Warthogs “War Wagons”
If ever there were a bellwether for the fall of empire it’s this arcane show, one of hundreds showcasing Coalition soldiers in the occupation of Afghanistan. Like so many shows, it is well produced, and the cameras are actually there when the crack of AK-47s sound overhead, the whizzing past your ear is the round that could have killed you in an instant.
Yet there is something sad in the show, something archetypal, a deep conviction that this too will be another failure, another abortive, profitless waste of blood. Even sadder, this is the type of military venture that makes great weekly one hour documentaries but demonstrates the gap between a lumbering modern army laden with huge gas guzzling machines and complex aircraft struggling against an enemy that can hide in plain sight and brought to nought by weapons over a half century old and tactics perfected millennia ago.
In this episode, we follow a Scottish armored cavalry regiment known as the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, torquing through the desert sands of Helmand Province Afghanistan circa 2011. The unit we follow is about 40 men under the command of a 23 year old officer, and all of them wheel their way through the patrol areas in large armored personnel carriers called Warthogs. These behemoths travel in tandem, one in the lead and the other in tow. Both tandem cars are bristling with heavy machine guns and smoke grenades. The thing about them is that they each weigh 33,000 pounds and are the size of an M2 Bradley. They are huge, and ponderous, and in the episode I watched, the entire regiment was held up when one of the twenty vehicles hit by an IED tracks blown out and the vehicle turned on its side.
The entire regiment was held up, fearing they were in the middle of a minefield, this required hours of Apache air patrols and special EOD personnel all while they sat in the dessert and attracted fire. Then the regiment moved through a shallow estuary and two pairs of the vehicles were stuck in the water and had to be rescued at great expense. The rest of the regiment went ahead over land and hit two IEDs, one that turned the warthogs in their sides, and one that killed a trooper.
At one point a couple of Danish Leopard II tanks were the nearest coalition forces that could come to the scene for backup.
Now consider all this firepower and how easy and inexpensive it was to utterly and completely frustrate the modern western armies in all their expensive high tech gear.and where are they now? This story was told in Vietnam when three snipers and two mortar teams could pin down and destroy a whole platoon in twenty minutes and then slip away in the night. This story was told recently in the roiling chaos of an Iraq that once housed a half million Americans.
What did we win here? Were are the armies that fought and bled for these places whose names will evanesce forever?
Well the armies are all back home, and it occurs to few that this is what defeat looks like.