RIGHT IN FRONT OF US
Riding at thirty-five miles an hour on a behemoth that can kill from more than two miles away, wind and sand in your face, diesel fumes in your nose, men yelling in your ear on a radio, bad guys dying on the side of the road, you are exhausted—you haven’t slept in thirty-six hours, and when you do sleep, it will be in a hole you dig—but absolutely elated, knowing you and your brave men are finally doing what you have been trained to do for so many years.
All this was going through Colonel Dave Perkins’s mind as he led his brigade of tanks and mechanized infantry across the Iraqi desert in March 2003. His soldiers were performing perfectly. His unit was ahead of the plan. He was a warrior god doing what he does best.
Perkins got his 5,000-man unit to a spot outside of Baghdad where his superiors wanted him to stop and wait. They wanted him to be a “good colonel” and ask permission before he entered the capital. He could have sat back, waited for permission, and spent days as a sitting duck while his superiors had three meetings, two briefings, and an ass-chewing before determining whether Saddam Hussein had set a trap inside Baghdad. Instead, Colonel Perkins took a risk: he made a dash for Baghdad. He called it a “Thunder Run” because of the speed, power, and noise of that many tanks running down the road.
It was an audacious, tactically risky move. And it was goddamned brilliant. Perkins’s brave decision shortened the war and saved his guys. Colonel Dave Perkins is exactly the type of leader that makes our military great; we need more like him.
A few miles to the south of this great guy and his great men, a different story was unfolding.
Task Force Tarawa was a 1,000-man Marine unit moving up the right side of Iraq. Intel told them that the town they were about to hit, Nasiriya, was full of Shiites and very friendly to us. The operation was going to be a piece of cake. But the Marines didn’t find friendly crowds in Nasiriya; they found a fight, a fight so bad that at several points they thought they might lose—not a thing any Marine contemplates well. An Army maintenance company had already come under attack there, and several soldiers, including the now famous Private Jessica Lynch, were missing inside the city. Bad maps, bad communications, and “friendly” civilians who took up arms alongside the Sunni Saddam Fedayeen troops and some desperate foreign jihadis all conspired to give us a wake-up call that the Iraq war was not as it had been advertised.1
Unfortunately, we did not hear it.
These two battles demonstrate the underlying systematic problems we are having fighting the Global War on Terror. After we took Baghdad, we paraded around using the swift capture as an example of our might. We touted our win in Baghdad like the government touts the fact that we have not been attacked on American soil since 9/11: as if that demonstrates victory. It does not.
The guys who took Baghdad did a great job, but this one instance did not a winning strategy make, especially when at the same time there was also Nasiriya. What did we do after the Nasiriya battle? We did nothing. We ignored it. We ignored the fact that the Marines almost lost the battle like we would later ignore the insurgency, like we would ignore terrorist attacks that happened all over the world as if they didn’t have anything to do with us. We didn’t look at Nasiriya and figure out what went wrong. We didn’t study it and learn how to prevent that kind of thing from happening in the future. We hid our heads in the sand and missed the lessons that we should have learned. The re- sult of this is the chaos in Iraq and the terrorists who are winning in such places as Lebanon and Palestine. We ignore these lessons at our own peril.
In all wars, and specifically the wars we are fighting now, how well we do is important, but how badly we do is more important—not only because our guys get killed and maimed and our country suffers but also because hidden within the losses and mistakes are the keys to winning the next battle and ultimately the war.
In order to win the War on Terror we need to look at things as they truly happen and not as we wish them to be. We covered our eyes after Nasiriya when it should have alerted us to all the things that were go- ing to go wrong—bad intelligence, bad communications, bad gear, bad leadership, bad training, ill-prepared soldiers, and flawed rules of engagement.
This book takes a hard look at the stuff that has gone wrong—on the battlefields abroad and right here at home—in the hopes that we will be able to take from them the things we need to know to prevent the next attack.
Where We Are Now
People who recognize me from my appearances on the Fox News Channel often come up to me and ask, “Colonel, where are we in the War on Terror?” I’m not a big fan of sugarcoating or bullshitting, so let me tell you, right here at the beginning, that I won’t be putting a happy face on this war. I can’t. Our brave soldiers, Marines, and Special Forces are doing amazing things for us, and many of them are giving their lives to protect us. We long to believe that the incredible things they’re doing are bringing us close to victory in this war. Hell, I’d love to be able to tell you that we’re winning. But I can’t do that. The truth is, the War on Terror is not going well, not well at all. We’ve known from the beginning of this war that we’re engaged in a monumental struggle for our very survival, one that will take not months or years to win but decades. The way we’ve been fighting, however, doesn’t make it seem like we get that. Not at all.
It’s not just Iraq. We’ve got huge problems in Afghanistan. The rest of the Middle East is screwed up. We’ve badly mishandled Iran and North Korea. (Can you say “Axis of Evil”?)
In 2005, I wrote a book called They Just Don’t Get It because I was scared and pissed off. I knew we were making mistakes in the War on Terror and I tried to show how we could win the war and protect ourselves better. Our leaders needed to make some big changes, and fast.
Sadly, though, they still don’t get it.
Don’t get me wrong—we’ve done some great things in the War on Terror. Anyone who denies our successes is a fool or, worse, trying to score political points. Just look at some of our achievements:
•Our armed forces have heroically taken the fight to the terrorists in back alleys and caves around the world. They fight in the frigid cold and lung-destroying altitudes of Afghanistan, and in 125-degree, hot-enough-to-fry-an-egg-on-your-helmet heat in Iraq.
•We’ve given other countries a chance at this thing we call freedom. In Afghanistan more than 12.5 million people, including 6 million women, have registered to vote. Iraq has held free elections for the first time in history.
•We have inoculated the children of Iraq and rebuilt, or built from scratch, thousands of schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges.
•Oh, yeah, and we kicked Saddam Hussein’s ass. Don’t think that matters? Tell that to the families of the victims of terrorists Saddam supported—the Palestinian suicide bombers he funded over the years, or terrorist honchos like Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal, for whom the Iraqi dictator provided safe haven.
•Even our intelligence agencies—which I’ve been very critical of over the years—have done some good things. The bottom line is that there hasn’t been another major terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. That’s good, for sure. Our intelligence community has stopped some other bad things from happening and arrested some very bad people. We’ve foiled at least three different al-Qaeda hijacking plots—one targeting London, another focusing on the U.S. consulate in Pakistan, and a third aimed at the United States, Britain, Italy, and Australia.2 And this is just the stuff we know about.
All this is important. We can and should be proud of our list of accomplishments. But the list should be much longer and much stronger. And in particular, it should include a lot more things that directly affect the enemy—like, say, killing the terrorists’ leaders.
A lot of this is common sense, whether some of our military and political leaders want to admit it or not. When a forty-year-old baseball player has arms, neck, and a chest bigger than Hercules’, it’s common sense to think he might be taking something stronger than vitamins. It’s the same thing with the War on Terror. When, five years into the War on Terror, Osama bin Laden can go on television time and time again and his buddy Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar are still kicking around, it’s common sense to ask, “How come these guys aren’t dead yet?” Silly me, I always thought that if we ever had an actual War on Terror we would begin by killing, oh, I don’t know . . . terrorists!
When more than 3,000 American service members have given their lives in the War on Terror, it’s common sense to wonder how in the world we can still be fighting a lethal insurgency in Iraq, contending with a rejuvenated Taliban in Afghanistan, and watching terrorists launch brutal attacks all over the globe.
When Iran supports the terrorists in Iraq, boasts about its nuclear program, test-fires dozens of long-range missiles, and openly calls for the destruction of Israel, our only true friend in the Middle East, it’s common sense to ask how these guys can get away with making the United States look more useless than a eunuch in a whorehouse.
When Hamas, a terrorist group supported by Iran, gets voted into office in the Palestinians’ democratic elections, it’s common sense to wonder how well we’re really doing in the battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East.
When the terrorist group Hezbollah, another Iranian proxy, takes over Lebanon and goes to war against our Israeli allies, it’s common sense to start throwing things at the television.
When we’re still letting our supposed ally Saudi Arabia fund terrorists, it’s common sense to think, “What the hell is this?”
When North Korea gives the world the finger by testing a nuclear bomb and doing whatever else it wants, it’s common sense to ask how the bastards can get away with this crap.
When the Russian Mafia is still training and arming anyone who will fork over some cash, including terrorists, it’s common sense to think that maybe we’re not all that safe yet.
Like I said, recognizing—and speaking honestly about—these lingering problems is just common sense. And so is coming up with solutions.
Let’s try some common sense in this book.
To Serve and Protect?
The problems we are experiencing—and these problems are legion—have nothing to do with our soldiers, who are doing a great job carrying the load for the rest of us. The problems have everything to do with their leaders, both military and civilian.
If we could find a group of men and women who cared more about getting the job done than how they looked doing their jobs, then the Iraq War would have been over two years ago and the War on Terror would look very different today. Just so we’re clear, I’m talking not only about politicians but also about senior officers in the military. Both have forgotten that their job is protecting this nation, not their own asses. If we had the right kind of people in charge—the selfless, not the selfish—we would have already found and killed bin Laden no matter what country said, “You may not look within our borders.” We’d also be out of Iraq by now because we would have stopped the Syrians, Iranians, and Saudis from interfering. We would have disbanded all the Iraqi militias and killed Muqtada al-Sadr for threatening and killing Americans. We would have fired the top civilian official—the secretary of defense—for his many mistakes much earlier.
If we had accomplished these important strategic imperatives, we would now be in a position to deal much more decisively with Iran, which probably has the real weapon of mass destruction—the bomb—rather than the faux WMDs we insisted were in Iraq. Instead, our great soldiers, sailors, and Marines have been stretched so thin that we can’t move them into Iran.
In June 2006, Senator Rick Santorum and Congressman Pete Hoekstra announced that “we have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”3 Oh, really? We found only 500 munitions that contained degrading sarin and mustard gas—and these dated from before 1991. These were not the tons and tons of weapons we were told existed, nor were they the WMDs we heard so much about. We didn’t go to war and have tens of thousands of soldiers killed and wounded for these leftover, forgotten missiles.
Much of what we do in life is guided by self-interest, and I get that. There are, however, things that should be above all that. There are people out there who do care more about doing things right than about the politics of looking like we are doing things right. We stumble across them in every field, including politics and the military. They are the risk takers. They are rare. We need more of them and we need them in positions of authority and power.
Currently, we have a group of leaders in the military, in the bureaucracy, and in elected office who lack the courage to be risk takers. A risk taker is a leader who cares only about the job, getting the mission done, and the men and women he or she leads. Risk takers do not care about how getting the job done affects their careers. They are the outspoken ones. They are the few who will stand up to the boss. They are the ones who will tell the truth no matter who doesn’t want to hear it. Without them, we are lost.
Instead of risk takers running this war, we have generals who spend more time planning their next assignment and worrying about their next promotion than figuring out how to fight this war correctly. A true leader cares about only two things: killing bad guys and bringing our boys and girls home in one piece. Fuck the rest!
When the order comes, when the enemy is there, when you know you and your troops are ready—hell, even if you are not ready—you go up the hill, take the town, or attack the beach. It is what you do! You do this knowing that you, or your men, may not make it out in one piece, or back from the fray at all. The willingness to do such things is what makes risk takers and true leaders different.
This goes for leaders in and out of uniform. If you’re a leader, you shouldn’t worry about your guys getting killed or wounded because it will look bad on your record, hurt your “policy,” or, my personal favorite, affect your “legacy.” That’s playing politics. Unfortunately, that’s what we’re stuck with way too often. We have these kinds of political players making life-and-death decisions. General Tommy Franks decided not to bring more troops into Afghanistan because he was afraid how it would look if our guys were killed. As a result, bin Laden got away. When we took Baghdad, we needed to shoot looters to establish discipline and control. (Yeah, that’s right, I did say shoot looters; we’ll get into the reasons why in Chapter 3.) Yet the general and the secretary of defense wouldn’t allow it. They wouldn’t take the risk. After the successful invasion of Iraq, we needed to get the Iraqis involved in their own security and defense. Instead, we disbanded the entire Iraqi army and police force without training their replacements. This was the premier, numero uno, biggest mistake in a war that has seen us make a boatload of mistakes. This massively, disturbingly stupid decision was the work of the Department of Defense and had to do with political expediency and not angering the Shia.
Our elected officials are, of course, even more concerned with politics. They appear to care more about raising money for their inane political advertising and phony opinion polls than they do about our nation’s safety. They care more about which side wins the political battle than they do the real battles. They are definitely not risk takers; they are risk avoiders. When we look at how we are doing in the War on Terror, it appears that we are led by the risk avoiders.
We have an entire government full of self-serving, arrogant, can’t-find-their-ass-with-both-hands, unimaginative pretty boys and girls who know only one thing: how to protect their perfumed asses. They are losing this war for us. We can’t have our military leaders saying that roadside bombings in Iraq are down when they’ve actually doubled. We can’t have the Pentagon insisting that there’s no insurgency in Iraq while our men and women are being killed in one. But oh, that’s right; we actually have had our leaders feeding us that spin. Sorry, guys; how about the truth for a change?
To borrow the title of one of my favorite books: They Just Don’t Get It.
No Politics, No Spin
Fighting a war against wild-eyed nut jobs who live in caves and fly planes into buildings is hard enough without the kind of idiocy that we have seen from our elected and appointed leaders. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. For the past forty years our leaders have been avoiding their responsibilities when it comes to terrorism. Honestly, we would win this war quicker and with less trouble without them.
This really is (or should be) a sergeants’ war. Things like house-to-house fighting and driving trucks down dangerous roads are all about sergeants, not generals. The sergeants and their soldiers know what they must do; nor can you question the bravery and excellence of the Special Forces, the Navy SEALs, and the Marines. Their officers only get in their way. That’s not to say leaders can’t be brave too, but they have agendas, while the soldiers don’t.
I don’t do politics, agendas, or spin; none of these things interests me. For me, the number one issue is terrorism. None of the other stuff that takes up our time or distracts us from terrorism matters at all. If the bad guys win, the rest of it will be meaningless. We are at war, and while we are at war, we must be focused. Politics is drawing our focus away from where it needs to be. Our focus needs to be on ensuring our survival.
Over the past couple of years we’ve heard a lot of name-calling from both sides of the political aisle. This isn’t helpful either. We need everyone focused on the bad guys. We need everyone to understand that this War on Terror is about survival, not political self-interest. We don’t need congressmen like John Murtha using the Marines as whipping posts in order to get on the nightly news, but at the same time, we don’t need former Marines like Murtha, who fought in two wars, being called cowards and traitors. We don’t need senators with foot-in-mouth disease saying that Guantanamo is like a Russian gulag. The prisoners in Gitmo live better than most prisoners in jails within the United States. Hell, they live better than the guards!
We also don’t need disgruntled government employees sharing our secrets with the press. There are at least three covert or secret programs that ain’t secret no more because they have been spread all over the front page of the New York Times. Now, my first instinct is to blame the press, but the truth is that without the traitors who give up these secrets, there would be nothing to publish. As for the media, the reality is this: every once in a while, it really is okay to be an American first. It’s okay to think of others and not to do something just because you can do it. Every once in a while, when the government calls and asks you not to publish something because it will damage a secret program and endanger national security, it’s okay not to do it. Our government, for as many mistakes as it makes and will continue to make, sometimes gets it right. Every once in a while we can stop being self-promoting assholes and take one for the damn team. In case you need to be reminded, that team is the United States of America.
All of these things hurt the war effort, but not in the way you might think. It isn’t giving aid and comfort to the enemy to express ideas different from those held by the people in charge. In this, the best damn country in the world, dissent is one way we maintain our edge. Dissent doesn’t embolden terrorists; the only thing that does is not killing the bastards. Dissenters don’t contribute to the death and maiming of American soldiers—not even the biggest loudmouths, like the fat and over-the-top Michael Moore, the very loud and very wrong Howard Dean, and Ted “I-can’t-believe-I-ate-the-whole-thing” Kennedy. But this kind of bickering does hurt the war effort, because it requires us to stop what we’re doing to deal with politics. We are spending way too much time and energy fighting each other instead of fighting al-Qaeda.
Stopping at Nothing
What really hurts our war effort are leaders who won’t deal with reality. We need to unify the government into an iron fist of will that will stop at nothing to defeat this enemy.
I figured that after 9/11, which was the predictable result of ignoring terrorism for forty years, we would have hunted down and killed the bastards responsible for the horrific attacks. After 9/11, I knew that we wouldn’t allow politics to dictate how we fought these guys, and that we’d bring to bear the full force and power of the United States—diplomatic, economic, and, when necessary, military power—on those countries that directly sponsored terrorism. I was also sure that we would finally get serious about stopping the sponsors of terrorism. I knew we’d publicly denounce Wahhabism, the most militant strain of Islam and the state-sponsored religion of Saudi Arabia. Then, I was certain, we’d stop buying oil from the Saudis until they denounced it as well. We might even take an oil farm from them by force as payment for all of the help we’ve given them in the past. I knew we wouldn’t deal with them as friends until they got serious about stopping terrorism in their own country.
I was wrong on all counts. We’ve done none of that. Terrorists from bin Laden down to Iraqi militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr haven’t been killed. Politics and butt covering have kept us from fighting this war right. Saudi Arabia gets away with its policies because we allow it. It’s time to stop this nonsense.
In this book I’m going to show you how we can fix our mistakes and put this war on the right track. The key thing will be to change our mind-set almost completely. Forget risk avoidance and covering our butts. We need to focus on survival. The suggestions may not always sound pretty, but that doesn’t mean we should run away from them. We can’t, because we need to do what works, not what sounds good or wins us kudos from the politically correct crowd.
Take the state sponsors of terrorism, countries like Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, and all the rest. How do we deal with them? Well, I’ll tell you one thing for damn sure: whatever we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. We should have tried to get countries that support terrorism to start working with us before 9/11, but we didn’t. We should have started right after 9/11, but we didn’t do it then either. We had best do it now. And there are ways we can get results, fast. How about we park a carrier task force in the Mediterranean and bomb the piss out of Syria’s intelligence and military headquarters, and then every time we catch another Syrian operation hurting us, we drop another bomb? That might make the Syrians think twice, don’t you think?
And while we are doing that, we should also get the attention of those who indirectly support terrorism, countries like Canada, with its domestic-terrorist-friendly policies, and France and Germany, which do business with terrorist-friendly nations. Every week, we are treated to yet another revelation that our neighbors and “friends” are not acting like our allies. When this happens, we should tell them: no imports, no jobs, no technology, at least not until you start acting like our friends. We have this massive economic engine; how about we use it?
And what about dealing with the terrorists themselves? For starters, how about having an honest conversation about the threats we’re facing? Sounds pretty basic, right? Then why can’t our government frankly acknowledge the cultural and religious realities of this war and this enemy? We can’t even admit that this is a religious war because of all of the political correctness championed by the talking heads.
If this isn’t a religious war, then what the hell is it? We are being attacked by terrorists trained in religious schools called madrassas. We are being attacked by Wahhabists, followers of the most violent form of Islam. Bin Laden has declared a jihad, or holy war, against us. What part of “religious war” don’t we understand? We can talk about the complexities of the issues all we want, and get into a serious theological conversation about the true nature of Islam. But that’s kind of beside the point. The very real truth, the unavoidable truth, is that at least half of the Muslim world hates us.
Hey, so they hate us—fine with me. But it’s essential that we know it and deal with it. It’s important to our very existence that we know and understand the hatred and the reasons behind it so that we can combat it, defeat it, and, if possible, change it.
If we had done things right from the beginning, we would have bases up and running in Iraq and an economy that was putting Iraqis to work doing something besides building roadside bombs. We would have an Army and Marine Corps that were rested and ready to take on Iran if necessary. We would have had time to go into Pakistan to find and kill bin Laden. We would have put in the time, money, weaponry, and men and women to finish the Taliban the first time and dealt with Afghanistan correctly from the outset.
Somehow it seems we have forgotten what happened to us just a few short years ago when on a beautiful fall morning more Americans were killed than died at Pearl Harbor; when men and women chose to throw themselves out of the Twin Towers rather than burn to death; when every airport in the country was shut down; when we learned to our horror that we were no longer safe, that the ocean and our arrogance would no longer protect us. This is the big mistake we’ve made—not just our leaders, but all of us.
We have for sure forgotten that this war is all over the world, not just in Iraq. We have accepted the next attack, and that means we have already lost. Not the way to win a war, methinks.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from On the Hunt by Colonel David Hunt. Copyright © 2007 by Colonel David Hunt. Excerpted by permission of Crown Forum, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.