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Rising Sun*
12-29-2009, 09:51 AM



Raggedy men

From Griffith REVIEW Edition 13: The Next Big Thing
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.

Written by Brett Caldwell

Brett Caldwell

Brett Caldwell is a Canberra-based writer who served in the Australian Army for 22 years.

He is a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon and has completed degrees in military and strategic studies and has an MBA.

He resigned from the Army in 1999, following a short visit back to Thursday Island.

War is big business and I am at a conference about the business of war. It's being held on the Gold Coast, near Jupiter's Casino, deep in the belly of Baby Boomer avarice. An enormous banner hangs above the entrance to the conference proclaiming the theme: "War: Fighting in the 21st Century – New Threats, New Technologies".

Consider a simple statistic from the Federation of American Scientists' Military Network: "In World War II it could take 9,000 bombs to hit a target the size of an aircraft shelter. During the Vietnam War, 300. Today (the age of war), we can do it with one."

I stand in the foyer waiting for nine o'clock, when the conference is due to begin. The convention centre is a maze of glass and chrome festooned with '80s bravado, '90s bling bling and slender new-millennium LCD screens. Big Brother watches through discreetly placed surveillance cameras while a regiment of officious security guards defends every entrance.

FAR FROM THE PLAGIARISED WORLD OF THE GOLD COAST, Raggedy Man squats atop a jagged ridge near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. He is a Mujahideen ( مجاهدين ), a struggler. Intense blue eyes add colour to a gnarled, walnut brown face. A once jet-black beard is now vapour trail white. His tattered camouflage jacket and baggy cotton trousers hang from a raw-boned frame.

To Raggedy Man, war is a way of life – not a business. A respected military tactician, he wears neither rank nor medals. He commands a lashkar [fighting force] of hardened veterans, some of whom fought in the war against Russia. In his lap rests a battered two-way radio and scarred Kalashnikov assault rifle. His long, talon-like fingers clinch a smouldering cigarette.

Raggedy Man knows how to fight a guerrilla war. He was young when the American Special Forces came and taught him and the other مجاهدين how to defeat the godless Soviets. Now the arrogant Americans have a new President and are his enemy.

"At approximately 16:30 UTC [Universal Coordinated Time] on Sunday October 7, 2001, the American and British forces began an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban strongholds and Al-Qaeda training camps. The attack was the opening shot in the new war against terrorism. US Air Force general Richard Myers, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that approximately fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles, launched by British and US submarines and ships, fifteen strike aircraft from carriers and 25 bombers, such as B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit, B-52 Stratofortress and F-16 Fighting Falcon, were involved in the first wave."

On the ground in Afghanistan, high-tech coalition soldiers routed an industrial-age army led by myopic mullahs. In New York, the rubble that was the World Trade Center smouldered with revenge.

Soon, Raggedy Man and his fellow مجاهدين will ambush an American convoy.

LIKE RAGGEDY MAN, MY GRANDFATHER WAS a guerrilla fighter. He died in the early 1970s, when I was still a boy and ate Perkins Paste for dares and terrorised girls by chasing them around the schoolyard with dog poo on a stick. Grandpa – Pop – was a gentle man with soft hands who loved sketching people and birds. He could warble like a magpie, and when he imitated the laugh of a kookaburra, the loose skin under his throat wobbled. He often wore a brown tweed jacket with worn elbows and patches of wayward threads that I loved picking. It smelled of rich pipe tobacco. He made silver coins disappear and reappear behind my ear, and loved dunking Chocolate Wheaten biscuits into strong black tea. I'd ride upon his shoulders and be king of the world.

In 1941 my grandfather's generation beat their war drums, a call to arms to fight the Japanese Imperial Army. He wasn't my grandfather then, he was an Army Officer – a member of Sparrow Force, an elite commando. When the Japanese overran Timor, the remnants of Sparrow Force retreated into the rugged mountains from where they fought a bloody guerrilla war. For months, nobody in Australia knew what had happened; Sparrow Force and my grandfather were missing in action.

My grandfather's guerrilla war was against an industrial-age army at a time when the cogs of technology were cumbersome and communications not more than wire strung between tin cans. It was an age before satellites, the internet, TV, mobile phones and SMS.

Grandfather rode a shaggy pony through Timor's mountains. He didn't kill any "Japs", but he once blasted a bird-spider with a sawn-off shotgun. He told me he helped rescue the Dutch Administrator and his wife from a Japanese prison and gave them a .22 calibre pistol to commit suicide should they look like being recaptured.

Lost and in desperate need of finding, Sparrow Force built a radio to contact Australia, and nicknamed their radio marvel of 1940s do-it-yourself technology "Winnie the War Winner" after Churchill. Winnie is on display in the Australian War Memorial – or was – and is not much bigger than a shoebox. On April 20, 1942, a Sparrow Force radio operator turned a hand-powered generator to pump life into Winnie's two bulbous glass valves. He sent a simple message to Australia: "Force intact. Still fighting. Badly need boots, quinine, money and Tommy-gun ammunition."

Australia heard the message and Sparrow Force came home.

Rising Sun*
12-29-2009, 09:53 AM
AT PRECISELY 9AM, THE CONFERENCE DOORS OPEN and I enter an Aladdin's cave of gleaming military paraphernalia. Gunrunners' booths, marshalled in parade-like precision, proudly fly their corporate logos. Puffed-up egos mix with tight, enthusiastic handshakes and business cards are swapped for promises of fat-boy lunches. The CEOs of war-age dot.coms wear corporate camouflage and whisper sweet nothings into the ears of generals and public service mandarins.

I suck in a lungful of conditioned air – ahhhh, the smell of militarism in the morning.

The conference morning tea arrives: coffee, tea, sticky buns and cakes. I watch a ruddy-faced defence public servant guzzle coffee and stuff a huge lamington into his mouth; it's the only time he doesn't talk. An expert in everything, his flabby physique and rumpled clothes contrast with the pristine war-age paladin – a general who swaggers by, closely followed by an entourage of lesser ranked clones. The general understands war and the public servant knows lamingtons. They both love war-age technology.

Two scantily dressed teenage girls wander the hall offering coffee, tea and a perv. Sex and business, women and war. Across the hall I spy a bony female lieutenant colonel holding court – debating whether women should serve in the front lines. Her short-cropped hair and cold stare neutralise her femininity. In her late thirties, she is a mother of eight-year-old twin girls and commands an Army unit of four hundred soldiers. She says: "It is not a question of political correctness, it's a question of whether gender should be counted over capability." On cue, the two scantly dressed nymphs pass by on their way to replenish their now empty coffee urn.

Women in war. I think about Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Ukrainian sniper during World War II – 309 confirmed kills including thirty-six enemy snipers. Try counting slowly to 309.

I think about Nancy Wake, George Cross, Lιgion d'honneur, Companion to the Order of Australia, and the Croix de Guerre (three times); aka "Helene" and "The White Mouse". In the tradition of the ANZAC, she was born in New Zealand, raised in Australia and came of age in France where she fought alongside the maquis groups of the French Resistance. She is Australia's and the Allies' most decorated "servicewoman". I met Nancy in the 1980s. She was a guest speaker on a guerrilla warfare course. She told us about the French Resistance while sitting on a bar stool drinking something strong and European. She spat the word "German", told foul jokes and drank me and three well-salted special forces soldiers under the table.

The tide of conference business rises as "suits" and dishevelled "techos" – twenty-first century carpetbaggers – ply their trade, spruiking the merits of their miraculous war machines. For some, the corporate mission statement is indelibly tattooed across their clenched knuckles; for others, it's just a job on the road to retirement on the South Coast.

The global arms industry is complex and curious, a cloudy and volatile mix of devilish intent, political conniving and patriotic fervour. Enemies become friends and friends become enemies, while corporations and salesmen become rich.

In a small, isolated stand, a French sales rep unfurls his corporate standard while peddling his biological decontamination system. Unfurling and peddling finished, he proudly displays a gas mask for infants, for babies – obscene but practical.

Didn't the French help arm Saddam Hussein, provide Exocet missiles to Argentina before the Falklands War and detonate nuclear weapons in the Pacific on Moruroa Atoll? On July 10, 1985, just before the witching hour, terrorists (aka operatives of French intelligence, or DGSE) scuttled the Green-peace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour: the French code for the mission was "SATANIC". Last year Australia purchased a fleet of advanced attack helicopters from the French – amis toujours.

In one of the booths, an LCD screen displays video footage of a remote-controlled Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) taking off from a desert airstrip. Stealthy and potentially deadly, the UAV cruises without fear and can carry an array of missiles and other weapons. Onboard cameras and multiple sensors efficiently scan the terrain and silently beam gigabytes of information via satellite to the ground control station where a patient cohort of fastidious technicians and analysts pore over the data. The UAV sweeps silently over a Middle Eastern city, passing high above a mosque and a deserted highway. The video cuts to a shot of the UAV operator. Her hands move deftly over the console, adjusting camera angles, the flight path and mission profile. Next to her keyboard is a can of Diet Pepsi and a half-eaten doughnut.

On display throughout the hall are weapons of every genus: knives, pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, heavy machine guns, anti-tank mines, trucks, fighting vehicles, helmets, gas masks, ballistic vests, ground sensors, night-vision goggles, radios, radars and hardened computers. At one stand a polished-skulled ex-US Navy SEAL – an elite special force – stands by to demonstrate a sniper rifle. His skin-tight t-shirt displays a cross hair superimposed on the silhouette of a running man. The underlying caption reads: "Don't run – you'll only die tired".

The demonstration begins. Within a few blurred seconds, he strips and reassembles the weapon. His fingers are long and fine, like those of a concert pianist, deftly dancing over the weapon's oiled mechanism. He explains the rifle in intimate detail, absent-mindedly stroking it while passionately describing the composite stock and butt, barrel fluting and muzzle break. He boasts about its performance over various distances and proudly declares a similar weapon holds the current world record for the longest range sniper kill in recorded history: 2,430 metres, accomplished by a Canadian sniper in 2002 during the invasion of Afghanistan. The bullet had a flight time of four seconds, finally stopping in the chest of a shocked young man – 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000. I checked, but the Guinness Book of Records doesn't recognise the achievement.

In a nearby auditorium, uniformed paladins address a congress of middle managers. As Puri describes it in the Land Warfare Conference 2005 Proceedings (Commonwealth of Australia, 2005): "Our enemies watched Desert Storm on CNN. They know they cannot engage us in open warfare. These new foes want to limit our advantage by engaging us in cities. Narrow streets and alley-ways are the new killing grounds. We have to develop technology that allows us to win while minimising collateral damage."

Collateral damage. Today, precise killing is the key: paladins and mandarins prefer discrete excision to multiple amputation – it sounds better and looks better. But there is nothing surgical about blowing a human being into ragged pieces. Suicide bombers and cruise missiles don't discriminate between soldiers and children. Nobody at the conference mentions the war dead and maimed. There is no booth selling prosthetics and post-traumatic therapy.

A senior defence scientist is next to speak. His presentation is weighed down with stodgy jargon. I want to leave, and envy the lamington-eating public servant who is asleep in his chair. The scientist warbles about military technology while his index finger repeatedly adjusts the bifocals clinging precariously to his beak-like nose. His speech is sodden with khaki jabber: transformational communications, sensor fusion, soldier nano-technologies, network-centric warfare, acceptable risk transfer, simulation, payloads, data mining, knowledge edge, integrated ballistic systems, autonomous systems, target reacquisition, hyper spectral technology, battle field survivability, high-fidelity optical systems, biofeedback, hardening. I fall asleep wondering if he has ever actually been to war.

Later, I sit alone in a quiet corner of the conference hall and sip lukewarm, bitter coffee purchased from the two scantily clad girls. I try to look intelligent as I flip through the collected conference papers: 700 pages, eighty-four papers, 143 authors. The table of contents is a lexicon of war-age militarism: "A Dynamic Sensor Fusion Model for Landmine Detection; Informing the Swarm – An Adaptive Information Distribution System for Land Mobile Systems; Infantry 2012: Meeting the Challenge of Complex Warfare; Enhancing Capability Development and Operational Decision Making Using Battle-space Transformation Centres; The Dismounted Soldier; Mobile Asset or Burdened Workhorse; Enhancing ADF Soldier Battlefield Survivability through Effective Signature Management." Formulae denote the effectiveness of sensors; statistics describe the survivability of a wounded soldier; graphics display trajectories of shells and their effects on tanks and people. Human factors are a calculation and appear in the columns and rows of tidy spreadsheets.


Rising Sun*
12-29-2009, 09:57 AM
IN AFGHANISTAN RAGGEDY MAN BRUSHES TIRE FLIES from his face and quenches his thirst from a battered Nike sports bottle. The morning's chill has gone, replaced by desiccating heat. As expected, fragile wisps of dust appear on the highway – heralding the infidel's approach. An anti-tank mine buried under a culvert waits for the first American vehicle. The mine's detonation will be the signal for his men to fire into the convoy with machine guns, rockets and mortars. The killing ground is prepared; the ambush is set. This is the way of guerrillas: a hit and run on a twisted highway.

Legs stiff from crouching, Raggedy Man stands and rubs his calves, feeling the heavy scarring through his threadbare pants. When he was young, Russian aircraft dropped gas on his village and some splashed on his bare legs. At first nothing happened but later came the pain, the burning and itching.

MUSTARD GAS (C4H8Cl2S, HD, senfgas, sulfur mustard, blister gas, S-LOST, and Kampfstoff LOST or Yperite or Yperiet) is a weapon of mass destruction. Our fear that Iraq possessed such a weapon was one of the reasons we invaded Iraq. But, Saddam wasn't alone in his use of toxic weapons. Mustard gas was used with devastating effect in World War I. Britain used it against Iraqi rebels in 1920, Japan used it against China, Russia may have used it in Afghanistan and Iraq definitely used it against the Iranians and the Kurds. No immediate symptoms occur after exposure to mustard gas. But within four hours, deep, burning blisters appear wherever the gas has contacted the skin. If inhaled, the vapour causes the lungs and internal organs to blister and bleed. Exposure over more than half of the body's surface is fatal.

Australia conducted mustard gas trials during World War II, in paradise – on Brook Island near Townsville. I have camped on the shores of Brook Island where, in the 1940s, Bristol Beaufort aircraft dropped the bombs containing mustard gas. Later, according to The Gillis Report: Australian Field Trials with Mustard Gas 1942-1945 (Australian National University, 1985), white-coated scientists came ashore and observed the effects of the gas on goats tethered in Japanese-style bunkers and foxholes. Burned and dying goats sound like crying babies.

Even later, in the jungles near Innisfail, the Gillis Report tells us that Australia tested mustard gas on men. This physiological research was meant to determine the effects of mustard vapour on the human body under tropical conditions. I have seen the stark, black and white movie footage of the human trials. Blistered and burned men quiver like jelly and cry like dying goats.

RAGGEDY MAN WATCHES THE AMERICAN CONVOY OF TRUCKS, armoured vehicles and HMMWV (more commonly known as "Humvees") approach. The column moves slowly as the poor condition of the highway prevents speed. Inside a Humvee, big-boned, burger-fed American soldiers sit on narrow, padded seats and chew gum. Some talk, some eat, some think. Some want to help build a new Afghanistan; others want to kill ‘rag heads'. Dust-covered bandoliers hang from the roof and, with each potholed bump, bounce about like a springy bassinet toy. Half-eaten field rations lie scattered on the floor. A bank of radios squawks with indecipherable chatter. The air is thick with diesel fumes.

In a lead vehicle, a diligent, lantern-jawed lieutenant peruses a map, marking off key checkpoints against GPS readouts. He sweats under the weight of fear, his Kevlar helmet and body armour.

Above the convoy, two American fighter aircraft thread white vapour trails through the cloudless sky – they watch and wait.

On the ridge above the valley, Raggedy Man has finished waiting. He speaks rapidly into the mouthpiece of his two-way radio and stares intently at a point on the highway – for a few seconds, he forgets to breathe.

The first Humvee is crossing a culvert when the ground underneath it explodes in flame, rock and dirt. The blast throws the vehicle into the air. It lands squarely on all four wheels, engulfed in flame, and slowly, almost deliberately, rolls to a stop. A smouldering American drops from the vehicle and crawls crab-like into a roadside ditch.

A second explosion topples a truck. Poorly aimed mortars burst harmlessly in a nearby field of barren dirt. Accurate heavy machine-gun fire rakes the convoy.

Raggedy Man bellows orders and the ambush ends – the surgical strike is over with no collateral damage. Today is not a day to fight a pitched battle with the infidel. He and his men scatter and, God willing, all the مجاهدين will get home.

Above the ambush, the vapour trails vanish as the fighters respond to the now-frantic Lieutenant calling for their assistance. The pilots are Tom Cruise cool, veterans of a hundred sorties. Their aircraft are flying computers and decisions are microchip fast. From high altitude, the world is a surreal patchwork of possibilities. The pilots descend, packed in a cocoon of blinking lights, digital screens and dials. Target rings dance about small video screens and data scrolls rapidly on sidebars. The aircraft shake and rattle as they contort through tight turns and punch into a band of heat-driven turbulence. They attack along the ridgeline above the convoy – 20mm cannon fire hammers down, smashing into rock and dirt. But Raggedy Man and his lashka have gone; only the scuff marks from their worn leather sandals remain.

Next to the burning wreckage of the Humvee, a bloody and broken American soldier lies in the dirt and screams for his mother. His body armour has saved his life – vital organs are untouched by blast and shrapnel – but his arms and legs are minced and burned. Within an hour he will be a multiple amputee.

In a whirlwind of noise and dust, an Army medical team arrives by Blackhawk helicopter to efficiently triage and retrieve him and the other wounded. They gather the war fodder and fly off, leaving bits of body on the road, food for scavengers. For Coalition soldiers, modern surgical techniques and drugs can give life to a head on a stick. By contrast, The Guardian reported on March 9, 2005 that about a fifth of all Afghan children die before age five.

A day or so later, Raggedy Man arrives at his village and gently hands the Kalishnokov to his eldest son to clean. He stands and surveys his village, which clings precariously to a steep, scree-covered hillside overlooking a fast-flowing mountain stream. Old shell craters and the remnants of several mud-brick buildings are testament to the ferocity of the Russian war.

Near the village centre, two prisoners – young soldiers – lie bound, face down in the dirt, blindfolded, bloody and stinking of fear. They are members of the new Afghan Army, trained by the Americans and British. To the مجاهدين they are traitors. Raggedy Man has not decided their fate, but it will not be painless. He walks off leaving a scabby village dog to lick at one of the prisoners' wounds.

Raggedy Man solemnly enters a makeshift hospital. His nostrils flare, assaulted by the pungent, gagging stink of gangrene. A dozen patients, war wounded, lie on stained, grass-filled mattresses. Some are missing limbs and others have gaping, jagged wounds from shrapnel. A veiled nurse squats over a dying man and does what she can to ease his final suffering. The only sound comes from muffled praying and a lingering swarm of excited flies.


Rising Sun*
12-29-2009, 10:01 AM
ON THE GOLD COAST, I ENJOY THE CONFERENCE DINNER. We are plied with alcohol and fed thick, bloody steaks. We ravage sugar-filled desserts and plates of exotic, pungent cheese. Nobody pays attention to the litany of promotional speeches. Instead, we eat and get drunk.

The next morning, hung over and tired, I check out of my five-star hotel. I have collected a hundred brochures and a fine bathrobe.

The taxi driver taking me to the airport talks like a right-wing extremist. He explains why the invasion of "****in eye-ran" was justified. "Musees should be rounded up and put into camps in the desert." I politely point out we invaded Iraq, not Iran, and tell him my sister is a Muslim. We don't talk again.

RAGGEDY MAN LEAVES THE MAIN VILLAGE AND WALKS ALONG a small track leading to his home. Tonight he will sleep with his wife. Tomorrow he will leave to hide from the American Special Forces who will be hunting for him. On the path he meets one of his children, a little girl. He hasn't seen her for some months and he marvels at how tall she has grown. She is afraid of him, this tall bearded stranger. He scoops her into his arms, throws her upon his shoulders and jogs for a few paces. Her fear dissolves into squeals of laughter as her hands dig into his beard. Together they laugh and sing a silly song about a goat.

High above the village, an American UAV circles silently. It's a Predator UAV MQ-1 Hunter/Killer – lethal, and silent. The pilotless aircraft's camera zooms in on a man, a target – he is carrying something on his back. Eight hundred kilometres away, somewhere hidden and safe, the UAV "pilot" squints at the monitor trying to make out the detail – is it a backpack, a weapon? The technology isn't perfect, the air vehicle is hard to fly – akin to driving a car by looking through a straw. Either side of her are two sensor operators. It's hard to tell what is on the man's back, so they assume the worst. The warrior mistress begins to manipulate a targeting crosshair. Nobody inside the control room can hear the child's ecstatic giggles or Raggedy Man's silly goat song; if they could, they too might laugh.

Later, the Predator operators pack their belongings into small satchels and leave the air-conditioned comfort of the trailer. It's hot outside, but the sun will soon drop below the distant horizon, and with its departure the cold night air will descend. It's steak and movie night so there is still time for a short workout and shower. The "pilot" cracks a joke about Homer Simpson – they all laugh.

ALL SOLDIERS DREAM ABOUT THEIR HOMECOMING. When my grandfather arrived home from fighting the Japanese Imperial Army in Timor, he was sick from war, malaria and malnutrition. He spent months recuperating in a Darwin hospital. When he was well, he returned home to the Blue Mountains where he learned that my mother, then a child, had been publicly kicked and beaten by a nun and priest for attending a Church of England service. He found her in a boarding school and brought her home to heal. He rarely spoke of the war, and never marched on Anzac Day.

I arrive home from the war-age conference to the smell of baking bread and a warm hug from my wife. Our teenage daughter abandons her homework and charges across the room to dig her hands into my suit coat pockets. She doesn't mind that this time I don't have a gift for her and, as only fourteen-year-old girls can, rattles off a kaleidoscopic story about school, friends, boys, homework and a movie she wants to see with me.

That night we watch the TV news: Iraq is the lead story – again. The parade passes by: cannon fodder, the sacrificed, teenagers in military dress uniform, 2,500 faces. Nobody quotes the number of maimed or civilian dead.

Another suicide bomber has exploded in a marketplace, killing innocents with hate-tempered schrapnel.

The news rambles on in its quest for ratings and the perfect sound bite: the price of petrol has soared – black gold, Texas tea.

Australia decides the barbarians are inside the gates.

There is something wrong with the weather.

News over, I sit back into my leather lounge and wait to watch a re-run of The Simpsons.

12-29-2009, 12:49 PM
Umm, what branch of the army was he in, the Womens Auxiliary Balloon Corps? No US unit in Afghanistan has ever been that Fat, Dumb and Happy, and nor do UAV operators go around blasting all Afghans seen carrying something...

12-29-2009, 03:13 PM
Umm, what branch of the army was he in, the Womens Auxiliary Balloon Corps? No US unit in Afghanistan has ever been that Fat, Dumb and Happy, and nor do UAV operators go around blasting all Afghans seen carrying something...

Blast now and ask questions later. If we wait to find out what they are carrying or ask them to show us what they are hiding, then it all goes KABOOM!, so rather be safe than sorry. Blast them to Smithereenee's and worry about it later. There's no evidence that they were hiding something and no evidence to say they wern't. I like the blast Away policy. It protects our soldiers and aon the law of averages, they are all probably hiding something anyways, so its the law of averages.:army:

12-30-2009, 05:21 AM
a) No such policy exists, nor has any such policy existed in Afghanistan since the Soviet withdrawl (arguably earlier).
b) Given the stated aims of the mission (counterinsurgency) it would be massively counterproductive, and McCrystal's policy explicitly reflects this - the use of air strikes has been heavily limited, even to the extent of making things more dangerous for troops in contact by limiting availability of air power.

12-30-2009, 05:21 AM
Blast now and ask questions later.



and to lighten up


12-30-2009, 07:34 AM


12-30-2009, 07:51 AM
McChrystal’s War
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal believes he can win in Afghanistan. It's the rest of the world that needs convincing.

By Evan Thomas | NEWSWEEK

Published Sep 26, 2009

From the magazine issue dated Oct 5, 2009

In Kabul, the entrance to the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force—the coalition of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan—is easy to miss. Ever since the Taliban blew up the main gate a month ago, visitors have been required to pass through a small metal door and down winding, dingy passageways topped with barbed wire. Inside the ISAF compound, grimy trailers, used to provide office space, are stacked up around a seedy, once grand building that was long ago a social club for officers of the British Empire. There was a bar, but a couple of weeks ago, Gen. Stanley McChrystal outlawed alcohol on the base, and he has indicated that he wants to turn a small, pretty garden, a tiny oasis of green, into a rifle range.

McChrystal, 55, is a purebred warrior, the son of a two-star general, West Point class of '76, a former commander of the elite Rangers Regiment, and, from 2003 to 2008, the head of hunter-killer black ops in Special Operations. He eats one meal a day, works out obsessively every morning at 5, and is so free of body fat that he looks gaunt. Lately, as commander of the war in Afghanistan, he has become a kind of Zen warrior, preaching that often "the shot you don't fire is more important than the one you do." He is a student of what he calls "counterinsurgency math." If you encounter 10 Taliban members and kill two, he says, you don't have eight remaining enemies. You have more like 20: the friends and relatives of the two you killed.

McChrystal reinforces his sermon early every morning in a dreary, windowless bunker at a meeting called the CUA (pronounced koo-ah), for commander's update assessment. He sits in the back row of five tiers of computer modules, facing giant video screens streaming with data and statistics. One day last week, when a briefer informed him that two Taliban had been killed the day before by soldiers using a multiple-rocket launcher, McChrystal dryly noted, "That's an awful lot of firepower to kill two people." He used gentle humor to chide an officer who presented a convoluted diagram full of boxes and arrows to illustrate counterinsurgency in Kandahar. "The day we can explain that, we've won," the general observed.

McChrystal has a disarming, low-key style, free of the bombast and sense of entitlement that can come with four stars. He is polite and gracious, if direct, and he can be funny. At the end of the CUA, an officer brought up the spate of articles appearing in the American press suggesting that McChrystal's request for more troops in Afghanistan was being seriously questioned by policymakers in Washington, including President Obama. McChrystal had sent his chiefs in the Pentagon a secret assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, which he described as "deteriorating" and headed for "failure" unless the Americans sent more troops. The 66-page document had been leaked to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, setting off a buzz of critical stories in the media. Hawks seized on the report to argue that Obama was going all wobbly, while critics of the war suggested the military was dragging him toward another Vietnam. The controversy caused evident anxiety among McChrystal's commanders at the morning briefing. The officer asked if General McChrystal was feeling the pressure. "I am," McChrystal allowed, and deadpanned, "Money would make me feel better." There were a few laughs as his legal adviser, Col. Rich Gross, gave the general a dollar, but the joke fell a little flat. McChrystal's people want to believe in him, and they want to believe in their mission; they do not want to see McChrystal's judgment questioned—and certainly not his integrity.

At the morning briefing, McChrystal tried to make light of stories in the press quoting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying McChrystal's call for more troops was just one opinion among military experts. "She's absolutely right," said McChrystal to his lieutenants. "There are other experts and they're smarter than me," though, he quipped, "not in this room." The jokes were uncharacteristically lame, as if he was struggling to put a bright face on bad news. Later that evening, eating his one meal of the day (salmon salad, chick-en, strawberry shortcake), McChrystal was clearly troubled—"a bit bothered," as he put it—by the rumors appearing in the media that he might resign over his differences with those unnamed other experts in Washington. "It is my responsibility, my duty—my sacred duty," he said, to tell the unvarnished truth to his leaders, but then to carry out their orders. He would not resign, he said, even if they rejected his advice.

Duty, that most noble of military virtues, is a deceptively simple notion. "Duty, Honor, Country" is the motto of the U.S. Military Academy. But what if duty to your troops conflicts with duty to your political leaders? What then is the honorable thing to do for your country? McChrystal would not acknowledge that there might be a conflict. But virtually everything he said to me over the course of an hour last week suggested that he believes he cannot carry out his mission in Afghanistan without more troops. He would not say how many he is asking for in a still-secret document, but knowledgeable military officials who would not be quoted discussing classified information say the number is about 40,000. Maybe McChrystal will salute smartly if he is ordered to make do with fewer. He has great political skills; he couldn't have risen to his current position without them. But he definitely does not see himself as the sort of military man who would compromise his principles to do the politically convenient thing. At the very least, when he is called back to Washington to support his assessment and recommendation, he will make a strong public case that only an all-out campaign of counterinsurgency against the Taliban will accomplish his assigned mission—to make sure that terrorists do not use Afghanistan as a base for terrorist operations against the United States.

McChrystal has led a charmed life until now, in part because his leadership skills have been obvious and recognized. His inspiration was his father, a Korean and Vietnam War combat vet who was, according to his son, the "non-Great Santini"—soft-spoken, never a bully. "I never, ever saw him do the wrong thing in my whole life," says McChrystal. "I never saw him say, 'With a wink and a nod we can get around this.' "

At West Point, the younger McChrystal was "a troublemaker," he recalls. He often violated the drinking ban and got caught at it, walking hundreds of hours of punishment drills, pacing up and down a stone courtyard in full-dress uniform, carrying a rifle. As a senior, McChrystal organized a mock infantry attack on a school building, using real guns and rolled-up socks as grenades, and was nearly shot by the military police guarding the building. But his classmates compared him to the Cooler King, the charismatic renegade played by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. His tactical officer at West Point made him a battalion commander, one of only a dozen on campus.

He became a Green Beret, a Ranger, and an assistant division commander in the 82nd Airborne. Twice he was taken aside by senior officers and told that he needed to get a certain staff or desk job to advance his career, but he declined in order to stay in the field. Curiously for such a warrior, he did not see combat in his early Army years. "I missed Panama and Grenada, and it bothered me. You always wonder how you'll do," he says. Rising to become a Special Operations commander after 9/11, he finally did go on combat operations, though, he says, "I've never shot anyone." Still, he has been a very effective killer. When he was head of the Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan and Iraq, from 2003 to 2008, McChrystal's black-ops teams hunted high-value targets (HVTs), eliminating some notorious ones like Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the ruthless head of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Along the way, "I became kind of an ascetic," says McChrystal. "I got fat as a lieutenant, so I started jogging and eating one meal a day, and it just worked for me." His wife, Annie, whom he married out of West Point and with whom he has a son (who chose not to become a soldier), scoffs at the suggestion that her husband is some sort of spiritual samurai, and says he just doesn't like the drowsy feeling he gets after eating a big meal. She also laughs about the fact that he has seen the raunchy NASCAR spoof Talladega Nights so many times, he can recite the lines (he can do the same for Monty Python and the Holy Grail).


12-30-2009, 07:52 AM
Nonetheless, others say that Mc-Chrystal is like an ancient warrior-scholar, constantly reading history, pondering the mysteries of human nature. He studied for a year at Harvard in the 1990s and took a fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations, running to work every day from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., a dozen miles away. He was known at both elite institutions for his humility. "He's not a Petraeus," says Parag Khanna, who shared an office at the CFR. "He's not a publicity seeker." Reading about the struggles for national liberation in Indochina from the 1950s through the Vietnam War, McChrystal became fascinated by the challenges of counterinsurgency. He learned that putting down a guerrilla movement was impossible without winning the support of the local population. His convictions were reinforced by his experience running black ops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Counterter-ror operations—hunting down HVTs—went hand in hand with effective counterinsurgency, with winning over the local population. Indeed, he came to believe, "you can't have one without the other." To successfully find and kill terrorists requires the intelligence and cooperation that only the locals can provide. McChrystal already had this mindset before Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed him forward to replace Gen. David McKiernan as head of Coalition forces in Afghanistan. It was one of the rare occasions when a theater-of-war commander has been removed. (Truman's dismissal of General MacArthur during the Korean War is another.) The Pentagon was trying to send a message. In the view of Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, McKiernan had spent too much time trying to coax along the squabbling and sometimes inert NATO force commanders, and he didn't have the necessary background to implement a new counterinsurgency strategy.

Mullen and Gates found the right man to shake things up. Arriving in Kabul last June, McChrystal announced that there were two types of people at his headquarters: "Martyrs and people that are going home." The general's audiences sometimes don't know if he is being serious or kidding. "People who don't know me sometimes don't laugh," he says. "Others laugh nervously. People who do know me laugh, but they also know it's true." (McChrystal's deeply loyal staffers like to joke that they've "climbed aboard the pain train.")

McChrystal immediately decreed that the ISAF troops were going to learn how to get along with the local population. It took less than a week for him to start to make his point. He was part of a convoy blasting through city streets at 60mph when the speed limit was 20mph. The soldiers were driving heavily armored vehicles right down the middle of the road, pointing their weapons at civilian vehicles, forcing them to the side. When the convoy stopped, McChrystal took aside the commander and dressed him down. "This is exactly the way you create the ugly ISAF," he said in a low but cold tone. He issued a directive: from then on, all ISAF forces would obey local driving laws. (More difficult, he tried to set an example by not wearing body armor. "The Afghans don't wear body armor," he would say, but he ran into grumbling and resistance.)

There is a strong emphasis in the military on what is called "force protection." Many officers believe their first priority is to bring their troops home safely. To that end, American soldiers gear up in helmets and bulletproof vests and ride in massive armored vehicles. "It was like we were going through Afghanistan in a submarine," sighs McChrystal. He wants his troops to get out in the field, away from the comfy forward operating bases and into the street. In past wars, there was a term called REMF, for "rear-echelon motherf--ker." The new term of derision is FOBBIT, for those who never leave their forward-operating base. To cut down what McChrystal calls "the recreational attitude," he has been methodically closing down the concessions that sprout up on American bases—Pizza Hut, Burger King, Baskin-Robbins. "We don't need 31 flavors to fight a war," said a McChrystal aide who did not wish to be identified, but observed that when he was based at Camp Victory in Iraq early in the war there, it was possible to shop for 39 varieties of flat-screen TVs.

If lazing about on a couch is classically American, so is aggressively attacking the enemy. "It's not the American way to back down from a fight," says Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, deputy commander of Special Operations and a friend and classmate of McChrystal's. Traditionally, the "American way of war" has been to overwhelm the enemy with superior firepower. McChrystal has been after his junior officers and soldiers to think twice before they shoot. "Is it worth killing that insurgent if you might also kill a family in the compound? Probably not," he says. When he first arrived, he asked, "Why do we even have 2,000-pound bombs? Afghanistan doesn't have big-enough targets for them." He issued another directive instructing troops not to call in airstrikes or supporting fire unless necessary for self-defense. This order has cut down on civilian casualties, probably the biggest obstacle to winning the trust of the Afghans.

Young American soldiers who a few years ago might have sought combat as a macho way to "get some" are learning self-restraint. But McChrystal also has to deal with the opposite problem—allied forces whose national leaders basically want them to stay out of the fight. The Germans do not fight at night, and the Canadians have pulled back from combat in recent months. McChrystal has no power to order them into battle.

A month ago, the Germans called in an airstrike on two hijacked fuel trucks. Perhaps 90 people died in the fireball, maybe a third of them civilian. McChrystal immediately went on the local airwaves to apologize, antagonizing the Germans, who initially proclaimed no civilian casualties. He further irritated the Germans by shutting down the bar at ISAF headquarters. McChrystal last week jetted off to Europe to stroke allies, some of whom refuse to use the word "war," preferring "armed humanitarian conflict."

The general's real diplomatic challenge is at home in Washington. He was taken aback last week by the flap over the leak of his assessment of the Afghanistan war. "It's sort of like, 'Why is this happening to me now?' " says his executive officer and old friend, Col. Charles Flynn. McChrystal was palpably uncomfortable with the suggestion that Obama was having second thoughts about the whole counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. The general, who admires Obama, has met him only three times, and has never really had the chance to discuss the war with the president in any depth. If asked back to Washington, McChrystal says, he would welcome the opportunity to make his case for more troops. ("General McChrystal knows this is not the appropriate time for him to come back to speak to Congress," says Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for the secretary of defense. "He knows his views are well represented in Washington.") McChrystal's aides point out that if Obama does approve the additional troops, it will still take months to get them into the theater—while the war continues to go downhill.

The general is trying to put the best face on the stories of dissent bubbling up in Washington. "The debate is healthy. The worst thing would be no debate," he says. He is aware that there is a move on, reportedly emanating from the office of Vice President Joe Biden, to give up on nation building in Afghanistan and just go after the terrorists in their lairs. Or, maybe just trying to bring security to Kabul and a few provinces, and leave the rest to the Taliban. With some effort, McChrystal tries to be open-minded about his critics. "Maybe they're right," he says.

But it's obvious he thinks they're wrong. He uses the analogy of a burning building: "You can't hope to contain the fire by letting just half the building burn." His chief of intelligence, Gen. Mike Flynn, says flatly, "Civil war would immediately break out. You'd have a failed state, like Somalia, only much harder to get to."

The enormity of the challenge facing McChrystal and his team becomes clear from attending their morning CUA. Reams of data stream across the video screens, but what does it really mean? ISAF is building more power generators, but what good does it do when the power is stolen or cut off—which in a thoroughly corrupt, broken country, routinely happens? McChrystal has a bright staff, but they're smart enough to know what they don't know. Cmdr. Jeff Eggers—a Navy SEAL with an Oxford degree who was the chief drafter of McChrystal's assessment—notes, for instance, that it would be useful to know who usually shoots first in a fire fight with the Taliban. Often the side that takes the initiative has better intelligence. The problem is "we don't know who shoots first. We can't tell," says Eggers. He blames the conflicting reports on the fog of war.


12-30-2009, 07:52 AM
McChrystal is so sincere, well informed, and impassioned that he will make a good case for getting more troops if and when he is ever summoned to Washington. But he has a natural bias toward assertive action, not retreat. What if Obama says no to more troops, or does not approve enough troops? "I'll do the best I can," McChrystal says. "He's not the type to resign to make some kind of political statement," says his friend General Kearney.

On McChrystal's shelf is a novel called Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer. The book, which pits a noble warrior named Sam Damon against a conniving careerist named Courtney Massengale, has a cult following in the military. "I've read it about six times," says McChrystal. He is "flattered" to be compared to the Damon character, as he often is by his admiring staff. But he adds that the book is actually complex, and that the Damon hero is a "bit too rigid," while the villain Massengale is "brilliant when he wants to be." McChrystal has an appealing earnestness and openness (he doesn't hesitate to tick off his flaws: "I'm impatient, I shoot from the hip, I ride my staff too hard…"), but one senses a certain wiliness as well. There are many ways to be a good soldier, and McChrystal wants to be them all.

With John Barry and Suzanne Smalley in Washington

Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/id/216237)

© 2009

12-30-2009, 08:56 AM
I wish someone would explain to me what is meant by 'winning' in Afghanistan.

Arguably, Afghanistan is not just a geographically different arena to Iraq, but also a completely different socio, economic and political arena and, therefore, needs to be looked at from a different angle.

If we are waging a war on terror, then, presumably, we are waging a war against international terror as sponsored by Al Qaeda http://news.google.co.uk/news?hl=en&rlz=1T4SNYS_enGB342GB348&resnum=0&q=Al+Qaeda&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=k2E7S76QLoyM0gSDgrWSBQ&sa=X&oi=news_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CBIQsQQwAA. The Al Qaeda leadership must have been whooping with joy when we became embroiled in Iraq rather than putting all of our efforts into pursuing them. Equally, they must be pleased with what is happening in Afghanistan.

This being so, then, from the point of view of Al Qaeda, the operations in Afghanistan are merely one tier in their multi-tiered strategy, and the Taliban http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taliban are merely one facet of a multi-faceted organisation which netwroks globally.

Ergo, if this be true, the only way to defeat Al Qaeda, and to succeed in Afghanistan, the coalition forces must adopt a multi-layered strategy of their own. This strategy must place as much importance, and recourses, on fighting an intelligence war (with covert operations being very much the M.O.) as it places on the use of conventional forces in counter insurgency operations in Afghanistan.

In my opinion, the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by conventional forces alone, nor will it suffice to merely kill hundreds of Taliban fighters.
The war must be taken to the Al Qaeda network, and that network must be defeated at every level; from mosques to pirates, from Afghanistan to Africa to Asia.

12-31-2009, 07:13 AM
I wish someone would explain to me what is meant by 'winning' in Afghanistan.

I think in this case it means something of a negotiated settlement and accord between the factions--so we can get the **** out...

The Taliban don't seem to be cooperating and apparently struck a spectacular coup (in insurgency terms) by killing eight CIA Agents yesterday in a suicide bombing...

In my opinion, the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by conventional forces alone, nor will it suffice to merely kill hundreds of Taliban fighters.
The war must be taken to the Al Qaeda network, and that network must be defeated at every level; from mosques to pirates, from Afghanistan to Africa to Asia.

I think US Gen. McCrystal shares your opinion. The problem I have with it is that we know what we're supposed to be fighting against, but it's the assholes that we're fighting for in the corrupt Karzai regime that steal elections, like Iranian mullahs, and profit from drugs that sort of make this argument moot. Really, I'm not sure that there is much of a tie between the Talubs and al Qaida anymore, and Yemen seems to be turning into the new Afghanistan as a destination for terrorist ****s to plot their insidious little world changing plans like blowing up airliners, or scorching their balls and legs in the attempt...

12-31-2009, 08:22 AM
I think in this case it means something of a negotiated settlement and accord between the factions--so we can get the **** out...

If winning, is simply a matter of geting out, then the 'honourable' thing to do would be to pullout immediately and stop wasting the lives of our people in a futile effort to negotiate some kind of settlement which will fall apart the moment we are gone.

Really, I'm not sure that there is much of a tie between the Talubs and al Qaida anymore, and Yemen seems to be turning into the new Afghanistan as a destination for terrorist ****s to plot their insidious little world changing plans like blowing up airliners, or scorching their balls and legs in the attempt...

They have their own agenda. They share a mutual enemy (i.e. the West) with the Al Qaeda, which has its own agenda, so they have become mutually supportive where it suits them. Yemen, among others have been on the radar for a long time.

It's all about power, and a country operating under a harsh Sharia regime does not necessarily have a great need for oil, as the leaders will be content to return to the days of pre-industrial technology. However, the West needs oil, so, arguably, the way to defeat the West is to remove their access to oil, or control access to it.