Nothing Learned from Black Hawk Down
Despite all the hoopla and public acclaim surrounding Mark Bowden's best-selling book and the recent Hollywood movie, nine years later Army Rangers still do not have light tracked Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV)s organic to them to prevent another "Blackhawk Down!" incident where their ground maneuver on foot and in rubber-tired trucks is stopped by ambushes and roadblocks. The world is urbanizing, yet the US army and marines still spend billions of dollars on vulnerable rubber-tired armored cars, hoping a computer screen inside will somehow "mouse-click" mental firepower to protect them.
While I thought the book was okay, when I read the Pentagon supported the film and all the brass loved it, I knew the PR lying machine had kicked in to make a disaster a victory in order to preserve the status quo. The Rangers, Delta and 10th Mountain Division troops fought hard and did well with what they had on hand, but their officers screwed up by placing them in such a precarious position in the first place.
Even worse, Army officers continue to place their men in precarious positions in Afghanistan because they refuse to admit their mistakes and learn the proper lessons. A few years ago, the whole Somalia adventure was rightly considered an embarrassment and no one talked about it (like the Beirut truck bombing which killed 241+ marines and forced America out of Lebanon in a major foreign policy defeat). Now Army Generals have turned the October 3, 1993 firefight into a bold "victory" by focusing in on the existentialist human dimension where the positives of human courage shine at the expense of real lessons learned. We must not be forced out of areas of vital national security interest due to military incompetence demonstrated by facts like these:
1) Tracked armored vehicles were needed to punch
their way through to Task Force Ranger?
Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and the Clinton Admin didn't want to "send the wrong message" to the civilians of Somalia and denied requests by UN Commander General Montgomery for 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks and 33-ton M2 tracked Bradley This was after CENTCOM Commander, Marine General Hoar pooh-poohed and stalled Montgomery's requests for armor support for days. This left soldiers "hanging in the breeze" without the necessary force mix to handle the job, and one of the dead Rangers' father was rightfully angered at this and publicly criticized President Clinton. The Somali civilians the Clinton team wanted to appease got gunned down by the hundreds because our men were not shielded by armored vehicles while doing the mission and had to use firepower as their defacto "shield".
Pentagon Generals now argue they "won" the battle by killing over 1000 Somalis, many just civilian bystanders. If killing Somalis was the goal, they could have just called in USAF B-52 heavy bomber air strikes with no U.S. forces on the ground. However, the goal was to capture enemy leaders; something air strikes cannot do. Even if Les Aspin had allowed armor to be sent, they wouldn't have arrived in time on ships or by flying them in by USAF transports one or two-at-a-time. The Army could have flown in 10.5 ton M113A3 Gavin light tracked AFVs by USAF C-130s within a day if truly needed. They had hundreds in the Persian Gulf region. These are versatile, small, agile and well-armor protected when fitted with RPG-resistant appliqué' armor and gun shields
If General Garrison thought armored vehicles were essential, he shouldn't have done the raids until they arrived. But he did not wait for armor because like many officers imbued with lightfighter and SOF ethos, he looked down upon soldiers who operate armored vehicles. Using armored vehicles was not a "favorite" way of doing things in the Rangers, and still is not today. Other elite units use light tracked AFVs to create shock action and protect their men (like the Israeli paratroopers at Entebbe) Fast forward to today's "war on terrorism"; with M113A3 Gavin type AFVs, the Rangers could have held that southern Afghanistan airfield after their parachute jump and conducted mobile blocking operations along the Pakistani border to prevent Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists from escaping.
There were PLENTY of allied forces with light
and medium armored vehicles already in Mogadishu on 3-4 October 1993. The problem was that NONE
belonged to Task Force Ranger or
the 10th Mountain because of inadequate U.S. Army force structure. Although the Pakistanis had tracked
tanks and M113A1s, and the Malaysians
had wheeled Condor APCs, TF Ranger
leaders didn't ask them for help until three hours after the problem began.
Since they were UN troops who didn't like the raids, they had to get the
political okay first. General Garrison should have got that approved long before
the raid. When the "shit hit the fan",
the U.S. forces had to spend 8 hours begging for armor support that should have been sitting REDCON 1.5, under TF Ranger C2,
ready to roll.
2) Every time we hear an infantryman talk about what went wrong on 3 October, we hear them talk about how the Delta and the Rangers "should've gone in with more body armor, ammo, water, rations, NVDs" etc, etc, etc". In a fast snatch operation, the Delta/Rangers (save the dummies that left their body armor back plates) had the right soldier's load. They didn't need the extra BS slowing their 1-2 mph mobility. These folks are clueless about the nature of modern combat, where a few pounds of extra gear can slow your speed down enough that an enemy can aim and hit you with an automatic weapon.
3) The Olympic hotel was considered very dangerous because it was surrounded by
Aidid gunmen and local informants warned the TF Ranger mission planners there
would be trouble. An RPG had already hit a helicopter several days before but failed to explode,
yet planners still did that "fast rope" insertion technique from a
hover in the middle of a city without diversionary attacks, smokescreens,
or enemy air defense suppressive fires. Actually, three UH-60 Blackhawks were
shot down, one crash landed back at the airbase.
Fundamental techno-tactical problems:
enemy (like the Afghans, pictured right). We
rendered him unsophisticated and incapable of thinking and adaptation in our own
minds. ALL human beings are made in God's image and can do great deeds of good or evil.
Retired Colonel and Pentagon gadfly, David Hackworth was right-on about this when he wrote:
"In a battle, fought on 3 October 1993, Major Generals Thomas Montgomery
and William Garrison's lack of war-fighting skills caused 18 American warriors
to be killed, 100 more to be wounded and our nation to be humiliated. Garrison
and Montgomery made every basic error in the book, beginning with not
understanding the enemy. They had bad intelligence, were overly dependent on
firepower and technology and were arrogant. Nor did they bother to put a
go-to-hell-plan in place in case the shit hit the fan. They made the identical
blunders that were made in Vietnam over and over for eight bloody years.
Colonel Hackworth wrote about what we need to learn from Somalia:
"As is so often the case in battle, brave men down on the ground and up
in the air saved a repeat of another Custer's last stand. But the entire
massacre could have been avoided had the generals, both Vietnam veterans,
remembered what went down in South East Asia three decades before.
Unfortunately, they as most generals - - past and present -- suffered from CRS
(Can't Remember Shit.)
Let's hope the US Army wakes up soon and flies armor into Afghanistan ASAP to prevent: Blackhawk Down II, the Afghan Sequel.