August 9, 2007
first of three parts on the circumstances of Pat Tillman’s
1979, after a break in my Army service and having recouped my sergeant's
stripes as a mechanized cavalry scout in Fort Carson, I volunteered
for the Rangers. Off to Ranger School I went, and upon completion
I was assigned to 3rd Platoon, Company A (Alpha Company), 2nd Ranger
Battalion, 75th Infantry Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington. Each
of the three rifle platoons (organizations of around 40 light infantrymen)
had nicknames, in this case, First to Fight, the Blacksheep, and
Third Herd. A Company, known for its iron discipline, was called
the Alpha-bots. When I left there in 1981 to become a tactics instructor
at the Jungle Operations Training Center in Panama, I never had
a notion that I might somehow be entangled with Alpha Company again
... two-and-a-half decades later.
Pat and Kevin Tillman were Alpha-bots, assigned to the Blacksheep
(2nd Platoon), when Pat was killed by friendly fire on April 22,
2004 near a tiny village called Manah in Paktia Province, Afghanistan,
near the Pakistani border. When I was a member of the adjacent platoon
in the same building, Pat was a baby.
those who knew baby Pat then, nor I, slogging away in the wilds
of Fort Lewis, had crystal balls. They did not know that this precocious
child would someday play professional football. Even when he did,
so many years later, they never reduced this young man to his identity
as an athlete. He was a kid, a whole person, with two brothers,
Mom, and Dad, living in the Central California mountains near a
old mercury mine, a river, and a state forest.
wrote a short reflection-piece on the friendly fire incident in
April 2006, two years after Pat was killed. Someone read it online
and forwarded it to Mary (Dannie) Tillman, Pat's mom. She found
something in it of which she approved, and she contacted me. We
talked on the phone, many times, and I went to San Jose to spend
a few days with her after I started writing a series about the whole
episode. Eventually, the family would allow me to accompany them
to the briefing they were given this year by the US Army Criminal
Investigation Division (CID). Army representatives lied directly
to the family's face... again.
the interest of full disclosure, this is personal for me now. Dannie
Tillman is my friend. So is Kevin, who was close enough to hear
the shots that took his brother's life on April 22, 2004. I am angry
as I write this.
Tillman was a lot more than a football player, and in all the right
ways also a lot less -- humble when he needed to be, unassuming,
tender with loved ones. He joined the Army because he didn't trust
fame. He was afraid it might keep him from growing up and being
honest and being responsible. He saw a lot of other young people
-- and the generations before him -- going through this grunt-thing
in the military, and had this idea that having a physical gift shouldn't
be some kind of exemption.
might argue with that for a host of reasons; I would.
it is something essential about Pat Tillman that needs to be out
there ... that sense of ethics that will not substitute words for
deeds. And he hated idealizations.
He was 26 when he fell. Pretty thoughtful for 26, in this culture
Congressional Committee investigating Pat's death, a committee that
fawned all over Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Meyers, and John Abizaid
on August 1 needs to take note. I'm angry, so I'm saying it. Sometimes
invective is appropriate.
members of that Committee haven't the ethical sense to qualify for
wiping Pat's ass. Instead they kissed Donald Rumsfeld's, Richard
Meyers', and John Abizaid's. I'll be coming back to this shameful
display. It's emblematic of not just Congress, but in particular
of Democrats who continue to tip-toe around anything to do with
the war as if they're walking through a rattlesnake pit.
was right to be suspicious of fame.
craven display by Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike
was just the last entry in a growing archive of opportunism that
circles around fame like a vulture over a corpse.
in the wrong circumstances can throw up a carrion scent like a thick
fog. The scavengers of American political life -- elected officials
and candidates, crackpot polemicists, and the profit-press -- chase
the smell along the shifting winds.
same press that has blood all over its hands for the war in Iraq
today was on exhibition again with the recent, and irresponsible,
reporting -- excised from context -- on a few lines from thousands
of pages of documents, igniting the imaginations of every conspiracy-buff
in the nation. I'm talking about the Associated Press story in late
July that suggested Pat was "fragged."
subsequent orgy of rumors and ill-informed speculation, the utter
failure of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and the maddening
impunity of the War Troika lies that went unchallenged there, compel
me to write this.
Army has insisted that Pat was killed in "the fog of war"
by his own comrades; I am insisting that both Pat's memory and the
truth are being murdered in the fog of fame.
Pat not been famous, his death would be buried inside the lengthening
list of sorrow from this obscenity in Southwest Asia. Had Pat not
been famous, the Army might not have lied about the circumstances
of his death to press and family.
the other hand, many families have now discovered that the military
covers up fratricides. From The Tillman Files:
were at least three other known fratricides reported falsely,
and the families deceived, within a two month period of Pat’s
death? Kenneth Ballard? Patrick McCaffrey? Jesse Buryj? There
was a pattern of deception that corresponded to the toxic combination
of April’s tactical debacle in Iraq, the release of the
first Abu Ghraib photographs, and Seymour Hersh’s exposé
of Donald Rumsfeld and Stephen Cambone’s "Grab whom
you must. Do what you want" program.
Ballard was killed in Najaf by friendly fire from his own vehicle
in May 2004, and the military told his family that he’d
been killed by a sniper on a rooftop. Jesse Buryj, killed in May,
had his family told that he died defending a checkpoint from an
oncoming truck that crashed into him.
they questioned the story months later, they were told that he
had in fact been accidentally killed by a Polish soldier. A former
member of his unit (66th Military Police Company, the same unit
that "command rape" victim Suzanne Swift was assigned
to at the time) visited the family and told them that Jesse was,
in fact, shot by a platoon leader). Patrick McCaffrey was killed
exactly two months after Pat Tillman, and his mother was told
he died in an ambush. They neglected to say that the "ambush
by insurgents" was in fact conducted against him and his
fellow team members by the very Iraqi forces they were training,
after having reported more than once to the chain of command that
the "allies" had shot at them.
Karen Meredith, Kenneth Ballard’s mother, asked the Army
why it was deceiving people about these fratricidal incidents,
she was told that there had only been six cases of this happening.
She asked, how was it that she knew four of them?
McCaffrey and Mary Tillman have been told by military representatives
that the concealment of fratricide is an act of compassion…
that these reports, given too much publicity, might lower the
morale of the troops.
we know that Pat's case was special to the administration, precisely
because of his fame. Claims to the contrary now are disingenuous
to the point of stupidity. They just don't want to answer the questions.
administration, like the powerful generally, has a sense of entitlement
that resents having to answer questions; and when it does, it uses
the legal system as a shield.
for reasons I'll explain below, Congress doesn't want to ask the
questions. When is anyone up there, from the Democratic Party, going
to start a real fight? If Republicans had a case like this against
the Democrats, you can bet they'd be sinking their teeth into a
carotid artery right now. That's why they know they can scare people
to win elections; and they will again soon enough. We don't need
Dems on Capitol Hill to strategize around the next election cycle
like lawyers. Pat's case is emblematic of what the whole country
is going through right now; and for this we don't need any more
We need junkyard dogs.
that I have that off my chest, and having read the documents accumulated
around this case, often several times, and having stayed in constant
contact with Dannie Tillman (who hates the limelight and stays at
this as a furious act of love), it's time to review again not just
what we can prove happened, but also what likely happened.
is a lot of information available to make reasonable assumptions
on this case.
Waxman's Committee had listened to the family, instead of assuming
(incorrectly) that they know what they're doing better than the
rest of us rubes, then why didn't they carefully construct a prosecutorial
hypothesis, (1) systematically take each aspect of that hypothesis
and subpoena the documents and testimony necessary to rule out said
hypothesis or support it, (2) swear in their witnesses, (3) encircle
the witnesses with the facts at a distance, (4) hedge the witnesses
in with direct questions that carry the threat of perjury charges,
(5) offer to hold the witnesses in contempt if they equivocate (as
all of those pricks did... and got away with it), and (6) state
the obvious when these witnesses were ridiculously disingenuous
or suffering selective amnesia.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ought to be renamed:
The House Groveling and Gratitude Committee. Oh thank you thank
you thank you Lord Rumsfeld for gracing us with your presence; we
shall do what we might to give the appearance of interrogating you
while we deflect these troublesome Tillman people.
Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) at least tried to get at one aspect of this
case, but his time expired and he never got an answer nor the opportunity
to follow up. The other members pretended he wasn't there (just
as the press mostly pretends he is not running in the Presidential
-- the only Democratic candidate worthy of my vote in the 2008 prez-elections
-- asked about the Rendon Group and the Lincoln Group. These are
professional high-dollar propaganda outfits that the Department
of Defense and Executive Branch pays for with tax money to pump
sunshine up our collective ass. Their job with the Department of
Defense is to sell the war.
war with lies has become one of the most lucrative parasitic industries
in Washington DC.
who has not seen the film Wag the Dog is encouraged to do so. The
plot revolves around a manufactured crisis by a fictional administration
to create a pretext for invading Albania. It is a dark comedy, but
watching it now doesn’t elicit belly laughs so much as nervous
chuckling at its alarming verisimilitude.
February 19, 2002, more than a year before the American ground offensive
launched out of Kuwait and into its greatest military mire since
Vietnam, the New York Times ran a story about a Pentagon outfit
called the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI). The purpose of said
office was "developing plans to provide news items, possibly
even false ones, to foreign media organizations… to influence
public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly
in a fit of pique at reporters in November of the same year, railed
was the Office of Strategic Influence. You may recall that. And
'Oh, my goodness gracious, isn’t that terrible; Henny
Penny, the sky is going to fall.’ I went down that next
day and said, 'Fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine,
I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can
have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing
that needs to be done’ and I have…"
2003, the Pentagon propaganda program had been re-packaged, and
a secret 74-page directive emanated from Rumsfeld’s office,
now struggling with the catastrophic cascade developing in Iraq,
where key advisers had assured the administration a year earlier
of a "cake walk." That directive was the "Information
Operations Roadmap" (IOR). Using the almost painfully dissociative
wordsmithing of good military bureaucrats, IOR was described thus:
The integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic
warfare [EW], computer network operations [CNO], psychological
operations [PSYOP], military deception, and operations security
[OPSEC], with specified supporting and related capabilities to
influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp adversarial human and automated
decisionmaking while protecting our own."
is what Dennis Kucinich was trying to get at. So-called "psychological
operations" are not merely employed to fool the "enemy."
They are directed at the US public.
context for everything that happened after Pat's death requires
this Pentagon propaganda-emphasis be center stage. Some people already
understand this. What is not well understood is that this propaganda-emphasis
likely played a central role in creating the conditions for Pat's
death in the first place. Let me give that special emphasis, too:
The decision to split the Blacksheep Platoon on April 22
was forced on a platoon leader who stated to his superiors that
splitting the platoon in this terrain would require a half-assed
preparation cycle and potentially create a dangerous break in inter-platoon
communications. This directive was designed with one purpose in
mind: to be able to state that the platoon had reached their "target"
on time. A timeline (a bureaucratic checklist) drove this decision
-- not the intelligence. The push to provide evidence of "progress"
in Afghanistan -- using the Rumsfeldian "metrics" of quantification
-- as a counterweight to the bad news from the Fallujah-Najaf rebellions
and the breaking Abu Ghraib scandal, created the sense of urgency
throughout military commands there to send reports confirming that
X number of missions were completed in X amount of time.
and Executive Branch perception management consultants develop expensive,
detailed programs, employing an army of public relations experts.
Just as Rumsfeld hired more than 20,000 private mercenaries to fill
in the gaps in Iraq and to conduct activities that escape Congressional
oversight, the Bush administration (like the Clinton administration
before it) hired private contractors whose sole purpose in life
is to re-construct the war in Southwest Asia as a story –
using story conventions with which the American public is familiar
and comfortable – conventions that resonate emotionally and
mythically with our entertainment-media "social imaginary."
That's the connection between the Pat
Tillman and Jessica Lynch sagas.
only on what happened the day Pat was killed, and then only on the
minutiae of the actual shooting, and then studying what happened
afterward, obscures the deeper context and conceals the fact that
there are soldiers and thousands of men, women, and children in
other countries dying today for military public relations.
review the case:
22, 2004 -- The Blacksheep Platoon was on a zone reconnaissance
in Paktia. The "roads" there are little more than eroded
wadis, leaving crater-like potholes and exposed boulders. Vehicles
have to pick their way through these "roads" very slowly;
and the damage to vehicles -- even Hummers and Hiluxes (military
field vehicles) -- is enormous. One Hummer with the platoon was
deadlined by this terrain as the platoon pulled into a village named
Magarah. Heretofore, I will refer to this vehicle as the Albatross.
communications and repair attempts on this vehicle, including flying
out parts, failed to resuscitate the Albatross; and the process
stranded the Blacksheep in Magarah for more than six hours. This
is not a good security situation in a zone where significant numbers
of adversaries are operating. Daylight. Town. Static position. Many
highly curious villagers.
on accounts of the subsequent combat "contact," three
Afghan guerrillas (understand that these might be three teenagers)
with an RPG and a couple of Kalashnikovs get wind of the scene in
Magarah. The terrain is very steep; and one can observe the platoon
from a mile away without difficulty. They sit on the high ground
and watch the show.
about security are voiced within the platoon; and they request an
aerial extraction of the vehicle. That request is denied.
in Khowst, the larger town where the tactical operations center
(TOC) is located, the TOC Commander, Major David Hodne was overseeing
multiple missions. He tracked them on maps, reviewed situation reports,
and maintained communications through a TOC staff -- generally a
dozen or so people jammed together with the maps, radios, and files
inside a tent.
Hodne is between his bosses and the multiple platoons in the field.
His bosses are not asking for details on every mission. They assess
his progress with checklists.
is how things work in the military. There is a fetish for quantification.
"Accomplishments" are measured with extreme empiricism,
presented in bullet-points that give numbers. This is true of performance
evaluations and operational checklists.
reason this is important in the story of Pat Tillman's death by
fratricide is that the majority of readers -- even military veterans
of a single enlistment -- are not familiar with military culture.
The have impressions formed primarily by entertainment media that
are generally downright silly.
of doctrine, regulations, policies and procedures tell about ten
percent of the story of what the military is. The other ninety percent
can only be understood culturally.
numerical fetishism creates a mindset and a relation between supervisor
and subordinate that is similar in many respects to standardized
testing in public schools.
numerical fetish in the structure of the test -- ostensibly designed
to "measure" learning -- actually changes the definition
of "learning." The test-tail wags the learning-dog.
under pressure to show performance through these tests, with schools
competing for perqs and funds based on the test scores, are forced
to focus on "making the numbers" instead of teaching students
to think (they are not the same thing by a long shot). Eventually,
administrators, teachers, and students internalize this bass-ackward
set of priorities, and the social sum of this internalization is
a school culture: the norms of the system are reproduced in a recursive
relationship between the internalized ideology of testing and the
practice of teaching to the test. People may even play games and
sing songs that assist students in learning to take the tests.
is an analog to the military, with its empiricist performance evaluations
and its battlefield "metrics."
tried to explain this on the phone to a lawyer with a Congressional
office; and she responded the way a cat does when it sees a wristwatch.
Lawyers are empiricists, and they have internalized the norms of
empiricism (along with the ability to employ logical fallacies to
their advantage in courtrooms) to the point where non-linear dynamics
are opaque to them. They are -- with some remarkable exceptions
-- great test-takers, and a testament to public schooling.
Officer Personnel Management System (OPMS) is a series of highly
competitive pyramids (one for each branch, converging branches near
the top). Lots of 2nd Lieutenants at the bottom of the pyramid,
and a few Generals at the top. When a 1st Lieutenant is "passed
over" when s/he becomes eligible for Captain, that is not just
a delay in promotion.
is the death sentence of a military career.
officer is assessed periodically on an evaluation report, and any
officer that receives below the absolute maximum (even by one point)
will -- with only very rare exceptions, like nepotism or blackmail
-- be "passed over." Officer Evaluation Reports (OERs)
list bullet-points with lots of numbers in each bullet.
Nimrod, during this evaluation period, raised his company's average
score on the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) from 210 to 218.
Nimrod, during combat operations in Afghanistan during this evaluation
period, was tasked with 14 missions. All 14 of those missions
were completed on time and achieved the commander's intent.
that if Captain Nimrod has a bullet that reads, "13 of the
14 missions were competed on time and achieved the commander's intent,"
then Captain Nimrod is in trouble. Some other Captain has a perfect
batting average, and Nimrod stands to be passed over. Nimrod knows
this, so when Nimrod is running missions, just like the school kid
who is taking her standardized test, Nimrod will cut any qualitative
corner that is necessary (like exercising prudent tactical judgment
or following the lead of subordinate commanders on the ground) to
achieve the quantitative results (like arriving on an objective
early enough to say a timeline was met). There is not an enlisted
person (those who are not commissioned officers) in the military
who has not been on the wrong end of this system, when s/he is made
to suffer some horrid, senseless goat-screw so an officer can get
the numbers (getting the numbers is referred to as the officer punching
his ticket. The briefings that are given under this hyper-empiricist
regime are often called "dog and pony shows."
Cross-Functional Team Commander David Hodne was at the TOC in Khowst,
he was a Major -- normally a staff rank (as opposed to a command
rank). This was his opportunity in a cannibalistic OPMS to shine
... the shining demonstrated through bullet-points with numbers.
The Blacksheep Platoon was due -- according to the mission timeline
-- to conduct operations in Manah – not a high priority target
-- "no later than" April 22, 2004. Whether that made sense
in the real world, after the unexpected delay of a busted Hummer,
threat of missing a mission time is a source of extreme anxiety
for any military officer.
this we must add that this is Rumsfeld's military in 2004. A nuttier
empiricist would be hard to find. Rumsfeld, who stole other people's
ideas, then bastardized them in his grandiose imagination, had taken
this arithmetic fetish and renamed it as part of the "Rumsfeld
doctrine", which he called (with typical self-promoting grandiosity)
"the Revolution in Military Affairs."
concept of Network-centric Warfare (NCW, a scalar bastardization
of Coll John Boyd's warfighting theories, which were originally
applied to individual air combat) measures success with "metrics,"
that is, with obsessive quantification. An interview with DoD Deputy
Secretary for Public Affairs, Lawrence DeRita (one of Rumsfeld's
closest advisors), gives a good example of this "metrics approach"
and how it translates from operations into propaganda. Notice the
emphasis on numbers in this quote:
it began last week, Victory Bounty has netted nearly 70 former
Fedayeen fighters, including several general and field grade officers.
The daily raids and patrols that our troops conduct every day
are steadily and deliberately building a more stable and secure
Iraq. On average, coalition forces are conducting almost 2,000
patrols every day, hundreds of night patrols, and many of those
are conducted jointly with the Iraqi police.
is really just an extrapolation of MacNamaran "body counts,"
but Rumsfeld thinks himself a military genius.
point is -- at Donald Rumsfeld's level, where the war had to be
justified to the American populace -- the bullet-points showing
"accomplishments" were in demand from the highest offices
of the military for inclusion into press releases and briefings.
the psychological operations being directed at the American populace,
which enjoy elevated importance when public support for the war
is waning, this show-me-the-metrics command emphasis cascades down
through the chain of command like an avalanche. It is facilitated
by bureaucratic overinterpretation of command guidance. The emphasis
from the top does not diminish as it moves further from the source;
it is amplified by the desire to please the boss at every level.
This process was in turn amplified by the personality of Donald
Rumsfeld: autocratic, vengeful, and micromanagerial.
is seen by officers as a career opportunity. This essential context
is not taken up by Congress or the press, because you get into trouble
when you deviate from ritual displays of fealty to US militarism.
Congress, the press, the entertainment media, and the public have
all taken the de facto loyalty oath that says never speak ill of
the military. Militarism is our culture, our religion, and our economy.
is precisely why we had to witness that awful fawning over Rumsfeld,
Meyers, and Abizaid by Congress; and it is why no one was going
to follow up on Dennis Kucinich's question about public relations
firms working for the Department of Defense. He was trying to establish
how important managing public perception at home is to the war effort,
and how heavy the command emphasis was at this particular time to
do two things simultaneously: (1) shift the focus off of Iraq' serial
disasters, and (2) show how glowingly good everything was going
April 22, 2004 -- the last day of Pat Tillman's life -- these were
the multiply-related institutional pressures that led Major David
Hodne, far from the scene with the Blacksheep and their Albatross,
to overrule a ground commander and order the platoon split into
two sections: one section to drag the Albatross with a hired Afghan
truck to the paved highway where it would link up with an Army recovery
vehicle, and the other section to arrive in Manah -- a location
on that mission checklist in the TOC -- to get "boots on the
ground by dusk" of the appointed day.
Lieutenant David Uthlaut -- the Platoon Leader -- had strenuously
objected to this plan because it endangered his command, control,
and communications (C3). Hodne overruled him, saying that he was
not going to let a busted vehicle make him miss a mission time.
Uthlaut had mere minutes to organize this foolish, but now mandatory,
ad hoc operation in the wake of a six-hour, exposed daylight delay,
that would route some of his troops through a deep and highly constricted
canyon at the risk of losing inter-platoon communications.
order to ensure that each section (called a Serial) had a rough
parity of weapons and vehicles, the organic chain of supervision
in the platoon was broken up and "task organized" around
weapons systems... leaving squad leaders and even team leaders in
charge of people with whom they hadn't normally worked.
three Afghan guerrillas sat and watched from the high ground. The
Americans were moving, lining up vehicles, behaving as if they were
about to leave.
a fork in the "road" just outside of Magarah, one section
was to mount a steep road to the right, toward the highway, with
the Albatross in tow behind a hired Afghan "jinga truck."
The other section was to turn left and go through the canyon --
less than two kilometers -- to accomplish the "boots on the
ground" arrival outside Manah. Then they would radio back to
Major Hodne, and Hodne could check off his bullet-point. Pat was
assigned to the "boots on the ground" section.
Boots Section left a few minutes in advance of the Albatross section,
and steered into the canyon.
Afghan guerrillas, it may be presumed, watched this and formed a
hasty plan to climb up to the high ridges on either side of the
canyon. By the time they got there, the Boots Section was already
through the canyon.
the Albatross Section had encountered an obstacle. The road leading
to the main highway was not passable for the jinga truck dragging
Sergeant Eric Godec -- now in charge of the Albatross Section --
had to make a decision, and it was late in the day. The only alternative
route to the highway was through the same canyon where the Boots
Section had just passed. He then discovered -- just as the Platoon
Leader had feared -- that they had lost radio contact with the Boots
Section, now fifteen minutes ahead of them.
three guerrillas on the ridge line had not reached the higher ground
in time to hit the Boots Section with harassing fire -- the most
a small force might consider against heavily-armed US shock infantry.
But then the Albatross Section was turning around and lining up
to go through the canyon -- yes, a target of opportunity after all.
Rangers themselves were tired, filthy, soggy in their sweaty heavy
battle gear, underslept, low on water, and pissed off after the
all-day static security they'd pulled in Magarah for a busted Hummer.
Change 10 in the all-day clusterfuck. Anyone who is a veteran of
any infantry unit will identify. This is a set-stage for over-reaction.
Albatross Section had to crawl into the canyon single file. The
sun was very low, and the canyon getting dark. The walls of the
canyon swept up and then steeply out over ridgelines that were 800-1,100
meters away. The "road" was yet another spine-torquing
maze of potholes and scree. Clinging to the sides of their vehicles
or to their mounted weapons, the weary passengers were agitated
like popcorn, sometimes tucking in their elbows to prevent breaking
them on the canyon stone.
Tillman's mounted 40-mm weapon (MK19) would be torn up by the canyon
guerrilla shouldered his RPG -- a weapon with a maximum effective
range of around 250 meters -- and elevated it to get a good throw
at the channelized Albatross Section more than 800 meters away.
He fired. The round arced up and out then wobbled into the opposite
canyon wall, where it exploded.
explosion stopped the crawling Albatross Section. The standard operating
procedure for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) -- which the Rangers
mistakenly believed the explosion was -- is to dismount the vehicles.
The RPG round had exploded harmlessly, showering a few Rangers far
below with gravel and dirt. But the noise inside the canyon was
terrific; and it is always followed by people shouting orders and
questions back and forth.
wrote in another venue ...
military has tried to suggest that this was a mortar, because
a mortar is a more dangerous and sophisticated weapon than an
is why I disagree.
explosive rounds that initiated the ambush (1) splashed off the
canyon wall and (2) did NOT pepper the convoy with shrapnel.
strongly suggests that these rounds came from a rocket-propelled
mortar is an indirect fire weapon that sends the round up, so
that it may achieve vertical penetration of a target (not horizontal
penetration into a wall). Even when used as a direct fire weapon,
a method called "direct lay," a mortar requires support
from a baseplate. A mortar can not therefore be aimed below ground
level, i.e., at a point below the crew. The firing pin is in the
bottom of the mortar tube. It cannot, therefore, be angled down.
One cannot get the mortar round to drop upwards. It's a gravity-thing.
standard mortar high-explosive (HE) round has an omni-directional
explosion, sending its secondary missiles (shrapnel) in all directions.
This is called a bursting radius, because the weapon is designed
RPG is a "shape charge," which is a uni-directional
charge, designed to concentrate the explosion in a frontal "jet"
that penetrates vehicles, bunkers, and light armor. It is not
designed to burst, but to penetrate. An RPG can be fired downward,
because it is shoulder fired. It does not require gravity to drop
the round onto the firing pin like a mortar.
lateral flight of the explosive rounds fired at 2nd Platoon, combined
with the lack of either damage to equipment or casualties due
to shrapnel, as well as the testimony of the most experienced
person there (who stated that it was an RPG, not a mortar), suggest
that the three ambushers had an RPG, not a mortar.
mortar is a more dangerous weapon. It has greater range. It is
crew-served, requiring more people. It requires training. An RPG
has a maximum effective range of around two football fields, and
can be easily operated by one 13-year-old after a 5-minutes orientation.
ambush was ineffectual, but the Ranger response to this light, harassing,
and ineffectual ambush was highly-channeled aggression. Into this
channel, the Rangers poured great streams of tracer-lighted lead
and explosives -- with a cataclysmic roar inside the canyon. The
streams of ordnance leaped up over the canyon walls and scattered
like rain across the distant countryside. So much ammunition was
fired that many Rangers exhausted their basic loads and had to break
into the reserve ammunition to re-load.
control and fire discipline were completely lost.
canyon was like a funnel, a megaphone. Uthlaut's Boots Section (Pat
included), now on the outskirts of Manah at the far mouth of the
canyon -- having missed their last turn -- were the recipients of
a highly-amplified, and highly-alarming acoustics-and-light show.
The canyon sounded as if it had erupted into Armageddon. Inter-platoon
communications had been lost; so the Boots Section could only deploy
into positions hear the mouth of the canyon and wait to see what
was going on. Most of the Boots Section remained in a tiny hamlet
looking almost directly into the canyon mouth. The sun had set minutes
earlier; but in the open the light was good. Staff Sergeant Matthew
Weeks took another detachment, which included Pat, and moved onto
a topographical finger overlooking the mouth of the canyon. Weeks
kept one team on higher ground, and sent Pat, PFC Bryan O'Neal,
and an allied Afghan militiaman named Thani to a position closer
to the "road."
Goff is the author of "Hideous
Dream: A Soldier's Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti"
(Soft Skull Press, 2000), "Full
Spectrum Disorder" (Soft Skull Press, 2003) and "Sex
& War" which will be released approximately December, 2005.
He is retired from the United States Army. His blog is at www.stangoff.com.
can be reached at: email@example.com