Book by for­mer SEAL, con­gress­man praises Mat­tis in field

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Rep. Ryan K. Zinke re­mem­bers a wartime en­counter with then-Ma­rine Corps Maj. Gen. James N. Mat­tis when the con­gress­man was a Navy SEAL com­man­der in Iraq and the now-de­fense sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate was plan­ning the first in­va­sion of Fal­lu­jah in 2004.

Gen. Mat­tis, as told in Mr. Zinke’s new au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Amer­i­can Com­man­der,” was a divi­sion chief des­tined to earn four stars and be­come head of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand.

Then-Navy Cmdr. Zinke, Gen. Mat­tis and oth­ers did an “eyes-on” sur­veil­lance to judge what was needed that spring to purge the city in Iraq’s western An­bar prov­ince from the clutches of vi­cious Sunni in­sur­gents.

“He made a point of be­ing in the thick of things with his troops,” Mr. Zinke writes of the re­tired Ma­rine who Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump picked as his de­fense chief.

“Nick­named ‘Mad-Dog Mat­tis’ by his men, he was a com­mand war­rior in the old Ge­orge Pat­ton mode,” Mr. Zinke says. “He wasn’t an armchair gen­eral by any def­i­ni­tion of that much-ma­ligned term. If a Ma­rine re-upped at a lo­ca­tion where he was present, he would per­son­ally go to that Ma­rine and thank him or her for re­join­ing. He put a premium on be­ing con­nected with his men, and I deeply ad­mire that qual­ity. I could lit­er­ally go on for pages upon pages about Mat­tis and how in­flu­en­tial this man was to me and many oth­ers who fought along­side him.”

Here is the Montana Repub­li­can’s de­scrip­tion of Gen. Mat­tis’ battle plan, which might give some in­di­ca­tion of how he plans to battle the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist army:

“Mat­tis wanted to drop some ar­tillery rounds into some of the in­sur­gents’ for­ti­fied po­si­tions we’d iden­ti­fied and then bring in tanks, do a pivot, and force the in­sur­gents into an in­dus­trial area through what he called a pin­cer move,” Mr. Zinke writes. “Once the in­sur­gent fight­ers were there, Mat­tis would just blow the hell out of that area, com­pletely mow­ing down the enemy.”

How was his plan greeted at oc­cu­pa­tion head­quar­ters in Bagh­dad? “Mat­tis ran this plan up the line, and the higher brass shot it down,” Mr. Zinke writes.

U.S. and al­lied forces even­tu­ally cap­tured Fal­lu­jah. The Iraqis again lost it to in­sur­gents, and there was a sec­ond battle in De­cem­ber 2004. (The Is­lamic State cap­tured Fal­lu­jah in 2014. The coali­tion took it back ear­lier this year.)

Asked in an in­ter­view why the Mat­tis plan was killed, Mr. Zinke did not an­swer di­rectly.

“Gen. Mat­tis is a war­rior,” the con­gress­man said. “What I ap­pre­ci­ate about Gen. Mat­tis is he un­der­stands the prin­ci­ple that if you go to war, you go to war to win. … Gen. Mat­tis’s al­ter­na­tives were rou­tinely the most ag­gres­sive” but of­fered the best shot at vic­tory.

“Amer­i­can Com­man­der” is co-writ­ten with best-sell­ing au­thor Scott McEwen, who co-au­thored the best-sell­ing mem­oir “Amer­i­can Sniper” by the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the most ef­fec­tive sniper in U.S. mil­i­tary his­tory.

Mr. Zinke’s sub­ti­tle is “Serv­ing a Coun­try Worth Fight­ing for and Train­ing the Brave Sol­diers Who Lead the Way.”

Now in his sec­ond term, Mr. Zinke said it was time to write a book not just about him­self but about the met­tle and pa­tri­o­tism of the Navy SEALs who have be­come the most fa­mous war­riors in the 15-year fight against Is­lamic ex­trem­ists.

“I would char­ac­ter­ize it as not a book about me, per se,” he said. “It’s a book about watch­ing and ob­serv­ing Amer­ica’s ex­cel­lence. I had a front-row seat.”

It has been years, if ever, since the na­tion called upon spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces such as the SEALs to fight ev­ery day, year af­ter year.

“My gen­er­a­tion, we spent most of my 23 years train­ing hard,” he said. “Ad­vance tech­nol­ogy. Look­ing at var­i­ous con­tin­gen­cies around the world and oc­ca­sion­ally go­ing into con­flict. To­day’s spe­cial forces and SEALs, they come into the ser­vice un­der con­di­tions of war. They will likely spend their en­tire ca­reer at war.”

At some point, the rapid-pace de­ploy­ments have to stop for the good of spe­cial op­er­a­tors and their fam­i­lies back home, Mr. Zinke said.

“I’m con­cerned that the an­swer to ev­ery prob­lem set is not spe­cial forces,” he said. “The burn rate on our na­tion’s tini­est force — I think we have to throt­tle back. We’ve been on af­ter­burn­ers since 9/11.”

Mr. Zinke grew up in ru­ral Montana, the son of a plumber. His grand­fa­ther op­er­ated a small Chevro­let deal­er­ship.

“When I joined the SEALs, no one knew what a SEAL was,” Mr. Zinke said. “What in­trigued me was the level of com­mit­ment, the love of coun­try and de­sire to be the best in the world at your vo­ca­tion. Watch­ing Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism in ac­tion.”

Shortly af­ter the Iraq in­va­sion, Mr. Zinke served in a spe­cial op­er­a­tions task force that was hunt­ing for­mer Baath Party lead­ers, in­clud­ing Sad­dam Hus­sein him­self.

Mr. Zinke il­lus­trates wartime mis­takes by fo­cus­ing on one of the hunted, an un­named Iraqi gen­eral. He is a metaphor for how the war or­dered by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush went bad.

The pres­i­dent’s men de­cided to dis­band the Iraqi armed forces in­stead of se­lec­tively re­cruit­ing them. It left no one to main­tain or­der and drove key field lead­ers and in­tel­li­gence ex­perts into the hands of a grow­ing pro-Sad­dam in­sur­gency. It later melded with al Qaeda in Iraq, con­fronting the Amer­i­cans with a deadly, per­sis­tent and savvy enemy.

Mr. Zinke writes that the “Gen­eral” was an ex­am­ple of some­one who might have been swayed to the Amer­i­can side and a new Iraq.

“With­out Sad­dam and with­out fully drink­ing the rad­i­cal­ism Kool-Aid, peo­ple like the Gen­eral fell back on their tra­di­tional loy­alty struc­tures — fam­ily, com­mu­nity or tribe, faith, and coun­try,” he writes. “In some ways, these pri­or­i­ties made the Gen­eral in par­tic­u­lar more dan­ger­ous: he lent his knowl­edge and ex­per­tise to many fac­tions, in­clud­ing Sunni-led Al-Qaeda. Our sur­veil­lance re­vealed that an Al-Qaeda leader we had killed had been part of his cir­cle. But more than that, the Gen­eral had made him­self a con­nec­tor for a lot of un­af­fil­i­ated cells. Each of these cells could and did op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently — some as ban­dits, prey­ing on the cit­i­zenry, oth­ers as mili­tia-killing coali­tion force.”

The “Gen­eral” was not in Sad­dam’s in­ner cir­cle, but a func­tion­ing in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer who knew much about how the regime worked.

“We should have left the Iraqi mil­i­tary in­tact, with the ex­cep­tion of those of­fi­cers in Sad­dam’s clos­est cir­cle,” Mr. Zinke writes. “In­stead, we scat­tered it and lost ef­fec­tive con­trol over those who were bound more to duty than the Ba’athist regime un­der Sad­dam. If we’d let the Gen­eral re­tain his po­si­tion, he might not have be­come such an ad­ver­sary. He had stand­ing in the mil­i­tary com­mu­nity and could have been a use­ful tool for us.”

Mr. Zinke is Congress’ lone ex-SEAL. He set up a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee to fund other vet­er­ans run­ning for of­fice. He will soon be joined in the House by another for­mer SEAL, Scott Tay­lor, who won a seat from the Virginia Beach area.

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Amer­i­can Com­man­der,” for­mer SEAL and cur­rent Rep. Ryan K. Zinke (right), Montana Repub­li­can, re­calls the fear­some spirit ex­hib­ited in the field by Gen. James N. Mat­tis (left), Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­nee for de­fense sec­re­tary.

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