Fragging in Afghanistan?
by Stephen Lendman
If it’s happening, it’s not reported. Washington wants no mention or suggestion of what plagued Vietnam. More on that below.
Writing about the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky said:
“The moral condition of the army was hopeless. You might describe it by saying the army as an army no longer existed. Defeats, retreats, and the rottenness of the ruling class had utterly undermined the troops.”
War in Vietnam affected US soldiers that way. Until 1967, order was well maintained. After Tet in late January/February 1968, things changed. Mutinies forced the Pentagon to disguise them with language like “combat refusal.”
Soldiers disobeyed orders. Most were search and destroy missions. They were put in harms way against formidable enemies. At times, entire companies defied commanders. As fear of punishment faded, incidents mushroomed. So did fragging.
Wikipedia calls “attacking a superior officer in one’s chain of command” with intent to kill. Fragmentation grenades were usually used. Hence, the term fragging. No fingerprints were left behind.
As frustration and anger grew, so did fragging incidents. They became the price extracted for being ordered in harm’s way against enemies refusing to quit.
After Tet, they became widespread. At least 800 incidents occurred, perhaps 1,000 or more. Precise numbers are unknown because army officials stopped counting. Judge Advocate General Corp officers believe only 10% of attempts were reported. Other estimates suggested they occurred at five times official figures. Officers shot by their men were excluded. They were listed as wounded or killed in action.
Army officials admitted they couldn’t account for over 1,400 officer and noncom deaths. Perhaps as many as one-fourth occurred at the hands of subordinates. The Army was at war with itself. It was unprecedented, but didn’t reflect revenge. It was about opposing search and destroy missions. Soldiers wanted them ended. Refusal had its price.
Officers were often warned in advance. Smoke grenades were left near their beds. Tear gas grenades or grenade pins followed if warnings went unheeded. Fragmentation grenades punished the stubborn. Soldiers weren’t playing games. Everyone was the enemy. Officers at times fragged troops they suspected of planning to target them.
In one battalion, the commander refused to distribute arms. He feared he and other officers would be shot. Congressional hearings in 1973 estimated around 3% of officer and NCO deaths from fragging. Other methods included handguns, automatic rifles, booby traps, knives, and bare hands.
In 1971, Col. Robert Heinl, Jr. said:
“The morale, discipline and battleworthiness of the US Armed Forces are….lower than anytime in the century and possibly in the history of the United States.”
“By every conceivable indicator, our Army that remains in Vietnam is in a state of approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having….refused combat, murdering their own officers and NCOs, drug-ridden and dispirited when not mutinous.”
The longer America’s wars continue, the closer a similar state approaches critical mass because of declining moral, repeated deployments, combat stress, battle fatigue, and what Vietnam vet Steve Hesske called the “negative universals in all warfare.”
They include “Lousy nutrition. Cramped, dirty, awful living conditions. Terrible weather. Unreasonable, often senseless, demands made by superiors. And what Michael Herr describes in DISPATCHES (as) ‘long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror.’ ”
In his book titled, “Fragging: Why US Soldiers Assaulted Their Officers in Vietnam,” George Lepre said similar assaults occurred in earlier US wars, but not like in Vietnam.
Drug use, low morale, a quagmire conflict, formidable enemies, and ranks filled with below-standard troops to meet manpower needs contributed to explosive incidents.
Fraggers were mostly young, immature, poorly educated, Black, and mediocre performers. Most weren’t draftees, and no evidence suggests anti-war sentiment was involved.
“It was no accident that the fragging phenomenon occurred during an unpopular war,” said Lepre. A host of contributing factors led to America waging war on itself. It didn’t end until Washington’s humiliating April 30, 1975 Saigon embassy rooftop exit.
Perhaps Kabul, Baghdad, and Tripoli repeats will follow. For millions affected, it can’t happen a moment too soon. Their struggle continues to assure it. Afghanistan most reflects it. An acknowledged unwinnable war persists, but how much longer before what can’t go on forever, won’t.
Afghanistan’s Unwinnable War
Afghanistan reflects Vietnam. Whether or not fragging’s occurring isn’t known. However, if frustration grows and morale and discipline deteriorate, it may arrive full force.
Known incidents involve Afghan, not US forces. However, cover-up and denial may conceal unreported incidents, perhaps more than imagined.
On February 1, Medill on the Hill, a project of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism headlined, “Insider attacks on US troops by friendly Afghan forces on the rise,” saying:
A March 2011 Kandahar Province attack killed two US soldiers and wounded four others. An Afghan security contractor was responsible – “a hired gun paid for by the US-led coalition.”
It wasn’t an isolated incident. Since May 2007, Afghan security forces launched at least 45 attacks. About 70 or more NATO troops were killed and hundreds more wounded.
Friendly force attacks are increasing. Most came in the past two years, despite careful recruit screening. NATO ranks number 130,000, including 90,000 US troops.
As of October 2011, Afghan National Security Forces numbered 312,000. However, distrust, poor training, corruption, and growing desertions erupt in violence against a hated occupier.
On March 1, the Christian Science Monitor headlined, “Afghan troops keep killing US troops,” saying:
An Afghan soldier and civilian employee “murdered two US soldiers at a base near the southern city of Kandahar today. That brings the total so-called green on blue killings in Afghanistan to six since an Afghan witnessed US soldiers dumping Qurans into a burn pit at Bagram Air Base a week ago.”
At issue is America’s decade-long failed war. Incidents are increasing. Frustration and anger define them. Afghans want Americans out. Anger causes attacks. Many others sympathize and perhaps plan their own.
They belie official progress and growing stability reports. Conditions have never been worse. At 124 months and counting, Afghanistan is America’s longest war. Vietnam lasted 103 months. Polls show declining public support. Obama duplicitously claims:
“The overwhelming majority of Afghan troops have welcomed and benefitted from the training and partnering that we’re doing. When you think about it, the same was true in Iraq.” By end of 2014, “Afghans will have capacity just as Iraqis to secure their own country.”
In fact, violence wracks Iraq. Incidents occur regularly. On March 20, over 30 bomb attacks struck cities and towns across the country. At least 52 were killed and about 250 injured. It was Iraq’s bloodiest day in a month. Police checkpoints and patrols were mostly targeted.
Army and police are often attacked. Al Qaeda and other insurgents claim responsibility. March 19 was the war’s 9th anniversary. Violence rages daily. Afghanistan gets most attention, but Iraqis want Americans out as much as Afghans do. Fighting will rage until they’re gone, and the same’s true for Libya.
Arab street anti-American sentiment is visceral. Anything’s possible against a hated occupier and complicit satraps. A recent Kabul attack involved assassinating a US colonel and major inside the Afghan Interior Ministry headquarters.
The gunman was reportedly an intelligence service driver infuriated by US comments mocking Koran protests and the Koran itself. Other incidents involve Afghan troops killing US soldiers. In populated areas, civilians die with them in cases where car bombs, grenades, or other explosive devices are used.
In 2012, over a dozen US troops were killed. Around fivefold that number were wounded, many seriously. Cover-ups likely conceal others, and when injured soldiers die, only their families are told.
Nothing will stop these and similar incidents until America’s occupation ends, and Afghans run their own country. Until then, US soldiers will be targeted are killed.
Perhaps they’ll wage war on themselves like for years in Vietnam. Given similarities between the conflicts, it may be just a matter of time.
A Final Comment
During his March Kabul visit, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was targeted. Reports said a man drove a bomb-laden vehicle onto the runway where his plane landed.
An International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) statement confirmed the incident, but downplayed it. Panetta’s visit went on as planned. Afghans want no part of him and US forces he represents.
Even they can’t be trusted. Panetta ordered US troops meeting with him in Helmand Province disarmed. In a tent where they gathered, around 200 marines were told to lay down automatic rifles and 9mm pistols. A sergeant was told to clear all weapons outside.
It’s significant because typically troops remain armed when the defense secretary addresses them.
The official explanation given about wanting to be “consistent with the Afghans” didn’t wash. At issue is trust and perhaps fear that anger in the ranks may erupt against visiting US officials. Why not when multiple deployments put ground forces in harm’s way.
America may again wage war on itself. Given the similarities between Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, it may indeed be just a matter of time.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.