The 5 most underrated commanders in military history - We Are The Mighty
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The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

It’s hard not to focus on the giants of military history, whether they are remembered for their skill on the battlefield or just remembered because their oversized personality made it hard for us to forget. 

The George S. Pattons, Napoleon Bonapartes and Qin Shi Huangs of the world get remembered for their uncanny ability and long lists of great quotes to go along with the lists of their accomplishments.

Then there are the silent professionals of the world’s collective military history, those who are critical to shaping the world order but are somehow lost to history. Being a total badass doesn’t mean you have to have a big mouth to go with it. Some would argue that these are the biggest badasses of all. 

1. Hannibal Barca

In most high school history classes, Hannibal gets treated like some grade-B historical footnote. After covering Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps, the curriculum moves right on to the Roman Empire. But mighty Rome was almost smothered in its cradle by Hannibal, who spent much of his career absolutely wrecking Roman armies and occupying their cities for 15 years. 

Real history buffs know the truth about Hannibal, who was able to beat Roman asses with his smaller, less-equipped force that was far from home and supplies. At Cannae, he tricked the Romans into fighting so hard and fast they exposed their own flanks. Then he annihilated 70,000 “superior” Roman troops.

Hannibal was Rome’s Voledmort, in that just saying his name on the Italian Peninsula was enough to create rage and fear. Hannibal would escape retribution in Italy when Rome finally turned the tide against Carthage. After Hannibal and Carthage’s final defeat, Hannibal’s spectre was so great, the Romans built statues of him in their own cities to celebrate defeating such a vaunted enemy.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
If that’s not respect for the enemy, we don’t know what is… (Wikimedia Commons)

2. Alexander Suvorov

It’s a pretty big deal to be a major military mind in Europe at a time when Europe was just packed to the brim with major military minds. In the 18th century, it seems like all Europe wanted to do was fight big wars. Russia’s secret weapon in this melee was Alexander Suvorov, a lifelong soldier and officer.

Suvorov commanded troops who crushed Poles, Turks, Prussians, Italians and Frenchmen alike. For 40-plus years, he was the real jewel in the Imperial Russian crown, absolutely trouncing armies while outnumbered and outgunned. Even when his enemies had him surrounded and outnumbered in the Swiss Alps, Suvorov managed to inflict maximum pain while losing minimal men. 

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
Suvorov Crossing the Alps in 1799 by Vasily Surikov (Wikimedia Commons)

Even after he was fired by Tsar Paul I (who was really just jealous), all of anti-Napoleon Europe demanded he be reinstated. The Tsar took him back and promoted him in time for Suvorov to wipe out all of Napoleon’s gains in Europe while the Emperor was off in Egypt. Suvorov ultimately died of fatigue and old age in Saint Petersburg, exhausted from a lifetime of kicking ass. 

3. George Henry Thomas

Civil War history buffs like to argue about Lee versus Grant, Sherman versus Jackson, and whoever versus whomever but when it comes down to real history, there’s one Civil War standout above all others: the Rock of Chickamauga, the master strategist, George Henry Thomas. 

His troops were disciplined, his movements deliberate and his record untarnished. While everyone is arguing about Civil War generals, remember that George Henry Thomas never lost a fight. He gave the Union one of its first victories, saved the Union Army of the Cumberland from utter destruction, and crushed Confederate General John Bell Hood’s army entirely out of existence. 

The only reason he isn’t as remembered or celebrated today is because he cared more about his privacy than winning any kind of credit.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
General Thomas is not here to impress you. (Library of Congress)

4. Khalid ibn al-Walid 

Al-Walid started his career opposed to the Muslim armies of the prophet Muhammed. Al-Walid was instrumental in delivering the Islamic armies’ only early defeat at the Battle of Uhud. But the prophet was smart enough to know that if he couldn’t beat Khalid ibn al-Walid, he should convert him. After becoming a Muslim, he served under the prophet and two subsequent caliphs, spreading Islam throughout the Middle East. A simple field commander for one of the Arabian Peninsula’s Arab tribes was suddenly called “The Sword of God” by the prophet. 

For nearly a decade, Arab Muslim forces under al-Walid curb-stomped everyone in their path, from Arabia to Persia to modern-day Iraq. He took down some of the rock star names of the Ancient World, including the Sasanids and the Byzantines, never losing a battle to either. Al-Walid was so successful, the Caliph Umar was worried that al-Walid’s fame might eclipse his own. Without al-Walid, Islam might never have left Arabia. 

5. Zeng Guofan

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
Wikimedia Commons

By the time the American Civil war broke out, China had been embroiled in a civil war of its own for more than a decade. It would be the deadliest civil war in world history, killing between 20 and 30 million people. Though the Taiping rebels didn’t capture much of the Qing Dynasty’s territory, they wouldn’t be completely wiped out for almost 30 years.

Unlike the Union Army’s strong central government, Qing China was a wreck. Its economy never totally recovered from the Opium Wars, corruption was rampant, and supplies were hard to come by. Its army was in shambles, unable to recapture Taiping Territory or even stop the rebel advance – until a civil servant named Zeng Guofan was ordered to create a military unit. 

He created the Xiang Army, and by using respect and discipline (uncommon in the military at the time) his unit became the most effective battlefield unit in the country. His leadership turned the tide of the entire war, stopped the rebels and captured their capital. 


Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

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Crazy photos from the WWII battles in the Arctic that you’ve never heard of

When most people think of World War II, they probably think of soldiers fighting in Europe or Marines island-hopping in the Pacific. But it truly was a World War, and that included combat in some of Earth’s most frigid and inhospitable waters in the Arctic Circle.

The Soviets needed plenty of supplies to fight off the Germans, and it was up to the Allies to make it happen. Beginning in 1941, the Allies began sending convoys of merchant ships packed with food, ammunition, tanks, and airplanes, along with warship escorts.

 

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

But the freezing waters of the Arctic — and the German navy — didn’t make it easy.

Via the World War II Database:

The cold temperature in the arctic region also posed a risk in that sea splashes slowly formed a layer of ice on the decks of ships, which over time, if not tended to, could weigh so much that ships would become top-heavy and capsize. Of course, given the state of war, the German military also posed a great danger by means of surface warships, submarines, and aircraft. The threats, natural or otherwise, endangered the merchant ships throughout the entire length of the supply route. British destroyer HMS Matabele and Soviet trawler RT-68 Enisej of convoy PQ-8 were sunk by German submarine U-454 at the mouth of the Kola Inlet near the very end of their trip, British whaler HMS Sulla of PQ-9 capsized from ice build-up three days into her journey in the Norwegian Sea, while PQ-15 suffered the loss of three merchant ships on 2 May 1942 to German torpedo bomber attacks north of Norway.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
HMS Duke of York in heavy seas

Initially the ships met little resistance, as the Nazis were unaware of the resupply route. This quickly changed after Operation Dervish, the first convoy from Iceland to Archangelsk, Russia.

“After Dervish, the Germans did wake up to what was happening,” Eric Alley, who was on the first convoy, told The Telegraph. “The Luftwaffe and U-boats moved 
to northern Norway, so the convoys had to keep as far north as possible.”

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

The convoys were dangerous due to the unpredictable nature of the frigid waters and threat of Nazi U-boats and land-based aircraft. And summer made things much worse, which left ships completely exposed since the area had 24 hours of daylight.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

“That was hell. There is no other word I know for it,” wrote Robert Carse, in an account of an attack on his convoy that lasted for 20 hours. “Everywhere you looked aloft you saw them, crossing and recrossing us, hammering down and back, the bombs brown, sleek in the air, screaming to burst furiously white in the sea. All around us, as so slowly we kept on going, the pure blue of the sea was mottled blackish with the greasy patches of their bomb discharges. Our ship was missed closely time and again. We drew our breaths in a kind of gasping-choke.”

The convoys delivered more than four million tons of cargo, though at a heavy cost: 101 ships were sunk and roughly 3,000 Allied sailors lost their lives, according to The Telegraph.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

Here are more photos of what it was like:

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

NOW: Hitler’s secret Nazi war machines of World War II

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THAAD missile system has China and North Korea spooked

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
Lockheed Martin


The most advanced missile system on the planet can hunt and blast incoming missiles right out of the sky with a 100% success rate — and we got to spend a day with it.

Meet the US’s THAAD system.

THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) is a unique missile-defense system with unmatched precision, capable of countering threats around the world with its mobility and strategic battery-unit placement.

“It is the most technically advanced missile-defense system in the world,” US Army Col. Alan Wiernicki, commander of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, told Business Insider in an interview.

“Combatant commanders and our allies know this, which puts our THAAD Batteries in very high global demand,” Wiernicki added.

And that demand seems poised to rise.

Deploying America’s THAAD

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
AiirSource Military | YouTube

On Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claimed his country had developed miniaturized nuclear warheads, which can be mounted to long-range ballistic missiles.

The rogue regime’s latest announcement is a follow-through pass to last month’s long-range-rocket launch and January’s purported hydrogen-bomb test.

Negotiations to equip South Korea with THAAD have been ongoing since South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s October 2015visit to the White House.

As of yet, there has not been a formal move to deploy the missile system.

“The complexity of global-security challenges is increasingly causing combatant commanders to request more Army forces,” US Army Capt. Gus Cunningham told Business Insider.

“With that said, THAAD is ready to respond to any request, at any time,” Cunningham added.

If a THAAD battery were deployed to South Korea, depending on its exact location, nearly all incoming missiles from the North could be eliminated, as displayed by the following graphic from The Heritage Foundation.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
Heritage.org

Meanwhile, China is spooked over the potential THAAD assignment to South Korea.

Chinese Ambassador Qiu Guohong warned that basing the US-made THAAD missile system in South Korea would irreparably damage relations between the countries, The Chosunilbo reported.

THAAD deployment, Qiu said, “would break the strategic balance in the region and create a vicious cycle of Cold War-style confrontations and an arms race, which could escalate tensions.”

During his most recent visit to Beijing, Secretary of State John Kerry explained that the US was “not hungry or anxious or looking for an opportunity to deploy THAAD,” CNN reported.

“THAAD is a purely defensive weapon. It is purely capable of shooting down a ballistic missile it intercepts. And it is there for the protection of the United States,” Kerry said.

“If we can get to denuclearization, there’s no need to deploy THAAD,” he added.

How THAAD’s ‘hit to kill’ lethality works

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
USMDA | YouTube

Currently, there five THAAD batteries — each of approximately 100 soldiers — assigned to Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

One of those THAAD batteries was deployed to Guam in April 2013 in order to deter North Korean provocations and further defend the Pacific region.

Impressively, the THAAD interceptor does not carry a warhead. Instead, the interceptor missile uses pure kinetic energy to deliver “hit to kill” strikes to incoming ballistic threats inside or outside the atmosphere.

Each launcher carries up to eight missiles and can send multiple kill vehicles at once, depending on the severity of the threat.

Lockheed Martin’s missile launcher is just one element of the four-part antimissile system. The graphic below shows the rest of the components needed for each enemy-target interception.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
Photo: Raytheon

THAAD’s first line of defense is its radar system.

“We have one of the most powerful radars in the world,” US Army Capt. Kyle Terza, a THAAD battery commander, told Business Insider.

Raytheon’s AN/TPY-2 radar is used to detect, track, and discriminate ballistic missiles in the terminal (or descent) phase of flight.

The mobile radar is about the size of a bus and is so powerful that it can scan areas the size of entire countries, according to Raytheon.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
Raytheon’s AN/TPY-2 radar | Raytheon

Once an enemy threat has been identified, THAAD’s Fire Control and Communications (TFCC) support team kicks in. If there is a decision to engage the incoming missile, the launcher fires an interceptor to hunt for its target.

Here’s what the launch looks like from far away:

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
BMDA | YouTube

While in flight, the interceptor will track its target and obliterate it in the sky.

The following infrared imagery shows THAAD demolishing the target:

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
USMDA | YouTube

By the end of 2016, the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is scheduled to deliver an additional 48 THAAD interceptors to the US military, bringing the total up to 155, according to a statement from the MDA’s director, Vice Admiral J.D. Syring, given before the House Armed Service Committee.

According to the MDA, there are more than 6,300 ballistic missiles outside of US, NATO, Russian, and Chinese control.

While other US partners around the globe are interested in purchasing THAAD, the United Arab Emirates is the sole foreign buyer after signing a deal with the Department of Defense for $3.4 billion.

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This lone Gurkha rifleman stopped three Japanese tanks in their tracks

It takes a Gurkha to save a village.


In 1944, the Japanese were still advancing into British-dominated Burma-India theater. Their progress was slowed due to dense jungles, steep mountains, and the fact that they were trampling all over the backyards of the world’s best soldiers.

One of those was 19-year-old Ganju Lama. Lama was a Rifleman in the 1st Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles, an anti-tank unit. This training would soon come in handy. They were part of an effort to recapture the city of Imphal in eastern India, along the Burma border.

The Japanese rolled into the area with 37mm guns mounted on Type 97 Chi-Ha tanks.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
Early model Chi-Ha tanks, like the kind Ganju Lama used to eat for breakfast.

In his first contact with the Japanese outside of Imphal, he used a projectile, infantry, anti-tank (or PIAT) rifle to disable one of the tanks. The Gurkhas then fell back, with Lama covering their retreat. Three weeks later, Ganju Lama met another company of Japanese tanks.

That fight would go a very different way.

Japanese artillery opened up on the Gurkhas in the morning of June 12th and rained death on them for more than an hour. As soon as the rain let up, enemy infantry supported by three tanks tore through the British lines near Lama’s position. The Gurkhas counter-attacked but were soon bogged down.

That’s when Ganju Lama picked up a PIAT and went to work.

Bleeding from one leg, as well as his left arm and right hand, he crawled within 30 yards of the enemy tanks. He took out the first tank and then the second, using one round apiece.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
This is a photo of the actual destruction Lama wreaked on the Japanese tanks. (UK Army Museum photo)

As the tank crews abandoned their vehicles, he launched a furious grenade attack, using only his teeth to pull the pin and his good arm to throw.

According to the Guardian, Lama wouldn’t allow himself to be evacuated until he killed or wounded the last of the enemy crewmen.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
Lama also earned the Military Medal for covering his unit’s fall back three weeks prior.

Ganju Lama was awarded the Victoria Cross, the UK’s highest award for gallantry, for his actions that day. He would survive his wounds and the war, living to the ripe old age of 77.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Five Air Force officers volunteered to be nuked and survived

Unless there is a lead-lined refrigerator lying around, we’re guessing none of you reading this would be too keen on standing at ground zero of a nuclear blast. But it turns out this is exactly what six men chose to do with their afternoon in July of 1957 — five of them even volunteered, with the sixth not told what he’d be ordered to do that day until he showed up to work… So who were these men, why were they there, and what happened after?

As the Cold War began heating up and the U.S. and Soviets were each attempting to set a record for money spent stock piling thousands of weapons not intended to be used, the general public were getting a little nervous about both the testing of said weapons and what would happen if one of the two super powers decided to take things to the next level, particularly as rockets and missiles tipped with nukes started to become a thing. Despite assertions that there was nothing inherently dangerous about a rocket with a nuclear warhead detonating directly above you, the citizens of the United States weren’t buying it.


Putting their money where their mouths were, Colonel Arthur Oldfield of the Continental Air Defense Command decided to prove the assertion, ordering to have just this sort of thing filmed happening. This particular test, named John, was a part of the five month long Operation Plumbbob series of nuclear tests.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

(National Nuclear Security Administration)

Besides the men involved with John, these tests also included over 18,000 other members of the military being put in relatively close proximity to nuclear blasts, with the point being to determine how troops would react in battle with nukes detonating nearby. The tests also included over a thousand pigs being used to study the biological effects of the detonations when the subjects were much closer to the blasts than officials were comfortable putting humans. (Squeal piggy!!!)

The five men who volunteered to insert themselves into John were Colonel Sidney Bruce, Lt. Colonel Frank P. Ball, Major Norman “Bodie” Bodinger, Major John Hughes, and Colonel Donald Lutrell. The sixth individual was a cameraman named Akira “George” Yoshitake — simultaneously the only one who did not volunteer for the gig and the only one who had a job to do during the blast. His job, of course, was to capture the entire event for a nice little propaganda film to demonstrate that these nuclear tipped rockets were perfectly safe to use in air combat scenarios above populated regions.

And so it was that on July 19, 1957, the five exceptionally brave men and one cameraman, no doubt re-evaluating his career choices and decision making paradigm, found themselves standing around 70 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the crow flies, or about 100 miles by road, in the Yucca Flats in the Area 10 Test Site. Next to them was a sign that read “Ground Zero. Population 5”, casually disregarding the key contributions of Yoshitake, which has been a theme for the few hundred filmmakers who were so critical to these nuclear tests and data gathering, yet have been largely ignored by history.

Genie Missile Test

www.youtube.com

Soon enough an F-28 jet flew overhead, shooting a Genie rocket equipped with a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead. This was actually the first test of a live nuclear tipped Genie rocket, but, thankfully for the men, the unguided rocket did not malfunction and instead flew straight for about two and a half miles at a height of around Flight Level 180 (about 18,000 feet or about 5.5 km). It then detonated almost directly above them.

Said Major Bodey as it happened, “We felt a heat pulse. A very bright light. A fireball it is red. The sky looks black about it. It is boiling above us. It is rapidly losing its color…”

Then a massive blast sound could be heard, at which point Bodey stated, “There is the ground wave! It is over folks, It happened! The mounds are vibrating. It is tremendous! Directly above our heads! It is a huge fireball. … Wasn’t that a perfect, perfect shot.”

Seemingly remembering the whole thing was to be a propaganda film showing it was just good family fun to stand under a nuclear blast, Colonel Bruce then stated, “My only regrets right now are that everyone couldn’t have been out here at ground zero with us.” Shortly thereafter he no doubt thanked the Academy and noted he felt humbled to be there.

You might at this point be thinking that while the blast itself didn’t do them any harm, other than maybe a stubborn case of tinnitus — the little talked about silent killer associated with nuclear blasts — surely these men must have been exposed to copious amounts of ionizing radiation. But this turns out not to have been the case. It was later determined they were exposed to negligible amounts of such radiation. In fact, less than the pilot of the F-89 jet and significantly less than the pilots ordered to fly through the region of atmosphere the blast occurred at a mere ten minutes later.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

A formation of three F-89Ds.

(US Air Force photo)

The blast occurring reasonably high in the atmosphere also ensured that no ground materials were sucked up, thus no large cloud of radioactive particles was present. And as for the radioactive materials from the bomb and any dust already in the atmosphere nearby, these would have spread out quite widely before coming down.

Ironically, however, while the whole thing was meant to show the safety of such nuclear rockets detonating high over head, radioactive particles from these tests frequently settled on nearby towns, even as far away as Utah. As you might expect from this, the U.S. government has paid a pretty penny, to the tune of around a billion dollars to date, to the inhabitants of these regions who later had health problems possibly related to being exposed to high amounts of ionizing radiation during the tests.

All this said, it is noted that every one of these six brave men did later in life get cancer at one point or another. However, it’s not thought this test in particularly probably contributed much to that. All of them were involved in a number of nuclear tests, many of which saw them exposed to far more ionizing radiation, with the cumulative effect of it all probably also not helping matters.

In the end, Major Hughes lived to the age of 71, dying of cancer in 1990. Lt. Col. Ball lived until 2003, dying at the ripe old age of 83 of cancer. Colonel Bruce actually made it to 86, dying in 2005 of, you guessed it, cancer. Major Bodinger also died of cancer, we believe in February of 1997, though it’s not clear here as his grave is not listed in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs grave site locator. But we found a grave in Oklahoma for someone that appears to match up with what we know about Bodie. Next up, Colonel Lutrell at one point got colon cancer, though it isn’t clear whether this is what he died of. Whatever the case, he seems to have shuffled off this mortal coil in 2014 at the age of 91. As for the cameraman George Yoshitake, while he did have to battle stomach cancer to do it, he lived to 84, dying in 2013 of a stroke.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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Military families ordered to leave US bases in Turkey

Security concerns over threats from ISIS prompted the Pentagon to order evacuations of military families from Southern Turkey, specifically Incirlik Air Base, Izmir, and Mugla. The State Department followed suit, ordering the evacuation of families connected to the U.S. consulate in Adana.


The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron refuels a F-15 Strike Eagle in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Dec. 28, 2015. OIR is the coalition intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)

“The decision to move our families and civilians was made in consultation with the Government of Turkey, our State Department, and our Secretary of Defense,” Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command, said in the statement. The decision affects 700 spouses and children in these areas.

The ongoing threat of ISIS attacks in Turkey makes Incirlik and other U.S. installations prime targets for terrorism. U.S. security forces in the country have been a Force Protection Condition (FPCON) Delta for weeks. Delta is the highest alert level, meaning intelligence has been received that terrorist action against a specific location or person is imminent. The base was locked down in July 2015 and voluntary departures for dependents were authorized in September.  The latest order is mandatory.

Almost 100 people have died in the five terror attacks in Turkey in 2016 alone. Two of the attacks were claimed by ISIS, while the other three allegedly from Kurdish terrorist organizations, which is still a threat to U.S. forces, as the Incirlik Air Base is shared with the Turkish Air Force. Incirlik, located 100 miles from the Turkish border with Syria, houses 2,500 American troops.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
An A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft sits on the flight line at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey Oct. 15, 2015. Along with the 12 A-10C Thunderbolt IIs from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, the U.S. Air Force deployed support equipment and approximately 300 personnel to Incirlik AB in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. This follows Turkey’s recent decision to open its bases to U.S. and other Coalition members participating in air operations against ISIL. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cory W. Bush)

“This step does not signify a permanent decision to end accompanied tours at these facilities,” said a European Command statement. “It is intended to mitigate the risk to DoD elements and personnel, including family members, while ensuring the combat effectiveness of U.S. forces and our mission support to operations in Turkey. The United States and Turkey are united in our common fight against ISIL, and Incirlik continues to play a key role in counter-ISIL operations.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

An astrologer may have helped end the Cold War

In May, 1988, smack in the middle of the Iran-Contra Affair, the Reagan Administration, nearing its sunset, weathered a very different kind of affair: the release of his former Chief of Staff’s book, which claimed that Nancy Reagan controlled the schedule in the White House through the use of astrology.


Donald Regan had been officially let go from his position as Chief of Staff due to his botched handling of the Iran-Contra affair. Throughout his tenure, he’d reportedly often clashed with the First Lady and couldn’t reconcile her grip on the president’s schedule.

When her astrology-based scheduling approach came to light, it threw the media into an uproar and sent news networks tracking down the San Francisco astrologer that Mrs. Reagan supposedly consulted. The White House eventually admitted that yes, the First Lady did indeed regularly speak with Joan Quigley, who was a high-profile astrologer at the time, but that her influence had been limited to non-political decisions and never touched policy.

Joan Quigley | AP Images

cdn1.thr.com

Using the positions of the planets, Quigley (indirectly) chose when Air Force One took off and landed, when to give the State of the Union address, and when to hold state dinners and meetings. However, according to Quigley’s sister, Ruth, in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, this influence did, in fact, reach public policy, including international relations.

upload.wikimedia.org

Throughout much of Ronald Reagan’s tenure as President, the Cold War teetered at a boiling point, and that didn’t seem likely to change. President Reagan, who had referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” in 1983, had no intention of engaging in diplomatic relations with Mikhail Gorbachev, then General Secretary of the Soviet Union. According to Ruth Quigley, sister of the famed astrologer, it was a three-hour phone conversation with Joan that convinced the First Lady to push her husband toward negotiations. Joan Quigley used the horoscopes of both President Reagan and Gorbachev as evidence that chemistry could, in fact, exist between them.

Ruth also says that her sister helped plan the Reykjavik Summit, and convinced President Reagan to remain at the summits as long as he could. Though it didn’t immediately pan out, this summit was credited with laying the foundations for the eventual 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

The Reagans already had ties to astrology from their days in the acting industry. Carroll Righter, a high-profile astrologer with whom many Hollywood stars consulted in the 1950s and ’60s, was named in Reagan’s 1965 autobiography as a close friend, and it was reported that both Ronald and Nancy read his daily newspaper horoscopes for their respective signs (he was an Aquarius; she was a Cancer). There had also been rumors that Reagan had used astrology to pick the time of his inauguration as the governor of California: January 2nd, 1967, at ten minutes past midnight.

First-hand accounts from three different memoirs — Donald Regan’s For the Record, My Turn by Nancy Reagan, and What Does Joan Say?: My Seven Years As White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan, a testimonial from Quigley herself — suggest increasingly larger roles of astrology in the Reagan White House.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

Mrs. Reagan’s account attributes her use of astrology to seeking a coping mechanism; she had claimed that she’d first turned to Quigley after the assassination attempt made on her husband. Most of her concern, she says, was for her husband’s safety, and she used the positions of the solar system to assuage her fears that he might get hurt again — and her consultations with Quigley did, in fact, include choosing the timing of a cancer surgery he underwent in 1985.

Quigley contradicts this, claiming that she’d worked for the Reagans for much longer than that, even claiming to contribute to the Reagan campaign in 1980 by choosing the time of his debate with Jimmy Carter.

While it’ll never be clear whether Mrs. Reagan was attempting to downplay her use of astrology or if Quigley wanted to boost her own importance within the administration, there is very little doubt that astrology did have some kind of influence on the Reagan White House.

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Mattis orders separate reviews of F-35, Air Force One programs

Defense Secretary James Mattis has ordered separate reviews of the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Air Force One programs in hopes of restructuring and reducing program costs, an official announced Friday.


In two memorandums signed and effective immediately, Mattis said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work will “oversee a review that compares the F-35C and F/A-18E/F operational capabilities and assess the extent that the F/A-18E/F improvements [an advanced Super Hornet] can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective fighter aircraft alternative,” according to a statement from Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.

Related: Mattis’ first message to the troops shows his leadership style

For the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program, known as Air Force One, Mattis said Work’s review should “identify specific areas where costs can be lowered,” such as “autonomous operations, aircraft power generation, environmental conditioning [cooling], survivability, and military [and] civilian communication capabilities,” the memo said.

The memos didn’t specify if the review will reduce the planned number of aircraft.

“This is a prudent step to incorporate additional information into the budget preparation process and to inform the secretary’s recommendations to the president regarding critical military capabilities,” Davis said in an email statement.

“This action is also consistent with the president’s guidance to provide the strongest and most efficient military possible for our nation’s defense, and it aligns with the secretary’s priority to increase military readiness while gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense,” he said.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
How many people view the F-35 program at this point. | WATM /U.S. Navy photo

Both the F-35 stealth fighter and Air Force One presidential aircraft acquisition programs have been in President Donald Trump’s crosshairs in recent weeks.

Trump has criticized the high cost of the $4 billion Air Force One being developed by Boeing and the nearly $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter being manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp.

On Dec. 6, Trump tweeted “cancel order!” in reference to the Air Force One program. He brought up the issue again during a Dec. 16 speech in Pennsylvania, and also called the F-35 program a “disaster” with its cost overruns.

Also read: A-10 vs. F-35 flyoff may begin next year

“Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 22.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is expected to cost nearly $400 billion in development and procurement costs to field a fleet of 2,457 single-engine fighters — and some $1.5 trillion in lifetime sustainment costs, according to Pentagon figures. It’s the Pentagon’s single most expensive acquisition effort.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
While it hasn’t caused quite the media firestorm the F-35 program has caused, Air Force One still has its share of cost overruns. | Wikimedia Commons photo

Trump has met with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s CEO Marillyn Hewson on multiple occasions and last week with Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

The company heads have vowed — in what they said were productive conversations with the president — to drive down costs on both programs.

“We made some great progress on simplifying requirements for Air Force One, streamlining the process, streamlining certification by using commercial practices,” Muilenburg said just days after Trump met with Hewson.

“All of that is going to provide a better airplane at a lower cost, so I’m pleased with the progress there,” he said. “And similarly on fighters, we were able to talk about options for the country and capabilities that will, again, provide the best capability for our warfighters most affordably.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

After 75 years, members of 101st Airborne share ties to Battle of the Bulge

Seventy-five years ago in Bastogne, Belgium, German soldiers captured American Pfc. Marold Peterson of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division. Peterson escaped from the work camp where we was held prisoner, only to be captured again and killed by Hitler Youth.

Sgt. Travis Paice, the great-grandson of Peterson, said it is surreal to be in Bastogne where Peterson lived his last moments.

“Maybe he was standing right where I stood,” Paice, a soldier with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, said.


Paice is one soldier with family ties to the World War II Battle of the Bulge who participated in the 75th anniversary commemoration ceremonies and parade. Sgt. Coleton Jones of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division, is another.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

US infantrymen crouch in a snow-filled ditch, taking shelter from a German artillery barrage during the Battle of Heartbreak Crossroads in the Krinkelter woods, December 14, 1944.

(Pfc. James F. Clancy, US Army Signal Corps)

Jones’ great-uncle Ed Jones was a Sherman tanker with the 10th Armored Division during World War II. While Jones is unsure of his great-uncle’s rank, he heard stories growing up about his service from his father and uncle. During the Battle of the Bulge, three of Ed Jones’ tanks took extreme damage.

On his last time evacuating a Sherman tank, he took shrapnel from a German stick grenade in his leg and was captured as a prisoner of war. He was missing for about four months until a Canadian HAM radio operator intercepted a message from the Germans including the locations of POWs from both American and Allied forces.

“It’s amazing to feel like I am walking in his footsteps,” said Jones of walking through the streets where his great uncle served. “To see Bastogne and where he was is a sobering feeling.”

On December 14, 2019, American and Belgian soldiers, along with members of the Bastogne community and World War II veterans, marched in a parade through the town center. Guests of honor, including Prime Minister of Belgium Sophie Wilmes, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and the US Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gidwitz threw walnuts from the balcony of the Bastogne City Center into the crowd.

The nut throwing, or “Jet de Noix,” commemorates Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s famous response of “Nuts” when petitioned by the Germans to surrender.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

Anthony C. McAuliffe, left, and then-Col. Harry W.O. Kinnard II at Bastogne.

(US War Department)

Both Jones and Paice said they felt a great sense of pride knowing their unit has lineage to World War II and the Battle of the Bulge.

Paice had the opportunity to fly his great grandfather’s flag at the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne. He plans on gifting the flag to his grandfather, who is also a veteran.

Before arriving in Bastogne, Paice was given documents by the Army which provided an account of his great grandfather’s capture. He brought these documents with him as a reminder of what his family had endured. While Paice said the documents do not go into much detail, it is just enough to be harrowing.

“I never knew him, and my grandfather never knew him, but to get, somewhat, a little bit of closure was a little surreal,” Paice said.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

Sgt. Coleton Jones of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division, center, meets reenactors at a community event at the Bastogne Barracks in Bastogne, Belgium, December 14, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Erica Earl)

Paice said the most emotional part of his great grandfather’s history is knowing that American soldiers liberated the prisoner camp Stalag IX-B, also known as Bad Orb, the day after he was killed in his effort to escape.

According to Army documents, soldiers in that prison were starved, with many men weighing only between 70 and 80 pounds when they were rescued.

As soldiers lined up to prepare for the parade, there was a mixture of snow, rain and harsh winds as temperatures dropped, but participants acknowledged that was nothing compared to what Soldiers who had gone before them endured.

Jones said if he could say something to his great uncle, it would be “thank you.”

“Thank you for paving the way for us and giving everything for our values, our freedoms and our allies’ freedoms,” Jones said in heartfelt appreciation to both is late great uncle and veterans of World War II.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Remembrance: Marines and Navy Medicine at Korea’s Chosin Reservoir

Arlington, Va. —

Seventy years ago the 1st Marine Division was fighting in the mountains around Korea’s Chosin Reservoir. It was a brutal winter – by some reports the coldest on record – and Marines were facing subzero temperatures, frostbite, hypothermia, and dehydration. The temperatures were so unbearable that Marines who served at the reservoir said the cold “would sink right to your bones.”

It was so cold that weapons were malfunctioning and at times Marines were fighting hand-to-hand, using rifle butts, their teeth and anything they could get their hands on to fend off the relentless attacks.   

Against all odds those Marines did what Marines do – they fought. Despite being surrounded by eight determined enemy divisions, the Marines broke through in one of the most epic acts of survival and determination in history. 

As TMO, I take considerable pride in the fact that embedded with those units at Chosin were Navy physicians, dentists and hospital corpsmen who embodied that eternal bond Navy Medicine has with the Marine Corps and the fundamental values of Honor, Courage and Commitment.

Honor:

In the Chosin Campaign, Navy Medical personnel could be found serving with honor at forward hospitals at Hagaru, clearing stations at Chinhung-ni and Koto-ri, as part of forward deployed surgical teams, and embedded within the 5th and 7th Regiments of the 1st Marine Division. Often medical care was performed within 200 yards of the frontlines and under the constant barrage of rifle and mortar fire.

 “Let us be humble in the knowledge of the sacrifice those men made in their unselfish, co-operative efforts to save the lives of their comrades.”

U.S. Navy Capt. Eugene Hering, 1st Marine Division Surgeon

When the Marines reached the Hamhung-Hungnam area on 11 December, medical personnel could be found operating the division hospital and offshore aboard hospital ships like Consolation which was used to transport survivors to Naval Hospital Yokosuka where definitive and long-term care was available.

Across mountainous terrain, through heavy snow and under constant attack, it was the job of Navy Medicine to perform first aid, frontline surgical care, attend to high rates of frostbite and immersion foot, manage aeromedical evacuation, and transport casualties to safety. This was a job conducted around the clock until the very end of the campaign.  

By the time the 1st Marine Division arrived in the Hamhung-Hungnam area, Navy medical personnel had treated more than 7,350 casualties – many suffering cold weather injuries and some requiring emergency amputations. 

Courage:

Courage was not in short supply among the Navy medical personnel at Chosin and can be seen in the story of HM3 James Waller, a corpsmen attached to the Marine Infantry Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.  

While facing the enemy near Yudam-ni on 29 November, Parker moved through a hail of fire to aid six Marines critically wounded by a mortar barrage.  Although the ridge was devoid of cover, Parker treated the casualties and supervised their evacuation to positions of comparative safety. Despite a face wound, working in near-total darkness and in sub-zero temperatures with frostbitten hands he continued to administer to the casualties, even fighting off six enemy attacks in the process. Until the last casualty was evacuated Parker gallantly refused any medical aid even though incurring a second serious wound.  Chosin Reservoir Photo by Katie Lange DownloadDetailsShare

In the days and months after being evacuated, those Marines saved by Parker spoke of his bravery and his words of encouragement.  Through his daring initiative, fortitude and selfless efforts on behalf of his comrades, Parker served to inspire all who observed him and aided immeasurably in the saving of many lives. For his efforts this young corpsman was later awarded the Navy Cross.

Other Navy medical personnel who served in the Chosin Campaign were later recipients of Silver Stars and Bronze Stars with Valor.

Commitment:

It has been said of Chosin’s medical personnel that their devotion to duty and untiring efforts saved many lives. More than anything, they were committed to the safety and survival of thousands of Marines. This was not an easy job under the conditions.

Lt. Henry Litvin, a physician attached to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, later described just how difficult practicing medicine at Chosin could be:

“If you were treating a wound, you’d cut through the clothing to where the wound was, or you’d put a battle dressing over the clothes and make sure the wound wasn’t leaking blood,” he said. “It seemed that the intense cold inhibited bleeding. The wounds we saw had already been wrapped by corpsmen in the companies. If the battle dressing was in place, even over their clothing, and there was no leaking blood, we just checked the battle dressing and left the wounds alone.”

In recalling the dedication of corpsmen and regimental and battalion medical officers at Chosin, Navy Capt. Eugene Hering, 1st Marine Division Surgeon wrote: “Let us be humble in the knowledge of the sacrifice those men made in their unselfish, co-operative efforts to save the lives of their comrades.”

As we look back and honor the “Chosin Few,” let us remember that our military physicians, dentists, nurses, administrators, and, of course, our hospital corpsmen continue to ensure the safety, health and care of our Marine brethren. Navy Medicine remains steadfast in its commitment to provide medical power for naval superiority and ensure the Marine Corps is always ready for the fight. 

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The Soviets fired this secret heavy cannon while in orbit

If you’ve ever wanted to be a space shuttle door gunner, pay attention: the weapon you might be operating could look something like this monster – the only projectile weapon designed for and fired in orbit around the Earth. Of course, it was the Soviet Union during the Cold War, who else would do that?


The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
espionagehistoryarchive.com

These are the people who taught terrorists to hijack planes just to be dicks to the West.

Despite some initial successes, the Soviet Union ended up losing the Space Race in a big way. Their loss is exemplified by the fact that the same day the Americans put men on the moon, the Soviets failed to land a probe there. So after a while, the disparity in technology irked the Soviet Union.

Most important to the USSR was the idea of American spacecraft being able to literally get their hands on Soviet satellites. Anti-satellite operations were something both powers prepared for, but the idea that the satellite itself would need protection up there all alone prompted the Soviets to arm one of theirs, just to see how that would go.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
This is how that would go. (Russian military television: Voennaya Priemka)

 

The Soviets built a station code-named “Almaz,” a space station that held spy equipment, radar, and the R-23M, a 37-pound 14.5mm automatic cannon that could fire up to 5,000 rounds per minute that was accurate up to a mile away. There was just one problem: aiming the cannon. The cosmonauts in the station would have to rotate the entire space station to point the weapon.

It was supposed to be the first manned space station in orbit, but the Russians were more concerned with developing the weapon than they were other aspects of the capsule, like sensors and life support. So instead of building their grand space station, they slapped together what they had with the R-23M and a Soyuz capsule, called it the Salyut before launching it into space in 1971.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
All this space station and not one Death Star joke.

 

The CIA knew about every iteration of the Soviet Salyut spy stations, but what they – and much of the world – didn’t know is that they actually fired the R-23M while in orbit. On Jan. 24, 1975, Salyut 3 test fired its weapon before the station was supposed to de-orbit. The crew had not been aboard for around six months at this point. While the Soviets never released what happened during the test, the shots and the station were all destroyed when they re-entered the atmosphere.

Firing a gun in space would be very different from firing on Earth. First, there is no sound in the vacuum of space, so it would not go bang. Secondly, the Soviets would have had to fire some kind of thruster to balance out the force exerted on the capsule by the weapon’s recoil; otherwise the Salyut would have been pushed in the opposite direction. The weight of the projectile fired would determine how fast you would fly in the opposite direction.

Not to mention that shooting the weapon into Earth’s orbit could cause the bullets to hit the station itself from the opposite direction.

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes of the week

It’s Tax Day, so don’t forget to file and/or pay. You know what’s not taxing? Military memes. Now that you’re probably broke, here’s a few you can enjoy for free.


1. Tax Day is the day the government makes sure military members pay their fair share of their own salaries. (via The Salty Soldier)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

2. Even death isn’t an escape. (via Decelerate Your Life)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

3. To be fair, you can’t fit the Air Force salad bar in a 2002 Civic. (via Pop Smoke)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

4. She’s a harsh mistress. (via Air Force Memes Humor)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

SEE ALSO: This pilot landed his F-15 with only one wing

4. I always said the Air Force doesn’t get enough safety briefings. (via Air Force Nation)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

5. I give this guy 4 out of 5 Hurt Lockers. (via Marine Corps Memes)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

 

 

6. The Navy is acting like a bunch of sailors lately. (via The Reactor is Critical)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

7. How did she know it was a Coastie? (There are military members who’ve never seen an actual Coast Guardsman.)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

8. Accurate. (via Air Force Nation)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

9. Nothing says freedom like that cat’s face. (via The Salty Soldier)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

10. Jody keeps getting younger. (via Sh-t my LPO says)

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

11. I honestly never know if I should feel guilty or proud when answering this question.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

12. Nothing’s worse than the gas station cashier who tells you all about how he “woulda joined, but…”

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

 

13. Logan Nye will be back to the memes rundown next week. He was busy this week.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history

 

Articles

Defeating ISIS is hard; preventing ISIS 3.0 could be harder

They’re surrounded, targeted by constant bombardments and slowly strangled of supplies and reinforcements for months so fighters for Daesh (aka ISIS) might reasonably have abandoned Mosul and tried to slink off into the night.


That’s what happened June 2016 in the battle to recapture Fallujah, when Daesh fighters were relatively quickly routed, and hundreds were killed by U.S. aircraft when their fleeing convoy was spotted in the dark with infrared targeting systems.

Everyone in the anti-Daesh coalition hoped for a similar retreat by demoralized terrorists that would separate them from the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians still cowering in Mosul’s byzantine old city, on the west bank of the Tigris River.

But Daesh’s fighters are not abandoning Mosul, which, with the Syrian town of Raqqa, forms the twin-capitals of the self-proclaimed Islamist “caliphate.”

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
Artillery units in Iraq serve two roles: to provide force protection for Coalition and Iraqi security forces and to support ISF ground maneuver, enabling them to defeat Daesh. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel I Johnson)

They are falling back on defensive positions prepared for two years in the densely congested side streets and alleyways of the old city, gathering Iraqi civilians close as they can as “human shields” and apparently preparing for a last, desperate stand.

The result?

“The toughest and most brutal phase of this war, and probably the toughest and most brutal close quarters combat that I have experienced or even read about in my 34-year career,” Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve says.

A veteran of six combat tours, Townsend calls the fighting in Mosul “the most significant urban combat since World War II.”

The tragic byproduct has been an alarming spike in civilian casualties, including a U.S. strike against a reported ISIS truck bomb on March 17 that may have collapsed a nearby building and killed as many as 200 civilians gathered there by Daesh.

The U.S. military is still investigating the incident, which drew criticism from the United Nations and Amnesty International.

On a recent trip near the frontlines of the Battle of Mosul, Townsend found a possible explanation for Daesh’s determination to stage an apocalyptic fight to the death in the old city.

“Every movement has a well-spring or some home turf where it finds support, and in recently talking to Iraqi and coalition commanders and listening to their intelligence assessments, I heard about neighborhoods supporting ISIS that I remembered from being a brigade commander in Mosul 10 years ago, when those same neighborhoods were sources of support for Al Qaeda in Iraq,” said Townsend, speaking recently to defense reporters by phone from Baghdad.

If the Shiite-led Iraqi government fails to reach out to those and other neighborhoods and towns of disenfranchised Sunnis after the fighting stops, he noted, then Daesh’s expulsion from Mosul will likely prove a fleeting victory.

“What’s important after ISIS is defeated is that the government of Iraq has to reach out to these groups of people and make sure they feel like they have a future in the Iraqi state,” said Townsend.

A Pivotal Moment

With roughly three-quarters of Mosul recaptured and Daesh finally on the verge of losing its grip on Iraqi territory, the campaign against them is poised at an important inflection point.

Counter-insurgency experts have long understood that the actions of the Iraqi government and the various factions involved in the fighting the day after Mosul is recaptured will largely determine whether the group is defeated, or, once again, rises from the ashes of sectarian conflict.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
ISIS trucks driving around Mosul, Iraq. (Photo: ISIS sources on the web)

The complex nature of the battlespace, combined with the anti-Daesh coalition’s sprawling nature, promises to complicate the transition from urban combat to whatever comes after.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is weak and has struggled to cope with the demands of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the fighting in Mosul.

The territorial demands of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to the north, and possible acts of retribution against Sunni civilians by thousands of Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen to the west of city, cast a dark shadow over the aftermath.

A continued spike in civilian deaths by U.S. and coalition air forces could further alienate the overwhelmingly Sunni population of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh Province.

And hanging over the entire anti-Daesh campaign is the question of a continued U.S. presence in Iraq after the group is expelled, and whether that engagement can be leveraged to help achieve the long-sought national reconciliation among Iraq’s feuding Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni factions.

Perhaps no U.S. military officer of his generation better understands this difficult terrain, and the momentous challenges ahead, than retired Gen. David Petraeus, the former top U.S. commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan and at U.S. Central Command.

He is widely credited with crafting and executing the counterinsurgency doctrine that pulled Iraq back from the abyss of sectarian civil war in 2007-2008 and decimated Al Qaeda in Iraq.

“The military defeat of ISIS is only the first step. The much more challenging task is to use all elements of American and coalition power to help achieve political solutions that will avoid once again creating fertile ground for extremists, and thereby avoid the rise of ISIS 3.0,” Petraeus told [Breaking Defense] in a recent email. “Our success in that mission will determine whether the U.S. military has to do this all over again in five years.”

Sectarian Civil War

After U.S. and Iraqi military forces and the Sunni tribes of Anbar Province routed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) beginning in 2006-7, the remnants of the terrorist insurgency eventually went underground, only to rise Phoenix-like from the fires of Syria’s civil war.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
The Kurdish Peshmerga platoon of the Joint Iraqi Security Company marches to class, Mosul, Iraq. (Dept. of Defense photo)

That brutal conflict pitted a minority regime of Alawites, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, against a majority Sunni population.

Meanwhile, after the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, the Sunni tribes in western Iraq, which had turned against AQI in the “Anbar Awakening,” grew restive under the iron-fisted and openly sectarian rule of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who headed the Shiite-majority government in Baghdad.

A former AQI lieutenant named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had spent time in a U.S. detention facility in Iraq, realized that between weak Shiite-led governments in Damascus and Baghdad lay a swath of territory inhabited by millions of rebellious Sunnis.

From that strategic insight, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was born, and in one of the most improbable military offenses in history, its terrorist army captured territory in Syria and Iraq and proclaimed a “caliphate” in land stretching between its twin capitals.

When the Obama administration reluctantly deployed aircraft and troops back to Iraq to defend a Baghdad government on the verge of collapse, it wisely used that leverage to help nudge out the sectarian Maliki and encourage the more moderate Abadi.

Since then Abadi has promised to lead “national reconciliation” by reaching out to Sunnis liberated from Daesh rule, and draw them back inside the government tent. He has often struggled, however, to control a fractious coalition government with many hardline Shiite politicians with close ties to Shiite Iran.

Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy and former senior Middle Eastern analyst for the CIA, worries about Abadi’s ability to bring the country together.

“I think Abadi is a very good man who wants what’s best for Iraq, to include a pluralist government, corruption reforms, and democracy. The problem is Abadi is not particularly good at building coalitions, and the Iraqi government is fragmented and paralyzed by this ongoing sectarian civil war,” he says. “Frankly, Nelson Mandela would have a hard time stabilizing Iraq at this point. So the United States needs to leverage the influence it has gained by helping fight ISIS to empower Abadi in his reconciliation efforts. And they must include limiting the activities of the Shiite militias.”

Reining in Militias

The key to Iraq’s future may lie with the Shiite-dominated militias called Popular Mobilization forces.

A number of these militias have direct links to Iran and they have been difficult for the Iraqi government to control. According to Human Rights Watch, Shiite militias involved in the battle of Fallujah last summer committed atrocities against Sunni civilians, including torture and summary executions.

In the operation to recapture Tikrit they reportedly burned hundreds of homes of Sunni civilians they accused of colluding with Daesh. If something similar happens after Daesh is expelled from the much bigger and more populous city of Mosul, the swamp of Sunni grievance is likely to rise once again.

The 5 most underrated commanders in military history
An Iraqi federal police takes a break before another day’s offensive to liberate and secure West Mosul, Iraq, March 2, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

Sheikh Jamal Al-Dhari is a Sunni tribal leader who has lost more than 70 family members in Iraq’s sectarian wars.

“The ‘Anbar Awakening’ showed that the way to defeat Al Qaeda is to work with the Sunni tribes, but our efforts to take part in the anti-ISIS fight have been repeatedly rebuffed by the Baghdad government,” he said in an interview.

Now Shiite-dominated Iraqi Security Forces and possibly U.S. airpower have inadvertently killed hundreds if not thousands of Sunni civilians in Mosul, he noted, and thousands of Shiite militiamen have captured Sunni majority villages to the west of the city.

“We fear that the use of excessive force will cost the lives of thousands of more civilians, creating hardships and hard feelings that will only set the stage for the next ISIS, or worse.”

To avoid Kurdish or Shiite forces fighting each other and mistreating liberated Sunni civilians, U.S. battle planners created separate corridors into the city.

“The U.S. military worked very hard to insure that neither the Peshmerga nor the Popular Mobilization forces would be involved in the close-in fight in Mosul, and that has been mostly successful,” said Michael Knights, an Iraq expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.

But the Iraqi Security Forces leading the fight have suffered a lot of casualties and are very tired, he noted, possibly causing them to rely on more firepower to limit their losses.

“But the main reason we’ve seen civilian casualties increase is that ISIS is being much more aggressive in using civilians as human shields. Their backs are now against the wall in Mosul’s old city, and they seem to be preparing for a last stand.”

When the dust of battle finally settles over Mosul, the most important decision confronting the Trump administration will be whether or not to keep a residual U.S. force inside Iraq to continue advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces, and helping coordinate counterterrorism operations.

If the U.S. military packs up lock-stock-and-barrel and leaves once again, many experts believe it will only set the stage for “son of ISIS” to fill the vacuum.

“Only if U.S. forces remain in Iraq to secure the peace will we achieve a major military victory over ISIS,” said James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

The U.S. can leverage that presence not only to empower Abadi’s national reconciliation agenda, he said, but also to eventually find a political resolution to the Syrian civil war.

In “On War” [ Carl von] “Clausewitz said that the art of war was using tactical victories to achieve strategic ends,” said Jeffrey.

“We need to use the victories in Mosul and Raqqa to achieve the strategic end of a stable Middle East that is not dominated either by ISIS or Iran.”

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