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Irish Special Forces On Their Way to Mali

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The Army Ranger Wing – a part of Ireland’s special operations forces – are to be deployed to Africa as part of the Defence Forces UN-mandated overseas commitments. Their destination is Mali, where the Irish Army already providing 20 people to the EU Training Mission (EUTM), which is aimed at developing the Malian army’s capacity to re-establish some stability in a country that has seen intensifying conflict since 2012.

The Irish Ranger Wing will not be helping in the EUTM, instead, they will be taking part in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), described by The Washington Post as “The World’s Deadliest Mission”. What does that mean for the Irish Special Operations Forces? It means that they will dive into a highly complex regional conflict.

The Irish Special Operations Forces will send a 12-man team and their main task will be operating on long distance patrols in what is effectively a counter-terrorism model mission. In fact, they will continue the efforts of the other European armies which fight an insurgency in Mali. The last counter-offensive by French troops with air support and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission have not stopped attacks by the local al-Qaeda affiliate rising. They have quadrupled since 2015.

The human cost is the potential for casualties in the new deployment. Northern Mali is a war zone where MINUSMA is seen as a legitimate target. A statement around this time last year said the following: “The casualties in 2017 are the highest number ever recorded by the Committee.

“In the past five years, at least 310 United Nations personnel have died in deliberate attacks. For the fourth year in a row, the peacekeeping mission in Mali suffered the greatest loss of life with 21 peacekeepers and seven civilians killed.”

Homemade bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have taken a terrible toll on the blue helmets. MINUSMA patrols come up against militias who have experience in Libya and who are well armed and well resourced. The most recent UN report on Mali in August 2018 said there had been an increase in “complex attacks” (ambushes) on international forces. The interesting analysis of the further Irish Army Ranger Wing deployment is published in RTE article “Risk is Real as Irish Special Forces Deploy to Mali“.

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Extraordinary Bravery on the Streets of Fallujah

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Between November 7 and 9, 2004, a remarkable thing happened in Fallujah: It rained. Throughout the preceding summer, while our rifle platoon waged a counter-insurgency in Haditha, Hit, and other Anbari backwaters, it never rained. Within the platoon we had a pool—ten bucks got you in—try your luck and pick the first day of rain. When the dust finally turned to mud all 46 of us were staged just outside the city, hunkered down in slit trenches, waiting for the assault to begin.

I don’t remember anybody collecting on the pool.

All it takes is the sight of someone sprinting along a wet crosswalk and I’m back in Fallujah and back to one street in particular: Highway Ten. Veterans of the battle each have their story of crossing Highway Ten’s expansive four lanes covered by machinegun fire, with insurgents dug into the buildings on the far side, defending this, their main line of resistance. The story of Gunnery Sergeant Ryan Shane, a Marine from my infantry battalion, has always remained close. On November 9, his rifle platoon perched on a rooftop, covering another platoon that rushed the crossing’s gauntlet. Within minutes, a slug ripped through the leg of Sergeant Lonny Wells, felling him in the open. He lay face down, blood pooling around his waist, moving just a little. Leaving his rifle behind so it wouldn’t slow him, Ryan went after Lonny.

A Marine combat cameraman captured the scene in four photographs. In the first, Ryan stands in the wet street, bent over Lonny. His 220-pound frame tugs the drag strap on Lonny’s body armor. In the second, another Marine runs to Ryan’s side, trying to help. Clumsily, the second Marine bends over Lonny while Ryan keeps pulling. The next frame was taken just as a bullet tears into Ryan’s lower back, scrambling his stomach. He’s on his heels, falling. The other Marine watches in a half sprint, heading for cover. The final frame is Ryan and Lonny, both laying face down on the street in the rain.

Lonny is dead. Ryan will survive.

The photos ran in Leatherneck Magazine—the magazine of the Marines—a month later under a simple headline: “Uncommon Valor.”

Nearly two years later, during the Al-Anbar Awakening, 50 veterans of the Fallujah Battle gathered in an auditorium in Camp Lejeune. Ryan Shane would be decorated for his actions. Since Lonny died, Ryan’s 220 pounds had shrunk to 150. After countless surgeries, he’d been medically discharged from the Corps. The toll his stomach wound had taken on his body could be seen in his atrophied frame, but it was the forced separation from the Corps he loved which left the deeper wound. You could see that in his eyes.

I sat in my uniform, a few rows back. We came to attention as the adjutant read the citation for Ryan’s Bronze Star. Our Commanding General pinned it on his chest, and ceded the floor to Ryan. He thanked his family for their care during his slow recovery. He thanked the Marines who ran to his rescue that day. Then his voice thickened. He held his stare upwards, holding it on the auditorium lights, as if speaking to a place outside that room.

“I’m finding it really hard,” he said, “to accept that my greatest achievement as a Marine, this medal, also comes from my greatest failure. I didn’t save Lonny that day.”

Afterwards, one by one, we left our seats and shook Ryan’s hand. Many of us went on to serve more deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. A battle as big as Fallujah never came along again, though there were many others like it.

In valleys, hamlets, and cities too countless to number, Ryan Shane’s words held true. Our greatest achievements were bound to our greatest failures. Just as in Fallujah, we wound up destroying many places in order to save them. Looking back through the years, this final point seems undeniable to me.

It’s old as war.

In recent months, with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham in Anbar Province, or the increased influence of the Iranian Government in Iraq’s internal affairs, quantifying whether our efforts in that country were worthy of our sacrifice seems an increasingly complex and unknowable arithmetic. Each of us has tallied the personal cost and come to a solution. As memories cloud, and in some cases burn, I imagine our solutions will change.

In hindsight, the only thing I know with complete clarity about Fallujah, the Iraq War, any war, is that achievement always couples with failure. Like a lot of guys, I learned that in the rain.

Memorial day essay by Elliot Ackerman (The News Republic).

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Recruiters get Special Ops boost with vehicle training

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Twenty-eight specially-wrapped trucks and trailers featuring Air Force Special Operations decals were delivered to recruiters of the 330th Recruiting Squadron at Scott Air Force Base recently.

These trucks and trailers have spray paint-style camouflage and feature several Battlefield Airmen, which will be used by special warfare recruiters around the country to increase awareness about career fields within Special Operations.

Many people may not know there are combat controllers and pararescuemen or Battlefield Airmen who perform countless rescue missions.

Because of this, it’s important to find other ways to spread the impact of their mission, said Master Sgt. Sean Christian, Headquarters Air Force Recruiting Service NCO in charge of event marketing.

“These trucks and trailers will be the first exposure a lot of people have to Special Operations,” Christian said. “The trailers that you see here are miniature activation trailers, and they’re used at events like air shows or fitness competitions.”

The trailers will hold about 13,000 pounds of equipment, including a TV, canopy, pull-up bar, jerry cans, and more. They will enable recruiters to fully engage with potential recruits at events.

To help the recruiters transport the trailers and use the trucks safely, members of the 375th Logistics Readiness Squadron ground transportation element hosted a unique training opportunity for them.

During the training, LRS Airmen familiarized recruiters with how to attach and remove the trailer, as well as how to maneuver and park the vehicle correctly.

“Obviously, this is a great opportunity for my ground transportation Airmen,” said Master Sgt. Todd Martin, 375th LRS ground transportation section chief. “Sure, it’s simple training with trucks and trailers, but they get to see the end result and the impact they’re making Air Force-wide.”

Christian added that these trucks are another step in closing the bridge between Special Operations and recruiting, ensuring the best and most qualified recruits are being put into the Special Operations pipeline.

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