Monday, June 05, 2006

Déjà vu

The Mandarin was having déjà vu recently, reading about the military’s investigation into the incident at Haditha where a few Marines may have murdered a number of innocent civilians. The investigation is being led by an Army General named Bargewell.

The Bargewell investigation is likely to be explosive on Capitol Hill, because it focuses on questions that have haunted the Bush administration and the U.S. military since the scandal over abuse at Abu Ghraib prison emerged two years ago: How do U.S. military leaders in Iraq react to allegations of wrongdoing by their troops? And is the military prepared to carry out the long and arduous process of putting down an insurgency as part of the first U.S. occupation of an Arab nation?

One of Bargewell's conclusions is that the training of troops for Iraq has been flawed, the official said, with too much emphasis on traditional war-fighting skills and insufficient focus on how to wage a counterinsurgency campaign. Currently the director of operations for a top headquarters in Iraq, Bargewell is a career Special Operations officer and therefore more familiar than most regular Army officers with the precepts of counterinsurgency, such as using the minimum amount of force necessary to succeed. Also, as an Army staff sergeant in Vietnam in 1971, Bargewell received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second-highest honor, for actions in combat while a member of long-range reconnaissance team operating deep behind enemy lines.

In the Mandarin's eyes, Bargewell's "cred" is immmesurably enhanced by his having worn the Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol, or "Lurp" badge.

While then-Sgt. Bargewell was earning his DSC, the Mandarin was an Army Lieutenant at Ft. Sill, OK, teaching “Stability Operations” in the Tactics Department of the Field Artillery School.

“Stability Operations” was Army slang for the process of dealing with the local people in an area where US forces were occupying or conducting military operations. More broadly, as the Mandarin taught it, it concerned investigating the reasons some locals supported indigenous resistance movements, such as the Viet Cong at that time. The Mandarin also taught his Captains cases dating back to the Maoist guerrilla war in China in the 1930s and 1940s as well as lessons learned from the French occupation of Vietnam -- ending in their magnificent (or disastrous, depending on your point of view) defeat at Điện Biên Phủ at the hands of the brilliant General Võ Nguyên Giáp.

Even back in 1971, Stab Ops was only a two-week elective for Captains in residence at a nine-month course to prepare them to command units at the Battalion level and higher. But the Mandarin felt that those Captains who stayed awake in his two-week introduction to guerrilla warfare -- from the guerrilla (a/k/a “insurgent”) point of view -- went away at the very least with the impression that Stab Ops was something complex and difficult, needing forethought and planning.

Too Bad 1LT Shrub, Texas Air National Guard wasn’t cracking his gum in the back row of the Mandarin’s class when we were analyzing General Giáp’s approach to insurgency, or perhaps something might have stuck. Besides Shrub’s gum to the bottom of one of the Mandarin’s chairs, of course….

P.S. The head shot is General Giáp, who is apparently still alive and kicking at age 96. The Mandarin wonders what he would make of our latest adventure?

No comments: