Belmont Club

The Belmont Club

As has been pointed out to me in several emails and in the comments, the Belmont Club has quite a bit of speculation about the USMC response to Fallujah. It's just speculation, but the map exercise is a good one for those of you interested in military science. I've also heard a bit about unit movements from a couple of you, but I'm not going to publish any of that for the obvious reasons.

Go get 'em, lads. Semper Fidelis.

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Broken US troops face bigger enemy at home

The Peril of Anecdotes:

Today the Guardian, whose journalists are so antiwar that they wrote a book entitled The War We Could Not Stop, has a piece on American soldiers. It is called "Broken US troops face bigger enemy at home." They list several examples of "broken" soldiers, but only one by name [UPDATE: Three, not one. I missed the two names toward the end of the piece on the first read-through. -G].

The drain on combat-ready soldiers--and the costs of carrying those damaged by this war--are becoming logistical nightmares for military planners. The Pentagon has already been forced to extraordinary measures. Last year, it locked up the service contracts of National Guard members and army reservists, preventing them from leaving the military when their time is up.

[Jason] Gunn's commanders seem adamant on keeping him. On Wednesday, Ms Gunn was forwarded a statement from her son. "It is my wish to be redeployed with my unit to finish my tour of duty with my unit here in Iraq," the statement said. "I feel that I am able to complete my mission here as well as any other duties assigned to me while on current deployment." It also said he had discontinued his prescription. Ms Gunn is convinced the statement was coerced.

Everyone who's been in the military knows that it occasionally does some stupid things. Military bureaucracy is the source of endless jokes, and a few pieces of great literature, including Heller's Catch 22, which was one of my father's favorite books when it was new and he was an Army sergeant. It's entirely possible--indeed, it's very nearly certain--that some serious errors are taking place.

Still, as the Mudville Gazette reports, retention rates in our all-volunteer army are not a problem:

Army divisions that fought the past 12 months in Iraq have met virtually every re-enlistment goal, a sign that the all-volunteer force remains strong under the stress of frequent deployments and hazardous duty.

The Pentagon has been closely monitoring the re-up rate for five Army divisions that fought in Iraq for about a year. Some officials feared the time away from home and the gritty duty would prompt a large soldier exodus. After all, the war on terrorism is unchartered territory. The 30-year-old volunteer Army has never been this busy in combat.

But numbers compiled this week for the first half of fiscal 2004 show that those five combat units met, or nearly met, all retention targets for enlisted soldiers--the privates, corporals and sergeants who total 416,000 of the Army's 490,000 active force.

This is the problem with journalism-by-anecdote. The Guardian gives the impression of an army under such catastrophic stress that it will soon break. But the number of "broken" troops can't be very large if retention is this good. I object to the term anyway. A slave or a prisoner can be broken, but these are not that. Indeed, because they have suffered what they have suffered, this year far fewer slaves and prisoners exist in the world.

My sympathy goes out to anyone who is at the wrong end of a bureaucratic blunder. I've been there. For Ms. Gunn, I have a suggestion: if she feels that there is a serious problem, and especially if she really believes her son is being forced to write false letters, she'll do better to write her Senator than the Guardian. That's what they're for, and they get results.


Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries:

A poem, by Alfred Edward Housman:

THESE, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Follow'd their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandon'd, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.



Demonstrating that I am not the technological genius I wish I were, I have only just today figured out the mysteries of trackback. It'll be available from here, going forward. Meanwhile, as a second overdue update, I've linked The Mudville Gazette separately from the MilBlogs shield. It's worth reading on its own.

Daily Kos || Comments || Corpses on the Cover

The Daily KOS:

Sometimes in a society, such as the society of bloggers, someone says something that deserves condemnation in the strongest terms. But sometimes, it is so awful that there really aren't terms that will do. Once the moral threshold has dropped far enough, to enter into the fray would be demeaning for everyone involved. On those occasions, nothing will do except to let the words stand for themselves.

Today, the Daily KOS wrote on the four American contractors killed in Fallujah. They include a former Navy SEAL and father of two, a veteran of the 82nd airborne, and a winner of the Bronze Star for Valor:

That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.
UPDATE: KOS has apparently deleted the original post, and even had the Google cache of it purged. He has replaced it with something that pretends to be an apology. The show of shame I will take for what it's worth. Having the grace to be ashamed raises him enough in my eyes that he will now get a response.

His apology takes this form: Of course, he didn't mean it when he said "screw them" and that he felt nothing. He was merely sad to see their deaths elevated in press coverage over the deaths of servicemen:

But the mercenary is a whole different deal. They willingly enter a war zone, and do so because of the paycheck. They're not there for humanitarian reasons (I doubt they'd donate half their paycheck to the Red Cross or whatever). They're there because the money is DAMN good. They answer to no one except their CEO. They are dangerous, hence international efforts (however fruitless they may be) to ban their use.
Readers of Grim's Hall know that I am a military contractor, which Kos calls "mercenaries." I volunteered this year for a deployment to Iraq and a six-month contract in Kabul, the latter of which may yet come through. Over at Del Simmons' Free Speech, I answered some of the questions KOS raises about the motives of "mercenaries":
All the identified are former members of the US military. So what are they doing in Iraq?

I can answer, as I volunteered for such a deployment earlier this year--although my employer preferred to keep me working at another GWOT project in the USA. I volunteered recently for a deployment to Kabul, about which I've not yet heard.

I would be surprised to learn that these men differed very much in motives. Like them, I joined the military--the USMC--right out of high school, largely for patriotic reasons, though also out of a youth's desire for adventure. My service ended in 1994. On 9/11, I abandoned the career I'd embarked upon and started looking for ways to return to service.

The military has strict caps on how many people it can have, though, at every grade. The USMC, being the smallest, has the least room--and the wave of volunteers that came with 9/11 meant that recruitment was, and remains, topped out. There was simply no room.

There are also age limits, and in the years since 9/11, I've run afoul of them. Even if room opened up now, I couldn't return because I'm too old.

But our service is still needed. I went looking for other ways to serve, since the military was closed to me. I found it in this so-called "mercenary service," which allows me to work hand in hand with the US military. I've worked on projects for every branch of the service, and most of the global commands.

Estimates on just how many contractors work in the GWOT run wild, and no one is really sure. It seems likely to be at least one contractor to every five servicemen, but it may be as high as one to one.

Many bring skills that they've gotten later in life, which broadens the range of talent and knowledge beyond what the military itself has to offer. Deployments are not always much less gentle than the military's own, although they are softened a bit by being purely volunteer--you can leave, if you really want to. Few do.

This is what US "mercenaries" are like. They exist at all because the Congress and DOD bureaucracy aren't realistic about the force levels needed, and cling to outmoded concepts like age limits. As with anything else in a free society, where there is a demand that isn't being met, a service appears to meet it. I would rather be in uniform; but since I cannot be, I'll do this instead.

In defense of my compatriots, I should say that all my colleagues I'm aware of do donate heavily to charity, not only in money but in blood. I mean this literally--I organize the tri-monthly visits to the Red Cross donation center around here, and speaking for myself, I can honestly say that, since 9/11, I've donated blood every time I've been permitted. One young lady in my group began taking iron pills last summer so that she could maintain the iron levels in her blood the Red Cross demands--a real trick for many young women. Her case illustrates another aspect of the service: Most people in these various defense contractor, "Private Military Company" firms are former military, but there are also many who aren't, people who admire the military but who aren't made to be soldiers. They still want to do their part, and they do. Some of them have skills that are rare in the military, too--I know a lot of Arabists like that, including quite a few non-US citizens who want to be a part of what America is doing, but whose nations aren't in the Coalition--Syrians, Egyptians, and Sudanese. They can't serve in their own nation's armies, but they can still help make a stand against terrorism. A lot of them have more at stake than KOS, coming from where they do.

Obviously I can't tell you just what I've done, but I can tell you that I feel it makes an impact. Do I get a better deal than the serviceman does? I'd trade places with him if I could. I'd rather have the honor his service gains him than any coin. A man leaves his fame behind him when he goes. What will my son be told about me by KOS and his like, if I die in Kabul or abroad? 'He was a mercenary. What did he care for the humanitarian reasons? He was just in it for the money.'

I'd do it for nothing, if I could keep my family afloat. I'll bet you every one of those lads they hanged from the bridges felt the same. Maybe there are some people out there for whom this war could be just about money, or all about oil, but I sure don't know any of them.

Absinthe & Cookies (a little bit bitter, a little bit sweet): The Mad Piper

The Mad Piper:

From Absinthe & Cookies is an astonishing story that I'm stunned I've never heard before:

Bill Millin, 81, found fame as the soldier who piped Lord Lovat's 1 Commando Brigade ashore during the landings at Sword Beach in Normandy on 6 June, 1944.... Mr Millin was labelled the "Mad Piper" by German troops who were captured defending the Normandy beaches. Lord Lovat told him to ignore army orders banning the playing of bagpipes in battle for fear that the pipers would be picked off by the enemy. Wearing his kilt, he marched up and down Sword Beach playing Highland Laddie as German bullets rained down around him.
I've seen almost all of The Longest Day, but only in snatches and bits. Apparently I managed to miss one of the best parts.

It reminds me that it's been almost a year ago that The Black Watch took Basra. Grim's Hall celebrated the use of the bagpipes at that time:

This battle also saw, for the first time in the war, the British army using its most feared and awesome weapon.
As he began to play, the sound of Scotland the Brave drifted across the bridge towards the city, competing with the clatter of rotor blades as four Cobra helicopters raced in to join the attack.

Hat tip: Blackfive.


Daniel, USMC:

Friend and commenter Daniel, a former member of the USMC, has begun a new livejournal. I've linked to it under "other halls," below and right. He and I share a number of interests, so if you enjoy Grim's Hall, you will likely find his hall pleasant to visit. Welcome to the game.

Not all of his writings are on politics--some are on Asatru. Older readers of Grim's Hall may recall me going a round or two with the Raving Atheist over a religion called Forn Sidr. Asatru and Forn Sidr are, depending on who you ask, either the same religion or variants of the same tradition. The technical differences probably don't concern most people here--I am aware of having Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Pagan readers, as well as Asatruar (known simply as capital-H "Heathens"), plus some Atheists who are quite welcome in spite of my hostility to the concept. "Be nice to your neighbor, hell on his ideas," as per the rules post below. In any event, if you find yourself wondering what "Theodish" thought is, I'm sure Daniel will be only too happy to explain.

Senator Zell Miller - Printer Friendly Document

"A House Divided"

Here follow excerpted remarks by The Honorable Zell Miller on the floor of the Senate. The full remarks are in the link.

After watching the harsh acrimony generated by the September 11 Commission--which, let me say at the outset, is made up of good and able members--I've come to seriously question this panel's usefulness.

I believe it will ultimately play a role in doing great harm to this country, for its unintended consequences, I fear, will be to energize our enemies and demoralize our troops.

After being drowned in a tidal wave of all who didn't do enough before 9/11, I have come to believe that the Commission should issue a report that says: "No one did enough in the past. No one did near enough." Then thank everyone for serving, send them home and let's get on with the job of protecting this country in the future.

Tragically, these hearings have proved to be a very divisive diversion for this country. Tragically, they have devoured valuable time, looking backwards when we should be looking forward....

I realize that many well-meaning Americans see the hearings as "democracy in action." Years ago, when I was teaching political science, I probably would have had my class watching it live on television and using that very phrase with them.

There are also the not-so-well-meaning political operatives who see these hearings as an opportunity to "score cheap points."

Then, there are the Media Meddlers who see this as "great theater" that can be played out on the evening news and on endless talk shows for a week or more....

We should not be doing anything to encourage our enemies in this battle between good and evil. Yet, these hearings, in my opinion, are doing just that.

We are playing with fire. We're playing directly into the hands of our enemy by allowing these hearings to become the great divider they have become....

Long ago, Sir Walter Scott observed that revenge is "the sweetest morsel that ever was cooked in hell...." These hearings, coming on the heels of the election the terrorists influenced in Spain, bolster and energize our evil enemies as they have not been energized since 9/11.

Chances are very good that these evil enemies of America will attempt to influence our 2004 election in a similar dramatic way as they did Spain's. And to think that could never be in this country is to stick your head in the sand. That is why the sooner we stop this endless bickering over the past and join together to prepare for the future, the better off this country will be. There are some things--whether this city believes it or not--that are just more important than political campaigns.

The recent past is so ripe for political second-guessing "gotcha" and Monday morning quarter-backing. And it is so tempting in an election year. We should not allow ourselves to indulge that temptation. We should put our country first. Every administration from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush bears some of the blame. Dick Clarke bears a big heap of it because it was he who was in the catbird's seat to do something about it for more than a decade. Tragically, it was the decade in which we did the least.

We did nothing after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, killing six and injuring more than 1,000 Americans. We did nothing in 1996 when sixteen U.S. servicemen were killed in the bombing of the Khobar Towers. When our embassies were attacked in 1998, killing 263 people, our only response was to fire a few missiles on an empty tent.

Is it any wonder? Is it any wonder that after that decade of weak-willed responses to that murderous terror, our enemies thought we would never fight back?...

Some will say, "We owe it to the families" to get more information about what happened in the past and I can understand that. But no amount of finger-pointing will bring our victims back. So, now we owe it to future families and all of America now in jeopardy not to encourage more terrorists, resulting in even more grieving families, perhaps many more over the ones of 9/11....

[This country is dividing into] the ones who want to argue and assess and appease, and the ones who want to carry this fight to our enemies and kill him them before they kill us. And, in case you haven't figured it out, I proudly belong to the latter.

This is a time like no other in the history of this country, and this country is being crippled with petty partisan politics of the worst possible kind. In time of war, it is not just unpatriotic; it is stupid, and it is criminal. So, I pray that all this time, all this energy, all this talk and all this attention could be focused on the future instead of the past. I pray we would stop pointing fingers, assigning blame and wringing our hands about what happened on that day David McCullogh has called "the worst day in our history" more than two years ago.

And instead, pour all of our energy into how we can kill these terrorists before they kill us--again.

For make no mistake about it. They watch these hearings. They are scheming and smiling about the distraction and the divisiveness they see in America. And while they may not know who said it years ago in America, they know instinctively that a house divided cannot stand.

There is one other group that we should remember is listening to all of this - our troops. I was in Iraq in January and one day when I was meeting with the 1st Armored Division, a unit with a proud history known as Old Ironsides, we were discussing troop morale, and the Commanding General said it was top notch. And I turned to the Division's Sergeant Major, the top enlisted man in the division, a big, burly, 6-foot-3, 240 pound African American and I said, "That's good, but how do you sustain that kind of morale?"

Without hesitation he narrowed his eyes, and he looked at me and said "The morale will stay high just as long as these troops know the people back home support us."

Just as long as the people back home support us. What kind of message are these hearings and the outrageously political speeches on the floor of the Senate yesterday sending to those marvelous young Americans in the uniform of our country?

I say Unite America! Before it is too late! Put aside these petty partisan differences when it comes to the protection of our people. Argue and argue and argue and debate and debate and debate over all the other things--jobs and education and the deficit and the environment--but please, please do not use the lives of Americans and the security of this country as a cheap-shot political talking point.

Yahoo! News Search results for Fallujah

Fallujah Delenda Est:

What is the right thing to do with a town whose citizens kill my brothers in the mercenary service, and then dance below their hanged bodies? I submit that the most merciful and correct thing, the thing most likely to bring peace and stability to Iraq, is to surround the city and, after allowing twelve hours for refugees to depart, to bring artillery to bear until the whole place is dust.

Having grown up in the path of Sherman's march, I have a cold admiration of it. It was really what ended a war that had cost hundreds of thousands of lives. We should end this one, while it is in our power to do so.

John Derbyshire's March Diary on National Review Online


As he often does, today John Derbyshire closes his column with a brainteaser:

Augustus De Morgan, the 19th-century English mathematician (whose name, as Martin Gardner pointed out, is an anagram of "O Gus, tug a mean surd!"), noticed that he was x years old in the year x2. Which year was he born in?
The answer appears to be 1806. If he was born in 1806, he would be 43 in 1849, which is the square of 43.

I'm pleased to have gotten this much of it correct, considering how little use I've ever had for mathematics. Beyond a deep and moving study of probability theory, gambling being the only use I've ever had for math, I admit to a remarkable ignorance on the topic.

Aidan Hartley:

A too-rare treat, Aidan Hartley has a piece in this week's London Spectator. He's writing on sacrifices, accidental and intentional, such as are made in pursuit of a great goal:

While suffering nicotine cold turkey, I tried to hunt down some fag butts in the rubbish bin, only to find the farm workers had beaten me to it. I also discovered a bottle of cooking sherry in the kitchen cupboard last night. Not even I will sink that low.

And the reason I'm undergoing these little trials is to feed my one big indulgence. At last we have secured our own small patch of Laikipia's wilderness. It's cost everything we have and a lot more besides.

If you're looking for a good book, let me suggest Hartley's The Zanzibar Chest. It's the finest book I've read on Africa in a very long time. It's an extraordinary look into Africa, from the colonialism of his father's day to the blood of Rwanda. It's also just a fine read, well written and enthralling.

Nailing it Down:

As one of you pointed out to me in email, Doc Russia nails it. I spend a lot of time talking in reasoned tones to people, trying hard to be fair to both sides of arguments, when I often wonder why we're arguing at all. I think he's got why:

I will never forget the feeling of the cold air inside the hull of the aircraft flowing out past my feet, as the hot and humid air of Cuba swarmed into my face. It was January, and the warmth of the air was alien itself. I stepped out of that craft, and onto a different planet. It was the beginnning of a dark Odyssey, 357 days which would change me, my life, and the way I looked at the world forever.

Over the course of the following year, I was exposed to an alternate reality. Day after day, I stood watch on the fenceline, and peered into it. I stood at the edge of a communist regime, and I saw what it produced. It was real. It was reality. In this reality, the evil in man had triumphed. Years before I was born, a corrupt idea was propogated, descended on this isle, and took root. It deceived the willingly gullible, and the naive. It propelled the vicious to power. It has condemned those under it's authority. So much suffereing, so many lives consumed.

I lived for a time in the People's Republic of China, and I had the same experience as Doc except from the inside. I saw what it was like for decent people, who were trying to get along, laugh, and do right by their families. It was brutal in a way I've never managed to put into words, and all people could tell me was how much better things were than they'd been ten years since. I met North Koreans there, who could only show me how happy they were to enjoy this lesser, easier tyranny.

Aristotle wrote that you can't even discuss ethics with people who lack certain basic experiences. Like us, the Greeks learned by standing on the wall--or, in the phalanx, by being the wall for a while. That's what we still ask some young men to volunteer to do. It's what we volunteered to do, not understanding what it is we were agreeing to become.

Tomorrow, in the nations capitol, many "men of importance" will put on expensive suits over expensive shoes, and straighten their very fashionable ties. They will accuse, insinuate, and feign moral repulsion. They will elocute and posture before cameras and a national audience about what who knew, what who said, and what they think it means.

Tomorrow, west of Baghdad, young men in patterns designed by computers will not accuse or insinuate. They will not feign moral repulsion, and there will be no cameras around to record them. They will not elocute or posture.

They will tie their boots on tight, check their weapons, and carry on.

I sometimes wonder if you even can explain it. I carry on trying, because it's so important that people understand. There is a sense in so many Americans that the Republic is eternal and unbreakable. There is a sense that the world is safe, if we could just control a few criminals, the way that an American state or city can be safe, if you just police it a bit better. They see the darkness but not the depths. It's like peering into the night sky, which is so deep that it looks flat; and you can't feel just how far you could fall into it and not find another garden.

Go listen to the Doc. He says it better.



Via The Sage of Knoxville, we have this from David Frum:

This administration came into office to discover that al Qaeda had been allowed to grow into a full-blown menace. It lost six precious weeks to the Florida recount--and then weeks after Inauguration Day to the go-slow confirmation procedures of a 50-50 Senate. As late as the summer of 2001, pitifully few of Bush's own people had taken their jobs at State, Defense, and the NSC. Then it was hit by 9/11. And now, now the same people who allowed al Qaeda to grow up, who delayed the staffing of the administration, who did nothing when it was their turn to act, who said nothing when they could have spoken in advance of the attack--these same people accuse George Bush of doing too little? There's a long answer to give folks like that--and also a short one. And the short one is: How dare you?
That looks wholly fair to me, including the wrath. I have said that I find Clarke's charges to be credible, even if the man is not: they match a lot of what we see in other sources. This reply is equally honest, and damning.


Fitness Tips:

A few days back I linked to An American Soldier. The blog is down for the next few days, but even so, you might go read through some of the back entries for fitness tips.

The entry on pushups is a good one. I normally do 150 pushups a day as part of the USMC "Daily 16." Drill Sergeant Rob suggests doing pyramids as a change. If you take the time to add 5+6+7+8...20, and then step down 20+19+18...5, you get 400 pushups. Yet, since you're never doing more than 20 at a time, it's managable. I've tried it the last three sessions. The first time, I was barely pushing out the last "six" and "five," but by today, I combined the 9-5s on the way down (for a total of 35 pushups) to speed up the drill. I can feel a difference in a short time.

Plus, it's kind of cool to do that many pushups. It's been years since I have done hundreds of pushups a day; makes me feel like a kid again.

For that cause, I'm adding the Sarge to the blogroll down and right. Keep up the good work.

The Liberal Conspiracy - Satire, Informed Commentary and 9-11 Research

Uzbek Bombings:

Sovay has been following the reports on today's Uzbek suicide bombers. She thinks the fault may lie with the brutality of the dictator:

By supporting a repressive dictator, while claiming to champion freedom and democracy, the U.S. proves once again to the Muslim world that its rhetoric is empty, which deals a blow to our credibility. Karimov's repression has also fueled the radicalization of Muslims in the country....

The attacks that have so far killed 19 people may be aimed more at a repressive government than at an ally of the United States. It'll also be interesting to see who exactly was behind these bombings: a reconstituted Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hizb-ut-Tahrir or another group.

I'll go out on a limb here and wager that it wasn't Hizb-ut-Tahrir. For one thing, HuT relies upon a stance that avoids militism in order to maintain its havens in the West, such as London, from whence it publishes Khilafah magazine bi-monthly. It's linked to terrorist groups from Uzbekistan to Algeria, and is a terrorist-supporting organization, but it provides moral rather than physical support. In this way they are able to provide legally untouchable propaganda outfits and act as funnels for recruitment without risking being shut down or deported. I'd be at least mildly surprised to discover that they had suddenly abandoned this strategy at this late date. As they themselves said in reference to charges by the gov't of Uzbekistan:
The world knows that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a political party based on Islam and advocates change through intellectual and political activity. It has never used violence since its establishment in Jerusalem in 1953, despite the severe torture, oppression and murder that its members have faced by the corrupt rulers of the Muslim countries.
More to the point, there's no indication in their literature that they've been building up toward such a major shift. You can read their documents online in a number of countries; Google will take you to most of them, but don't miss 1924, which isn't as obviously an outlet of theirs. If the Party of Liberation was going to turn that sharply, I'd have expected some statements that would be used as justification for the policy shift. I haven't seen anything like that.

UPDATE: The Argus has a post on topic. Hat tip: The Agonist, who has some analysis of his own.

UPDATE: Turns out Doc Russia has family ties to Uzbekistan. He thinks the President-is-a-tyrant line doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

The Texas Mercury

Rules Repost:

Just because I haven't done it in a while, allow me to repost the rules for the comments section. I take these in whole body from The Texas Mercury's editorial policy:

As we see it, modern society has all the important ideas of life exactly backwards: we are completely against the belief in sensitivity and tolerance in politics and raffish disregard in private life. The Texas Mercury is founded on the opposite principles- our idea is of tolerance and polite sensitivity in private life and ruthless truth in politics. Be nice to your neighbor. Be hell to his ideas.
Carry on.



I've begun a "Politics 2004" links section, which will be around until the election. For now it has just two links--the link to the Honorable Zell Miller's website, and the link to "Democrats for Bush," an organization for "moderate/conservative Democrats" who endorse the President's reelection. This is the weblog of a Southern Democrat, which puts me in that group somewhere.

As we move along toward the election, I may endorse other candidates. So far, I haven't.

USSOCOM in Sahara

SOCOM in the Sahara:

This is a particularly interesting piece about the efforts of US Special Forces in West Africa. The Reuters bias is present as usual--the piece is entitled "Nomads fear U.S. forces draw bandits to Sahara," and focuses on that topic, mentioning only in passing that the "bandits" are actually an Algerian terrorist group that has designs to topple the governments in Algeria and Mauritania. Nevertheless, it makes a good read:

Lying in the sand, their AK-47s trained on some scrap metal and cardboard cut-outs, the Malian platoon held their fire as three donkeys stumbled into the kill zone.

"There are burros in my line of vision," an American voice crackled over the radio. "We don't want to kill nobody's livestock."

The elite U.S. Special Forces who have been teaching Timbuktu's 512th Motorised Infantry Company to destroy enemy camps like to be thought of as "warrior diplomats", culturally sensitive and a cut above the rest of the military.

In the inhospitable terrain of the Sahara Desert, bouncing across the dunes in a Land Rover chasing stubborn donkeys out of danger is the least they can do for the local economy.
This is one of the more interesting fronts in the GWOT, and one about which you hear little.



Reports are coming in that a Stryker unit has been hit by guerrillas in Mosul:

Insurgents have fired two rocket-propelled grenades at a U.S. military vehicle in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, setting it on fire, witnesses have said.

More blasts shook the wheeled Stryker armoured vehicle, apparently as its ammunition exploded. There was no immediate word on casualties in the attack in the west of the city.

A passer-by, Mahmoud Ibrahim, 40, said he had seen three attackers in a car fire an RPG at the Stryker as it went down a side street in a western district of Mosul on Sunday. Another RPG was fired at the U.S. vehicle moments later.

"I saw the Stryker burning," he said. "I saw nobody getting out of the vehicle."

Why was the Stryker a good idea again? RPGs roll off the heavies, and thanks to the USSR, there are enough RPGs hanging around that we'll probably never fight anywhere we don't encounter them. If this report is true, and you can take a Stryker out with nothing better than this, it sounds like a pretty sorry fighting vehicle. The idea is to bring mobility and firepower to the enemy, not to get our people killed by putting them in a great big, lightly armored target.

UPDATE: The official US military report on this says it was just a fuel can that caught fire, causing the Stryker to burn. The crew escaped. That's a much more managable problem than an RPG penetrating to the ammuntion.

UPDATE: Eric, in the comments, points to Strykernews, which--thanks to Todd--is run by civilians associated with the Stryker Brigade by friendship or family ties.

From AFP:

Iraqi Booksellers:

This is an AFP report that--as I don't see it available in English on the web right now--I'm going to post in whole body:

Baghdadis turn to political, religious books once banned under Saddam

BAGHDAD, March 28 (AFP) - Iraqis are buying political and religious
books and snapping up satellite dishes once banned under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, to quench a thirst for information they were once denied.

On the famed Mutanabi Street book market of Baghdad, shopkeepers and
vendors who work right off the pavement shrug off any concern about the
sky-rocketing sales of satellite dishes since the end of the US-led war
to oust Saddam a year ago.

'People are buying more books since the end of the war,' said Mohammed
al-Yawi, who owns Al-Naktha, one of the oldest bookshops in Baghdad.

'Foreign languages are top sellers, particularly English manuals, and
religious and political books are in much demand because they were
banned by Saddam,' said Yawi, who serves clients from across Baghdad.

Ayssar al-Kobaissi specialises in the sale of legal books.

He said business has been brisk since the US-led coalition brought down
Saddam's regime and that book sales are often influenced by what the
Iraqis see on television thanks to the satellite dishes they now own.

'The day after religious programmes are shown on television, clients
come in here to buy books' he said.

Iraqis, he said, are spurred into buying books for both political and
economic reasons.

'The price of books is down because there are no sales taxes,' he said,
about import tariffs that have been suspended since the fall of the

'People also can buy whatever their hearts desire. There are no police
controls,' he said.

Religious books, once a forbidden fruit, are also back on the shelves.

Copies of the Koran, Islam's holy book, particularly bilingual
Arabic-English editions, sell like hot cakes on Mutanabi Street,
particularly for US troops occupying Baghdad who shop there with their

At the Shahbandar cafe, a favourite haunt of bookworms, academics and
artists, Amir al-Mosuli believes firmly that Iraq's older generation
will never stop reading.

'We are addicted to books,' said Mosuli, who translates English
literature classics into Arabic.

'Yes, people do watch television more than before because they now have
access to all the (once banned) channels but that does not keep them
from reading,' he said.

Mosuli believes that many Iraqis have turned to religious books 'to seek
solace from the crisis facing our society'.

'People can come to this coffee shop to get away from their families,
read and forget the situation,' he said.

Many Iraqis seek their escape in periodicals that are piled up high on
dusty plastic sheets dottin the sidewalk on Mutanabi Street: faded
copies of French fashion magazines, bodybuilding publications from the
United States and even an old edition of the German weekly Der Spiegel
with a picture of the late actress Marlene Dietrich on the cover.

One sidewalk vendor offers pre-war schoolbooks rife with pictures of the
ousted dictator side by side with Saddam-free school manuals that were
printed after the end of the war last April.

Partisans of political parties outlawed under Saddam also have their say
now on Mutanabi Street, where communist literature is among that on

There is literally something for everyone, from a discourse on military
strategy by an ex-Soviet army officer to books on wanted terrorist
mastermind Osama bin Laden, the memoirs of a former Saddam advisor,
biographies of Iran's late spiritual guide Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
and the latest manuals on information technology.
It's hard to think of a more hopeful sign than this.

Doc Russia:

Doc's going to get a big head, but I'm going to cite him twice in one night. Off at Bloodletting, he has determined that the 9/11 hearings are a waste of time:

The key to our struggle for survival, and the survival of civilization lies ahead of us, beyond the dark horizon, in the boots of the United States Marines, and not behind us in the rubble of two towers, or the Congressional chambers discussing it.
My own disinterest in the hearings is rooted in this instinct. The question now is finding and destroying the enemy. Every moment spent trying to assign blame for 9/11 is a moment not spent doing that. Praise God, as we used to say, and pass the ammunition.

European and Pacific Stars & Stripes

That Spring Offensive Is Real:

Now we know that the rumored Spring Offensive is for real:

Following the lead elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived last week, 2,200 more troops are heading into the region from their Navy expeditionary strike group in the Persian Gulf to help fight against al-Qaida and other anti-coalition forces, according to military officials.
That's the 22nd MEU (SOC) to you, thanks aye. If you don't know what a "Mew-sock" is, here's what I wrote about it back during "major combat operations":
Marine Corps MEU (SOC): MEU stands for "Marine Expeditionary Unit," and (SOC) stands for "Special Operations Capable." The MEU is one of several MAGTFs (Marine Corps Air/Ground Task Forces). A MAGTF is a grouping of no set size, consisting of a group of Marine Corps infantry, possibly with attached armor or other mechanized assets, linked to a group of Marine Corps Air. The largest of these MAGTFs is the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), which is at least a reinforced division of Marines coupled with a full wing of Marine Air. The MEU is smaller than the MEF. SOC means that the entire MEU, every last member down to the cooks and postal workers, are trained in special operations procedures, and tested according to standards even more rigorous than USMC standard--which is, it ought to be remarked, a standard already far higher than the Army's. An MEU (SOC) is really an army that can be deployed anywhere, at any time, instantly: and, having arrived wherever it wants to be, is possessed of sufficient firepower to hold off whatever forces may be directed against it until such time as it can be relieved. They aren't commandos, and they aren't intended for sabotage missions. They are, themselves, a second front, to be opened anywhere the President wants them.
The deployment of a MEU (SOC) is always an event to mark on your calendar. Change follows.

Sharp Knife

Link Day:

Since this seems to be link day, let me point you to Sharp Knife. This goes with the "Ten Years On" post, below. This is what I look for in a President, before and above absolutely everything else: courage, and the imagination to see a freer world and the road there.

UPDATE: I see that I am belatedly noticing Mark Steyn's column on topic.


Bloodletting is the site for to-the-minute analysis on USMC ops in Fallujah. Our occasional commentor, JarHeadDad, is there to provide on-site views from the "Grunt," as he proudly puts it. I don't have anything Doc Russia hasn't got, so for now at least, I'll leave it to him.