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):
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.
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.
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):
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.
"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?
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