- The Retired Colonel calls Donald Rumsfeld an "Asshole"
Whose Bad Planning Mired U.S. troops in an Ugly Guerrilla Conflict in Iraq.
His Sources? Defiant Soldiers Sending Dispatches from the Front.
- Retired U.S. Army Col. David Hackworth is a cocky American
military commander who for half a century was at the front lines of the
Army's most important battles. Most recently, though, Hackworth has been
at the front lines of a domestic war: the debate over U.S. military strategy
in Iraq, and whether the Bush administration planned well enough to achieve
a decisive military victory and keep the postwar peace.
- Hackworth was everywhere on cable television during the
first days of the war, when early military setbacks convinced him and other
retired military leaders that the administration, whose backers sold the
conflict as a "cakewalk," hadn't sent enough troops to quell
Iraqi resistance. He wrote a widely quoted column headlined "Stuck
in the Quicksand" in early April -- just as the tide seemed to turn
and the pace of victory picked up again. Though he is a colonel by rank,
Hackworth was counted among the so-called "television generals"
the administration blasted after Baghdad fell, and many conservative admirers
turned against him.
- But now, with American soldiers still dying almost daily
in Iraq, the tide of opinion may be turning again, in favor of Hackworth's
argument that the administration was unprepared for what's turning out
to be a long-term guerrilla resistance in Iraq. Today the primary front
of Hackworth's war of opinion isn't cable television, but a pair of Web
sites -- Soldiers for the Truth and his own site, Hackworth.com -- where
he's campaigning to document the dire fate of U.S. troops in Iraq. The
sites have quickly become a repository for the gripes and fears of America's
beleaguered combat troops.
- On a typical day Hackworth receives hundreds of e-mails,
letters and faxes from American soldiers, complaining about everything
from silk-weight underwear to the weapons they've been assigned. "Pistols
suck," wrote one soldier. "Bring and use every weapon. Shotguns
are great at close ranges." At a time when soldiers have been disciplined
for griping to the media, Hackworth is providing a fascinating outlet for
what they're really experiencing. Among the more evocative messages:
- "Soldiers are living in the dirt, with no mail,
no phone, no contact with home, and no break from the daily monotony at
all. I practically got in a fist fight with this captain over letting my
private send an e-mail over his office's internet. This clown spends his
days sending flowers to his wife and surfing the net. Fucking disgraceful
and all too typical of today's Army."
- "Soldiers get literally hundreds of flea or mosquito
bites and they can't get cream or Benadryl to keep the damn things from
itching ... .I am not talking about bringing in the steak and lobster every
week. I am talking about basic health and safety issues that continue to
be neglected by the Army."
- "We did not receive a single piece of parts-support
for our vehicles during the entire battle ... not a single repair part
has made to our vehicles to date ... my unit had abandoned around 12 vehicles
... .I firmly believe that the conditions I just described contributed
to the loss and injury of soldiers on the battlefield."
- "We have done our job and have done it well, we
have fulfilled our obligation to this operation, but we are still here
and are still being mistreated and misled. When does it end? Do we continue
to keep the liberators of Iraq here so they can continue to lose soldiers
periodically to snipers and ambushes? My unit has been here since September
and they have no light at the end of the tunnel. How many of my soldiers
need to die before they realize that we have hit a wall?"
- Although the controversial Hackworth has his critics,
no one disputes his half-century of military accomplishment. During World
War II the 15-year-old Hackworth lied about his age to fight in Italy.
During Vietnam he designed and implemented unconventional warfare tactics
-- allegedly including a private brothel for his troops -- and wrote the
Vietnam Primer, considered by many to be the leading book on guerrilla
warfare tactics in Vietnam. Wounded eight times (his left leg still carries
a bullet from the Vietnam War), he racked up enough medals, he says, to
declare himself the "Army's Most Decorated Soldier" -- though
he admits the U.S. Army has no such title. No one denies that Hackworth
has seen more combat and taken more bullets than almost any American soldier
- Today, the bestselling author -- his books include "Steel
my Soldiers' Hearts," "Price of Honor" and "About Face"
-- writes a column for the conservative site World Net Daily.
- He's starting to feel his years. His bullet-ridden leg
propped up on pillows at his home in suburban Connecticut, Hack is far
from the action. So he chose another tactic: He brought the front home.
In a conversation with Salon, he termed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
an "asshole" who "misunderstood the whole war" and
he predicted that American troops could be stuck in Iraq for "at least"
another 30 years.
- How long do you think U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq?
- God only knows, the way things are going. At least 30
years. Tommy Franks [recently retired commander of U.S. troops in Iraq]
said four to 10 years. Based on Cyprus and other commitments in this kind
of warfare, it is going to be a long time -- unless the price gets too
heavy. We say it is costing the U.S. $4 billion a month; I bet it is costing
$6 billion a month. Where the hell is that money going to come from?
- How do you see the combat situation evolving in Iraq?
- There is no way the G [guerrilla] is going to win; he
knows that, but his object is to make us bleed. To nickel and dime us.
This is Phase 1. But what he is always looking for is the big hit -- a
Beirut [-style car-bomb attack] with 242 casualties, something that gets
the headlines! The Americans have their head up their ass all the time.
All the advantages are with the G; he will be watching. He is like an audience
in a darkened theater and the U.S. troops are the actors on stage all lit
up, so the G can see everything on stage, when they are asleep or when
his weapons are dirty. The actor can't see shit in the audience.
- For many weeks your Web site has described conditions
in Iraq as being far more chaotic and unstable than generally reported.
Why did the Pentagon try to downplay the problems instead of playing it
straight and saying this is a long- term problem for America?
- Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz
made a very horrible estimate of the situation. They concluded that the
war would be Slam Bam Goodbye Saddam, followed by victory parades with
local Iraqi folks throwing flowers and rice and everything nice, then the
troops would come home.
- When I examined the task organization, my estimate was
totally contrary to this asshole Rumsfeld, who went in light and on the
cheap, all based upon this rosy scenario. I never thought this would be
a fight without resistance. And there was another guy who thought the same
way I did; his name is Saddam Hussein. He looked at the awesome array of
forces being set up against him and said, "Wait a minute, no way can
I prevail, I tried that in '91 and just saw in Afghanistan what happened
to Taliban and Al-Qaida, I will run away for another day."
- Saddam is saying, "I am going to copy Ho Chi Minh
and the Taliban and go into a guerrilla configuration." It [the invasion
of Baghdad] did go Slam Bam Goodbye Saddam, but we are in there so light
that we don't have sufficient force to provide the stability after the
fall of the regime. We can't secure the banks, the energy facilities, the
vital installations, the government, the ministry, the museums or the library.
The world was witness to this great anarchy, the looting and rioting that
set over Baghdad. There was that wonderful quote by Rumsfeld. "Stuff
happens," he said. He flipped it off.
- Do you see any similarities to the U.S. engagement in
- The mistake in Vietnam was we failed to understand the
nature of the war and we failed to understand our enemy. In Vietnam we
were fighting World War II. Up to now in Iraq we have been fighting Desert
Storm with tank brigade attacks. The tanks move into a village, swoop down,
the tank gunner sees a silhouette atop a house, aims, fires, kills and
it turns out to be a 12-year-old boy. Now, the father of that boy said,
"We will kill 10 Americans for this." This is exactly what happened
in Vietnam; a village was friendly, then some pilot turns around and blows
away the village, the village goes from pro-Saigon to pro-Hanoi.
- What kind of weapons would you be using in this war if
you were running it? Would you trade the pistols for grenade launchers?
Would you bring in more Apache helicopters, more snipers, what?
- You have to use surgical weapons, not weapons that can
reach out and strike innocents. The American Army is trained to break things
and kill people -- not the kind of selective work that is needed. You don't
use a tank brigade to surround a village; instead, you set up ambushes
along the route. It is all so similar to what I saw in Vietnam, this tendency
to be mesmerized by big-unit operations. But if you fight like a G, everything
is under the table, in the dark, done by stealth and surprise; there is
no great glory -- except the end result. America has never been capable
of fighting the G; from [Gen.] Custer who fucked it up, you can fast-forward
to today. [In Iraq] they are proving it again. The U.S. military never,
never learns from the past. They make the same mistake over and over again.
- What other changes would you say need to happen in Iraq?
- Get rid of the conventional generals; these guys in Iraq
are tank generals, but they don't have any experience in fighting an insurgency.
Reminds me of Vietnam when the artillery commanders wanted to build bases
everywhere to fire their cannons. These tactics do not work against the
G. I said in a recent piece: "Fire these fuckers and get a snake eater."
- Snake eater -- where does that term come from?
- That is an old expression from the beginning of Special
Forces. They would have demonstrations at Fort Bragg [U.S. Special Forces
headquarters in North Carolina] to demonstrate their animalism and they
would bite the head off a chicken or bite a snake in half.
- Gen. John Abazid -- a snake eater -- has just come in
and admitted this is a classic guerrilla war. What kind of new strategy
can we expect to see?
- The guy is extremely bright and a fighter -- a very rare
combination. Generally the fighters are Rambo types who can't walk and
chew gum at the same time. There are on occasions the Rommel and Patton
who are brilliant fucking guys who can also duke it out with you, they
understand the street fighter. You got that with Abazid.
- How is it that you, a retired soldier in suburban Connecticut,
appear to have a better take on the soldiers' mood than the generals in
the Pentagon or in Baghdad?
- I have incredible sources -- on average I get 500 e-mails
a day from kids around the world that have read my work and know that I
am not going to blow the whistle on them; a lot of that shit you see on
my Web site comes from those kids.
- This is the first war with e-mail. You have asked U.S.
soldiers to emulate Winston Churchill and act as war correspondents by
sending you dispatches from the front. What has been the response?
- Very, very favorable. The soldiers know the traffic is
being monitored by the Pentagon, that Big Brother is monitoring everything
they write. But still my sources keep coming from Afghanistan and Iraq.
I very seldom get direct sources -- remember before we deployed, they [soldiers]
were at home and could send e-mail from personal Yahoo accounts, now they
have to use military accounts and are paranoid that these are being read.
The [direct] traffic I get now are from guys who don't give a fuck, who
are not going to stay in [the military], who don't give a shit about the
consequences of sounding off. But remember -- you can never outsmart a
convict in prison or a soldier on the battlefield. They both live by their
wits, so what they do is write home and say "Hey dad I love you, we
are having a few problems with tanks, etc. If this letter should happen
to find itself into the e-mail of Hackworth at www.Hackworth.com it wouldn't
disappoint me." I am getting 30 to 40 of these letters.
- American troops in Iraq are complaining of basics like
clean clothes, hot food and mail from home. Is there anything wrong with
the Pentagon's famous supply chain?
- This goes back to the shitty estimate on the part of
Rumsfeld. He did not provide enough troops or the logistical backup, because
his Army was not staying, it was coming home. So who needs a warehouse
full of shit?
- One letter I got today, written by a sergeant in a tank
unit, said that of its 18 armored vehicles -- Bradley or Abrams -- only
four are operational. The rest were down because of burned-out transmissions
or the tracks eaten out. So it is not just the shitty food and bad water
-- a soldier can live with short rations -- but spare parts, baby! If you
don't have them, your weapons don't work. Most of the resupply is by wheeled
vehicles, and the roads and terrain out there is gobbling up tires like
you won't believe. Michelin's whole production for civilians has been stopped
[at certain plants] and have dedicated their entire production to the U.S.
military in Iraq -- and they can't keep up!
- Do you think there is any truth to the sense that British
soldiers are better at nation-building than the Americans?
- I would say so. They have a long history -- going back
to the days of the colonies. If you look at their achievements in some
places where they have established solid governments -- in Africa, in India,
they have done a very good job. They were very good at lining up local
folks to do the job like operating the sewers and turning on the electricity.
Far better than us -- we are heavy-handed, and in Iraq we don't understand
the people and the culture. Thus we did not immediately employ locals in
police and military activities to get them to build and stabilize their
nation. (Pauses) Yeah, the Brits are better.
- What would you tell Rumsfeld if you could talk to him?
- In mid April, I wrote a piece that asks for Rumsfeld
to be fired, to be relieved. I took enormous heat for that. He went in
light, on the cheap, he has misunderstood the whole war, he should go ...
Rumsfeld is an arrogant asshole. That's a quote, by the way.
- Jonathan Franklin covered the first Gulf War from inside
the Pentagon's "Desert Storm" mortuary. He is a reporter with
the Guardian of London.