- The Washington Times - Friday, January 8, 2010

THE MAJESTIC TWELVE:THE TRUE STORY OF THE MOST FEARED COMBAT ESCORT UNIT IN BAGHDAD

By Jack Lynch II with Rick Lynch

Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, 336 pages

REVIEWED BY GARY ANDERSON

War memoirs by senior officers have a tendency to run the gamut between celebrations of success to explanations of failure. Even when going after a hated adversary in print, senior officers and senior civilian officials tend to wrap their barbs in some kind of polite covering. This is generally not the case with memoirs written by junior officers and enlisted men. Names of those the authors considered to be incompetent or malicious tend to get named or couched in nicknames so transparent that everyone familiar with the organization being discussed knows who is being castigated.

In the “Magnificent Twelve,” retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant Jack Lynch II names the names of those he considers to be heroes as well as those he considers knaves; many of the people he views as bad guys are either still on active duty in the armed forces or are recently retired. This makes it an interesting book to read.

The book needs to be explained in the context of the times. In the spring of 2004, the Coalition Military Advisory Training Team (CMATT) was an organization in the midst of turmoil. In the heady months after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime and the disbandment of its army, the American-led CMATT organization had been tasked with building a new Iraqi army. The new army was to be basically trained by contractors and not to be involved in internal Iraqi security. The insurgency, which was unforeseen by American planners, forced CMATT into a mission for which it was neither prepared nor staffed to conduct.

Enter Master Sgt. Lynch. Although initially assigned to an office job, he quickly realized that there was a need to escort people and equipment from CMATT headquarters at the Republican Palace in the safety of Baghdads Green Zone to outlying training and recruiting posts. He organized an ad hoc escort unit from a variety of Marines, Army Special Forces soldiers, and an odd lot of other volunteers. In doing so, he crafted them into a cohesive unit. The process was not pretty or orthodox. He initially had to employ “borrowed” Soviet-produced automatic weapons and unarmored vehicles because CMATT had never been envisioned as a command that would see combat; consequently, state of the art American equipment was not available.

Lynch’s tour in Iraq almost exactly matched the transition period in the time when the haphazard Iraqi insurgency was growing into a multi-headed Hydra that included both Sunni and Shi’ite groups whose only common cause was resistance to the occupation. Because he was “outside the wire” every day, the author saw this evolution firsthand and realized its implications before many of his chair-borne superiors inside the Green Zone did. In many ways, this book shows the impact at the ground truth level of decisions made or not made in Washington, and in higher headquarters in Iraq, on the people who were actually fighting the war. This makes it an interesting companion piece to Tom Ricks’ “Fiasco” and other books that examine the operational and strategic decision making at that time.

As Lynch progressed through his tour, CMATT transitioned into a true advisory command under the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus (then a lieutenant general) who came to Iraq with a strategic mandate to transform the Iraqi Army’s mission from one that was limited to defense of Iraq from outside aggression into preparing it to be a force capable of dealing with the rapidly growing insurgency. This improved the equipping of Lynch’s unit greatly, but did not end his battles with the office-bound staff officers.

This book provides a glimpse of the debate that goes on to this day in counterinsurgency operations concerning the role of protecting American forces from harm and making enemies through aggressive actions. Lynch unapologetically argues that he erred on the side of aggressiveness in trying to protect his unit and those he was protecting in his convoy security operations. Many of the CMATT staff saw him as making unnecessary enemies through this approach. Lynch argues that his unit, which lacked the technology of combat units far better equipped for the mission at hand, killed relatively few Iraqis and never lost anyone in combat; this includes the people that he was protecting. Policy makers and military professionals who read this book should ponder that.

Lynch probably didn’t write the book to spark a policy debate, but he has given us a look at the human dimensions of high ranking policy decisions.

c Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer. He has experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.