WASHINGTON —Fresh off the worst single event loss of life in a decade of war in Afghanistan, remarks made by a couple govmint turkeys recently about al-Qaeda being on the brink of collapse look particularly foolish.
During a recent visit to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said, “We’re within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.” (Not to be confused with the Bushism, “strategerically.”) And the ranking Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, Senator Saxby Chambliss, Asshat, (Ga.) said, “There is a swagger within the community¹ right now for good reason.” “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is nowhere near defeat,” Chambliss continued, referring to the Yemen-based affiliate. “But when it comes to al-Qaeda [just the core leadership, ahem—] in Pakistan, we have made the kind of strides that we need to make to be in a position of thinking we can win.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said “I’m not sure I would have chosen ‘strategic defeat,” adding, even if al-Qaeda is dismantled, its militant ideology has spread, and will remain a long-term threat. Read: As long as Afghans are born and grow up in a war-torn country, they will join the Taliban or al-Qaeda or both to fight a foreign oppressor on their soil.
The official capped it with: “But if you mean that we have rendered them largely incapable of catastrophic attacks against the homeland, then I think Panetta is exactly right.”
Of course. No Taliban insurgents strollin’ through Rockefeller Plaza with RPGs in their guitar case. But we’re not talking the kind of “sensitive intelligence” that could have rendered them largely incapable of a catastrophic attack on thirty American soldiers shot down Saturday by a Taliban rocket propelled grenade— twenty of them members of the same elite Navy SEAL team 6 which took out Usama Bin Laden. Coincidence?? The attack was the deadliest single loss for American forces in our long ten years at war in Afghanistan. Seven Afghan commandos and a civilian interpreter were also killed.
The soldiers were being flown in to support other troops on the ground. The military actually refers to this use of the Chinook troop transport as an “air assault.” Really? Are you fucking kidding me?
Helicopters— our helicopters— they don’t have any— are typically and frequently ambushed with RPGs as they land, take off, or hover. This is not news. (Recall that both of the Black Hawk helicopters lost by the U.S. during the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993 were downed by RPG-7s. Do we ever. learn. anything?) The truth is this: a 175 m.p.h. helicopter is nothing but a big, fat, lumbering pig of a target when it’s landing, taking off, or hovering. What military tactical genius decided it’s acceptable to stuff one full of our nation’s finest and land it in a firefight that is guaranteed to be bristling with RPGs?!? RPG first-round accuracy at 500 meters or more is only 4%. Landing a helicopter just a half a mile away from the firefight— and in the dark— makes it virtually impossible to hit. That half mile would have put every soldier in the helicopter safely on the ground.
This kind of senselessness is unconscionable. Arrogance in a war zone— whether it comes from the line or from command— is a premature ticket to the next world; most often, for the “grunts.”
Our soldiers are far too valuable to be stupidly put in harms way ; their jobs are already hazardous enough in a war zone. They deserve every stratagem we can think of to ensure their survival in combat. Using Chinooks to land troops in the middle of a firefight is not one of them.
UPDATE: This morning, (Wednesday, August 10), the top commander in Afghanistan announced the “insurgents” responsible for downing the helicopter had been killed in a retaliatory air strike, and that an investigation had been ordered:
“Questions remain about why the troops were called in to aid other U.S. combatants engaged in a firefight, what they knew about the situation on the ground and what role the flight path or altitude may have played in the disastrous crash.
“The investigation will review a number of basic crash questions, which will probably rule out such factors as the weather, terrain and mechanical issues, since military officials believe the helicopter was shot down. It also will look at the flight of the Chinook as it moved into the fighting zone. Chinooks are heavy cargo helicopters that do not have the agility of smaller, more maneuverable aircraft.”
¹ It’s assumed he’s referring to the “government intelligence” community, and was just avoiding the oxymoron.