Monday, February 20, 2006

Shadow Warriors

I’ve finished reading another book. (Well, actually I finished listening to an audio book.) I’ve always been a Tom Clancy fan and I just finished Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces by Tom Clancy with General Carl Stiner (retired) and Tony Koltz.

The book is basically a collection of stories, experiences, and anecdotes about those members of the United States armed forces who belong to special forces units such as the Green Berets, the US Navy SEALs, the pilots who fly their special mission planes and helicopters, etc. From this I learned more than I expected to learn about world history since the World War II years.

The precursors to today’s special forces who parachuted in behind enemy lines into German-occupied France to work with French Resistance fighters had to walk quite a political tightrope between the monarchists, the Gaulists, and the communists. The communists were the most troublesome. Near the end of the war, one group of communist aligned resistance fighters stopped cooperating, captured a munitions factory, and began making weapons to be used in an armed revolution they wanted to start as soon as the Germans were expelled from France.

President John F. Kennedy was a big supporter of the concept of “special forces” because he anticipated low intensity conflicts and guerilla led fighting.

The entrace requirements to the Army Special Forces were raised sometime during or shortly after Vietnam to include a minimum IQ of 120. Language, cultural, and political skills became extremely important. “Rambo” types were not really what they wanted. They wanted men who could work to gain cooperation of native guerilla and tribal forces.

General Stiner was assigned as a liason with the armed forces of Lebanon prior to the bombing of the Marines barracs that killed 220 US Marines in 1983. He describes in great detail the friction, animosity, political agendas of the the Christians supported by Israel, the Druze supported by Syria, and Hezbollah supported by Iran. I also learned how the Lebanese constitution set up by the French used the resuls of an out-of-date census in 1930 to distribute political offices by religion. For example, the top leader of Lebanon was designated to be a Christian because the Christians were the largest ethnic group in 1930. By 1983, Muslims outnumbered Christians but the allocation of political offices had not changed. No wonder the Middle East is such as mess!

General Stiner led a response team to the TWA Flight 847 hijacking in 1985. He described how delays in getting lift aircraft affected their ability to try to mount a rescue while the plane was on the ground in Beruit. When the plane flew to Algiers, the government there would not allow a rescue attempt. When the plane returned to Beruit, the terrorists were reinforced with heavily armed men and some 40 of the passengers were removed from the plane and taken to different locations making rescue difficult if not impossible. This experience led to the assignment of dedicated lift aircraft to support special forces activities.

General Stiner was also involved in US actions to capture the terrorists who hijacked the Achille Lauro in 1985 and killed a wheelchair-bound Jewish-American passenger. The terrorists were forced to land in Sicily where there was quite a political standoff about whether Italy or the US would get to prosecute the terrorists. Italy got to prosecute the terrorists but they let the hijacking mastermind Abu Abbas escape via a plane to Yugoslavia because of supposed diplomatic immunity.

A huge amount of effort went into the American invasion of Panama to capture the corrupt President Noriega in 1989 and support the lawfully elected government. A few interesting facts (or trivia depending on your point of view).
  • Because of their bombing accuracy, the F-117 Stealth Fighter was used to drop 2000 pound bombs on a very precise location so as to create a diversion without harming civilians as US paratroopers were landing to take over a shared US-Panamanian army base. The shared base had housing for the family members of both Panamian and US troops. This may have been the first use of the Stealth aircraft in combat. The aircraft were still a “black” secret prior to the first Gulf War with Iraq.
  • To gain refuge in the Vatican Embassy, Noriega apparently told an embassy official that if he was not allowed sanctuary, he would go into the mountains to lead a guerilla war.
  • Evidence was found in Noriega’s homes that he practiced witchcraft. Understandably, this did not sit well with representatives of the Catholic Church while he was hiding in their embassy.

A small group of four US soldiers were inserted well behind Iraqui lines during the first Gulf War to observe troop movements along a major highway. They were initially sent out by helicopter, recalled, and then sent out again. They used so much fuel they had to return to base to refuel before going out the second time. As a a result they did not have enough time before daylight to dig a good hole to hide in. Their less secure hiding place in a ditch was discovered soon by a couple of little girls and a little boy. The troops apparently had authorization to shoot the children to protect their mission but the warrant officer in charge, having little girls of his own, decided against it. The children did indeed bring an adult who they also refused to shoot. They quickly moved to a new position but later had to hold off an attack by an entire company of Iraqui soldiers who luckily were not great fighters. The US troops theorized they were deskbound soldiers called hurriedly into action because the company of soldiers attacking them did not wear combat boots but instead had street shoes on despite the rugged terrain. Eventually, they got air support from Air Force jets and were extracted by a helicopter while under fire.

There is much good information about recent history in this book that I think is valuable. Check it out!

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