buddies down as they try to recover the bodies.

Bury them with pig entrails.

Splash, out


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

I missed this before... 
I was pretty busy when it came out in July of 2003. But if this is the ethical climate at Reuters, it's pretty damned scary.

(via James Taranto)

The USMC, Ramadi, Maneuver Warfare, and Lessons Learned 
I recently received this email from an officer who was on the first brigade, 1st Infantry division ("Red Devil") staff at the same time we were there. The Red Devils arrived in Ramadi in August or so of 2003 and redeployed this fall after a year in Iraq. He had written to let me know he had recently discovered the blog, and I wrote him back asking why, from his perspective as someone who had supported both us and the USMC battalion who relieved us in Ramadi, why the Marine Corps was having a harder time?

I was hesitant to post it at first, because it airs some dirty laundry. And military guys HATE airing dirty laundry. But I think the lessons herein are valuable, and will hopefully provide some food for thought.

Actually, I posted it last night, but Blogger ate it. (grrrrrr!)

Here it is, almost verbatim (I altered some shorthand that wouldn't make sense to anyone who wasn't there, and concealed some of the names).

The question about why the Marines are getting beat up more than you did is a
good one. There are a lot of contributing factors. Things changed a lot when you
left. There was a two week gap between the Marines arriving and the Hurricanes
leaving. Quite a few bad guys took that opportunity to move into town. Also,
because of the Abu Ghurayb scandal, everyone you guys ever caught was released.
they came back better trained, better organized and more motivated. The bad guys
also shifted their reason for fighting to Islamic Jihad, so they were more
willing to fight toe to toe with us. You know, take a bullet for Allah.

Fallujah changed everything too. The political decision to pull out was a very poor
choice. It created a safe haven that was used to stage attacks on Ramadi. It
also emboldened the bad guys and made them think they could take the city by
force. Because of that, they shifted most attacks away from the rural areas and
into downtown Ramadi. The Iraqis, being the great rumor-mongers they are, spread a rumor that the Marines were not Americans (different uniform with no flag) and that meant they were easier to kill. this shifted attacks away from our guys (the rumor-mongers called us "blood patch" because of the red one) and onto the Marines.

On the equipment side, the Marines also showed up with no armor. You guys and our brigade did the same, but we all built our own pretty quickly. They took a couple of months to put something together.

[Note: Actually, the 1-124 went months with no armor add-ons to speak of. We finally started getting armox kits in earnest in December or so, after six months in country. Long time readers will remember some posting to this effect in November and December of 2003.--Jason]

In my opinion, though, the two biggest reasons were tactics and ability to work
with Iraqi local leaders. Their tactics at battalion and below are a lot
different than ours. We believe in fix and envelop, they believe in the frontal
assault. That is the simplest way to describe the difference between a soldier
and a Marine. They do not practice maneuver warfare as we understand it. We sent
out units in platoon-sized elements becuase that way they could deal with any
threat and have the ability to maneuver (counter-attack) or conduct a hasty
defense, depending on the situation. The Marine concept for counter-insurgency
is the "satellite patrol." These are squad-sized elements dispersed throughout
the battlespace with the intent of disrupting insurgent activities. What
happened in practice was the satellite patrols blocked traffic (yes, they had
squad patrols wandering down the middle of the streets of Ramadi everywhere, all
the time), the unit had very little situational awareness of where the squads were, there was very poor command and control of the
squads, there was no way to rapidly reinforce the squads (they sent them to the
far sides of Sofia and Shijariyah dismounted), and they were a very easy target
for IEDs and direct fire attacks.

In the big fight on 6 April, the satellite
patrols were easy pickings for the attackers. they all got cut off, the
battalion HQ lost command and control, and we ended up with Colonel Connors, the
BDE HQ element, and a couple of infantry companies fighting from one isolated
Marine squad to the next to reconsolidate them all. One squad (7 guys) was
completely destroyed and all of their gear stripped off. Because of the lack of
command and control, nobody knew about it for hours. There were a lot of killed
and wounded on those patrols aside from the big fight.

Also on the tactical side, Marines tend to have very junior guys in charge of units. Platoon sergeants are often E5s. The satellite patrols were general
ly run by a green 20 year old corporal and most of the squad members were
brand-new privates. Most fire teams were run by E3s. This often caused problems... [Passage describing the annihilation of a Marine fire team omitted. Bottom line: Check your people.]

Another (albeit minor) tactical issue was that they liked to move
Marines around with a squad in troop-carrier HMMWVs and didn't like to practice
the counter-IED TTPs your battalion developed. Every time a HMMWV was hit, up to
a squad was wounded or killed. It was rough.

The unit in Ramadi also did not do a good job of working with the Iraqis. They
thought LTC Mirabiles's "contracts for peace" concept was unethical, so they
threw it out. They thought paying cops for information and weapons was
unethical, so they stopped doing that as well. (guess who started paying off the
cops when U.S. forces stopped doing it?) They got annoyed with Chief Ja'adan
coming over to the battalion command post every day, so they told him to stop coming over. The battalion commander got in a fight with Ja'adan over "Sheikh" R. R_____ [One of our company commanders who operated in southern Ramadi. Never heard anyone call him Sheikh before. He is unorthodox and controversial, but he was, in my view, an extraordinarily effective counterguerrilla warrior.

The Marines found R____'s actions unethical. Ja'adan defended R____
as the best American he'd ever met. It turned into a shouting match. (guess who Ja'adan started working with full-time after being cut off by the battalion?) Lastly,
they wanted nothing to do with the sheikhs and generally ignored them. By May,
the cops were working with the Mujahideen, Ja'adan was providing money and info
to the Muj, the shiekhs went to the money and realigned with the Muj, Sheikh Majed fled the country, we were getting attacked in the Alwani
area of Ramadi (west Ramadi) for the first time since summer '03, the stadium
area and Sofia were worse than ever, and public relations in the city went in
the toilet.


Not to say the Marines are bad. They aren't. They are good in a fight. Their
individual skills are probably better than those of individual soldiers. Their
Division HQ was a thousand times better than the 82d's and was the best of the 5
I worked with over the last year and a half. The battalion in Ramadi took down a
lot of bad guys, and things like Fallujah really made the mission a lot more
difficult than it was when you were there. They were probably going to lose
people no matter what, but their tactics and PR skills probably contributed to
additional casualties. I would be willing to bet that your battalion, in the
same situation, would have lost a lot fewer guys and kept better control of the

Maybe, maybe not. I don't think you can overstate the importance of the safe harbor in Fallujah, right down the road. And we got away with some things through sheer dumb luck. For instance, we had squads riding in the back of Humvees, too, just like the Marines did. On the very same roads. And while just about all our vehicles encountered an IED at one point or another, no one happened to have been killed. It may be that the Marines were encountering a more skilled and better equipped enemy, thanks to Fallujah's influence. I'll probably never know.

The "sattelite patrol" concept is interesting. I don't think it's a BAD idea per se. Just not well suited to the kind of insurgency we faced in Ramadi. We generally operated at platoon level. The difference between a platoon out there and a squad is huge. A platoon has a dedicated RTO, and a platoon sergeant to assist the platoon leader with decisions and to carry out supporting actions. A platoon also has a weapons squad with M240 B machine guns. Don't get me wrong, I love the M249 Squad automatic weapon. But the M240 B fires a 7.62mm round and the M249 fires a 5.56. It's a world of difference-especially when it comes to shooting THROUGH light masonry and the ubiquitous trash piles.

Also, we were usually able to attach a couple of Delta company hardshell Humvees at the platoon level. Which gave the platoon leader some even heavier firepower at his disposal - a .50 caliber machine gun or a Mk 19 40mm automatic grenade launcher. All on a mobile platform which could give chase to fleeing ambushers in a pinch, or quickly maneuver to a flank as a sort of micro cavalry. All these assets are available to the infantry platoon leader within moments of the first contact. Whereas it could take 15 minutes to an hour to get these assets to a detached squad leader in a tight spot on the other side of town-by which time the enemy will have slipped away, or the squad has been defeated.

The platoon also has a medic attached, which the squad does not. Also, the platoon is just a phone call away from the company commander, who has a section of 60mm mortars at his disposal - the 60mm is a superb weapon in the urban environment, thanks to its portability, rate of fire, and high angle capability. A squad operating dismounted and alone has to go through another layer of command before receiving fires.

The platoon headquarters also has a better ability to multitask, since it consists of an officer platoon leader AND a platoon sergeant, and a dedicated RTO. It's the RTO's job to fight the radio, so the PL can concentrate on making sound decisions and maneuvering his squads. The squad leader usually has to fight the radio battle himself.

That said, there's something to be said for the 'sattelite patrol' concept. You can run a lot more patrols with it. You can be almost ubiquitous on the street. You can make it very difficult for the enemy to lay a deliberate ambush, because he could see an American patrol coming around the corner at any time while he was trying to get set.

The Marine concept also puts a lot of authority and responsibility at very junior levels. They'll make mistakes in the short run. But in the long run, when these E5s become E7s, they'll be that much stronger for it.

Clearly, though, it didn't work in Ramadi. The insurgency was sophisticated enough by the time the USMC arrived that they were able to mass in sufficient force (platoon strength, and up) to isolate several Marine elements and defeat them in detail.

I suppose it's something the Marines inherited in their DNA from the 'small wars' era in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and Guatemala, when a squad of Marines could dominate a village.

The thing is, it doesn't work in Ramadi.

Splash, out


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