Delta Force and tac­ti­cal think­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Here’s the good news: For­mer Delta Force BSquadron com­man­der Lt. Col. Pete Blaber’s well-ex­e­cuted trea­tise on tac­ti­cal think­ing, “The Mis­sion, the Men, and Me,” should be re­quired read­ing for all flag-rank of­fi­cers. Re­quired, be­cause it cod­i­fies in sim­ple, ac­ces­si­ble lan­guage the con­cepts that will al­low us to adapt, over­come and pre­vail in 21st-cen­tury war­fare, whether it be asym­met­ric in na­ture and un­con­ven­tional in ap­proach, or along the clas­si­cal Land-War mod­els. And re­quired be­cause Lt. Col. Blaber demon­strates through mul­ti­ple em­pir­i­cal ex­am­ples why flex­i­bil­ity, au­dac­ity, sit­u­a­tional aware­ness and prepa­ra­tion are su­pe­rior to rigid, for­mu­laic doc­trine-in­flu­enced op­er­a­tional plan­ning.

Lt. Col. Blaber, a Ranger be­fore he was badged at Delta in the early 1990s, en­joyed a rep­u­ta­tion as an of­fi­cer who pro­tected his men by dis­play­ing unswerv­ing loy­alty down the chain of com­mand and as a cutto-the-chase thinker whose mis­sion state­ments sel­dom ex­ceeded one or two sen­tences. A gifted un­con­ven­tional war­rior, he was al­ways guided by the Prin­ci­ple of the 3Ms.

“The 3Ms,” a young Lt. Blaber was told by his first CO, “are the keys to be­ing suc­cess­ful. [. . . ] They stand for the mis­sion, the men, and me. [. . .] Never put your own per­sonal well-be­ing, or ad­vance­ment, ahead of the ac­com­plish­ment of your mis­sion and tak­ing care of your men. [. . . ].” The 3Ms was a code Lt. Col. Blaber lived by. It is also, un­for­tu­nately, a prin­ci­ple that all too many flag of­fi­cers seem to have for­got­ten, or jet­ti­soned along the way to their stars.

Which brings us to the bad news. Lt. Col. Blaber’s book will prob­a­bly be ig­nored or re­jected by most flag-rank of­fi­cers be­cause he — like many at the Unit, which is how most sol­diers re­fer to Delta Force th­ese days — is an icon­o­clast who doesn’t suf­fer FWSs (that’s Fools With Stars) gladly.

Or at all. Not to men­tion the fact that Lt. Col. Blaber has, like most A-Grade op­er­a­tors, an ego the size of Texas and a point of view that starts, “If they’d only lis­tened to me. [. . . ]” That su­per-sized ego, by the way, will do him well in Hol­ly­wood, where he’s linked up with an­other B-Squadron vet­eran, Eric Haney, as an oc­ca­sional writer on Mr. Haney’s CBS TV se­ries, “The Unit.”

More­over, gen­er­als and ad­mi­rals don’t like to be told they’ve screwed up — even when they have. And Blaber pro­vides ex­am­ple af­ter ex­am­ple of flag rank tone-deaf­ness when it comes to lis­ten­ing to the folks on the bat­tle­field who are beg­ging you to change your mind in­stead of re­ly­ing on an in­flex­i­ble plan that’s go­ing to get peo­ple killed.

Now, Lt. Col. Blaber isn’t op­posed to tak­ing ca­su­al­ties. He skew­ers the risk-averse Clin­ton se­nior na­tional se­cu­rity staffers who re­fused Delta per­mis­sion to go af­ter Osama Bin Laden in the late 1990s be­cause Delta might take a few ca­su­al­ties just the way he cas­ti­gates the avi­a­tor-turned gen­eral who de­nies a joint mil­i­tary-CIA strike force ad­di­tional as­sets to chase down and kill the al Qaeda lead­er­ship be­cause the new troop level might, ahem, of­fend the Afghans.

Writes Lt. Col. Blaber, “The main ques­tion that high-level leaders should ask is whether the mis­sion is im­por­tant to our coun­try. If the an­swer is yes, then we in the Unit had no is­sues with lay­ing our lives on the line to ac­com­plish it.”

He also un­der­stands and de­plores the dif­fer­ence be­tween los­ing lives on a worth­while mis­sion and squan­der­ing them out of pride, fool­ish­ness, or rigid­ity. And, in 21st-cen­tury asym­met­ric war­fare, lives have been squan­dered be­cause of the mil­i­tary’s re­liance on what Col. Blaber la­bels an “il­log­i­cal and dys­func­tional” pro­ce­dure called the MDMP (Mil­i­tary De­ci­sion Mak­ing Process).

He writes that the MDMP is “ba­si­cally a com­pre­hen­sive, step-by-step doc­tri­nal frame­work for de­ci­sion mak­ing and plan­ning. All of the steps are sup­posed to oc­cur within a ninety-six hour pe­riod. [. . . ] At the end of [which] they pro­duce an elab­o­rately detailed plan which, upon ap­proval of the com­man­der in charge, gets locked in stone in prepa­ra­tion for ex­e­cu­tion.”

If you get trapped by what Lt. Col. Blaber calls “the tyranny of the plan,” what re­sults “is [like] a cave­man try­ing to put to­gether a rocket ship, without the time or the sit­u­a­tional aware­ness to fig­ure it out.”

Sit­u­a­tional Aware­ness (SA) is close to Lt. Col. Blaber’s heart. And you can’t achieve SA through tech­nol­ogy alone. In Afghanistan, dur­ing the bat­tle of Takur Ghar in March 2002, the gen­er­als back in Florida and North Carolina saw high-tech video sur­veil­lance of the bat­tle­ground on their flat screens, and see­ing no re­sis­tance, planned for a he­li­copter as­sault. But Tal­iban anti-air­craft (AA) was there — cam­ou­flaged with lowtech tarps and tree boughs and in­vis­i­ble to the eyes in the sky. Yet when Lt. Col. Blaber’s peo­ple, who’d seen the AA, ad­vised that land­ing chop­pers would be ask­ing for trou­ble, Lt. Col. Blaber was told it was too late to re­vise the plan. In fact, one of the gen­er­als in over­all charge of the events at Takur Ghar was so up­set that Lt. Col. Blaber was mov­ing chess pieces without ask­ing first, he or­dered the ra­dio fre­quen­cies switched so the plan wouldn’t be ad­justed. The tonedeaf gen­eral who did that lacked sit­u­a­tional aware­ness — and a lot more.

One ar­rives at SA Nir­vana, sug­gests Lt. Col. Blaber, through old-fash­ioned boots on the ground recce and hands-on in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing. SA means a thor­ough ob­ser­va­tion of your en­emy’s pat­terns; SA is con­tin­u­ally ask­ing ‘what would you rec­om­mend?’ to the lo­cals. SA is imag­in­ing the unimag­in­able — like, what would you do if we sud­denly lost our com­mu­ni­ca­tions and here we are 10,000 feet up in the Hindu Kush with a mis­sion to ful­fill? SA is al­ways lis­ten­ing to the guy on the ground, and most im­por­tant, SA re­sults from shar­ing what you learn.

Shar­ing in­for­ma­tion — the fac­toids and info-bits from boots on the ground, Preda­tor sur­veil­lance, lo­cals, cap­tured en­emy doc­u­ments, and open-source ma­te­ri­als — in­sists Lt. Col. Blaber, is the key: “No mat­ter how many pat­terns you rec­og­nize — or think you rec­og­nize — they won’t do you any good un­less they’re shared.” But here’s the bad news again: all too many of the guys with stars on their col­lars hate to share in­for­ma­tion. Be­cause in­for­ma­tion is power, they hoard it. And they’re cer­tainly not about to be crit­i­cized by some knuckle-drag­ging non-West Point lieu­tenant colonel.

But worry not. Lt. Col. Blaber’s book will still sell lots of copies. I can think of scads of peo­ple who will read it cover to cover, un­der­line it, high­light para­graphs, and make sure all their friends read it too. It will, for ex­am­ple, be de­voured by the al Qaeda fight­ers in their caves up in north­west Pak­istan, by Hezbol­lah guer­ril­las in Beirut’s south­ern sub­urbs, by Ze­tas in Mex­ico, Tal­iban op­er­a­tives in Afghanistan and Pak­istan, and Lashkar e-Tayy­iba ter­ror­ists in Kash­mir. It will prob­a­bly be­come re­quired read­ing at the Min­istry of In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity in Tehran and Mukhabarat head­quar­ters in Da­m­as­cus. The gen­er­als who run Bei­jing’s Er Bu (Sec­ond Depart­ment) of the PLA’s mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence or­ga­ni­za­tion will no doubt find Lt. Col. Blaber’s ma­te­rial hugely in­for­ma­tive. So will op­er­a­tives in Rus­sia’s ex­pand­ing mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity. And all those Blaber-re­sis­tant FWSs? They’ll find some­one down the chain of com­mand to blame the next time they screw up. Then they’ll re­tire and work at the State Depart­ment, or con­sult for TV news.

Wash­ing­ton writer John Weis­man’s most re­cent books, “SOAR,” “Jack in the Box,” and “Di­rect Action” are avail­able as Avon pa­per­backs. His email is black­ops@john­weis­


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