Tuesday, December 21, 2004


(scroll down for Updates)

At least 19 American soldiers are dead. Over 50 wounded.

What happened? ... well, they don't know yet. First, the military thought that it might have been a rocket or mortar attack. Now they have backed off those early reports (by the way, first reports in combat are almost always wrong).

Update from Defense Department Operational Update Briefing, 22 December: Shortly after noon yesterday, anti-Iraqi, anti-coalition forces attacked the dining facility located within the Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, killing 22 people, including 13 U.S. military, five U.S. civilian contractors, three Iraqi security force members and one non-U.S. person. An additional 69 people were injured in the attack, including 44 U.S. military, seven U.S. contractors, five Department of Defense civilians, two Iraqi civilians, 10 contractors of other nationalities and one of unknown nationality and occupation.

What happened? Soldiers died needlessly due to negligence.

Someone, somewhere in the chain of command forgot that these soldiers were in a combat zone. Some commander(s) somewhere in the chain of command is negligent.

Terrorists may have been the bombers, but the high death toll is directly attributable to the chain of command.

How can I say this?

Look at the pictures. Just about any soldier or marine can tell you what's wrong with these pictures.

No tactical feeding. They were bunched up in a mess tent where one explosive device can take out most of your unit.

No Kevlar helmets. Instead, they're wearing we're-in-the-rear-with-our-gear softcaps -- except that there are no rear areas in this combat zone.

It makes me sick. It pisses me off. I want the chain of command to answer for this massacre.

Meantime, do not use mess tents to feed troops in a friggin' combat zone. Conduct tactical feeding. Make the troops spread out .. 5-10 meter interval between each soldier. Just like every damn field manual, tactical SOP and common sense tell you.

If you thought the mess tent was a morale booster, what do you think now?

And get rid of the damn softcaps. Burn 'em. Get your soldiers in their Kevlar helmets ... and with the chinstraps snapped. The helmet is standard headgear in a combat zone -- for a damn good reason. It greatly reduces the chance that flying shrapnel will pierce your skull.

And where is their LBE (load bearing equipment) that contains a couple of things mightily vital in a combat zone -- a first aid kit and ammunition?

No Nuclear-Biological-Chemical protective masks - a standard part of a combat uniform. It is always with you. You sleep with it just as you sleep with your weapon.

At least they had their weapons, but with a situation this screwed up I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have ammunition for their weapons. Not that it would have helped in this situation, but what if the bombing or whatever was followed by a ground attack?

An old boss of mine, one of the most decorated soldiers in our Army's history, taught us many things about combat. One of the things that Herbert J. Lloyd taught us:

"Laid back commanders have laid out troops."

That's what happened here.

UPDATE #1 (11:00pm CST):

Associated Press:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A 122mm rocket slammed into a mess tent Tuesday at a military base near the northern city of Mosul, ripping through the ceiling and spraying shrapnel as U.S. soldiers sat down to lunch. Officials said 22 people were killed in one of the most devastating attacks against Americans in Iraq since the start of the war.

The dead included 20 Americans - 15 of them servicemembers and five civilian contractors. Two Iraqi soldiers also were killed. Sixty-six people were wounded, including 42 U.S. troops, Capt. Brian Lucas, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said early Wednesday.

(emphasis added)

This is the part that is just maddening:

Like most mess halls at U.S. bases in Iraq, the dining area at Base Marez is covered with a tent. Insurgents have fired mortars at the mess hall more than 30 times this year, Redmon said. (Jeremy Redmon, a reporter for the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch embedded with the troops in Mosul)

Mortar attacks on U.S. bases, particularly on the huge white tents that serve as dining halls, have been frequent in Iraq for more than a year. Just last month, for example, a mortar attack on a Mosul base killed two troops with Task Force Olympia, the reinforced brigade responsible for security in much of northern Iraq.

I don't know what to say .. other than this is unacceptable. You don't have to be on the ground in Iraq to know that this is just flatass wrong.

If this part of the report is true -- that we're using mess tents at most U.S. bases in Iraq -- then Generals Abizaid and Casey have some explaining to do.

I'm stunned.

UPDATE #2 (2:15pm CST):

ABC News is reporting that it was a suicide bomber.

Nothing official from CENTCOM or DoD.

I want to be clear about something. I know General George W. Casey, Jr. He's a fine officer and a good man. I know General Abizaid by reputation only -- and he has an exemplary one.

But they need to explain to the American people why some of the bases in Iraq have a military posture not far removed from a stateside garrison.

I think I know some of the answers that would be given, and I'd be curious to know if I'd be standing alone in my bewilderment.

UPDATE #3 (3:10pm CST):

Suicide Bomber

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that from investigations into Tuesday's blast in a mess tent on the base, "it looks like it was an improvised explosive device worn by an attacker."

The explosive was apparently packed with pellets the size of BBs that ripped across the tent when it exploded, Brig. Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of Task Force Olympia - the main U.S. force in nothern Iraq - told Bill Nemitz, a columnist with the Portland (Maine) Press Herald who was embedded with the troops at Marez.

At a Pentagon press conference, Myers defended Ham over security measures at the base. "We know how difficult this is, to prevent people bent on suicide and stopping them," Myer said. "I think he has a very good plan for force protection. This is an insurgency."

"As we know someone who's attacking can attack at anytime using any technique," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said, speaking alongside Myers. U.S. personnel "have to be right 100 percent of the time. An attacker only has to be right some of the time."

I disagree with General Meyers' assessment of BG Ham's force protection plan.

I agree wholeheartedly with Secretary Rumsfield. We have to be right 100% of the time.

But what does right look like?

It ain't clustered troops in softcaps in a combat zone.

UPDATE #4 (12/23/2004, 3:10am CST):

Excerpts from the Defense Department Operational Update Briefing, December 22, 2004.

Question: Can I do a follow-up, Mr. Secretary, on that same issue? Do you and General Myers think it's unwise or was unwise to put 400- plus servicemen and civilians and others in a huge tent the size of a football field on a base in a combat zone, a base that had been hit by mortars and RPGs? And if you do think it's unwise, are either one of you or both going to sound off to Generals Casey and Ham, or take them to the woodshed?

General Meyers: These are the calls that the combatant commanders make. And any judgment that General Ham is up there and not worried about force protection is ludicrous. This is a man that's -- I don't -- can't remember when General Ham first went in up there -- that has been working the security up there in that region for the Iraqi people for many, many months, at great personal sacrifice to himself and his forces. He has led them well.

We have had a suicide bomber, apparently, strap something to his body -- apparently a him -- and go into a dining hall. We know how difficult this is, to prevent suicide -- people bent on suicide and stopping them.

We understand how difficult that is. But I think -- this was the insurgents that did this. It's not General Ham that attacked his dining hall. I think he has a very good plan for force protection. I know what some of the long-range plans are up there.

This is an insurgency. And I think if you step back a minute and you think about insurgencies versus conventional warfare, in conventional warfare at some point you're going to get to an unconditional surrender, and in many cases you have very neat front lines. We have no front lines. The front line can be the dining hall, it can be the road outside the base, it can be the police station or the governor's office or the mayor's office down at Mosul. That's their territory. They operate all over that. They can wear -- and they do -- wear clothes like every other Iraqi. It's a much different thing and the mindset has to be much different.

What it tells us is -- and we know this from our history with insurgencies -- it's going to be very tough. And as this insurgency has changed in its nature and is character and has become more intense, our resolve just has to be all that tougher. And I know the Iraqi resolve is hard and tough and I know that our resolve is hard and tough.

Question: Would you not agree, both of you, however, that putting 400 people in a huge tent is a tempting target for the insurgents or anybody else?

General Myers: There are lots of congregations like that of various formations where it's, for a(n) individual bent on suicide with a VBIED -- vehicle-borne improvised explosive device -- or one strapped to their body -- we've seen in other countries -- and so, I mean, it's not a viable strategy to ask everybody to separate. So I think commanders are very much aware of that and try to prevent that.

(Emphasis added)

Entire briefing

"We have no front lines. The front line can be the dining hall, it can be the road outside the base, it can be the police station or the governor's office or the mayor's office down at Mosul."

Exactly! All the more reason not to cluster troops. All the more reason to burn the softcaps and wear Kevlar helmets. All the more reason for wearing LBE with ammunition, first aid kit, NBC protective mask, etc.

I don't want to hear that wearing all that combat gear is a pain in the ass. I already know that it's a pain in the ass.

It's also a pain in the ass to be wearing all that combat gear plus a 90-pound rucksack on a 12-mile forced march -- through mountains -- at night -- in sub-freezing temperatures. And just when you think you can't take another step, it's your turn to carry the 23-pound M60 machine gun.

Pain is relative.

Wearing only the Kevlar and LBE doesn't sound so bad now, does it?


Welcome to readers of The Anchoress


El Jefe Maximo said...

This was a good post. Looked around your blog a bit and liked it. Our reading tastes are similar. If you liked Guns of August -- have a look at Norman Stone's "The Eastern Front" (East Front WWI), which has been reprinted in the last couple of years and shouldn't be hard to find. One of the best military histories at the higher echelon/political level that I've ever read. Another author you might like is David Glantz -- writes on WW II Russia. Lately, I've had all my Vietnam stuff out and have been looking at it again. Hope the brass hats have looked back at Operation Phoenix. Have a look at my blog sometime.

The Anchoress said...

a really good post, Monk, I'll link to it when I get a chance.

Yunie said...

An excellent post. Probably one of the more intelligent ones I’ve read in a while!

MerryMadMonk said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MerryMadMonk said...

Thanks for your comments.

I hesitated writing this post -- I'm, obviously, not on the ground in Iraq and I do not enjoy second-guessing commanders who are.

Thanks in advance for linking, Anchoress.

El Jefe, thanks for the book recommendations. I stopped by your blog earlier today and read and read and read.

Yuni, thanks. I also visited your blog today .. and no, I don't think you're crazy -- although I must admit I'm quite fascinated with the phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

strictly speaking. . .

this is off-topic for this post in this blog, but some times one sees things, and one must speak, despite this not being "the perfect place."

this is one of those times.

[i may, additionally, post this as a comment at anchoress's joint as well, inasmuch as i first saw it linked there.

and then, i saw yours, merry-mad-monk, linked by anchoress, in one day's later set of posts. . . so i arrive here, having read several things, blood fairly boiling. . . forgive the froth, then:]

tony blankley recently wrote:

". . .Several senators and congressmen who
have been in town for decades hate Mr.
Rumsfeld's logic that you fight
a war with the army you've got. . ."
while i won't presume to speak for any of "washington's-little-people" he chastises elsewhere in that piece, actually, mr. blankley, i hate the lack of logic in the decision of messrs. rumsfeld, et al., to go to war with this army at all. . . and, we did not "go to war."

we invaded a foreign country -- a country that by all accurate accounts -- had not attacked the united states (let's get our rhetoric untangled here, tony).

we made an illogical "choice" to invade a nation on the opposite side of the globe, with an under-staffed, under-armored, army.

the reduction of our forces is in no way logically connected to the lack-of-need to undertake this mission at all -- we went to remove imaginary weapons; we went under-armed.

i might reverse the question and ask -- logically, mr. rumsfeld -- why, if you knew this was the army "you had" -- why oh why, did you go at all?

i always hear conservatives yap about making more "responsible choices." well, here's one for your crowd, mr. blankley:

be responsible enough to understand fully the risks in the intemperate choices messrs. rumsfeld, wolfowitz and bush 43 made. be responsible enough to admit that a repeated drum-beat of suicide bombers -- lately in a mosul military camp mess-tent, at chow-time -- was a scenario these gents did not fully vet, or understand. be responsible enough to admit that winning the "hearts and minds" of the "liberated" is at best, a largely-unacheived goal, at this point.

be responsible enough to admit that we may never do so.

if i took ten minutes on news.google.com, i could drag out 20-some quotes of how the mission in iraq has/had been accomplished. be responsible -- and logical -- enough to admit that messrs. rumsfeld, wolfowitz and bush 43 were

w r o n g

about that. they took an under-armored army -- in a then-vaunted lightning-strike tactic -- and over-ran a vast expanse of territory they had, and have, almost no hope of actually, permanently, securing. they bet that the "hearts and minds" of the "liberated" would mirror those of w.w. ii's v-e day, not so-much those we more recently encountered in hanoi. [and we all now know gen. colin powell, a man who actually walked those rice-paddies, m-16 shouldered, in viet-nam, told them repeatedly about this risk. so what did they do in response? they stopped inviting him to the meetings. courageous. logical. um. . . not.]

so, let's get logical: don't go invade a foreign nation if you haven't the tools -- or the personal responsiblity, more precisely -- to actually sign, with your own pen in hand, mr. rumsfeld, the letters informing these fine soldiers' parents of the loss of their sons and daughters in action. . . the idea that he wouldn't even be troubled to ink his own signature to these letters, preferring instead to use a computer-generated signature device, speaks volumes about his disconnect from his personal repsonsibility for their deaths, doesn't it?

and please don't let anyone
tell me he is "too busy." for then i
will have to get all cro-magnon on they' a$$.

increase the

p e a c e

-- tae, out.

MerryMadMonk said...

Yes, tae. Pretty much off topic.

I'll let it slide this time, but next time it'll be Gitmo for you.

tae_diggs said...

u n d e r s t o o d.

didja' see that rumsfeld
has flown to mosul for a
surprise Christmas-time
appearance before the troops?

doncha' wonder if he'll take any
unscripted questions -- this time?

he damn well-ought to, in my estimation.

peace -- no prose -- tae, out.

MerryMadMonk said...


Please share with us why you think that the SECDEF/chain-of-command take only -- or prefer only -- scripted questions.

Specialist Wilson's question was fine. All the media-generated brouhaha about the "reporter setup" aside, it was a legitimate question. Rumsfeld answered from the perspective of a Secretary of Defense. Everyone's free to disagree with Rumsfeld's answer, but he didn't dodge the question -- and Specialist Wilson wasn't punished for asking it. Nor should he be. That would be stupid.

It is a myth that our soldiers are not permitted to ask whatever question they want. As long as it's respectful (i.e. You may not preface it with something like: Looka here, fancypants), soldiers are encouraged to question their leaders.

One of the things I'm most proud of is the culture of openess/criticism/self-criticism in the Army. It was not always so.

Back in the early 80s some very smart Army leaders set up the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California -- out in the Mojave Desert.

It's a place our units go to practice combat skills. For 14 days they fight battles against a highly trained Opposing Force or OPFOR. After each battle there are After Action Reviews in which the soldiers and unit leaders discuss what went good, what went wrong, what needs to be improved. The discussions are facilitated by Observers/Controllers (Officers/NCOs whose job it is to help evaluate a unit's performance).

These After Action Reviews are brutally honest. Not for the thin-skinned, nor weak of heart. Any question can be asked. I wish every American could observe this process.

Good soldiers do not shy away from asking tough questions. Good leaders do not shy away from answering tough questions.

Show me a unit where this is not so and I'll show you a 100 where it is so.

I can see where some civilians might believe otherwise. Afterall, from what I've seen of the civilian side, and especially the corporate side, this type of criticism/self-criticism isn't practiced.

As to Secretary Rumsfeld specifically, I can go by what my friends (Officers and NCOs mostly in combat arms units) in the services tell me. When they've had occasion to meet with Secretary Rumsfeld, they've felt that he has embraced this type of openess. And, to me, that is not surprising from what little I know about the SECDEF.

tae_diggs said...

hey --

first, thanks for your first-hand insights on the chain-of-command's-open-communications-policies, and perhaps more importantly, practices, during military-training exercises.

next -- as you no doubt imagine, i completely agree that specialist wilson's line-of-questioning was entirely appropriate -- but i do disagree with your assesment of mr. rumsfeld's answer -- that is, i do think mr. rumsfeld's answer "dodged" specialist wilson's real question, and it did so intentionally.

when a soldier puts her/his a$$ on the line for you, day after day, in the corporate world, or on the battle-field, the guy at the top ought to have a better answer than "you go to war with the army you have, not the one you hope to have."this is not an answer -- this is an excuse. in the corporate world, i generally do not accept such excuses from my subordinates, nor from my board of directors. i persist in my line-of-questioning until i get to the root cause. unfortunately, specialist wilson was unable to get to the root cause of the problems he experiences day-to-day, in harm's way. i think that is why the some 2,500 assembled soldiers cheered his question.

so, my most-recent comment in this thread was offered, M³, to suggest both that rumsfeld should give more forth-coming answers, and accept clear responsibilty for the dangers to which his policies have subjected his -- no, strike that, OUR -- men and women in uniform.

and, as your very-perceptive reporting above suggests, some (and perhaps many?) of these dangers are NOT an absolutely essential incident of being "at-war."

just last week, senator john mccain (r) has publicly said, he has "no confidence" in rumsfeld. [i don't think we should either -- until "called on it," he didn't bother to sign his condolence letters, YET our president does. doesn't that strike you as odd?] "there are very strong differences of opinion between myself and secretary rumsfeld [on iraqi troop strength]. . ." mccain recently said.

mccain's larger point, i take it, is that refusing to do the things we can to protect our troops, now that we are ALL fully-aware that we've over-run a vast expanse of terrain which we cannot hope to secure or police adequately (given current troop levels there), we ought to up-armor those in harm's way. more generally, the chain-of-command's answers to the most recent mosul massacre -- that "you can't prevent suicide bombers" simply begs the question, as does the observation that "there is really no front line in this war. . .". . .for these are all conditions mr. rumsfeld AFFIRMATIVELY decided to accept when we took the territory in lightning-strike fashion. and we all know colin powell told him so -- the notion that soldiers with viet nam experience have offered dissenting voices to the administration's approach is especially telling, in my estimation -- they feel, i take it, that those who do not learn from our history, are bound to repeat it.

there is a very real chance we will fail in iraq -- that iraq will slip into full-scale INTERNAL civil (religious sectarian) war-fare -- all across that nation. and so, we need to start contingency planning NOW for what happens if the "elections" either fail altogether to produce a consensus governing body, or, more likely, fail to garner enough of a turn-out to establish legitimacy for those elected.

your excellent observations on the mosul massacre are much like specialist wilson's fine line of questioning: yours -- and his -- point to some root causes. and, we need to address those root causes, NOW.

sorry to be so-long winded. . . but as you can now probably tell -- i am keenly interested in this topic -- as i too, do have some blood relations with "skin in this particular game."

increase the

p e a c e,

-- tae, out.

ps: i understand, so far, no "tough" questions have been asked of mr. rumsfeld in mosul today -- Christmas eve. just f.y.i. in any event, nerry Christ-mas, to you and yours -- pax tecum, M³.