Mountain Men:

Scott Shuger seems to consider actual research and reporting to be too much of a chore. His response to my American Prospect Online article on the United States Army's military preparedness for mountain warfare merely defends the Pentagon's spin. In this case, the spin is that the U.S. military is just fine as is, and even if it isn't, it doesn't really matter. Personally, I'm not surprised, given that Shuger seemed to like the idea of there being a Pentagon unit devoted to duping reporters.

I didn't "opine" anything about the Army's 10th Mountain Division. My piece reports that the 10th is still what the Army says it was when it was reconstituted in 1985: a general purpose light infantry division "designed to meet a wide range of worldwide infantry-intensive contingency missions," not a unit with a particular specialty in mountain warfare. My sources? I cite both a Senate investigation of the 10th's condition and a recent piece in one of the U.S. Army's own publications that's critical of its mountain warfare training protocols. (The latter dispenses with Shuger's contention that mere acclimation is all that's required to overcome a roughly 4,000-foot difference between where one trains and where one fights).

It's true enough that "effective training doesn't require absolute replication." But the tips that fighter pilots pick up from returning Top Gunners can be easily applied in their everyday training environment. Training for mountain warfare, on the other hand, tends to work best when everyone's on a mountain. But maybe you don't learn that as a Navy intelligence officer, as Shuger once was.

As for Shuger's wan assertion that "it would be nice if all U.S. infantry units headed for the mountains could train together at 10,000 feet [b]ut it's not essential": There's been no shortage of official and unofficial studies by military officers over the years asserting and arguing that the Army would be better-served by bringing its training and personnel systems into the modern era, in part by unit-focused training at all schools. (Our friend Jim Fallows has been reporting on this issue for his upcoming sequel to his book National Defense.) As the Army's own experts say, it would probably be best for all parties involved if the most appropriately trained troops for a specific mission were deployed -- the combat equivalent of someone wanting a neurosurgeon as opposed to, say, a trauma surgeon, performing a delicate brain operation.

Specialized training for the average soldier is not a "luxury." Elements of the 172nd Infantry Brigade (the Snow Hawks), located at Forts Richardson and Wainwright in Alaska, are specially trained for arctic and mountain warfare. The Army maintains an arctic warfare training school at Fort Greely, Alaska. The Marines have a mountain warfare school in California that doesn't view unit-focused training as an extravagance. Alas, the Army's Alaska-based troops won't be seeing action in Afghanistan because prevailing logic holds that the North Koreans might try to invade Alaska, or individual terrorists might attack the pipeline. There's also an arctic warfare trained Marine unit that could conceivably be deployed, but it's off training elsewhere.

Finally, Shuger glosses over the nuances and problems of relying on British troops, allies or not. As Alexander Nicoll reported recently in the Financial Times, there are already concerns from the British Ministry of Defence about U.K. troops being stretched too thin overseas. Perhaps elements of the British military are playing a little internal politics to get or do what they want. But of course that's never, ever happened at the Pentagon. Certainly the internal political considerations of Army brass -- like, say, feeling a need to prove regular Army troops could "triumph" in what was expected to be a simple endeavor after a less-than-auspicious past decade of combat operations -- would not have in any way influenced any aspect of Operation Anaconda.

Those who fought deserve our respect. But many in military circles remain critical of Anaconda, from planning and intelligence failures to the choice of troops used for the mission.

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