Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More Abbottabad Controversies

Perhaps in part due to President Obama's decision to open and close last week's State of the Union address with an acknowledgement of the Navy SEALs who executed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the Abbottabad raid (or more precisely, the fallout from the raid) is suddenly generating a new set of controversies.

In the Wall Street Journal today, recently retired SEAL Leif Babin argues that President Obama is wrongfully exploiting the Navy SEALs for political gain, and worse, endangering Special Operations Forces by revealing operational details of the raid. 

Meanwhile, Defense Department spokesmen are "clarifying" Secretary Panetta's remarks to 60 Minutes regarding Pakistani awareness of bin Laden's residence in Abbottabad.

And over at Blackfive, "Uncle Jimbo" claims Kill Bin Laden novelist John Weisman told him the White House delayed executing the Abbottabad raid while polling about the operation was conducted.  This would be very bad, of course, although it should be noted this is unattributed hearsay.

I would expect that if the Obama campaign really does intend to make bin Laden's killing central to their case for re-election, we'll inevitably see more of these controversies over the next nine months.  Ugh.

VP Biden Opposed Abbottabad Raid

According to ABC News, Vice President Joe Biden told House Democrats at their annual retreat last weekend that he opposed SEAL Team Six's raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

Hmmm, it's a shocker that the guy who said . . .
 “If he surges another 20, 30, or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake, in my view." (Meet the Press, January 7, 2007)

"I mean, the truth of the matter is that, that the — America’s — this administration’s policy and the surge are a failure." (Meet the Press, September 9, 2007)
 . . . turns out not to be such a military genius after all. [Must . . . resist . . . urge . . . to ask whether he gave his recommendation in an Indian accent.]

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Act of Valor" Featurette

Via the invaluable Blackfive, a two-minute featurette on the use of live ammunition during the filming of the battle sequences in "Act of Valor."

This merely reinforces my amazement at the realism of the action sequences I noted in my review of the film.  But I don't think I can add much more than the cameraman quotes from the clip that Blackfive noted:
"I'm worried about richochets and everything."
"We'll give you a flack jacket and a helmet.  You'll be fine."

Today in Manhunting History -- January 30, 2005: The Iraqi Election

After Abu Musab al-Zarqawi  formally affiliated himself with al-Qa'ida in December 2004, he tried to undermine the event the Bush administration hoped would mark a turning point in the Coalition’s flailing counterinsurgency effort. In an internet audiotape posted a week before Iraq’s first free election in half-a-century, Zarqawi warned: “We have declared an all-out war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology.” Given his demonstrated ability to slaughter large numbers of Iraqis gathered in public places, his threat to fill the streets with blood – were taken seriously. Yet Zarqawi proved no more effective at preventing the elections than Sandino had been in Nicaragua 75 years earlier. Despite AQI’s threats and more than 100 armed attacks on polling stations on January 30, 2005, more than 8.4 million Iraqis voted to select a 275-member assembly and transitional government, with only 44 deaths on election day.

RARE PERSONAL INTERJECTION!!!  In January 2005, I worked on the Iraq desk in OSD-Policy, and spent the night of January 29-30 (8PM to 8AM) in the State Department's "Situation Room" as an observer/crisis responder .  Even those of us who were (perhaps naively) optimistic about the course of the war expected massive casualties that day, and were prepared to issue talking points as to why the (anticipated) hundreds, potentially thousands of casualties would not derail Iraqi democracy.  But an amazing thing happened as voting progressed throughout the night (roughly corresponding to 4AM-4PM Iraq time): the expected reports from the field of polling stations being bombed or Iraqi voters being gunned down in the street in mass atrocities never arrived.  Instead, the television screens were filled with images of multiple generations of Iraqi families walking miles to vote, or of purple-fingered tribal members dancing in joy.  Obviously, Iraq's troubles were far from over in January 2005, and much of the idealism of that day was lost amidst the increasing violence of the next two years.  But it is easy to forget the surprising success of that day, and the incredible courage of the Iraqi people. 

Panetta on 60 Minutes

The full transcript of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's 60 Minutes interview is available here

The video is available (theoretically) here.

To be honest, there isn't much here on the hunt for Osama bin Laden that wasn't already leaked ahead of the interview.  But the interviewer, Scott Pelley, does make one misleading statement in his narration that deserves comment.  At 7:05 of the video, Pelley says:
The first challenge ordered by the president was to rethink the search for Osama bin Laden.  There hadn't been a good lead since the U.S. lost him in 2001 in the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan.  Within a year and a half of Panetta taking over as director of Central Intelligence, the U.S. tracked al Qaeda couriers to a house in a town called Abbottabad, deep inside Pakistan.
This suggests that the Obama administration's "rethink" is what led to bin Laden.  But in reality, the key intelligence was gained in interrogations dating back to the early Bush administration, including the questioning of Hassan Gul.  Gul had been captured by Kurdish forces near the Iranian border in January 2004 carrying a compact disc with a letter from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.  These interrogations revealed the existence of a man known by the nom de guerre "Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti," one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden.  Painstaking detective work over the next three years -- not some magical "rethink" -- produced al-Kuwaiti's family name in 2007, which subsequently enabled an intercepted call with another al-Qa'ida operative in 2009 to finally lead U.S. intelligence to the region of Pakistan where al-Kuwaiti operated.

While Panetta and the Obama administration deserve credit for the successful operation, the intelligence breakthrough that led to the targeting of the Abbottabad compound was the productive of a cumulative effort that began well before President Obama entered the White House.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Panetta Acknowledges Role of Pakistani Doctor in Bin Laden Hunt

More from tomorrow's 60 Minutes interview with Secretary Panetta, who according to the New York Times became the first Obama Administration official to publicly confirm that a Pakistani doctor had been working for the CIA collecting intel in Abbottabad.

As many you may recall, Dr. Shikal Afridi ran a phony hepatitis B vaccination program as a ruse to obtain DNA from the occupants of the Abbottabad compound to confirm whether they were Osama bin Laden's family.  After the raid, Afridi was subsequently arrested by Pakistani authorities and charged with treason.

Although Dr. Afridi did not get any DNA samples from bin Laden's family, Panetta told 60 Minutes that he was "very helpful" and added that "For them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part."  Although Panetta's acknowledgement is hopefully a sign that the Administration will not abandon Afridi, it also confirms every Pakistani conspiracy theory about the reach of the CIA within Pakistani society.

Panetta: Pakistani Officials Had to Know About Bin Laden

In an interview to be aired tomorrow night, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta tells 60 Minutes he believes Pakistani officials had to know that Osama bin Laden was hiding at the Abbottabad compound in which he was discovered and killed by SEAL Team Six last May.

"I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what was happening at this compound," says Panetta, who was the CIA director during the planning and execution of the raid.  "[T]his compound had 18-foot walls. It was the largest compound in the area. So you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question, ‘What the hell's going on there?’”

Panetta statement appears to contradict the previous Obama Administration position that that nobody in the Pakistani government knew of bin Laden's location prior to the raid, espoused publicly by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  Is Panetta's statement a by-product of deteriorating U.S.-Pakistani relations or of new intelligence discovered in the intervening eight months? 

In fact, there may be less than meets the eye here, as Panetta admits: "I don't have any hard evidence, so I can't say it for a fact. There's nothing that proves the case. But, as I said, my personal view is that somebody somewhere probably had that knowledge."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- January 27, 1917: The End of the Punitive Expedition

Two weeks after President Woodrow Wilson told Secretary of War Newton Baker to withdraw the Punitive Expedition, on January 27 General John J. Pershing’s vanguard started north toward the border. Trailing behind the nearly 11,000 troopers were 2,030 Mexican, 533 Chinese, and 197 Mormon refugees. By February 4 the entire column was assembled at Palomas, and the next morning they crossed the border heading towards Columbus. Although the Punitive Expedition failed to capture Villa, Pershing’s men were greeted with enthusiastic cheers as they returned home.

Despite the failure to kill or capture Pancho Villa, he was never again a serious threat to the security of the U.S. border states. Pershing succeeded in scattering Villa’s forces, killing 203, wounding 108, and capturing 19 of the 485 Villistas who had attacked Columbus. By the beginning of April 1916 several members of Wilson’s cabinet were urging the withdrawal of the Punitive Expedition, as it appeared to have accomplished its objectives. Had the U.S. withdrawn from Mexico before the Carrizal incident, it is doubtful whether Villa could have recovered from the losses he had suffered. Even when he reappeared at the head of a reconstructed army in the fall of 1916, he never dared to approach U.S. forces nor to attack Americans in Mexico in spite of his bellicose threats. And although Wilson’s decision to maintain the inactive Expedition in Mexico contributed to Villa’s resurrection by aiding his recruitment, it also forced Villa to go to ground for several months and bought the Carrancista forces time to improve their ability to deal with Villa themselves.

Ironically, two years after the Punitive Expedition’s withdrawal U.S. forces finally engaged and defeated a force personally led by Villa. Pershing’s withdrawal left Villa free to raid anywhere he wished, and he spent the first part of 1918 preying upon isolated villages, increasingly resorting to kidnappings to finance his operations. On June 14, 1919, Villa raided Juarez, and the stray bullets from the ensuing battle with Carrancista forces indiscriminately wounded civilians and soldiers in El Paso. General James B. Erwin, who had commanded the 7th Cavalry during the Punitive Expedition, had his artillery shell Villa’s positions as a cavalry force under Colonel S.R.H “Tommy” Tompkins crossed the border, flanked Villa’s force, and routed them in a mounted pistol charge.

Villa’s strength ebbed and flowed between 1917 and 1920, but he was increasingly checked by competent Carrancista forces. Two months after Carranza died in 1920, Villa decided to lay down his arms, signing a pact with interim President Adolfo de la Huerta that gave him title to a 25,000-acre hacienda at Canutillo, 35 miles south of Parral. Villa was allowed to keep 50 of his Dorados as a personal bodyguard, whose salaries were paid by the Ministry of War. Pancho Villa would not enjoy a long, peaceful retirement, however. Having made innumerable enemies during his days as a bandit and revolutionary, on July 20, 1923, the 46-year old Villa was killed when eight gunmen ambushed his automobile in Parral while returning from the christening of one of his former Dorados’ children.
Pancho Villa evaded capture by Pershing's forces, but never again was a serious threat to the United States.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

SEAL Team Six in Somalia

I don't have much to add to the news of SEAL Team Six's rescue of American relief worker Jessica Buchanan and her Danish colleague Tuesday night other than "Wow!"  But for those in need of a SOF-porn fix, you can find accounts of the raid in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the USA Today.  Additionally, Bill Roggio places the operation in perspective relative to previous SOF missions in Somalia, and Danger Room looks at the future of such operations in East Africa.

Okay, one quick thought.  Although Obama administration officials are touting the mission as a hallmark of future U.S. military missions envisioned by the administration's defense strategy review, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe correctly point out that "a mission against lightly armed and poorly trained criminals in a largely lawless region of Somalia may not provide a useful model in parts of the world where modern militaries make such actions far more complex and potentially deadly." 

The SEAL's execution of this operation was remarkable in its own right (and almost seems straight out of "Act of Valor"), and doesn't require embellish or politicization.

Today in Manhunting History -- January 26, 1928: The Fall of El Chipote

Before there was Tora Bora, there was El Chipote.

While Marine aircraft pounded El Chipote, a force of more than 300 Marines massed at San Albino for the final assault on Sandino’s stronghold. The detachment’s commander, Major Archibald Young, had been briefed by brigade intelligence that “there is practically no doubt that Sandino has planned to make a determined stand at Chipote.” Young chose to exercise caution, advancing slowly and using mortars, rifle grenades, and Lewis guns to fire upon every suspected ambush site in his path. Consequently, it took the Marine battalion six days to cover the three miles from the base of El Chipote on the Murra River to its summit. On January 26 a patrol reached the crest, and appeared to have just barely missed the enemy garrison. One officer reported: “A freshly butchered beef was found hanging near the house said to have been the headquarters of General Salgado and a chicken still limp and undressed was on the floor of the quarters near the fireplace.” Yet aside from some food stores, the Marines found the earthworks occupied by nothing but straw-filled dummies.

Although Marine patrols continued to comb the area around El Chipote through the remainder of January, they found no trace of Sandino. On February 4, Marine headquarters announced Sandino was still alive but fleeing southward. On February 5 Sandino was reported active in the department of Matagalpa, and on the 6th he was spotted far to the north. On February 9 he was again reported in Matagalpa, and two weeks later the Associated Press had him in position to strike port cities on the Atlantic Coast. As New York Times correspondent Harold Denny observed, “The wily Sandino is a maddening problem for the Marines because of his swift shifting, and many officers declare earnestly they would give a year’s pay only once to come to grips with him.” Despite an official Navy Department pronouncement that Sandino was “finished, and is simply trying to escape,” Lejeune agreed with the Marine commanders’ request for reinforcements in order to continue the hunt for Sandino, and early in 1928 ordered the 11th Regiment back to Nicaragua.

Like Osama bin Laden after the fall of Tora Bora, Augusto Sandino evaded U.S. forces and surivived the seige of his mountain fortress El Chipote.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Search for Aimal Kasi

An interesting summary/excerpt from Ronald Kessler's The CIA at War on the FBI and CIA's four year hunt for Aimal Kasi over at CommandPosts.com.  Kasi was the Pakistani immigrant who murdered two CIA employees and wounded three others at a traffic stop as they waited to enter CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on January 25, 1993.  He was finally captured in Deri Ghazi Khan, Pakistan. on June 15, 1997.

I've been asked about this case several times while doing book talks, and have to explain that by definition it wasn't a "strategic" manhunt since no uniformed military forces were involved.  Thus, it is an international manhunt more akin to the pursuit of Ramzi Youssef (who was also arrested in Pakistan back in a seemingly more simple time) than the strategic manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating case that highlights the importance of local cooperation and the tradeoffs of rewards when pursuing fugitives.

Aimal Kasi killed two and wounded three CIA employees in Virginia on this day in 1993.  He was finally captured in Pakistan on June 15, 1997 after a four-year manhunt by the FBI and CIA.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan (January 2012 edition)

An interesting report from Reuters claiming how a network of Pakistani "spotters" are assisting in U.S. drone strikes in Waziristan.  Two major caveats to this story:
  1. First, the headline is misleading, as stating "How Pakistan Helps the U.S. Drone Campaign" implies this cooperation is officially sanctioned by the ISI or other senior elements of the Pakistani army.  Although the story alludes to Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officers meeting to determine whom to target, this does not imply similar Pakistani control over the spotters who locate these targets.  In other words, it is entirely possible that these may be operatives recruited by our intelligence agencies for observation/targeting purposes wholly outside the Pakistani military's chain of command, as was the case with the local agents who assisted in intelligence collection leading up to SEAL Team Six's Abbottabad raid (and whom were subsequently arrested by the ISI).  They could be officially sanctioned, but I don't think the case made by the reporter's sole Pakistani source support the certainty of the headline.
  2. Second, in the bottom half of the story, the reporter notes: "It was impossible to verify the [Pakistani] source's claims and American experts, who decline to discuss the drone program, say the Pakistanis' cooperation has been less helpful in the past."  In other words, the entire report should be taken with a grain of salt.
Yet even if the reporting here may be dubious, clearly our targeting efforts are reliant on some indigenous support, as it is highly improbable to think that U.S. personnel could travel in Pakistan's tribal areas with the freedom of movement necessary to execute this campaign.

In the meantime, last Thursday it was announced that Aslam Awan, a "senior operations organizer" for al-Qa'ida was killed in a drone strike on January 10.  This was a separate operation from the January 12 strike that was intially alleged to have killed Hakimullah Mehsud, a claim that Pakistani officials have stepped away from since the early reports.

My apologies if my lag in posting created any confusion on this point.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More Manhunting History . . .

I've belatedly posted the anniversaries of Marine 1LT Christian F. Schilt earning the Medal of Honor during the Sandino manhunt (January 6) and the account of how Geronimo barely escaped during the Battle at the Devil's Backbone in 1886 (January 10).

Admiral McRaven at the SOTU

Spencer Ackerman of Wired's Danger Room reports Admiral Bill McRaven will have the seat of honor next to First Lady Michelle Obama at tonight's State of the Union address.  As regular readers of this blog know, Admiral McRaven was the commander of JSOC at the time of last May's successful raid to kill Osama bin Laden, and was the commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force that captured Saddam Hussein in December 2003.

Although some will argue that this represents an inappropriate politicization of the Abbottabad raid (as if that isn't going to happen a million times this year anyways), I personally don't think Admiral McRaven and the men he led can be sufficiently honored for their service to their country.  Yet because McRaven has already been "outed" by his televised confirmation hearings for his current position as Commander of U.S. SOCOM, he has to serve as the proxy for all the "Quiet Professionals" whose identities remain closely guarded secrets.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Return of History

As noted earlier, somehow over the holidays I managed to misplace the thumb drive with the historical accounts from which I'd been drawing my "Today in Manhunting History" stories.  That accident, and the combination of post-holiday malaise and "Holy @#%$, how did all this get in my inbox over the holidays!" let me to temporarily suspend this feature.

However, one of my January 15th resolutions (I've already given up on the ones made January 1st) was to restart this, as there are simply too many good stories from previous Januaries to be told.  Today, I've added the accounts of the Battle of Las Cruces (January 1, 1928) during the hunt for Augusto Sandino and the surrender of Manuel Noriega (January 3, 1990).

Over the next week I'll add more historical accounts over the next few days, posting them on the appropriate anniversary, and periodically post updates with links on the top of the blog.

British Special Ops in Libya

Mark Urban -- Defense Editor at the BBC and author of a history of the Special Air Services (SAS) in Operation Iraqi Freedom -- has an interesting article on the role of British special forces in topping Qaddafi.

Although Urban is vague regarding the British role in the manhunt for the deposed Libyan strongman, he provides details of the policy debates within Prime Minister Cameron's cabinet over the deployment of special units (including the back story of how the super-elite "E Squadron" was "captured" near Benghazi), and illustrates the variety of ways these forces conduct modern irregular warfare (i.e. both direct targeting and foreign internal defense), something to be considered in the coming debates on strategy and force structure here in the United States

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shhh!!! Don't Tell The Missus (That I'm Going to Kill Bin Laden)!

Washington D.C. society is having its normal mini-flip-out over the latest White House tell all book, Jodi Kantor's The Obamas.

I'm not going to pretend that I've read the book or even that I really care about it.  But I did find one revalation oddly fascinated, specifically that President Obama kept the impending raid on Abbottabad, Operation Neptune's Spear, a secret from First Lady Michelle Obama for the three months the mission was being planned.

Think about the things you've been unable to resist revealing to your signifcant other (i.e. what really happened on that trip to Vegas; what your fraternity nickname really means; or how much that new purse/outfit really cost) . . . do any of them measure up to killing the world's most wanted man!?! 

I'm impressed, I think, and may try this as an excuse the next time some attempt to keep a secret from my wife fails miserably.  ("Honey, I couldn't tell you about the lap dance at Steve's bachelor party . . . she was involved in planning a raid against al-Qa'ida!) 

P.S.  For those interested, Slate's Jacob Weisberg's wife responds here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Hakimullah Mehsud Update

Bill Roggio's summary of the report on summary of the reported killing of Hakimullah Mehsud (noting the previous incorrect reports of his death in 2010) over at the Long War Journal.

For the record, the Times of India reports the Tehrik-i-Taliban are denying the reports of Mehsud's death.  Interestingly, though, the source for the Times' story says that "most of the victims were foreigners," which is a euphemism for al-Qa'ida operatives in Pakistan's tribal areas, and that a majority of those killed were Turkmen.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hakimullah Mehsud Killed?

Light blogging persists, but this story (if true) is significant enough to stir me from my football playoff induced food coma.

According to the Associated Press, intercepted radio transmissions suggest Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP, a.k.a. the Pakistani Taliban) may have been killed in a U.S. drone strike on January 12.
 The TTP was responsible for the narrowly failed 2010 Times Square Bombing, as well as countless destabilizing attacks in Pakistan. 

If Mehsud was killed (he was falsely reported killed in a 2010 strike), it is a significant achievement, and explains why U.S. forces ended their self-imposed hiatus from drone strikes in Pakistan.  But the likely doesn't mean the end of the TTP as a threat, as they have persisted and arguably thrived since the successful targeting of Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- January 14, 1928: Bombing El Chipote

With the failure of the ground assault on El Chipote and subsequent retreat from Quilali, the Marines once again changed tactics and laid aside the plan to assault El Chipote with a combined infantry-air assault. Instead, aggressive patrolling would force the enemy to concentrate in the mountain redoubt, Major Ross E. Rowell’s planes would destroy the fortress from the air, and the infantry would mop up the remaining resistance. This plan was feasible because the creaky old DeHavilands had been replaced by new Vought Corsairs and Curtiss Falcons, which had greater bomb-carrying capacities and were faster and more maneuverable. Rowell’s squadron subjected the shacks atop El Chipote to unrelenting bombardment.

A DeHaviland on a bombing run over El Chipote, January 1928
On January 14 the airmen flew northeast from Managua through heavy cumulus clouds, their planes laden with 50-pound demolition and 17-pound fragmentation bombs. Luckily, “there was a nice hole in the clouds right over the bandit mountain.” On Rowell’s signal, the planes hurtled towards El Chipote in almost vertical dives. “They saw us coming,” Rowell recalled. “The first thing I saw was a barrage of sky rockets. Eight or ten of them rose in the sector that I was after.”

In all, 2,800 rounds of machine-gun ammunition ripped into the hilltop, while four 50-pound and 18 17-pound bombs burst upon Sandino’s entrenchments. One of Rowell’s aviators scored a direct hit with a 50-pound bomb on a building. After the bomb burst, about 40 people ran from a nearby house and the plane dropped another bomb, making a direct hit in the center of the group. The aviators estimated that 45-50 bodies were scattered on the ground after the attack. Following the air assault, rumors of Sandino’s death received wide circulation. On January 19, Rowell flew over the mountain and saw nothing but “squadrons of vultures.”
Major Ross E. "Rusty" Rowell

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bin Laden Died in 2006?

Pardon the light posting of late, stemming from reasons both professional and personal (okay, mostly a misplaced thumb drive).

But although I have a back log of about ten posts to put up, this one is too good to sit on for even five minutes.  According to Russian televison, a "former CIA agent" claims that Osama bin Laden died on June 26, 2006 from disease.

Screw it, conspiracy sells (see PFARRAR, CHUCK) so I'm all in.  Everything I wrote in Wanted Dead or Alive was merely a classic misdirection for the really secret government agencies re: the truth about Bin Laden.  Also, Saddam and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are still alive and operating food trucks in Portland, OR.

Okay, all kidding aside, could anybody possible come up with a more disreputable source than a "former CIA agent" living in Turkey talking to the Russian media?

P.S. What is the over/under on Google hits about a month from now from kooky sites reprinting this as being serious?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- January 11, 1886: The Death of Captain Crawford

A heavy fog sat upon Crawford’s camp the next morning, January 11. Just as the light of dawn made the terrain around them visible, the sentries reported a large body of troops approaching. One scout, believing the oncoming party to be Major Davis and his scouts, called to the approaching force in Apache.

But they were not Apache scouts.

At the sound of Apache voices, the force of 150 Mexican irregulars opened fire on Crawford’s camp. Bullets hissed through the air, driving the officers and scouts into the rocks for cover. Crawford ordered his men to hold their fire while he and the other officers shouted in Spanish, identifying themselves as American soldiers and waving handkerchiefs. After about 15 minutes there was a lull in the shooting. Crawford climbed atop a prominent rock in plain view of the Mexicans. Although his blue field uniform was in tatters, his brown beard ensured that he looked nothing like an Apache. Waving a handkerchief in each hand, he shouted: “No tiro! No tiro! Soldados Americanos!”

Twenty-five yards away, across a small ravine, a Mexican steadied his rifle against a pine tree and took aim. A shot rang out. Lieutenant Marion P. Maus, Crawford’s second-in-command, turned and “saw the Captain lying on the rocks with a wound in his head, and some of his brains lying upon the rocks.” 

Enraged, they immediately unleashed a furious fire upon the Nacionales. The battle raged for an hour as the Apaches and Mexicans blazed away at one another, while Crawford lay bleeding in the no-man’s-land between the combatants. Finally, the Mexicans raised their own white flag. Four on the American side were wounded, while the scouts killed four Mexicans and wounded five others. Crawford lingered in a coma for seven excruciating days, finally dying on January 18. General Crook maintained that had Crawford lived, the Apache War would have ended there beside the Aros River in January 1886.

On a hillside across the river, the renegades sat and watched the battle rage. A member of the band still recalled 70 years later how “Geronimo watched it and laughed.”

That afternoon, two squaws approached the American camp and reported that Geronimo still wished to hold a council. Maus agreed, and on January 13 he sat down with Geronimo and the other Apache leaders. Geronimo and Naiche said they wanted to talk about surrendering and would meet with General Crook “in two moons,” but only on the condition that they choose the site and that Crook come without soldiers. Maus had no option but to agree to these stipulations, and on the 16th began the long march north for the border.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- January 10, 1886: Battle on the Devil's Backbone

The unsuccessful summer campaign and subsequent raid by Josannie led to increasing political pressure on General Crook to produce results. The Commander of the United States Army, Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan, traveled all the way from Washington, D.C. to Fort Bowie to review the situation. He wanted Geronimo’s band destroyed, and on November 29 told Crook to go on the offensive.

Crook’s response was to take his previous innovations, already considered radical by many in the U.S. Army, to their logical conclusion. Although regular troops were supposed to provide rallying points for the scouts and protection for the pack trains, they also severely inhibited the scouts’ mobility. Crook was willing to forego the advantages offered by white soldiers and created a force comprised of 100 Indian scouts, a pack train, and only three officers. The model for this flying column had been suggested to him back in 1883 in the Sierra Madres campaign, when his scouts had begged to be allowed to go ahead of the main expedition.

The critical decision, therefore, was which American officer would lead this experimental unit. But in reality, the choice was obvious from the start. Captain Emmet Crawford had commanded the scouts in Crook’s 1883 expedition into Mexico, and upon the successful completion of that campaign was placed in charge of the San Carlos reservation where he oversaw the renegades now on the warpath until just two months prior to the outbreak. Six-foot-one, with gray eyes, a fellow officer described Crawford, saying: “Mentally, morally, and physically he would have been an ideal knight of King Arthur’s Court.” The Apaches alternately called him “Tall Chief” because of his height, and “Captain Coffee” because of his apparent addiction to the beverage. When reenlisting scouts in October and November for the expedition, Crawford chose only White Mountain and friendly Chiricahua Apaches – mountain Indians whom he knew were ideally suited for the arduous task of trailing Geronimo in the difficult Sierra Madres. These Indians joined the expedition not only because they hated the renegades, but also because they trusted Crawford, who was known for his concern for the scouts serving under him.

CPT Emmet Crawford, leader of General Crook's elite Apache scouts
 On November 29, Crook ordered Crawford’s company to the Dragoon Mountains to intercept Josannie’s band should they cross into Arizona from New Mexico, and then into Mexico, crossing the border once more on December 11. They moved steadily south in Sonora for three weeks, finding nothing.

Crawford set up a base camp in Nacori, on the western edge of the Sierra Madres, and from there deployed his scouting parties. Finally, in early January, one of these parties came across a Chiricahua trail near the Aros River. The scouts reported that it led to Geronimo’s band, holed up in a range known to the Mexicans as “Espina del Diablo,” or “Backbone of the Devil.” Upon the discovery of this fresh “sign” on January 8, 1886, Crawford pushed his men 48 hours without sleep in a desperate attempt to find and attack the hostile village. His party was now more than 150 miles south of the border, farther south in Mexico than any U.S. command had ever chased Apaches.

Just before daylight on the 10th, Crawford’s scouts drew near the high, rocky point where Geronimo’s camp was suspected to be. Crawford divided his force, hoping to surround the Rancheria. Slowly, carefully, the scouts crept forward, “scarcely breathing as we moved.”

Suddenly, the braying of the hostiles’ burros shook the stillness of the cold, mountain dawn, and alerted Geronimo to the scouts’ presence. Geronimo jumped up on a rock and yelled: “Look out for the horses!”

Chiricahua warriors ran out and tried to secure their mounts, but the scouts opened fire, shrieking cries of defiance from the surrounding rocks. Geronimo’s men took cover and returned fire from a nearby cluster of rocks that formed a stronghold.

After a minute, Geronimo’s voice was heard once again: “Let the horses go and break toward the river on foot! Scatter and go as you can!”

Although a rush into the camp would have ensured the capture of at least the women and children, the scouts remained pinned down by the hostiles’ fusillade, deaf to the appeals of their officers to advance. The hostiles escaped into the darkness, and daylight revealed they had once again left behind all their stock, provisions, and blankets. The scouts, exhausted by the forced march that made the skirmish possible, collapsed on any level ground they could find to sleep upon, unable to exploit their victory.

While the scouts’ bullets did not find their marks, the capture of Geronimo’s supplies was a terrible blow in the harsh winter conditions of the Sierra Madres. Toward the middle of the afternoon, as Crawford and his men were still recuperating, a squaw came into the camp. She said that Geronimo and his followers were camped a few miles away and wished to talk to Crawford about surrendering. Crawford agreed to meet with Geronimo, Chihuahua, and Naiche the next day, and a place for the conference was arranged. Crawford was overjoyed as the squaw departed, as the message seemed tantamount to an offer of surrender, and everyone in the American camp seemed to collectively exhale, believing the Geronimo campaign was about to end.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- January 6, 1928: The Extraordinary Heroism of Christian Schilt

Sixty-five years before Mogadishu and Delta Snipers Shugart and Gordon, there was Quilali and Marine First Lieutenant Christian F. Schilt.

After the Battle of Las Cruces the approximately 400-man Sandinista force laid siege to Quilali, the Marines were in a difficult situation. They were low on ammunition and supplies, and of 174 officers and men, eight were dead, and 31 wounded – including every surviving officer. The Marines and Guardia quickly constructed an airfield in the middle of Quilali, an overgrown and abandoned hamlet that was little more than “an aggregation of shacks” near the Jicaro River. Flying a Vought 02U-1 “Corsair” biplane, First Lieutenant Christian F. Schilt made 10 landings and takeoffs on Quilali’s main street from January 6-8. Under heavy enemy fire, Schilt delivered 1,400 pounds of medicine and supplies and evacuated 18 wounded. Each time Schilt’s Corsair touched down Marines had to run out and grab the wings in order to slow the brakeless plane down and keep it from smashing off the end of the abbreviated runway.

Although Schilt was awarded the Medal of Honor for these daring flights, the offensive was a failure. By January 10, Richal and Livingston’s columns were en route back to San Albino.

1LT Christian Schilt, Medal of Honor winner for his heroism during the seige of Quilali

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- January 3, 1990: Noriega's Surrender

Although the loudspeaker gambit failed to dislodge Noriega, Thurman had other levers by which to influence the dictator and the priest. U.S. forces acted as if they were preparing to assault the Nunciatura, shooting out the street lights and cutting down the tall grass and brush surrounding the white stucco building. U.S. patrols circled the embassy walls while other soldiers took up positions in a parking garage 50 feet away. U.S. troops cleared a landing zone for a helicopter that made several landings in an attempt to intimidate Noriega. Thurman also arranged for Archbishop Marcos McGrath, the senior Catholic prelate in Panama, to tour Noriega’s former residences and office to “gain insight into the man’s soul.” In addition to the Hitler and voodoo paraphernalia, the Archbishop was shown a large poster of all the priests and other high Catholic officials in Central America implying they were on a hit list. Archbishop McGrath subsequently convened a conference of Panamanian bishops, who then wrote Pope John Paul II a letter urging the pontiff to order Noriega’s release to U.S. custody.

But the key to influencing Noriega proved not to be an American officer or policymaker, but rather Monsignor Laboa. A small man with white hair and spectacles, hailing from Spain’s Basque region, Laboa was a seasoned Church diplomat and a former advocatus diaboli – only now he would be attempting to persuade the devil rather than advocating on his behalf. Laboa had shaped Vatican policy toward Panama for years, and knew that Noriega was “a man, who without a pistol, is manageable by anyone.” He set about applying both subtle and direct pressure on the dictator in order to get him to surrender willingly.

Monsignor (later Archbishop) Jose Sebastian Laboa, Papal Nunciatura to Panama
 at the time of Operation Just Cause
Upon Noriega’s arrival, Laboa had the dictator disarmed and confined to the same bare bedroom with no air-conditioning and broken television set in which so many of the dictator’s victims had sought refuge. Laboa denied the alcoholic Noriega any liquor, save for a single glass of beer. He also avoided repeating Giroldi’s mistake and removed the telephone from Noriega’s quarters. Laboa told Noriega he would never evict him, and he meant it. But he also informed Noriega that he had granted approval to U.S. forces to raid the compound should Noriega and his men use their weapons to seize control of the Nunciature. He then avoided contact with Noriega to isolate the deposed strongman and let him stew for a week.

As the days passed, increasing numbers of Panamanians began to gather at the barricades erected about 200 yards from the embassy. They banged pots and waved white handkerchiefs, shouting: “Kill the Hitler” and “Justice for the Tyrant.” Some skewered pineapples on long sticks and pumped them up and down in the air, taunting “Pineapple face! Pineapple face!” The crowd handed flowers to the U.S. forces surrounding the Nunciature, and when Laboa asked what would happen if the demonstrators tried to storm the barricades, Joint Special Operations Task Force commander Major General Wayne Downing replied: “I’m not going to kill a single innocent person to protect that SOB.”

By January 2, Laboa was ready to apply pressure. In a brief 15 minute meeting, he urged Noriega to see that his best option was to surrender to U.S. justice and defend himself in an American courtroom. The next day a crowd of more than 10,000 Panamanians descended upon the Avenida Balboa to demonstrate. Against the backdrop of the angry crowd and a chorus of anti-Noriega slogans, Laboa again invited the dictator to talk. Once again he assured Noriega that he could stay. But Laboa suggested he consider the mob outside who wanted to kill him and might overrun the Nunciature.

“But we have the U.S. Army out there,” Noriega protested.

“They will not fire on the Panamanian people,” Laboa replied. He ominously suggested Noriega could end up like Mussolini, killed by his own people and strung up for the world to see. Besides, Laboa asked, even if he were to remain safely within the confines of the Nunciature, “Do you really want to spend the rest of your life having nuns wash your underwear?”

Noriega was out of options. It was clear from the U.S. troops and mass of demonstrators outside that he had no hope of regaining power. Later in the afternoon, he told Laboa: “Your solution is best. I am going.”

Just before 9PM, January 3, Noriega emerged from the Nunciature wearing a wrinkled tan uniform with four stars on each shoulder board. Carrying a Bible and a toothbrush, he looked stunned and submissive in the glare of the television camera lights. He was met at the gate by Major General Cisneros.

“Yo soy el General Noriega. Me rindo a las fuerza de los Estados Unidos.” (I am General Noriega, and I am surrendering to U.S. forces).

“Su rendicion es aceptada.” (Your surrender is accepted).

The ex-dictator was quickly seized by Delta Force operators and hustled aboard a helicopter. Minutes later, at Howard Air Force Base, he was formally placed under arrest by DEA agents and read his Miranda rights in Spanish. The agents made him trade his uniform for a prisoner’s flight suit and escorted him aboard a C-130. Within two hours the man who had controlled a tropical paradise as the “Maximum Leader” was on the ground in the United States, heading to a Miami jail cell as Prisoner #41586.

Although the hunt for Noriega ended successfully, and Operation Just Cause was the rare strategic manhunt that achieved its broader strategic objectives, it does contain a sad footnote.  When Manuel Noriega surrendered on January 3, 1990, Chief Warrant Officer Cliff Wolcott of the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment piloted the Black Hawk carrying the deposed strongman from the Papal Nunicature to Howard Air Force Base.  Wolcott would play a central, albeit tragic role in the hunt for Somali warlord Muhammad Farah Aideed three years later. On the October 3, 1993 raid in Bakara Market, Mogadishu,Wolcott’s Black Hawk, Super Six One, disgorged his chalk of Rangers at 3:45PM and provided fire support to the Rangers on the perimeter using its sniper team to disperse the growing crowd. At 4:15PM, however, his voice broke through the radio clutter, calmly saying: “Six-One is going down.” Wolcott’s Black Hawk had been hit by a RPG-7 grenade, and dropped like a stone 300 yards east of the target building. The two crew chiefs and three Delta snipers survived, albeit badly injured, but the two pilots were killed on impact. The ensuing rescue attempts were immortalized and the book and film Black Hawk Down.

CWO Cliff Wolcott

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Today in Manhunting History -- January 1, 1928: The Battle of Las Cruces

When it became clear that air power alone would not force Nicaraguan insurgent leader Augusto Sandino out of his mountain fortress El Chipote, the Marines deployed two large combat patrols totaling nearly 200 men in a two-pronged assault. The columns, advancing from the south and west, would converge on Quilali and establish a base of operations there from which they would storm the fortress. The guerrillas ambushed both columns, however, striking first on December 30 just a mile outside Quilali. Four hundred Sandinistas ambushed a force of 114 Marines and Guardia under Captain Richard Livingston with “a perfect storm of fire.” After 80 minutes of heavy firing from a banana grove, five Marines and two Guardia were killed, and 23 Marines and two guardsmen were wounded. The column collected its dead and wounded and limped into Quilali.

Two days later, January 1, 1928, the Sandinistas struck the second patrol – 40 Marines and 20 Guardia under First Lieutenant Merton A. Richal – six miles north of Quilali. First Lieutenant Richard Bruce, who had recently written his mother promising to hold Sandino’s head in his hands or perish “like a dog,” was on point and was the first Marine killed in an avalanche of dynamite bombs and machine gun fire. Bruce’s assailants fell upon his lifeless body and savagely mutilated it with their machetes. The survivors of the initial assault rallied, but had to be rescued by a relief patrol from Quilali. Richal’s column fell back on the village and joined forces with Livingston’s patrol.

1LT Richal's sketch of the battle on January 1, 1928.*