We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Tuesday morning replay

Today’s Times has the headline:

Allies at odds over death of hostage in bungled rescue

The story is behind a paywall. It does not matter. I am only interested in the headline and whoever wrote it.

Do these people have any idea at all of what life-or-death fighting is actually like? I do not demand that they have actually done any before writing about it; little would ever be reported about war if that were the test. But they could at least have read a few memoirs, or talked to their grandfathers. Reading about the Dieppe Raid might put things in perspective.

Hint: it is not like planning a dinner party. With that sort of thing if you make a careful list of Things To Do and do them all in good time you generally can be reasonably confident that it will work out OK and if it does not work out OK, say the soufflé does not rise or the wine was too sweet, it probably was because someone bungled.

Military small group operations – by which I mean small group killings of people who can also kill you – are not like that. They always hang on a knife edge. The most skilled soldiers in the world frequently die young and frequently fail. A hand is a fraction of a second too slow on the trigger – a human mind is a fraction of a second slower than another, hostile, human mind to make sense of the confusion – and a comrade dies, or a hostage dies, and a lifetime of agonized mental replaying of that moment of failure begins.

Six hours later a headline writer in an office far away expresses his displeasure.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

25 comments to Tuesday morning replay

  • lucklucky

    That is the lack quality of journalism we have now. From the journalist school to the newspaper, a monoculture.

  • Barry Sheridan

    Appropriate criticism of the world of mainstream western journalists, a breed of individuals who feel able to pass judgement on events without any first, or any hand, experience.

    It is profoundly disappointing that this rescue attempt did not come off. We can be sure however that those involved will have done their level best in circumstances that are bound to been extremely taxing.

    My sympathies go to the family of woman concerned and to the team who undertook this difficult task.

  • Pollo

    The article itself shows no displeasure that the raid was ordered or offers any opinion on how it was carried out. It merely points out that the Americans have failed to acknowledge responsibility for Linda Norgrove’s death.

  • Siha Sapa

    Would that there were more people such as yourself who appreciate what goes into scouting, patrolling, raids, and ambushes; it’s fairly easy to be killed or maimed training for that kind of work. How did this poor soul die, exactly? Perhaps the ‘aftermath’ is such that it will never definitively known. Then again, it wasn’t American Special Operations’ who kidnapped her and were going to kill her for the sake of their operational convenience.

  • Sami Achmed

    It merely points out that the Americans have failed to acknowledge responsibility for Linda Norgrove’s death.

    Not should they. The ‘responsibility’ for her death lies entirely with the kidnappers.

  • Pollo

    Not should they. The ‘responsibility’ for her death lies entirely with the kidnappers.

    And that isn’t disputed. The sequence of events however is and is important. However, by all means continue vilifying an article you haven’t read.

  • Millie Woods

    Bravo, Natalie, you’ve shone light on how assessment of a critical situation is frequently distorted by journalists who have little or no first hand experience of what they opine about.

  • llamas

    Pollo wrote:

    ‘The article itself shows no displeasure that the raid was ordered or offers any opinion on how it was carried out. It merely points out that the Americans have failed to acknowledge responsibility for Linda Norgrove’s death. ‘

    Oh, nonsense. The very headline includes the word ‘bungled’ – if that isn’t ‘(an) opinion on how it was carried out . . . ‘, I would like to know what is. The word ‘bungled’ is the common denominator in all UK media coverage of this event.

    It’s by no means clear yet whether Ms Norgrove was killed by US forces or not. General Petraeus has raised the possibility that this is the case, but there’s certainly no definitive conclusion yet – so why the US should ‘acknoweldge responsibility’ for something when it’s really not at all clear what happened is beyond me.

    Not to worry, though – the UK media has already decided what the narrative will be here. Ms Norgrove was killed by a US soldier – after all, they’re all cowboys, everybody knows that – and any inquiry that reachers any other conclusion is a cover-up. Any stick does to beat a dog with.

    When the SAS stormed the Iranian embassy, there’s very little question that they deliberately executed two unarmed men who had surrendered. But that’s our brave boys from Hereford. When US soldiers put their lives at risk to rescue a woman stupid enough to go swanning around in the bandit country of Afghanistan in a Toyota Corolla – bunch of cowboys. Isn’t it obvious?

    llater,

    llamas

  • Laird

    The Wall Street Journal has what seems to be a pretty even-handed account of the incident. There certainly seems to be no evidence that anyone is “covering up” what happened, they’re merely conducting a careful investigation.

    Frankly, I have a problem with risking soldiers’ lives in attempts to rescue people (“aid workers”, and especially missionaries) who intentionally go into such places. It should be entirely at their own risk.

  • The sequence of events however is and is important. However, by all means continue vilifying an article you haven’t read.

    1. I have read it.

    2. No, the sequence of events is not important when assigning “responsibility”. No matter how “bungled” the rescue attempt was, the “responsibility” remains unchanged.

    3. Both your remark (“accept responsibility”) and the headline (“bungled”) are the topic of my reply and Natalie’s article respectively and both are loaded with precisely the sort of meaning Natalie takes exception to.

  • What the **** are we doing, letting idealistically-inclined naifs wander about, giving “aid”, in this sort of place anyway? It’s nowhere near ready yet to receive them, even if we or the natives wanted them to be there. There is tons of deathly spade work to be done yet.

  • There was a time when westerners going to savage lands to civilise the natives accepted that there was a risk, and when they failed to return, their relatives would say, “Oh Uncle Archie, he was kidnapped by headhunters in Timbuktu, all we got back was his cigar case”. And nobody thought anything else of it.

    There is much play on how various village elders have negotiated peaceful releases of various hostages, with the implication that that should have been the case this time. There is little emphasis on the high risk of being kidnapped in this savage land, and that nice young gels going there as missionaries of various kinds are at this high level of risk, nor of why brave soldiers should be obligated to rescue them from the savages and bear such blame when those rescues do not restore the nice young gel to the bosom of her family. “At your own risk” seems to have fallen out of the western vocabulary.

    There is a strong argument that the savage peoples of the world should be left alone to civilise themselves, since they are now able to Wii into the internet and learn how the civilised peoples of the world behave. Those foolish members of the interfering upper class who wish to don a pith helmet and venture into headhunter territory should be aware that they do so at their own risk, and their families might then learn to be satisfied with an eventual report of their demise and, if they are lucky, a rather scratched cigar case as a memento.

  • When the SAS stormed the Iranian embassy, there’s very little question that they deliberately executed two unarmed men who had surrendered. But that’s our brave boys from Hereford. When US soldiers put their lives at risk to rescue a woman stupid enough to go swanning around in the bandit country of Afghanistan in a Toyota Corolla – bunch of cowboys. Isn’t it obvious?

    Sickeningly obvious. The UK media are nothing if not predictable. Kudos to Natalie for this article.

  • Sam Duncan

    Bravo, llamas.

  • Sigivald

    Pollo: For that matter, as llamas said, if General Petraeus is raising the possibility that she was killed by American soldiers (unintentionally, of course), doesn’t that mean that “the Americans” are taking exactly as much responsibility for her death as is appropriate given the state of knowledge?

    “Maybe our troops did it, we’re investigating” is not a denial of responsibility, nor is it silence and hoping nobody will look into the matter.

    You seem to demand that the US take full responsibility for her death before the matter’s even been investigated (which is doubly odd considering that you “don’t dispute” that “full responsibility lies with her kidnappers” in your reply above).

    What is it you want the United States Government to do here?

  • Pat Mccann

    You sleep well in your bed at night only because a few rough men are willing to do violent things on your behalf´

    George Orwell

  • llamas

    Sigivald wrote:

    “What is it you want the United States Government to do here?”

    Oh, that’s easy.

    Be Wrong.

    And it’s a perfect situation.

    If the rescue had succeeded – well, the negotiators were on the way, it could all have been solved peacefully but you know those Septics, they’re such morons, so insensitive to the finer nuances of dealing with Johnny Pathan.

    If it had failed – as it did – well, see all of the UK media coverage today. Meathead Yanks, trigger-happy cowboys, just blasting their way around the shop, kill the object of their mission. A large drink for the first sighting of a commentator who trots out the ‘we had to destroy the village in order to save it’ meme.

    If the US forces had not staged the mission in the first place, one of two outcomes – she dies a horrible death at the hands of the medieval death-cultists who were holding her, or she gets released so that she can dress up in a chador and heap glowing praise on the underdeveloped scum who abducted her in the first place – Iranian-hiker style.

    If the the first, heartless Yankee bastards let her die a horrible death, even though they could have saved her. If the second, well, see, what are the Americans (or any Western power) doing there anyway, all you have to do is kiss these frogs and they turn into princes!

    It’s perfect. Nobody actually gives a rat’s a** about this poor, stupid woman who thought it was a fine idea to go wandering around like a f*cking tourist in a war zone, advising on irrigation schemes. Guess, what, lady? They don’t give a sh*t about your irrigation schemes – you were just a useful idiot to them! No, this whole incident is being viewed strictly through the lens of ‘how can we spin this to match our preconceptions about the war in Afghainistan?’ And the overwhelming central focus of that lens is ‘The US Is Wrong. About Everything.’

    The Taliban are just laughing their asses off at this whole debacle. Look, the clueless Westerners, they’re arguing among themselves about the fate of some inconsequential, foolish female who stumbled into our hands. We don’t give a rip about her kind – we’d have sold her on, or killed her, or treated her like we treat our own women, which is to say, like dirt – yet the Westerners send attack helicopters, and risk their menfolk, and spend millions trying to save her – and when it all went bad, Inshallah, they set to fighting among themselves about it! Truly, this war is too easy!

    We do their work for them.

    llater,

    llamas

  • davydai nikolenko

    I understand 6 or more talibanistas were terminated during the mission – so definitely not an Epic Fail.
    Would have been worse if a highly useful Special Forces soldier had been killed in place of the not-so useful Idiot, IMHO.

  • llamas

    davydai nikolenko wrote:

    “I understand 6 or more talibanistas were terminated during the mission – so definitely not an Epic Fail.”

    I’m glad they’re dead. too.

    But let’s look at this dispassionately – for the price of 6 foot-soldiers, the enemy has managed to get the two major allies arrayed against them – fighting with each other. Confidence in each other is being destroyed – what is the American general supposed to think, when he stands up like a mensch and tells the truth, and what he gets in return is a ration of sh*t from the UK press? And the will of the people to support the war is being undermined, as everyone obsesses about the excat manner in which this stupid, stupid woman was killed. As though her life would have been just sunshine and puppies if the big dumb Americans just hadn’t shown up.

    Sun Tzu would have been proud of them. They’re winning without even leaving home. Luttwak called this sort of thing a ‘relational manouver’ and they have mastered the art of making us (their enemy) defeat ourselves. You gotta admire their savvy.

    llater,

    llmas

  • DBC Reed

    You don’t ,when you are rescuing somebody,bung a grenade which kills everybody indiscriminately uver a ten-foot radius.

  • llamas

    DBC Reed wrote:

    ‘You don’t ,when you are rescuing somebody,bung a grenade which kills everybody indiscriminately uver a ten-foot radius.’

    Ah, yes, the well-known munition that selects its targets by name – must be a British invention, I guess.

    The very best hostage-rescue folks in the whole wide world – the Israelis – know and accept that this is a highly-uncontrolled escapade at best and there’s a good chance that hostages may be killed. At Entebbe, the Israelis unhestitatingly shot and killed a hostage by mistake, they freely admitted it, and no-one thought a mite the worse of them for it. They accept that because they’re adults and they go into risky ventures like this with their eyes wide open. But when it happens with American forces – oh, no, then it’s ‘bungling’ and ‘indiscriminate.’

    Your comment makes it clear that you have not the faintest idea of what’s involved in a ‘dynamic entry’. When faced with lots of bad guys firing at you, a grenade which kills everyone over a ten-foot radius may be just exactly what you need.

    I never cease to be amazed at just how daft the Brits can be when it comes to thinking about the US military. To express an opinion like this means that you have to believe that a whole bunch of highly-trained soldiers strapped on all their battle-rattle, took a long ride in a cold helicopter, abseiled down ropes in the dark while being shot at, engaged in a protracted gun battle with a hardened and capable enemy, fought their way room-by-room through an enemy position – and all so that they could throw a grenade ‘indiscriminately’. They weren’t there in an attempt to save a innocent victim from a horrible fate – they just wanted to play indiscriminately with their weapons.

    Tchah!

    llater,

    llamas

  • Laird

    At the very least, she died better than if the Taliban had done the killing.

  • Whenever anyone refers to the Iraq War as “failed” on some spurious grounds — there are still Ba’athists there, it’s still not safe, it’s taking far too long, a museum got looted, whatever — I always ask them “Compared to what?” Where are these wars which finish dead quickly, get all the water and electricity switched back on a couple of days later, and have no aftermath or extended mopping up?

  • MattP

    From the reporting I’ve seen, the SEALs weren’t attempting a dynamic room entry at the time the grenade was throw. The SEAL was on the roof of one of the huts, and he threw the frag grenade into the open space of the compound toward the kidnappers he could see. Not the hostage he couldn’t see.

    The SEAL is getting unfairly criticized for using a fragmentation grenade. I need to point out that these aren’t ordinary SEALs, if there is such a thing. They’re from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group. So in addition to their their counter-terror mission they evaluate all weapons and equipment for use by all the teams, as well evaluate and develop tactics, techniques, and procedures. They’re the cream of the cream; the best of the best.

    Most of what these guys do, and how they do it, is classified. But they made the conscious decision to issue fragmentation grenades for the mission. So based on the intelligence they had about the location, the opposition, etc., they made a professional and experienced determination that it’d be highly likely they would need them. At some point in the very dangerous and multi-faceted process of getting into the compound, eliminating threats, locating and retreiving the hostage, and then getting everyone to a location where they could be extracted.

    I don’t know the exact situation they were facing, nor what actions and equipment would be required to execute the mission from beginning to end. Neither does anyone else not personally involved.

    So, based on what’s been reported in the press I certainly can’t second guess the team’s choice of weapons. I also can’t conclude anything about the SEALs actions. It’s premature.

  • Paul Marks

    A good post, and (mostly) good comments

    A tragic event.

    But also one that should be learned from.

    In the (much attacked) days of Empire people understood they could be attacked at any time – and were prepared to defend themselves.

    This included people who had gone to feed the hungry and treat the sick.

    That did not mean they were not sometimes killed – or taken hostage.

    But it did mean they were not soft targets.

    This is not to “blame the victim”, but if someone is not prepared to personally carry a firearm (and learn how to use it) they really should not be in these places.

    However unpopular the above words are – they are the truth.