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      Huallaga And The Son Tay Raider

      Bob Pilgrim

    The Special Operations community is a relatively small and tight knit one. You are certainly known by your accomplishments and reputation and operators can vet each other through their peers quickly. Brains and boldness create legends and Frank White, who is a DEA icon in his own right, met just such a fabled warrior in a most unexpected place.

    While conducting a helicopter reconnaissance of the Huallaga Valley, his team spotted a well cared for palm oil plantation. Gene yelled over the noise of the helo's beating blades that they had a great security detachment to defend against the Senderos. The plantation was contacted by radio and Frank landed his team to meet them. The plantation security force was armed with pump shotguns and interestingly, 1911 A1 GM pistols. The reason for the big bore handguns was not immediately apparent, but the shotguns, in lieu of assault rifles were in compliance with government restrictions on firearms possession for civilians. However, even with this handicap the security force appeared to be squared away and confident. They were definitely fighters and Frank subsequently met the man responsible for the "tight ship." Former Son Tay Raid operations officer, Delta Force operator and Vietnam SOG veteran, Dick Meadows who was the security manager of this plantation and other ranch! es in Peru and the Philippines. Frank spent a very pleasurable and profitable time with Major Meadows, who briefed him on Sendero Luminoso activities in the area.

    The base camp radio crackled with news that the Peruvian Guardia Civil were in a firefight with the Sendero and taking casualties. Frank spoke to the Peruvian Major and volunteered Snowcap's helicopters and his team. Known for his fierceness, the major needed no prodding. He issued his frag order and they were airborne in minutes. Because soccer is a national sport, every village in Peru have sports fields that make excellent L Zs. Former Air America pilots flared for a landing and the troops bailed out moving to the sounds of the guns. A pilot that could have stepped out of the old Terry and the Pirates comic strip flew the aircraft that Gene and Frank was in. A few feet above a twisting and turning primitive track, he flew nap of the earth. Frank and Gene, weapons ready manned port and starboard positions in the bird.

    As the pilot made a slow turn, two squads of Sendero emerged from the bush a few feet from the aircraft. They were so close that Frank could have spit on them and the pilot screamed, "Shoot them, Shoot them." Frank didn't need an invitation and started blasting away at a target rich area. Hot shell casings were pelting Frank and that was when he first became aware of Gene's presence on his left, ripping through his 30 round magazine. The pilot had brass ones and he held the chopper steady while the crew and team hosed down the terrorists. Sensing the Senderos were regrouping, the pilot hauled in the collective and the aircraft leaped several hundred feet straight up in an effort to evade their return fire.

    Although this was a victory, tragedy was a constant companion. DEA Agent Rick Finley was killed with others, when an overloaded US State Department aircraft crashed in the Andes Mountains. Rick's Father was a Vietnam veteran and retired Army NCO and Frank did not want his body returned to his Dad in the cargo hold of a commercial airliner. Prevailing on a US Coast Guard Admiral, who was an honorable man and asked no questions, Rick's body was flown to Arkansas in a dedicated C-130 aircraft. Rick's Father, dying of cancer, wore his uniform when he welcomed his son to his final resting place. A few weeks later, Rick's Mother visited the Snowcap Headquarters. She began to weep when she saw a memorial painting of Rick hanging on the wall of the conference room. Terry Burke, Frank's boss and a compassionate man, put his arm around Mrs. Finley and said. "Frank, wrap the painting up, Rick's Mom is taking it home."

    The Suits habitually lied to Congress and obligated DEA to impossible goals, because they would not commit the resources necessary to accomplish these lofty commitments. Cutting the flow of cocaine to America by 50% in two years was a bureaucratic pipe dream, but lawmakers bought it and the Suits perpetuated the myth, so they could continue building their empires.

    Annually, Congress required the US State Department to certify that the coca producing countries were meeting a pre set quota for coca plant destruction. Failure to comply resulted in Congress withholding aid to these nation states. The helicopters belonged to the State Department and Snowcap competed with them for blade time. Eradication programs were crude and ineffective. A portion of the 2400 square miles of coca bushes in the Huallaga was intentionally spared, so the local cocalero's only income was maintained. If the coca fields were destroyed this would drastically disrupt the economic base throughout the region, an economy dependant on the dollars generated by an insatiable craving of the American addict. Diplomats intentionally inflated statistics and in a relatively short period of time, the plants grew back larger with even more coca alkaloid in the leaf, because they were not uprooted. DEA Suits went along with this official chicanery, because they feared the Sta! te would cut their agency's manpower assigned to their embassies. Staffing levels represented power to the Suits, power they had no intention of relinquishing. This deception and corruption is still killing America.

    Seeking a pro-active strategy, Frank and Leatherneck practically moved into the USMC War Fighting Center at Quantico. With Marine planning assistance, they determined how to best attack the drug trafficker's "Center of Gravity" and put them out of business. Vulnerabilities of the drug traffickers were discussed and narrowed down to three critical areas. The destruction of the coca labs, the coca fields and their mobility were the keys to making it no longer cost effective to cultivate in the Huallaga. Through research, Frank learned that the most efficient way to destroy the fields without disrupting the ecology was by using a chemical called tibuthoron or "Spike." Employed by farmers in our Southwest to destroy wood bearing plants, Snowcap dropped a measured amount on a couple of hectares of coca bushes. The results were astonishing. Coca plants died and the jungle re grew without any evidence of ecological damage.

    The Marines recommended that Snowcap move its entire operation and resources to the Huallaga and set up a large firebase to put relentless pressure on the narco-traffickers. In addition, by "salting" a 60 by 40 mile "box" of coca with Spike over a two to three month period, their Center of Gravity would collapse. By gathering intelligence through human sources and photo imagery, Snowcap could track the movements of the NTs and preempt their efforts. If this endless skirmishing did not change to all out war, the Marines predicted that America would eventually lose a prolonged "War On Drugs," once the public wearied and eroded to the point of abandoning Snowcap.

    Frank tried to persuade the Suits to adopt General Wayne Downing's and the Marines recommendations, so they could get inside the NTs loop and Snowcap could seize the initiative. However, getting the Suits to get rid of an old idea was harder than convincing them to adopt a new one.

    LESSONS LEARNED:

  • Leaders of warriors must be able to blend truth with diplomacy. Many agencies are plagued by the cult of personality. You can be right, but if the Suits dislike you you are always wrong. Often it is not what you present, but how you present it.

  • Leaders set the example by sharing the same risks and hardships with their troops.

  • Fight tactically, but think strategically.

  • Swatting flies never ends a conflict. The enemy's Center Of Gravity must be the ultimate target of your efforts.

  • Politics, particularly corrupt politics are a fact of life, but the latter kind is a criminal disservice to the country and the operators at the tip of the spear. Whenever this type of governance rears its ugly head it must be exposed and corrected.

  • Honor your casualties and their families. By demonstration, let all personnel know that there is a support system for their survivors and that remains will be properly cared for.

  • Not only be cognizant of the sacrifices your agents make, but also appreciate the impact their loss has on loved ones and act accordingly.


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