Entries Tagged as 'military'

The Libya Exception

October 20th, 2011 at 12:31 pm 15 Comments

Spencer Ackerman has written an amusing piece in which he predicts “The Post-Gadhafi Journalism You Will Read In the Next 72 Hours.” Ackerman offers up 10 examples of how well-known journalists, purchase pundits and publications are likely to use Gaddafi’s death to justify their own views, prescription ideologies and prejudices.

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The Right and Wrong Ways to Cut Defense Spending

August 4th, 2011 at 6:01 pm 39 Comments

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has a column today arguing for defense cuts and lauding the budget deal’s “sword of Damocles” over the Pentagon budget.

Zakaria argues that the U.S. military should not be exempt from budget scrutiny and, in that sense, his argument is unobjectionable.  But he ignores the fact that, since Obama became president, the U.S. military has suffered some $439 billion in cuts, including $78 billion in “efficiency measures” designed to root out administrative waste.

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Fight to Win

July 20th, 2011 at 12:00 am 25 Comments

Inspiration today comes from Lt. Colonel Eeben Marlow.  Lt. Colonel Marlow served in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Forces and later founded the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes (EO). Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism, and organized crime. He posts on Eeben Marlow’s Military and Security Blog, and his writings are insightful dispatches from the mind of a consummate military professional.

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Understanding the Way of the Warrior

July 11th, 2011 at 6:53 pm 23 Comments

A reader asks: “Sean, what is the Warrior Ethos?”

I chuckle as I recall a scene from Conan the Barbarian – during Conan’s gladiator phase – where the Cimmerian is asked: “Conan, what are the greatest things in Life?”

His reply: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the cries and lamentations of their women!”

Few moviegoers realize that this is an actual quote of one of the greatest warriors of all time; Genghis Khan.

There have already been some posts on STORMBRINGER regarding the Way of the Warrior:

On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs – (Part 1)


On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs (Continued)

I wore the War Suit for twenty-five years, and I continue to serve as a security professional. Perhaps it is time to further explore this theme . . .


The Warrior walks the Way of Power, and with this power comes great responsibility.  To the Warrior class, this responsibility is known as “Duty”.

For the Warrior, every act of every waking moment is guided by Honor.  Honor first . . . Honor last . . . Honor . . . always.

Luftwaffe fighter pilot Franz Stigler epitomized Honor in his encounter with B-17 pilot Charlie Brown during World War II

The Warrior serves.  In ancient times, this service was to the tribe, the band of hunter-gatherers.  Later, this service was to the King, or the feudal overlord; the Baron. In the modern era, this service is ultimately to the nation-state.

The Warrior is Loyal.  Warriors perform their duty honorably at every level of our modern society; at community level as police, firefighters or other first-level responders; within the various state & national-level law enforcement and para-military organizations, the branches of the military – or as a private professionals, business leaders and the captains of industry – ultimately, duty to the nation trumps all. The Warrior must never betray his Country.

Considered amongst the greatest, most insightful American military leaders, both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee took up arms against the United States.  It must be remembered, however, that in their time a man’s state was considered his country, and although Stonewall and Lee were not adherents of the Confederate cause, neither could bear going against their native Virginia.

The Warrior keeps his passions in check, never acts upon the impulse of his passions, except in the moment of actively engagement against the Threat.  The Warrior channels the energy of his passion into selfless acts of service, into the driving force of physical endurance, and into outward displays of loyalty and respect to the Nation and its symbols, to the Honorable Dead, and to those who served before.

Green Berets of 10th Special Forces Group honoring World War II veterans of the Canada-America 1st Special Services Brigade

The Warrior speaks Truthfully: to his leadership, to the Citizenry, and even to the Enemy, when representing the national leadership.  The Warrior is not constrained to the Truth, however, when engaging in deliberate acts of ruse or deception, or psychological operations.Although shrewd in his business dealings, the Warrior is an Honest Broker and a Fair Trader.  The Warrior Class as a whole suffers when a single Warrior conducts himself dishonorably in barter with the Citizenry.  This sentiment notwithstanding, the world is full of snakes, and the Warrior practices the ethic of “Trust, but Verify.”

The days of Sack & Pillage are over; there are rules of war, codified in the Law of Land Warfare.  Given the incredible lethality of modern war machines, and the professionalism of the Warrior Class, we conduct ourselves within this modern Code in order to minimize unnecessary suffering.

We treat Enemy prisoners within the Law of Land Warfare out of human decency, and to ensure humanitarian treatment of our own being held by the Enemy . . .

. . . whether or not the Enemy reciprocates:

American Prisoners of War in Japan, 1945

SS Reichsführer Himmler inspecting prisoners on the Eastern Front, 1943

The Warrior kills only when necessary, in the execution of legitimate duties. To kill indiscriminately, or outside the scope of duty, is unsanctioned murder.

To stray beyond these parameters one departs the Warrior Class and becomes of the criminal classes.

In a clandestine photograph smuggled out via underground operatives during World War II, an Australian pilot is summarily executed by an officer of the Imperial Japanese Army.

The German Wehrmacht conducts a mass execution of partisans, somewhere in Europe 1940-1944


Planning is a continual process; the Warrior always has a Plan, and the Warrior is always planning.  Knowing that no plan remains intact once executed, the Warrior has an alternate plan – a Plan B – and an emergency plan – a “Go-to-Hell Plan.”

“Be professional, be polite, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” – Marine General James Mattis in Iraq.

The Principles of Patrolling are a good set of rules to guide you in your planning in all endeavors, civilian or military. They are found painted on Infantry barracks walls and posted on bulletin boards throughout the United States Army:






We will explore these concepts in detail, at a later time.


Knowing that the world is an evil place full of people who only wish to do him harm, the Warrior is never unarmed.  A member of the Citizenry looks out the window and says, “Oh, it is raining; I must bring an umbrella.”  Whereas the Warrior looks out the window and thinks, “I don’t know what’s out there, I must carry something: an umbrella, a walking stick, a rolled-up newspaper – anything – so that my hands are not empty, should I encounter a Threat.”

When circumstances preclude carrying a firearm, I carry one of these. If the distance is closed with speed and aggression, a collapsible baton will disarm and subdue an armed opponent.


The Warrior is not constrained by convention.  There is a friction to Conflict; the Warrior adapts to fit the space and shape of the battlefield environment.

Years ago – another lifetime ago it seems – when I was a young Green Beret in Asia, my mentor explained: “The weapons of the modern-day ninja are the computer and the submachinegun.”

Like most of my peers, I knew nothing of computers, and an instinctive fear of the unknown gripped me.  In the course of my self-education, however, I encountered Sun Tzu, the great Philosopher of War.

The Art of War is one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy in the world. First translated into French language by Jesuits in 1772, it very likely influenced Napoleon. Leaders as diverse as Mao Zedong, General Vo Nguyen Giap, and General Douglas MacArthur claimed inspiration from the work.

Sun Tzu writes, “There is no difference between two armies tens of thousands strong meeting across a great battlefield, or two swordsmen facing each other in a duel.”

I understood this to mean that a computer by itself is not evil or sinister, no more so than any tool or machine; it is simply a device that can be used to project power, as much as a submachinegun but perhaps more indirectly. Having arrived in the era of cyber-crime and cyber-sabotage, it is easier to understand this concept.  The greater point is that the environment and the weaponry itself may change, but the Principles of War are always the same.


The greatest folly in Conflict is for the Warrior to underestimate his opponent; and Conflict pervades ever aspect of our lives.  Sun Tzu also wrote: “Know your enemies and know yourself and you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. But if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

In our business negotiations we apply this in seeking to know the other guy’s hidden agenda.  If you know your opponent’s bottom line, you can quickly outflank him in negotiations or office politics.

To respect the Enemy means never to underestimate him.  In modern warfare, this translates: “There aren’t too many Million Dollar Men, but there are plenty of 25 cent bullets.”

That little guy out there, squatting in the bush and living off rice and beans; he hates you and everything you stand for.  Given half a chance, he can . . . and will . . . very realistically . . . KILL you.

Take what I have written here and contemplate it.  You will be tested – of this I can assure you.

Originally posted at Stormbringer.

Obama Picked The Wrong War

David Frum June 25th, 2011 at 8:06 am 97 Comments

Watching President Obama speak this week about the US drawdown from Afghanistan, I thought of the old nursery rhyme:

Oh, The grand old Duke of York, He had ten thousand men; He marched them up to the top of the hill, And he marched them down again.

In 2009, President Obama ordered an Afghan surge, sending more than 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan. This week, Obama announced that the additional troops will withdraw by May 2012. The US combat mission in Afghanistan will end by 2014.

Canada’s war is ending, too.

Unlike the Iraq surge of 2006-2008, the Afghanistan surge is not ending in success. The government does not control Afghanistan’s territory. The Taliban have been neither defeated nor included in a political process. The Afghan security forces have been expanded, but they remain depressingly ineffective and enlistment remains far below the one peacekeeper to 30 civilian rule-of-thumb for counter-insurgency.

Odds are that when the U.S. surge ends, Afghanistan will revert to the conditions that prevailed before the surge: a weak government in Kabul beset by a growing Taliban insurgency in the Pashtun parts of the country.

So you have to wonder: What was the point?

President Obama has explained his Afghan surge as driven by the need to “deny a safe haven to al-Qaeda.” But as the whole world has spectacularly witnessed, al-Qaeda has already found a new safe haven in Pakistan -a safe haven with better airline connections and more reliable phone service than their former rocky home in one of the world’s most remote countries.

In fact, the Afghan surge had the perverse effect of intensifying US dependence on Pakistan. Back in 2001, George W. Bush declared that any government harboring al-Qaeda terrorists would be deemed terrorist itself. In 2011, we discover that somebody important in Pakistan was harbouring Osama bin Laden himself -and nothing has happened. Nothing can happen, because without Pakistan, the U.S. cannot fight in Afghanistan.

There’s a management saying: the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Building schools in Afghanistan is not the main thing.

Improving the lives of ordinary Afghans is not the main thing.

Bestowing stable government upon Afghanistan is not the main thing.

Eradicating al-Qaeda is the main thing.

Back in 2008, candidate Obama repeatedly described Afghanistan as the central front in the war on terror. He repeatedly accused the Bush administration of “taking its eye off the ball” by not investing more in Afghanistan.

After three years of doing it Obama’s way, perhaps more people can see the sense in the Bush approach.

Obama’s over-emphasis on Afghanistan has committed the US and the world to a gigantic state-building mission on inhospitable terrain. That mission is ending in predictable disappointment.

Yet even as the mission in Afghanistan is fizzling out, the campaign against al-Qaeda is succeeding. Even before the killing of bin Laden, al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups had lost their ability to carry out major terrorist attacks on the Western world.

Instead of 19 hijackers carrying out a co-ordinated attack on the most potent symbols of American power, we have occasional lone gunmen attempting Columbine-style shooting sprees. Those can be lethal and harrowing, like Major Nidal Hassan’s murder of 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. But nobody will interpret these ugly crimes as system-shaking assaults on American power, as bin Laden once hoped Muslims worldwide would interpret the 9/11 hijackings.

Each international terrorist attack since 9/11 has been less sophisticated than the one before: the Bali bombing less sophisticated than 9/11 itself, the Madrid train station bombing less sophisticated than Bali, the London subway attack less sophisticated than Madrid, the Ontario plot of 2006 less sophisticated than London.

But there is one exception to the dwindling of Islamist terrorism, and that is the terrorist attacks upon India. As recently as 2008, Islamist terrorists carried out co-ordinated attacks on targets in Mumbai, India’s biggest city, killing 164 people and wounding more than 300.

These terrorists drew backing from the Pakistan security forces, probably from some of the same people who shielded bin Laden -and for that matter, who continue to support the Taliban in its war with NATO and the United States. It is precisely because Obama agreed to treat Afghanistan as the central front that the US has found itself so helpless to force change upon Pakistan.

Obama and other Democrats agreed to overestimate Afghanistan in large part for domestic political reasons: Having opposed the Iraq war, they needed a war of their own to support to prove their tough-on-terrorism credentials. More and more, it looks like they chose wrong.

As that war winds down to its unsuccessful conclusion, we can only say: it’s a good thing that Afghanistan is not as important as candidate Obama said. If it were, we’d be in real trouble.

Originally published at The National Post.

Canada’s Troops Wrap Up Afghan Mission

June 4th, 2011 at 7:06 am 9 Comments

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is putting a brave face on Canada’s withdrawal from Afghanistan – or if not exactly withdrawal, buy cialis its changing role in that part of the world.

His surprise visit to Kandahar last week, after the G8 summit meetings in Deauville, was the right thing to do. It gave him a chance to see for himself and to pay tribute to soldiers for a thankless job well done — and to reinforce the theme that Canada really is pulling back.

Harper calling the Canadian mission “a great success” is a fair assessment, even though the “war” itself has really not changed much in Afghanistan.

When foreign soldiers have gone, likely the country will sink back into what it was, despite new aid programs and the framework of a national army and police force.

The real benefit of our army’s nine years in the country – and 156 soldiers killed – is the revival (or resuscitation) of the Canadian army as an effective military force, capable of anything that’s asked of it.

In what could be called the “years of darkness” for our military – the Trudeau years and beyond – UN “peacekeeping” was increasingly the key function of the army. In some ways it was almost the only function. The army did it well, but at cost to the primary role of being combat-ready — trained to fight, if necessary.

As has been said before, a combat-trained army in a peacekeeping role is like using a fire hose to water the garden where, in a war, an army trained for only peacekeeping, is a garden hose used to fight a fire.

And a country with an ineffective military gets little respect on the international stage  — witness Canada, for years considered friendly and benign but with little real clout or influence.

Since Afghanistan, and the professionalism and effectiveness of our relatively small battle group there (2,500 bodies), Canada’s stature has risen accordingly.

Some, who pay attention to such things, consider Canada as having the best small army in the world. No, we are not the U.S. or Britain with all the bells and whistles of big armies, but Canadians have proven to be the equal of any and better than most. Ask the Taliban.

Anyway, by going to Kandahar with Defense Minister Peter Mackay and Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Prime Minister Harper not only has symbolically thanked the soldiers, but given indication that he has no intention of letting our military wither on the vine, as has happened when past military missions ended.

Still, for politicians, words and deeds do not necessarily mesh.

It’s inevitable that after Afghanistan the military budget will be trimmed, if not chopped. The $16 billion cost for 65 F-35 strike aircraft is rising every day, and debate continues as to whether this is the best use of of limited defense dollars.

Afghanistan has made our soldiers popular at home – something unusual for Canadian soldiers, who were conditioned to being ignored in the post-WWII era.

Canadians appreciate their soldiers and are proud of them. With good reason. This has benefited the Harper government, which gambled that the military had more support among Canadians than elites and lib-lefters thought.

Canadian soldiers are not accustomed to seeing their PM in the field, so the gesture bodes well for the military – and the Harper government.

Canada’s Worn-Out Military

May 18th, 2011 at 2:39 pm 36 Comments

As Canada prepares to leave Afghanistan, ailment a weakness in our military is inadvertently revealed in comments by Lt.-Gen Peter Devlin, buy cialis Commander of the Canadian army.

As quoted by the National Post’s Matthew Fisher – arguably the most reliable reporter covering Afghanistan – Gen. Devlin said it will be more than a year after leaving Afghanistan, illness before the Canadian army is “reconstituted” to a level fit to again deploy in substantial numbers.

Helicopters, Leopard II battle tanks, armored vehicles, ammunition and artillery have to be brought home and upgraded. “We will have the means, by December 2012, to deploy a capable task force – not of this size – to respond if the government of Canada wants us to,” Gen. Devlin said.

Think about that for a moment. Roughly 3,000 troops of Canada’s 23,000-member army serve in Afghanistan at any one time, many on their third tour over the past nine years. This has so depleted us, that we need a time-out to recover.

If duty in Afghanistan is hard on soldiers, it is even harder on mechanized equipment. There’s evidence that a good deal more than repairing and upgrading is required for the Leopard tanks, LAVS, and other vehicles.

Reality is, that the Afghanistan mission has absorbed virtually all the battle-ready equipment the Canadian army possesses. Much equipment needs replacing, not repairing.

For a country like Canada to have its military paralyzed for a year, unable to contemplate combat missions because 3,000 troops and virtually all the functioning mechanized vehicles in the army are exhausted, reflects poorly on the country.

What it indicates is that our army is too small, and insufficiently equipped.

Maj.-Gen. Mike Day, responsible for the training mission in Afghanistan, is on record opining that “the quality of the Canadian army is that it’s battle-hardened, combat-tested and is predicated on a training system that is as good as any in the world.”

After Afghanistan, few would challenge this view.

Judging from the effectiveness of our troops engaging the Taliban, a case can be made that Canada has “the best small army in the world” – even superior to the Israeli military, which doesn’t have the logistical or administrative problems that the Canadian army faces when fighting far from home.

It is felt by many who know, that the British army is twice as big as its country can afford, while the Canadian army is half as big as its country could afford.

In other words, Britain verges towards bankruptcy yet deploys twice as many soldiers than it can afford, while Canada, basking in comparative wealth, commits half as many soldiers as it should.

We have sufficient wealth to double the size of the army, but mostly it’s upgraded equipment and weaponry that’s needed.

If, indeed, as Gen. Devlin says, our army can’t deploy in a meaningful way until a year after the Afghanistan mission ends, it is a serious lapse that needs attention — but is anathema to politicians who are reluctant to invest in the military.

The Canadian army has three infantry and three armored regiments, every one under-strength, supplemented by reserve forces. In the whole army, maybe 5,000 are combat troops – smaller than the Toronto police force.

As the Afghanistan mission nears its end, casualties have plummeted. However, once foreign troops are gone, it seems inevitable that the Taliban incubator of Pakistan will be a source for no peace in Afghanistan. Not reassuring.

Want to Win Afghan Hearts? Stay for the Long Haul

May 17th, 2011 at 6:01 pm 21 Comments

David Frum draws our attention to a report by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) which suggests that although the United States is winning militarily in Afghanistan, remedy we are losing the support of the populace there. “This is not good news,” David writes.

Of course, in a counterinsurgency, it’s never good news when the people whose allegiance you are trying to earn seem to doubt and dislike your efforts. But while the ICOS report gives legitimate cause for concern, it is also being misinterpreted and misused by anti-war critics, who have long been searching for an excuse to effect an American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The ICOS study shows a divergence of public attitudes within Afghanistan. Southern Afghans are seemingly more skeptical of American and coalition efforts than their northern counterparts.

For example, according to Reuters, “more than 90 percent of southern respondents said they thought foreigners disrespected Islam and Afghan traditions.” The comparable figure in the country’s north was almost half that, or 47 percent.

Moreover, “the polling showed that support for educating girls and giving women the right to vote dropped in southern Afghanistan from last fall.

Sixty-six percent of those polled in southern Afghanistan said they opposed educating girls; and 61 percent opposed the vote for women. Opposition to both measures was at 49 percent last year in the south.

The clear implication, then, is that the more the Afghans see of us, the more they dislike and disagree with us. So why don’t we just leave well enough alone and get out before we make a complete mess of things?

Not so fast. Context is required. Southern Afghanistan, we must realize, is where some of the heaviest and most intense fighting has taken place. So it’s hardly surprising that ordinary Afghans might be war weary and tired.

Indeed, according to Reuters, “almost 90 percent of men polled in contested districts in southern Afghanistan believe foreign military operations are bad for them.”

But an ordinary Afghan certainly can believe this and yet also believe that the Taliban and other Jihadists are a menace which must be rooted out. He can honestly acknowledge that foreign military operations have taken their toll on his village and his province, and yet also recognize that there may be no effective or workable alternative right now.

And in fact, something like this calculus seems to have been made by ordinary Afghans, who clearly have no desire for a return to Taliban rule.

“Taliban justice is not popular,” reports the ICOS,

with only 16% of respondents in the south preferring this method of obtaining justice, while no interviewees in the north considered this as a possibility. The fact that support for Taliban justice is low even in the conservative south is an encouraging sign for the international community and the Afghan government.

Moreover, just “six percent in the north and 11 percent in the south stated [that] they would consider working for the Taliban if it meant that the foreign forces would leave Afghanistan faster [emphasis added].” And “only seven percent of respondents in southern Afghanistan believe that working with the Taliban is right.” However, 42 percent of southern Afghans share that view.

Most Afghans believe that U.S. and Coalition forces, and not the Taliban, are winning the war. But not surprisingly, in those districts where the Taliban has been most strong and just recently rooted out militarily — the Panjwayi and Maiwand Districts in Kandahar Province and the Garmsir District in Helmand Province — more Afghans believe that the Taliban, and not the Coalition, is winning.

What, then, should we conclude? Several things, I think:

1. U.S. and Coalition forces are winning the war.

This is something that I reported here at FrumForum back in February, and the ICOS study supports my conclusion: The momentum in southern Afghanistan has changed in our favor and is now militarily irreversible, as retired Gen. Jack Keane put it.

2. U.S. military leaders have been wise to insist upon a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign.

There’s been a lot of nasty and unfair criticism, in the conservative blogosphere especially, about “Obama’s misbegotten nation-building” efforts in Afghanistan. But in fact, it was not Obama’s idea to adopt a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy; it was Generals Petraeus and McChrystal.

And they were right: Because unless and until the populace is protected and the insurgents isolated, no military victory in Afghanistan can ever truly be secure.

Our Soldiers and Marines understandably chafe at their restrictive rules of engagement. But as the ICOS study shows, ordinary Afghans also chafe at the collateral damage inflicted upon them by U.S. and Coalition forces. Success lies in striking a difficult balance between offensive operations aimed at rooting out the Taliban and other Jihadists, and defensive operations aimed at protecting and empowering the populace.

3. The U.S. military — and not just the U.S. military, but the entire U.S. government — must initiate a comprehensive information campaign to counteract Taliban propaganda, and to inform and persuade ordinary Afghans that our cause is their cause; and that our common cause is just.

Taliban information warfare clearly is having an effect in southern Afghanistan. We see this, for instance, in declining support for the education of women and increasing support for the view that foreigners disrespect Islam and Afghan traditions.

This is a real problem, because in a counterinsurgency, winning a military victory is only half the battle. Military gains must be complemented by political and cultural victories that are designed to win over the populace. And clearly, on that score, the United States needs to do much better.

4. U.S. policymakers must accept and communicate — to the American people, to Afghan policymakers and villagers, and, indeed, to the world — that we will be in Afghanistan for decades.

Although it may seem like the United States has been in Afghanistan forever, in truth, it is only within the past year or two that we have been there in force, waging a counterinsurgency. This is noteworthy because counterinsurgencies are time consuming affairs; and they are dependent very much upon perceptions within the populace.

If the populace perceives that we are committed to winning, then they will be inclined to support us. But if they perceive that we lack resolve and commitment, then they will be inclined to side with the enemy or “strong horse.”

The Obama administration has at times seemed too eager to leave Afghanistan and less eager to win there. This has made Afghan political and tribal leaders reluctant to work with us and more eager to accommodate the Taliban and other Jihadists.

The fact is, though, that the United States will have to remain in Afghanistan for decades. This to buttress and support the Afghan Army and Afghan security forces, but more importantly to help root out and contain Islamists in Pakistan, who threaten the entire region.

The Obama administration may not want to admit this, but that’s the inconvenient truth now that Osama bin Laden is dead after having been found residing in a plush Pakistani neighborhood roughly 40 miles from Islamabad: The long war just got longer, and there’s not a damn thing any of us can do about it.

John Guardiano blogs at www.ResoluteCon.Com, and you can follow him on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano.

On the Ground in Ivory Coast’s Civil War

April 17th, 2011 at 11:47 pm 3 Comments

This is part two of a series. Click here for part one.

Africa is tribal: I saw this in the Ivory Coast – le Cote d’Ivoire – when I was there as a military adviser in 1999.  I would tell the Ivorian officer where & when I needed his men, or where to go next.  When he would turn around and give a command, half the platoon would tighten up and look alert like proper soldiers.  The other half would look down at the ground and shuffle their feet, a lot of attitude and body language.  I figured it out real fast; half the platoon was his tribe, Ashanti, the rest were from other tribes, Twee, or Ibo.

On December 24, 1999, what started as a pay mutiny by these same disaffected troops morphed into a coup d’etat, and by 2002 had become a full-blown civil war. At that time my unit was sent in to get 2700-plus Americans and other nationalities out of the rebel-held north.  What we saw last week – French and UN helicopters firing missiles into the President’s residence in Abidjan – was the culmination of events that kicked off in 1999.

French helicopter attack sortie toward the Presidential Residence in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, April 2011

The current set of circumstances in Cote d’Ivoire relate directly to national elections held in October of last year.  Despite losing the election, Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down, never mind the fact that his term in office expired five years ago; he simply refused to leave.

His opponent, Alassane Ouattara, has the support of world leaders, but not of Ivory Coast’s military. So he associated himself with the rebel faction, which slowly but surely made its way toward the capital in an almost symbolic combat that claimed less than 500 lives.

* * *


In the years leading up to the coup of ’99, the government of President Bédié had drifted toward a xenophobic policy described as “Ivoirité”: based on the exclusion of immigrant workers from Mali and Burkina Faso, some of whom had been in the country for generations. Ouattara’s father’s family is from Burkina Faso – a fact that confounded Ouattara’s earlier political activities – and so much of the exploited underclass was able to identify with him and the rebel forces that emerged since the civil war of ’02.  Another complication in this conflict is the cultural fault line between Muslims in the north, and the Christian majority of the economically prosperous south.

In North America, it’s difficult to fully appreciate these kinds of issues, of course, and all this past month the thing in Libya has eclipsed the situation in West Africa.  Oil is important, despite the fact that we could straight up buy the oil from the Libyans if we wanted to – or anyone else – any day of the week, or can drill for it ourselves. But Cote d’Ivoire has something unique that can’t be found in deserts, arctic regions or at the bottom of the ocean.

Carrying cocoa beans in the port of San Pedro, Ivory Coast; much of the
nation’s economy depends on the exports. (Jane Hahn / New York Times)

Cote d’Ivoire produces almost 50% of the world’s supply of cocoa beans — and the beans have been piling up in the warehouses.  There is coffee there as well, and rubber plantations.  The rebels say they are fighting for their national identity, but their cause was financed by the power of the beans.

* * *

In September of 2002, my outfit got the word that we were going down to the Ivory Coast to evacuate Americans.  Normally for this sort of thing the phone rings in the dead of night, you roll over and say, “Honey, I’m going to be out of town for a couple of weeks.”  She says, “Whatever,” and you get a little break from each other’s company.

This time “the balloon went up” at ten in the morning.  We immediately went into mission prep, dragged our kit bags, drew our weapons and blew out of there – phone calls to mama-san were out of the question; OPSEC. My wife and kids – ALL the wives and kids – didn’t know where we were for the better part of two weeks.

We flew into Yamousoukro and established ourselves in the airport firehouse – a cement lean-to at the drainage end of the runway. The place was infested with mosquitoes.  I have lived and worked in the tropics most of my life and I have never seen mosquitoes that bad.  At one point, I looked down at my exposed forearm and it looked like I had black fur.  I wiped the insects away and my skin was dripping red with blood.

American Special Forces at Yamassoukro Airport, Cote d’Ivoire, September 2002.

The American refugees assembled at the International Christian Academy in Bouaké. The rebels were having a firefight with the Loyalists; the French Foreign Legion were pulling security in their LAVs (Light Armored Vehicles) and their gun jeeps.  The Loyalists would fall back through the Legion’s lines, the Legion would open up on the rebels, the rebels would fall back and the Loyalists would advance; rinse and repeat.

Mostly missionaries who’d lived there for years, the people we evacuated left everything behind; they were allowed one bag each. We rolled up there in our “GunVees” (modified HumVees bristling with belt-fed weapons), pulled security while the Americans loaded up in school buses, then escorted them back to the airport at Yamoussoukro.

American refugees escorted by American Special Forces, Ivory Coast, September 2002.

That’s me you can see through the windshield of the bus.

The scene at the airport was equally sad; I saw a Frenchman roll up in his Renault, hop out and say to an African standing nearby, “You want a car?” and hand him the keys.

At one point I was interviewed by an American intelligence officer.  “You’ve been here before? You trained the rebels?”

“That’s right.” I told him about our activities in Akuedo, in 1999.

He asked me what kind of troops they were, their capabilities. I told him that if he ever came under fire from them, the safest place to be was right out in the middle of the road.


“They can’t hit the broad side of a barn, from the inside.”

He opened up a laptop and showed me photographs of the rebels taken in Bouaké and Korhogo.  “Do you recognize any of these guys?”

“Well, they all look the same, but yes I do.  That guy’s name is Valere.”


“We used to drink beer and play cards together.”


“What about this guy?”

“That’s Ironman.”

Like all military operations, there was a lot of “hurry-up-and-wait”. I spent an afternoon in an air-conditioned van with an older American gentleman and his wife. She had a strange accent I couldn’t quite put a finger one.  To fight boredom I started impersonating the French officers – in French; the wife was going into hysterics, ringing out peals of laughter.  Turned out she was Québécois, which explained a lot of things, and he was the “OGA” station chief, which explained even more.

Later, after we returned to Stuttgart, I learned from an Ivoirian I’d stayed in touch with that my buddy Valere was indeed with the rebel forces. It turned out that he was killed in action – in Bouaké, the day of the evacuation.

* * *


In February of 2003, I attended a briefing at Special Operations Command, Europe (SOCEUR), in Stuttgart. The officer opened the briefing with, “It’s coup season again down in Africa.” A small team was put on alert to go down to “CDI”, to perform reconnaissance tasks, prepare assembly areas for an evacuation, et cetera. We were told to pack our bags and be ready to launch; the specific guidance was: “Be within one hour of sobriety.”

While waiting for the balloon to go up, my journalist brother emailed me that he would be passing through Frankfurt, headed for an embed slot with the 3d Infantry Division for the then-anticipated invasion of Iraq – could we meet up?

At first I told him I couldn’t make it – I was on a one hour string.  Then it occurred to me that I was instrumental in my brother’s circumstances – in January I’d made a phone call that got him into the embed program – and if something terrible happened, I would never forgive myself, not seeing him when I had the chance. I had to go, so I called the officer over at SOCEUR. “Can you be back here within one hour?” Sure thing, I told him; normally it’s an hour and a half to ride up there, but you can fly over those German autobahns.  Never mind the fact there was about an inch of ice all over everything.

My brother and I linked up in the airport – he finagled his way through customs to get out of the transit lounge. We had a good German breakfast of sausages and beer and joked about how it would be his last beer for a long time.  Afterwards we strolled through the side of the airport which is like a giant shopping mall, and I pointed out the escalators to the S-bahn, the trains that go everywhere in Germany.  It was still dark outside when my phone went off; all my brother heard was me saying was, “Yes sir . . . uh-huh . . . yes sir . . . I’ll be there. I’m enroute.”

I looked up and my brother was grinning from ear to ear; he’d just seen me get THE PHONE CALL.  We said our goodbyes and he went his way and I went mine.  Two brothers, linking up in Europe, heading in two separate directions to two different wars, on two different continents.  Much later my brother described the scene: “It was like being in London, 1942.”

My brother went to the Sandpile and took part in the Great and Glorious War on Terror; I parked my car in front of a gray, nondescript building in a military compound in Stuttgart, went inside, grabbed my kit bag, got on a C-130 and made my way back down to an obscure little war in Africa, in a country most people can’t even find on a map.

Sean Linnane blogs at STORMBRINGER.

On the Frontline With Ivory Coast’s Rebels

April 17th, 2011 at 10:28 am 12 Comments

The West African state of Cote d’Ivoire was in the news cycle this past week, where a six month power struggle culminated with French and UN attack helicopters firing rockets on the Presidential Residence in Abidjan, the economic capital of the nation of 21 million. But the war goes back further than the past six months; I was there for the beginning and early stages of that war, back in the late nineties and early oughts.

It actually began as a military pay mutiny, at Camp Akuedo on the outskirts of Abidjan. I know this because I helped train the soldiers who became known as the rebels.

One of the guys we trained in peacekeeping duties, seen here as a part of the rebel force in Bouaké, Cote d’Ivoire.

We were there as a part of a U.S. State Department program – the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) – teaching peacekeeping skills to company-sized elements from five battalions of the Ivorian military. At the beginning of the program we issued new uniforms, equipment, boots, everything – to the soldiers, many of whom had arrived from their remote bases in uniforms that were little more than rags falling off their bodies, their web gear held together in places by threads

At the end of our four-month training program, the soldiers once again appeared in their rags. “What happened?” I asked one of the troops. “Where are your new uniforms, the ones we gave you?”

“The officers, they took them all back, put them in the warehouse.” Good old Third World corruption; we give them foreign aid, the guys in charge ripped it off and used it to line their pockets. Your tax dollars at work.

This guy’s nom de guerre was Ironman, because of his great physical strength. I still have the heavy steel bracelet he gave me in 1999.

One of the Ivorians asked me for some money so he could take the train back to his base up north. He was a brother paratrooper, so I shelled out ten bucks – probably a month’s pay for him. This was telling, because later that night, it was the pay thing that kicked off the whole mess.

Third World armies are paid peanuts. Actually, if they were literally paid in peanuts they’d probably be better off than the puny salaries they make. That’s where things like UN peacekeeping duty come in; UN pay is worth triple what they make, and this is crucial because their retirement scheme is practically non-existent.

Well, President Henri Konan Bedie was on TV that night, giving a big speech about how great things were going. The trouble was, things weren’t going all that great, and hadn’t been in the twelve years since the great Houphouët-Boigny – founding father of Ivory Coast – had died. The troops clustered in the dirt-floored canteen were yelling at the screen, ”Oh, yeah?! Well if things are going so good – WHERE’S OUR UN PAY?”

What happened next – after they got enough beer in them – was that they went down to the arms room, busted in and secured the firing pins for their rifles (that’s how much their own officers trusted them). Then they rocked on down to the Minister of Defense’s residence – about five miles down the road – and made known their grievances.

The security element at the Minister of Defense’s place returned fire, so the mutineers pulled back and went over to the President’s residence. There was no return fire this time, so the troops took the place down, and the whole country with it.

This was in December of 1999; the wealthiest, most stable nation in West Africa had just experienced its first coup d’etat…

Click here for part two.

Originally published at STORMBRINGER.