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14 December 2010


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I watched "Restrepo" last night. I agree with all your points. Dr. Silverman adds clarification.

It is an engrossing movie; but it deeply bothers me. It captures the enlisted soldiers' Mushroom view of war; "Kept in the dark and fed manure".

But, how in the hell, did the 2nd of the 503rd end up doing exactly the same thing 41 years later; interdicting the enemy; when the enemy are the people being occupied by foreign troops. "Restrepo" ignores the political, tactical and strategic fuck ups that led to troopers being placed into daylight ambushes. Then, the 173rd leaves the valley, once again, until decades later when the Veterans will return to see where their buddies died.

Besides the lack of framework for the scenes show in the movie, what bothers me the most about "Restrepo" is that I didn't identify with the troopers. Was it the horseplay or the tattoos? I think it is their lack of introspection. All Volunteers, and they know it.


First let me note that I have no expertise on military matters or Afghanistan, so it's just my gut reaction.

I don't think the particulars of the unit's mission necessarily negates the fact that the troops at Restrepo acted most incompetently. They do, however, spread the blame beyond the men on the spot--since a successful interdiction mission would have required a measure of COIN. It seems rather irresponsible for the higher ups to send men into a mission lasting a long time without much thought as to what might happen in course of their interaction with the locals, which, given the nature of their deployment, would be inevitable.

Patrick Lang


I spent three years as an infantry enlisted man and 26 years as an infantry, SF and MI officer, but I couldn't identify with these men either. pl

Adam L. Silverman

VietnamVet: While I'm not personally comfortable commenting on the soldiers and officers themselves, as I feel that is a liberty I don't have to take as I've never been a soldier, just a civilian who works for the Army, so I'll leave that to people like you and COL Lang. That said I do want to touch on a couple of items that you mentioned. You are correct about the reason for my post, it was simply context and clarification for everyone's situational awareness. COL Lang and I spent a bit of time discussing some of the issues raised in his three posts and the comments on Restrepo and the 173rd offline and I'm in complete agreement with his remarks about how this doesn't fit into what a COIN strategy requires. Which, I think, gets to your point about the documentary not placing what was captured on film, and then edited for the documentary, within the political, tactical, operational, and strategic context, especially the context of shifting end states, poor planning and resourcing of the theater, loosing sight of the theater by shifting focus to Iraq, etc. Moreover, what really does bother me in the film is how at the tactical and operational level, in 2007 and 2008, there was no way or no attempt (I'm not sure which it is) to actually implement the COIN strategy that had been adopted. I was horrified to see someone, unidentified (was it the brigade JAG, cause that's whose supposed to make the determination and present it to the BCT commander), refuse authorization to replace either the dead cow or get the farmer a new one. For $400.00, I'd have paid it personally out of my bail out fund that I kept, because of the effects it would create: one less aggrieved Korengali, a community that feels that the US imposition into their area isn't just about the imposition, and maybe, just maybe, someone who will come to Battle Company with usable information or intelligence. While paying for the cow in cash was no guarantee that we had made a friend, it was a guarantee that we hadn't made several enemies. Or committed IO fratricide by confirming what the Taliban night letters say about us.

It is this shortsightedness, this lack of appreciation for how to interact with the Korengalis, even if they are insular and don't want any non-Korengalis about, that really frustrates me. COL Lang is, I think, quite correct when he repeatedly insists that even if the mission in the Korengal is to interdict through clear and hold, it still has to be done within the context and framework of COIN and the personnel assigned to carry out the mission need to be able to work COIN at the tactical and operational levels. So that even while achieving one level and type of success, the interdiction of the enemy traversing through the Korengal, you're not just failing to achieve the other COIN end states, but actually working at cross purposes to them.

The Twisted Genius

Adam Silverman,

You identified a serious and long term shortfall in training and doctrine in U.S. forces. For decades, at least, our combat arms ignored the existence of local inhabitants of a battlefield. From the mid-seventies on, Fort Benning taught me how to analyze METT (mission, enemy troops and terrain). How to deal with local inhabitants of a battlefield was never addressed... even though our primary focus was on a NATO/Warsaw Pact war in Europe. I know the refugee problem was addressed at the strategic and, perhaps, operational level, but never at the tactical level. This omission was reinforced by constantly training in uninhabited training areas.

My first realization that local inhabitants count occured during several month long training exercises in the Phillippines. There were villages in our training areas! Luckily I always have several filipinos in both my rifle and weapons platoons. We learned that being respectful of the locals gave us tremendous tactical advantages and made our lives in the field a little easier. Once I moved to Special Forces dealing with locals obviously became a primary focus. They get it and never forgot it.

Dealing with locals does now appear to be, at least, part of Army and Marine training and is something that must be done in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the actions shown in Restrepo the movie show we have a way to go. Funny how the warrior ethic in conventional forces seems to breed a disdain for the locals while the warrior ethic in Special Forces does the exact opposite.

Adam L. Silverman

The Twisted Genius: My understanding of the shortfall, and COL Lang will correct me if I'm wrong on this, is that a good deal of the socio-cultural approach types were essentially either shunted off into or kept in specialties where they couldn't corrupt everyone else post Vietnam. So there were pockets of personnel that got what we so often come back to here at SST and which you're reidentifying as a shortfall in training and doctrine, but they were in specific places. Just as an FYI - I was taught this by my ASO a retired SF E7. I think that part of the issue had everything to do with what the Army is for. Army's fight campaigns and population focused anything, absent a powerful personality or doctrine (and we've had both for the past several years) to drive things is going to keep focused on this. There's a reason that the Army SF community payed attention to this stuff and not big Army - SF isn't intended to fight campaigns. This, I think, is also why you see the USMC having much more developed and delineated concepts of small and irregular warfare, because the Marines are intended to be used in a way that is different than the Army - they fight engagements and battles, they don't do campaigns. Or at least, according to doctrine, they don't.

And I think that's the crux of what we've been batting around in regards to Restrepo for the past couple of weeks, and Afghanistan and Iraq for even longer here at SST: given what the Army's expertise is, or is supposed to be, and given how long it takes to do COIN right, how specialized is the focus on the population elements/green layer even when in the more kinetic portions of COIN, not to mention the difficulties of doing third party COIN, just how exactly are we to ever see success. Conversely, every unit that does get it right, and there are a lot of tactical and operational successes in both Iraq and Afghanistan even if I don't think they'll lead to the strategic end states we've delineated, should be recognized for just how hard this is. I expect SF to do this stuff correctly, but tankers? Armored Cav? Mechanized Infantry? And yet a lot of them are actually showing progress.

Neil Richardson


"You identified a serious and long term shortfall in training and doctrine in U.S. forces. For decades, at least, our combat arms ignored the existence of local inhabitants of a battlefield."

I agree as far as the doctrine is concerned, but like many things in the Army, local adaptation did take place especially in ROK depending on senior leadership at the time (e.g., when John Abrams was the CG). I'm not sure what was going on in the 25th Infantry Division, but 2ID always had KATUSAs integrated at small unit level which helped a lot. Language barrier can be crippling in any interaction (I saw it firsthand in my first year in ROK. I had studied Korean as an undergrad, and it took me a while to understand the nuances of numerous dialects in the 1970s).

"My first realization that local inhabitants count occured during several month long training exercises in the Phillippines. There were villages in our training areas! Luckily I always have several filipinos in both my rifle and weapons platoons. We learned that being respectful of the locals gave us tremendous tactical advantages and made our lives in the field a little easier. "
This is McMaster's point. In a speech he'd given shortly before going to Afghanistan, he had made the point that the lessons learned in COIN and high intensity warfighting need not be mutually exclusive for the very reason you point out. Even for the Big Army reliable local intelligence can be critical. (I'm reminded of the Army in France in 1944 when the French were providing accurate intel which facilitated rapid advance. Many veterans said that it dried up once they reached the German border for obvious reasons.)

"Once I moved to Special Forces dealing with locals obviously became a primary focus. They get it and never forgot it."
Isn't it just the nature of SF's operating environment as well as the quality of people you find in the special operations community? Most of the time you're going to be outgunned and outnumbered against opposition. You guys are the "force multipliers". I guess where I have some skepticisms regarding the Big Army's ability to adapt is the sheer number of young men in the force (both enlisted and junior officers). Many are just learning how to soldier, and for some the first deployment is the first time they've travelled outside the US. I think strong leadership can mitigate things somewhat, but there are always going to be severe limitations to what we can achieve IMHO.

"Funny how the warrior ethic in conventional forces seems to breed a disdain for the locals while the warrior ethic in Special Forces does the exact opposite."

As I wrote above I think that's just the nature of the operating environment. The Big Army is always going to focus on finding the enemy and piling on. It's hard to emphathize with the locals when you can't communicate. One possible remedy is to operate jointly with a host nation's forces, but that's just not that easy as you well know. In ROK it took decades of experimentation to integrate KATUSAs without seriously hurting unit cohesion. And we basically did it due to our inability to communicate with the locals *as well as adjacent ROKA units*. One thing I find promising is that the Army has instituted foreign language incentive programs. We'll have to see whether it's going to help.

DE Teodoru

The post-hoc polarization begins. Civilians didn't show and military had to do it their way: blocking the "trail." So, if we lose it's because the terrain folks didn't show. The Taliban ain't the NVA and 70% of combat is not initiated by the other side as in Vietnam. I that recall on "60Minutes" an intel officer pointing out how the drones catch the "bad guy": heat sensor shows "something hot" in his hand so you know it's a recently fired weapon and you shoot the rockets at the whole bunch. That has yet to win a war, n'est pas?

The fault is not in our soldiers but at the strategic level trying to get Afghans to fight for an illusory national gov. created by "infidels." How many Afghans just want the "foreigners" to leave? Are we going to lose more so the lost won't be a waste?

DE Teodoru

Mao once said that a soldier is like a frog looking at the sky from the bottom of a well. Perhaps Mr. Silverman would do well to explain to this blog's participants how it is that Holbrooke's "bucket with a hole at the bottom" analogy has been developing holes near the top where the "culture&language" expertise do not explain Talibanization:


Adam L. Silverman

Mr. Teodoru: I'm not indicating or providing fodder for polarization. CA and ODA (civil affairs and operational detachment alpha), as well as HTS are all military. The CA and ODAs are all soldiers and HTS personnel are mixed civilian and military teams. I was simply making a statement of fact: there were not enough ODAs and CA to go around, and there still isn't, and at the time HTS was only beginning to be stood up, which explains the shortage of both personnel and teams. As for the PRT, that is a State Department initiative, but here too, like with HTS, its an ad hoc, responsive/reactionary program and attempt to overcome several shortfalls. While they too have personnel and staffing issues, the real problem is that solving things with ad hoc elements and programs is very difficult. It takes a long time to reach a point where you're not trying to start, build, and work all at the same time. So by the time the ad hoc elements actually reach standards across the program, the reason they were created has often gone away. Now its true that overall State is understaffed and underfunded. This is a major strategic shortfall for the US, but will exist until someone can figure out a way to put State Department related jobs and projects into each Congressional district, which would guarantee continued and often copious funding. It also matters that State lost their Congressional fight with SEN McCarthy and the Army won theirs.

DE Teodoru

PS: Why not Ivan do the job


rather than get more Americans killed intel blind, language deaf and culture dumb. We'll need all our soldiers in 2020 when Chia will test its metal in South America.

DE Teodoru

Mr. Silverman, I accept your honorable intention. But the history of the military gripe-- we have to do it because the civilians ain't showing up-- is a matter of record. We should consider not only the fact of military incompetence and civilian reluctance but also the j'en ai assez attitude of Afghans. Americans, as I saw all over the world, still believe that every time they screw up and do serious damage they can say: my intentions were altruistic so since my reputation as the Jolly Green Giant is at stake, I get a do over. Well, it's over.

Yes sir, it does take a long time to pacify. But opportunistic Americans always insisted: give me a chance, I've got a short-cut gimmick....and in the end they just devastate. Nevertheless, they keep going and just widened the wound.

We, and I say “WE” by choice not chance, are hated the whole world over because we think that our perspective is all one needs to make miracles. Well, it ain't so. As a volunteer army after Vietnam the academies got the bottom of the barrel. Petraeus pulled McChryastal's strings and Keane pulled Petraeus's (the latter free from any obligation as a corporate pawn in retirement).

Our military is intellectually sub-par. Otherwise everyone from one star up would have read DERELICTION OF DUTY and would not have allowed the Pentagon to repeat the same thing three times and expect different results.

CORDS managed to salvage South Vietnam from our countryside massacre by urbanizing the refugees our ordnance created. South Vietnam in four years went from 85% rural to 75% urban as CORDS, in the words of Hanoi's historians, turned the peasants into "petites bourgeois." It was quite a feat. In Afghanistan we did nothing like that. That's because a plagiarized handbook of COIN was imposed on the rural areas-- first half of Vietnam War repeated via air ordnance-- but there was no urban counter-revolution...just bloody rural counter-insurgency. Even our fat logistic lines are spending 15% of their costs as payoffs to Taliban so they don't hit the trucks. Do you think any more American moms&dads should die for this reckless incompetence?

William R. Cumming

The US did become the world's leading expert and proponent of industrialized warfare. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has long since recognized that is not the war to fight when engaging the US.

We have the perfect military for wars that will never be fought again-armor and mech infantry against those with less industrial might.

Surprised in RESTRPO that no naplam being used since that seemed to be one of the most effective tools in mountainous terrain. Point detonation weapons have limited utility in mountainous terrain without mountain trained forces. Of course I am being facetious. Napalm and heavy weapons is NOT the COIN of the Realm.

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