Missteps, Military Failings, and Issues, Oh My

 

So “leaked” reports came out yesterday referencing the investigation into the ambush in Niger that left four Americans dead. The classified version is done and in the process of being briefed to Congress and the families. A redacted/unclassified version will be made public. Meanwhile “Military Officials” leaked information from the massive 6,000-page investigation resulting in headlines that read “Pentagon Cites Multiple Missteps That Led To Ambush Of U.S. Troops In Niger,” “Classified Report Slams Military Over October Deaths in Niger,” and “Classified Niger probe finds multiple flaws in deadly mission: report.”

Complacency? Patently untrue — I know firsthand. Since the US has been there post-9/11, this is the first attack of this magnitude to happen in Niger. Being shot at is routine — having a full-fledged, planned, and well-executed ambush — nope. Unexpected, yes; complacency, no. The team maintained their security and left when it became apparent that something was not right.

Lack of training? Really? All I can see is some investigator with a full night’s sleep, a full belly, and plenty of water saying “that’s not what I would have done, they shoulda’….” Again, first-hand, these guys reacted textbook despite 30 hours without sleep in an oven of a desert in a full-on ambush. You engage and try to get out of the kill zone. And that is exactly what they did.

Then they got separated — very common in the fog of war. This separation is what kept them in the area. Not leaving anyone behind is an American military praxis resulting in the loss of all vehicles and ultimately in the loss of four soldiers. I am not sure what “training” is being talked about but it’s always easier in hindsight sippin’ on your Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and munching on a cruller.

And my personal favorite “a culture of excessive risk” or, even better, “a culture of risk,” depending on what article you read. Now you decide: do you want Green Berets that are willing and able to step into the gap or Green Berets wondering how to institute safe spaces in the area of operations? And how about trigger warnings? Oh, the irony of that phrase in this instance. We take risks, albeit calculated, but it’s a risky job — always. It’s what Special Forces does. This continues to boggle my mind. (I have ranted about this before here and here.)

As the saying goes, “first reports are always wrong,” which I have largely found to be true. The statements and words above could be completely out of context, leveraged for media hype. The political stench on this, however, continues largely from the left with an agenda to drag the President down by any means possible, producing, I believe, headlines like the ones above.

It will be interesting to see what happens when this becomes public … again. One last thing: who is talking to the press? In my line of work, you became an instant pariah if you talked to the press. But again, I believe there is a larger political agenda going on here.

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  1. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Good essay, I won’t compare myself to a soldier, but sometimes police work is a form of guerilla warfare. I made decisions in seconds on what type of fight I might be getting into, and what I needed to do. Judging the response is much easier for those that have the luxury of reviewing an action that they had no part in. They have days and hours to review an incident.

    My heart belongs to the grunt in the field, as well as to the line cop on the street.

    • #1
  2. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    My heart belongs to the grunt in the field, as well as to the line cop on the street.

    Absolutely Doug.  I always feel for the cops, they rarely know what they are getting into.  

    • #2
  3. Gumby Mark Thatcher
    Gumby Mark
    @GumbyMark

    I read the linked articles and while I agree with the problem with it being leaked I saw nothing in the articles blaming the men engaged on the ground for what happened, nor did it seem like an attack on the Trump administration. 

    • #3
  4. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @nandapanjandrum

    It’s clear that the wounds and the healing are ongoing; as are the prayers! Thanks for this, @dajoho!

    • #4
  5. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I guess that if there were never any missteps, military failings, or issues, there would never be any casualties.

    • #5
  6. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Secretary Mattis needs to immediately root out the leaker(s) and compel a public apology to the soldiers impugned and the American public for leaking classified information about those who keep us safe. Public contrition for immediate retirement at last permanent grade or else perp walk and maximum charges pressed.

    If he lets it lay, President Trump needs to force the issue, privately and then publicly.

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    Secretary Mattis needs to immediately root out the leaker(s) and compel a public apology to the soldiers impugned and the American public for leaking classified information about those who keep us safe.

    Amen to this. I’m tired of having our government have a culture of violating the law.

    • #7
  8. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Someone smart published this idea years ago, but ever notice how whenever the press publishes something about an event or a topic about which you are a subject matter expert, their ignorance is so deep, wide and dense that you question whether they are that stupid on every other topic they report on?  This was like that.

    • #8
  9. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    A culture of risk, what a great phrase. That always comes from someone who’s never risked anything. I don’t remember anyone from the media rolling around in the gutter with me at 0300 hours trying to subdue, and arrest some idiot. I am not going to be the guy that criticizes a small unit for doing what they had to do in a fight. I might be the guy that criticizes the higher ups who didn’t provide all the intel they should have provided to a squad in hostile territory.

    • #9
  10. I am: Pajama Boy! Member
    I am: Pajama Boy!
    @SimonTemplar

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Someone smart published this idea years ago, but ever notice how whenever the press publishes something about an event or a topic about which you are a subject matter expert, their ignorance is so deep, wide and dense that you question whether they are that stupid on every other topic they report on? This was like that.

    Ricochet comment of the day.

    • #10
  11. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    People died.  Somebody has to take the blame and then there is a President that needs to be impeached, so that goal needs to be forwarded.  These troops lives were useful to protect our country.  Now their deaths will be useful to protect the country by removing the current Russian sponsored POTUS

    • #11
  12. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    I am: Pajama Boy! (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Someone smart published this idea years ago, but ever notice how whenever the press publishes something about an event or a topic about which you are a subject matter expert, their ignorance is so deep, wide and dense that you question whether they are that stupid on every other topic they report on? This was like that.

    Ricochet comment of the day.

    The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect.

    • #12
  13. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Gumby Mark (View Comment):

    I read the linked articles and while I agree with the problem with it being leaked I saw nothing in the articles blaming the men engaged on the ground for what happened, nor did it seem like an attack on the Trump administration.

    GM –  I read well over half a dozen articles and listened to short interviews with various folks and the media is looking for someone to blame and ultimately the media will link it to the President.  As for the men on the ground as I said this is first reports and media hype headlines.  Having said that words like complacency can fall in at a myriad of echelons.  One of the articles I read talked about cut-and-pasting orders from on concepts of operations to another.  This has been standard operating procedure I dare say across the military since 2005.  Again I know first hand the team was not complacent.  Training on the other hand directly points to the lowest man on the chain – the troops on the ground.  I have spent time with these guys and I can say without a doubt they are way better trained than I was when I was in Special Forces.  They are affable, smart, fun, and DEADLY serious when it comes to their jobs – training is not an issue.  And a “culture of risk” is spot on, again, it’s what we do – risk is inherent, understood, measured, and accepted.  

    • #13
  14. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    It’s clear that the wounds and the healing are ongoing; as are the prayers! Thanks for this, @dajoho!

    Hi NP!  Just visited “the boys” and they are in fact healing, quite well actually.  Thanks for the continuing prayers – truly appreciated.  

    • #14
  15. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    Secretary Mattis needs to immediately root out the leaker(s) and compel a public apology to the soldiers impugned and the American public for leaking classified information about those who keep us safe.

    Amen to this. I’m tired of having our government have a culture of violating the law.

    I find this unfathomable.  Literally the investigation is released and it is in the press.  I have no words.

    • #15
  16. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    People died. Somebody has to take the blame and then there is a President that needs to be impeached, so that goal needs to be forwarded. These troops lives were useful to protect our country. Now their deaths will be useful to protect the country by removing the current Russian sponsored POTUS

    Falso Juan/Falso Jane – This is exactly what is happening.  I feel it is the now vaunted “swarm technique.”  Put as much stuff out there as you can:  Russian collusion, troops dying in a place most cannot pick out on a map, Smarmy Daniels (like that?) etc. etc.  until something sticks and if it doesn’t we’ll still have enough fog to keep a lot of folks from seeing what is really happening.  

    • #16
  17. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Someone smart published this idea years ago, but ever notice how whenever the press publishes something about an event or a topic about which you are a subject matter expert, their ignorance is so deep, wide and dense that you question whether they are that stupid on every other topic they report on? This was like that.

    Michael Crichton. Gell Mann Amnesia Effect.

    • #17
  18. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    dajoho (View Comment):
    One of the articles I read talked about cut-and-pasting orders from on concepts of operations to another. This has been standard operating procedure I dare say across the military since 2005.

    Those should be specific to the situation.* Unless things have changed since (checks watch) the kalter Krieg.

    Anyway, I’m skeptical that’s an accurate description of the critique. The folks who have the most to gain from the honest evaluation of what happened are the troops on the ground. All the rest is eye wash and finger pointing for public consumption. We are not that far removed from the Army’s disgraceful attempts to cover up the circumstances of the death, by friendly fire, of Pat Tillman. A death that would have garnered two lines in the Local Gazette if he had been Ranger Pat Jones, high school class of 1999.

     

    * Concept of Operations should be a detailed description of the scheme of maneuver and the plan to use supporting fires (artillery, aviation and USAF). Granted, I’m not sure how you write this out when you are involved in an advisory mission.

    • #18
  19. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Steve C. (View Comment):
    Anyway, I’m skeptical that’s an accurate description of the critique. The folks who have the most to gain from the honest evaluation of what happened are the troops on the ground. All the rest is eye wash and finger pointing for public consumption. We are not that far removed from the Army’s disgraceful attempts to cover up the circumstances of the death, by friendly fire, of Pat Tillman. A death that would have garnered two lines in the Local Gazette if he had been Ranger Pat Jones, high school class of 1999.

    Hi Steve C.  I’m not sure I know what you mean by  “an accurate description of the critique.”  Again – this is first reports and media hype.  What I do know is that the planning and execution cycle is vastly faster than the kalter kreig (check my army issue radio active watch – remember those?).  There is an overall mission and CONOP then FRAGOs from there.  And I can assure you the troops there, particularly my own, have evaluated what happened and formulated their own lessons learned.  And completely agree about the eyewash for public consumption.  Tillman’s tragic death and pathetic cover up does not apply here although we remain cognizant that that can happen.   

    • #19
  20. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Steve C. (View Comment):
    We are not that far removed from the Army’s disgraceful attempts to cover up the circumstances of the death, by friendly fire, of Pat Tillman. A death that would have garnered two lines in the Local Gazette if he had been Ranger Pat Jones, high school class of 1999.

    As an aside: I know a little bit about that.  Senior leaders abjured putting out certain information for very humanitarian reasons.  They did it knowing they would get craphammered for it.  They did it anyway, because they thought it was the right thing to do.  Their decisions may well have been right or wrong, but I assure you, there was no venality in that particular process.  In fact, the senior leaders involved made the decision to do what they did, knowing that posterity would describe their actions as you did above.  They did it anyway.

    • #20
  21. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    dajoho (View Comment):
    One of the articles I read talked about cut-and-pasting orders from on concepts of operations to another. This has been standard operating procedure I dare say across the military since 2005.

    When you have to ‘gin up a 25-page CONOPS just to roll out the wire, and 23.5 of those pages consist of stuff that is rote and “no duh,” of course you cut & paste.  Typing a bunch of irrelevant or unchanged information that, by fiat, must be in the CONOPS is wasteful of time and effort.

    • #21
  22. I am: Pajama Boy! Member
    I am: Pajama Boy!
    @SimonTemplar

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    dajoho (View Comment):
    One of the articles I read talked about cut-and-pasting orders from on concepts of operations to another. This has been standard operating procedure I dare say across the military since 2005.

    When you have to ‘gin up a 25-page CONOPS just to roll out the wire, and 23.5 of those pages consist of stuff that is rote and “no duh,” of course you cut & paste. Typing a bunch of irrelevant or unchanged information that, by fiat, must be in the CONOPS is wasteful of time and effort.

    Yep, have written many of these.  I was even the ‘original classifier dude’ for a couple of them.  Plagiarism is a virtue in military writing.

    Fun fact:  I wrote the USMC’s order to stand-up the Gitmo detention center.  BTW:  That site was carefully chosen after much careful deliberation and by an excruciating (at least it was for yours truly) process of elimination of other viable locations.

    • #22
  23. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    dajoho (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):
    Anyway, I’m skeptical that’s an accurate description of the critique. The folks who have the most to gain from the honest evaluation of what happened are the troops on the ground. All the rest is eye wash and finger pointing for public consumption. We are not that far removed from the Army’s disgraceful attempts to cover up the circumstances of the death, by friendly fire, of Pat Tillman. A death that would have garnered two lines in the Local Gazette if he had been Ranger Pat Jones, high school class of 1999.

    Hi Steve C. I’m not sure I know what you mean by “an accurate description of the critique.” Again – this is first reports and media hype. What I do know is that the planning and execution cycle is vastly faster than the kalter kreig (check my army issue radio active watch – remember those?). There is an overall mission and CONOP then FRAGOs from there. And I can assure you the troops there, particularly my own, have evaluated what happened and formulated their own lessons learned. And completely agree about the eyewash for public consumption. Tillman’s tragic death and pathetic cover up does not apply here although we remain cognizant that that can happen.

    1. Critique: These are leaks, I suspect the leakee does not have an understanding of a five paragraph field order let alone the purpose of each section.

    2. Watches: Of course. Anecdote, 2LT F, “Can we issue the watches?” Me, “When the balloon goes up, I’ll make sure you get yours first.”

    3. Orders: Adding a recon task sounded to me like it would have been a FRAGO. But then I’m not familiar with how you conduct advisory missions, which I know is the or used to be, the primary focus of SF ops.

     

    • #23
  24. I am: Pajama Boy! Member
    I am: Pajama Boy!
    @SimonTemplar

    Steve C. (View Comment):
    conduct advisory missions,

    also known as FID (foreign internal defense), or so I was led to believe.

    • #24
  25. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Their decisions may well have been right or wrong, but I assure you, there was no venality in that particular process. In fact, the senior leaders involved made the decision to do what they did, knowing that posterity would describe their actions as you did above. They did it anyway.

    I’ll preface my comment by noting I wasn’t there and I don’t know the key personnel and my knowledge of the actual events is limited to what has been published.

    If they expected the facts would come out in the end, all they succeeded in doing was making the Army look bad. Regardless of why, the end result was worse.

    • #25
  26. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Steve C. (View Comment):
    If they expected the facts would come out in the end, all they succeeded in doing was making the Army look bad. Regardless of why, the end result was worse.

    Concur.  But whether right or wrong, they took the hit, knowing what would happen. 

    So, while we can argue whether their decision was a good one, it was not made out of ambition, vainglory, or moral turpitude.

    • #26
  27. I am: Pajama Boy! Member
    I am: Pajama Boy!
    @SimonTemplar

    I am: Pajama Boy! (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    dajoho (View Comment):
    One of the articles I read talked about cut-and-pasting orders from on concepts of operations to another. This has been standard operating procedure I dare say across the military since 2005.

    When you have to ‘gin up a 25-page CONOPS just to roll out the wire, and 23.5 of those pages consist of stuff that is rote and “no duh,” of course you cut & paste. Typing a bunch of irrelevant or unchanged information that, by fiat, must be in the CONOPS is wasteful of time and effort.

    Yep, have written many of these. I was even the ‘original classifier dude’ for a couple of them. Plagiarism is a virtue in military writing.

    Fun fact: I wrote the USMC’s order to stand-up the Gitmo detention center. BTW: That site was carefully chosen after much careful deliberation and by an excruciating (at least it was for yours truly) process of elimination of other viable locations.

    BTW:  I wrote an additional order after it was stood-up to have a flight of USMC F/A- 18s do a flyover of Gitmo as a show of force to any and all bad guys who may have been contemplating mischief making.  Why the he11 we did not do that during the early hours of Benghazi will always haunt and confuse me.

    • #27
  28. I am: Pajama Boy! Member
    I am: Pajama Boy!
    @SimonTemplar

    I am: Pajama Boy! (View Comment):

    I am: Pajama Boy! (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    dajoho (View Comment):
    One of the articles I read talked about cut-and-pasting orders from on concepts of operations to another. This has been standard operating procedure I dare say across the military since 2005.

    When you have to ‘gin up a 25-page CONOPS just to roll out the wire, and 23.5 of those pages consist of stuff that is rote and “no duh,” of course you cut & paste. Typing a bunch of irrelevant or unchanged information that, by fiat, must be in the CONOPS is wasteful of time and effort.

    Yep, have written many of these. I was even the ‘original classifier dude’ for a couple of them. Plagiarism is a virtue in military writing.

    Fun fact: I wrote the USMC’s order to stand-up the Gitmo detention center. BTW: That site was carefully chosen after much careful deliberation and by an excruciating (at least it was for yours truly) process of elimination of other viable locations.

    BTW: I wrote an additional order after it was stood-up to have a flight of USMC F/A- 18s do a flyover of Gitmo as a show of force to any and all bad guys who may have been contemplating mischief making. Why the he11 we did not do that during the early hours of Benghazi will always haunt and confuse me.

    If you got nothing else, at least break the sound barrier over the bad guys heads.  Some of them know that the next thing they might hear is the sound of bombs and missiles falling on their heads.  Either way, it often attracts their attention and usually distracts them from whatever evil they are currently up to.

    • #28
  29. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):
    If they expected the facts would come out in the end, all they succeeded in doing was making the Army look bad. Regardless of why, the end result was worse.

    Concur. But whether right or wrong, they took the hit, knowing what would happen.

    So, while we can argue whether their decision was a good one, it was not made out of ambition, vainglory, or moral turpitude.

    But senior leaders are trained to consider strategic consequences. The risk was to the reputation and effectiveness of the Commander-in-Chief and to public support for a very hard kind of war (they all knew what happened in Vietnam). When Tillman’s parents learned the truth they felt completely used and betrayed, or so they said publicly.

    When I first heard the publicly available truth, I thought “Football hero turned American hero died on a broken play.” Every football fan understands that plays sometimes break down on the field. Of course it will happen in combat. No feeling of dishonor or betrayal need follow from that.

    • #29
  30. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    So, while we can argue whether their decision was a good one, it was not made out of ambition, vainglory, or moral turpitude.

    That’s an important observation.

    It’s possible that this leak came from midlevel apparatchiki acting sua sponte motivated by a combination of ambition and sucking up. Commentator Newhere at Conservative Treehouse observes the following things of Page and Strzok; similar critters must also infest the DoD.

    The nature and tone sound like a couple of earnest, self-important, professional bureaucrats who see themselves as high-achieving stand-outs among their peers, doing the “right thing” or at least the “best” thing among some ugly office politics and broader forces. Among the two of them, they unquestionably believe themselves “the good guys,” with appropriate motives and judgment…

    Takeaways?

    — They weren’t driven by specifically by partisan bias. Viewing it as simple bias only minimizes the bigger problem. They were consummate professional bureaucrats, intuiting, anticipating, and expanding upon the goals of leadership, both spoken and implied. Contempt for the implicated political actors was a a given; all politicians are intellectually and morally inferior, and (in their minds) the country needs professionals like them having the tools to stand watch and “protect” the country when necessary.

    — Trump was viewed as so obviously “dangerous” that extreme measures were necessary. This wasn’t a *partisan* sentiment — it was (again, in their minds) a professional judgment. Which is how they managed the cognitive dissonance of behaving as they did while seeing themselves as moral actors. These aren’t sociopaths with no consciences. They have the conscience of a common, professional technocrat. Self-delusion and self-importance that warps the moral compass (e.g., they feel aggrieved by things like being left out of a meeting, and they hyper-focus on their own “credit-seeking” vs. “team player” motivations, as if THESE are the pressing moral issues at stake . . ). They are professional technocrats like a lot of professional technocrats, who believe their jobs are singularly important, that they face pressures that are uniquely complicated — who know they hold replaceable jobs, but secretly believe themselves irreplaceable. Professionalism becomes its own ethic, from which perspective actual ethics are quaint, a luxury for academics or simpletons. This isn’t spoken or acknowledged.

    The scariest part: conduct in the the Clinton/Trump investigations wasn’t anomalous. The fact that these “professionals” behaved this way with only a faint notion of the significance of what they were doing suggests it was more business-as-usual than the biggest scandal of our lifetimes. Meaning it’s even a bigger scandal.

    — They did have at least a faint notion that they had ventured well outside of “by the book” territory, but were again deluded by feeling indispensable, hand-picked by the highest echelons of bureau hierarchy, to which they aspired. Page, in particular, felt special because she was chosen by McCabe. Their moral compasses were aimed at pleasing those whose favor they sought.

    [emphases added]

    • #30

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