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Bring back 'The Gunfighter'

Posted By David Hackworth On 07/29/2003 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Qusai and Odai most definitely deserved one-way tickets to a very hot place. But the guerrilla fighter in me has to question the wisdom of sending Saddam’s sadistic spawn on their way so quickly – before we sweated ‘em and vetted ‘em and extracted absolutely everything they had to tell. One prisoner of war of that rank is worth more than a thousand pulverized bodies. Imagine the gold our very capable military intelligence could have mined from those monsters.

As well it should have. It’s a no-brainer that information is the most critical element in destroying a guerrilla movement.

But although our military was very good at second-guessing the guerrilla by the end of the Vietnam War, we’d grown careless, clumsy and clueless by the Somalia 1993 catastrophe – and so suffered the sad consequences. Now operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have only confirmed more of the same sorry MO, as well as the same terrible price in broken bodies and white crosses and stars.

Once again, the U.S. military is ignoring the past and repeating yesterday’s battlefield mistakes. Mistakes that could be cured with some creative, out-of-the-box intervention, such as pulling a few proven guerrilla fighters out of retirement to advise the conventional generals on the Art of Unconventional Warfare. Not only could these experts consult on what’s going down with the troops, they’d be on the ground to help commanders figure out how to capture fiends like the terror twins instead of being so fast on the trigger. That way, the intell guys could have their go at asking: Where’s Poppa? What’s the big-picture battle plan? Who’s running the show?

The word is that Gen. John Abizaid has a highly paid civilian public-relations adviser on his staff, Jim Wilkinson, reported to be “a Republican operative” formerly at the White House who rakes in more than $100,000 a year and holds the equivalent rank of a major general. I’m told he actually wore a uniform while advising Tommy Franks on how to package the invasion to please the patriots back home and play the polls – although, of course, what we were told wasn’t exactly true. Remember poor, exploited Jessica Lynch – how she was positioned as the 21st-century answer to Audie Murphy?

We might all be better served if Gen. Abizaid had reality advisers on staff – say, for example, guerrilla-war pros with hands-on experience. Abizaid could use what he learned from these old soldiers, who wrote the book on putting down insurgents, to start turning the war around. The real deal might become so positive that Central Command could give the spin a miss.

One prime candidate for the job should be retired Lt. Gen. Hank “The Gunfighter” Emerson, an oldie but goodie with more knowledge on guerrilla fighting then any American I know.

After a year of frontline duty during the Korean War, Emerson concluded that guerrilla warfare was the wave of the future. He then passionately read everything he could lay his hands on: Napoleon, Mao, Giap and scores of other masters. While his contemporaries at military school studied the tank division attacking across Europe, Emerson carefully scoped out the French experience in Indochina and the British campaigns in Malaya.

By the time Vietnam exploded, he was one of the few senior combat leaders in the U.S. Army truly ready for the war at hand. He got a battalion early in the conflict and used his unconventional tactics to defeat the guerrilla enemy in battle after battle while most of his peers were refighting World War II – and losing.

Emerson innovated brilliant tactics such as The Checkerboard, Eagle Flight and Cloverleaf (to name but a few from dozens), stole the day and night from the enemy and was rewarded with a brigade – which soon dominated the battlefield, cleaning the enemy’s clock in fight after fight. By the end of the U.S. ground engagement in Vietnam, his brilliant tactics had been copied by every unit there. Including mine.

Even though Hank still hunts and fishes almost daily in the woodlands of Montana where he lives, naysayers will grouse that at 75 he’s too old for the job. But I sure wouldn’t want him shooting at me. And if I were a young general in Iraq with little hands-on experience fighting guerrillas, I’d fight for his wise counsel.


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