Last week Bill Clinton asked the nation to pray for our three
soldiers who were captured by the Serbs. While I’m all for prayers, it’s
more important for all our soldiers who are now in the Yugoslavian
killing field and those who’ll soon deploy there — as mission creep
ratchets into mission panic — for Congress to ask the generals why
these three warriors were snatched in the first place.
Their throwing up their hands and shouting “I surrender” without a
fight just doesn’t pass the smell test. These were not three recruits
who would turn into jelly and throw down their weapons when slugs sung
over their heads. All were experienced soldiers from a crack
reconnaissance squadron — scouts who had been in Macedonia for months
before their U.N. mission was canceled and they swapped their blue
helmets for NATO war green. They knew the terrain and had been
conducting the same mission for weeks.
They were a special unit on a war footing, so close to the fight in
Kosovo that they could hear the Serb artillery rumbling and smell the
cordite from the explosions. They were indeed in a dangerous place and
receiving hazardous duty pay accordingly.
Congress should ask:
- Why were the three scouts in a hazardous zone without their tanks
and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which are sitting in a motor pool in
Germany? (A question I asked the Pentagon two weeks ago.)
- Why were they on patrol by themselves in just one extremely
vulnerable Humvee (the 1990’s Jeep) without at least three more vehicles
— each with mounted machine guns, each covering the others?
- Where was the backup force which is normally on high alert, ready
to reinforce when the inevitable cow dung hits the fan?
- What were the ROE (Rules of Engagement)? Were their weapons locked
and loaded? Did the soldiers have clear orders to fire if threatened or
- Why weren’t there dead Serbs on the ground?
Trained soldiers don’t just throw up their hands and allow themselves
to be led away like sheep. They had time to report on the radio, “We’re
taking direct fire. … We’re trapped. … They’re all around us.” If
they had time to yak, then they had time to squeeze their triggers.
Heads should roll. Especially the heads of the American and British
generals in Macedonia who hung them out to dry by giving them too much
to do without the right stuff to do the job. Our forces in Bosnia have
been taking the type of precautions outlined above for four years. When
I patrolled against the Serbs in late 1940s less than 300 miles to the
North of Macedonia, we did as well because even then a favorite Serb
trick was the old hostage snatch.
When we were hit, we shot back. Contrary to the hype of the Army’s
mantra of today, we indeed fought as we trained. We had it drummed into
us by our World War II veteran NCOs: kill or be killed.
And The Code of Conduct was imprinted on our very being — “I will
never surrender of my free will.”
Since World War II, the ROE and “the more sweat on the training
field, the less blood on the battlefield” type of training have been
watered down by nervous commanders more concerned for their careers than
their soldiers’ safety.
When my Screaming Eagle brigade deployed to Vietnam in 1965, Gen.
Westmoreland’s order was: “You can’t fire until the enemy fires first.”
In my battalion’s first fight, a paratroop sergeant had to jump up on a
wall and wave to cause three Viet Cong who were goofing off to slap
leather. Not following Westy’s orders he killed all three the second
they went for their guns.
In Lebanon in 1983, 241 warriors were killed by a truck bomb. The
sentry on the front gate wasn’t allowed to carry a loaded weapon. The
same thing happened in Saudi Arabia in 1996, when 18 airmen were killed
and more than 400 wounded by a terrorist attack.
I’ve gotten too many reports over the years of how our armed forces
are losing their warrior edge, and a rucksack full of complaints that
the troops are no longer being trained — as Private Ryan’s generation
was — for real combat.
Let’s hope the snafu in Macedonia isn’t the first sign of a force no
longer ready for war.