- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

The five-star movie "Black Hawk Down" smacks you right between the eyes with the sheer brutality of infantry combat, however magnificently portrayed by film maestro Ridley Scott. But while it showcases the professionalism and bravery of our U.S. Army Special Operations warriors in Mogadishu, it's far too light on the lessons to be learned from that terrible disaster.

In December 1992, I went to Somalia. On a much smaller scale, the conditions were like those in Vietnam: snipers, mines and booby traps were killing and wounding our soldiers, and we had a hard time finding the guerrilla enemy who fought only on their terms.

This time, I was looking at the battlefield as a war correspondent, but there was no way to take the young soldier out of the old reporter. My style was to hang out with one of the rifle platoons for five days and then send in my copy. Pretty soon, eating and sleeping with the grunts, I became just a guy who had been around a war or two. It wasn't long before "Hey, Hack, does this machine gun have a good field of fire?" and "What do you think of this patrol formation?"

I was tagging along with Maj. Martin Stanton of the 2/87th Infantry, an old pal, when he asked me to give a class on how we used choppers in Vietnam. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Remember, I'm bad news as far as the Army's concerned. What's the Pentagon going to say when they hear you've got me teaching a class?"

Maj. Stanton was sure. I gave a two-hour lecture on airmobile operations in a guerrilla environment. "This is how we did it in Vietnam," I told them.

Most looked at me with blank faces as if I were talking "Star Wars" to the moon. I realized with an electric shock that these fine young 10th Division soldiers were like explorers in an unknown land without a map or compass, and one single cram session on airmobile missions wasn't going to be much help. All the lessons paid for so dearly from Vietnam had disappeared.

After I left Somalia, a Ranger Task Force, some of the best warriors going, deployed to Mogadishu. They conducted six chopper operations, all using identical tactics and techniques, during which they dropped into the objective, conducted a raid and returned to base. On their seventh raid, they were tasked to capture Mohammed Aidid, a clan guerrilla leader. But because their leaders hadn't factored into the equation that Aidid's boys were watching the way smart terrorists do they ended up surrounded, trapped and, except for their courage and fighting skill, would have been destroyed to the man.

Besides employing a bush-league tactical plan, the general in charge, William Garrison, had no contingency plan to bail out his boys if the op turned bad. No U.S. Air Force tactical air support. No tanks ready to break through to the besieged Rangers even though Marine tanks were close, the Army didn't want the Marines to ride to the rescue because of interservice rivalry. And so our warriors were severely bloodied 18 died, and more than 100 were wounded, a rout that caused the sole surviving superpower to beat feet out of Somalia, dragging its tail.

For personal and professional reasons, I went to Walter Reed Hospital in D.C., to talk to the wounded, then to Fort Benning, Ga., to meet with some of the Rangers who had been in the fight. They told me officially and again unofficially at night over beers how they'd been sucked in and then out-guerrillaed, outmaneuvered, outsmarted. A detailed assessment of the debacle is in my book "Hazardous Duty."

As today's top military leaders go up the chain, like most executives in large organizations, they develop a disease called CRN Can't Remember Nothing and forget what it's like to be at the bottom. Somewhere along the line, they stop listening to the grunts who do the fighting and dying, the ones who know what they need to defeat our enemies and survive.

We must protect the troops in Afghanistan by applying what we learned the hard way in Somalia, starting with sending some tanks into Kandahar as soon as possible.


David Hackworth is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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