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“Theirs not to reason why …”

September 1st, 2014 - 1:58 pm

The escape of the Filipino UN contingent from the clutches of the al-Nusra has a tragic-comic postscript. The Associated Press reports:  ”The Philippine military said Monday that a UN peacekeeping commander in the Golan Heights should be investigated for allegedly asking Filipino troops to surrender to Syrian rebels who had attacked and surrounded their camp.”

Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said he advised the 40 Filipino peacekeepers not to lay down their arms, and they defied the UN peacekeeping commander’s order. Instead, they staged a daring escape from the Golan camp over the weekend, ending a tense, days long standoff. …

The commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF, which supervises the peacekeeping mission in Golan, was overseeing talks with the Syrian rebels to secure the freedom of the Fijians. However, Catapang said he would not agree to any resolution of the hostage crisis that would put Filipino troops in grave danger.

When the besieged Filipino troops sought his advice after they were ordered to lay down their arms as part of an arrangement with the rebels to secure the Fijians’ release, Catapang said he asked them to defy the order.

“I told them not to follow the order because that is a violation of our regulation, that we do not surrender our firearms, and, at the same time, there is no assurance that you will be safe after you give your firearms,” Catapang said.

“Our stand is, we will not allow our soldiers to become sacrificial pawns in order to save the Fijians,” Catapang told The Associated Press. “They should look for other ways and means to save the Fijians.”

This explains the Fijian surrender. A friend of mine who served with the Australian forces in Afghanistan wrote to say he could not understand why the Fijians, who had a reputation for bravery, should lay down their arms. But if they were ordered to lay down their arms then all is clear. The Fijians may have been utterly loyal to their salt.

It was the Filipinos who were being their usual suspicious, “look over your shoulder” selves.  According to the Rappler site, “Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr … demanded the investigation into UNDOF commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha.”

UN had backchannel talks for the release of the Fijian peacekeepers and for the Syrian rebels to stand down in the standoff with the Filipino peacekeepers. …

“First, in the terms of reference, it was not indicated there that we can be ordered to surrender our firearms. The UNDOF commander wanted to save the Fijians at the expense of the Philippines,” Catapang told reporters Monday.

Catapang said there was never a guarantee that the Syrian rebels would not take the Filipinos hostage – similar to what they did with 44 Fiji soldiers – once they surrendered their weapons. “There’s no assurance na kapag binigay natinyung baril natin – ngayon na-corner sila – the next move is to capture them and make them hostage. Lalong magiging malaki problema ni UNDOF commander,*” he said.

He wants Singha investigated by UNDOF. “We don’t need his apologies. What we need is an investigation [into why he issued the order.]“…

UN had backchannel talks for the release of the Fijian peacekeepers and for the Syrian rebels to stand down in the standoff with the Filipino peacekeepers.

(*There’s no assurance that if we laid down our arms — now that they were cornered — the next move is to capture them and make them hostage. The problems of the UN commander will only get worse,” he said. Note: Filipino officers have a habit of mixing English with Tagalog, sometimes in every other word or phrase.)

Singha may have been told that unless he told the Filipinos to surrender, the Fijians might be compromised. But Catapang did not play along. “The escape was executed without the approval of UNDOF.” In fairness to Singha, he was caught between the New York Headquarters rock and a hard place. By asserting his sovereign override, Catapang essentially took responsibility for resisting al-Nusra. Singh is off the hook and Catapang got his men out of a jam.

The Fijians are now in a tight spot. I wrote yesterday, it is in Nusra’s interest to let the Fijians go. If they want to incentivize surrender they must make it safe.  Lately the al-Qaeda affiliates have reversed the usual payoffs. It is surrender you die, fight and you live. So why surrender?  It was precisely out of fear of the consequences of surrender that the Filipino contingent resisted. Laban muna bago pugot ulo – ‘fight me first before you decapitate me’ — is only common sense.

The UN has a history of folding that goes back to Rwanda and Kosovo.  In the past the UN apparatchiks have relied on the faithfulness of their subordinate commanders to take a bullet for the team.  ”Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.” But Tennyson had never been to the Philippines where the word for blindly following orders is tanga – or sap.


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Top Rated Comments   
In fact the news accounts say that the outposts reported themselves under attack to higher, probably Camp Aguinaldo, by text messaging. And if you've ever seen a Filipino text, you'll know it's like touch typing.

I've long been fascinated by the Filipino psychology. I can predict it without understanding it. I don't think anybody can. For example take 'honor' and 'courage'. There is no value placed on abstract courage or honor in that culture. If you are brave for the sake of it, you are 'tanga' or the sap.

Courage is a utilitarian concept, something you need for something. The Filipino would like nothing better than not to be in danger. But the dysfunctional aspects of his culture keep landing him in a fix and courage is the adaptation he needs to wriggle out. He gets courage unwilllingly.

So there are literally millions of relatively poorly educated Filipinos sailing the seas or working in odd places, from Africa to Eastern Europe to Mongolia, basically trying to earn a buck. This requires quick thinking and courage or you don't survive. But courage is not a virtue as such, just something you need to get by, or to send money back to the family.

"Following orders" in the abstract is also an alien concept. No Filipino trusts authority, most especially his own government. Legality is a fiction. The really binding relationship is personal. Catapang saved those people because they were "his boys" and not for some overarching loyalty to the Republic of the Philippines, which truth be told, nobody cares anything about. The loyalty is to the "countryman". If you ask a Filipino in America to do something for the Philippine government he'll probably call the FBI. If you explain the request is for a "kababayan", he might listen.

So if Catapang had let the troops get kidnapped he couldn't say "but they were ordered". An abstract order from a UN general don't mean a thing. They were your "kababayans", how could you let this happen? will be the reaction. It is the whole network of personal loyalties and obligations that matters.

Lastly I will add that Obama has probably caused a great deal of damage to Filipino American psychological relations. Filipinos expect America to act like the America they knew from the Greatest Generation. It's an irrational, psychological bond. It is an expectation, it is an heirloom myth. The abstract laws and legalities are unimportant.
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11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nobody should ever surrender to mohammedans.
Ever.
And under no circumstances should anyone ever allow a mohammedan to tie or restrain one's hands.
Muslims are cowards and like to have their victims helpless before offering them as human sacrifices to their demon god, allah.

Better to die on your feet, killing as many muslims as possible before being killed fighting bravely, than have your hands tied and be forced to kneel and your head slowly sawed off.

To hell with islam.

Bravo to the Filipinos for not surrendering.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Somewhat remarkable (and fortunate) that the Filipinos had a *general* there to take charge.

But Tennyson had never been to the Philippines where the word for blindly following orders is tanga – or sap.

That's all very well, but what about "Gen" Singh Singha - not that the Sikhs don't also have a good reputation ... but UN forces do NOT have such a good reputation. And, "If you surrender we will release the others"? What kind of logic is that? If that's the offer you send maybe one guy to communicate it, not a hundred armed rabble, otherwise it's entirely "Treasure of the Sierra Madre".

The west has been playing sap to jihad since at least 1987 and I for one am entirely sick of it. I could not have fought for the US in Afghanistan under the ROE, and maybe not in Iraq either.

Catapang for US President in 2016! Philippine birth certificate is good enough for me.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (79)
All Comments   (79)
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For the Life of me I don’t understand why all the Talking heads act as if ISIS is so much worse than Al-Q? Both Chop Heads, Both massacre the locals, both do Homicide Bombing, both do the very same thing… The only difference is ISIS does it more openly, does it in larger numbers, Heck all the “Jihad’z” do the same thing! The only difference between ISIS and Al-Q is ISIS is trying to create its own homeland, where Al-Q used the Taliban bozos. ISIS seems to have some pretty good Military Strategist coming from somewhere (Like I said weeks ago – look for 1st world training behind it). I have to tell ya, if we (USA) don’t get hit by someone who walked in from our once southern border then all those Jihad’z are some kinda special dumb! 0bama is only worried about how much longer he gotta wait till he out office and he can divorce that witch and then spend all his time on the Golf course or with his butt buddy Reggie Love!
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
What never fails to set my teeth on edge are those people who advocate for "doing something"; for sending peacekeepers to stop carnage and genocide...AND thinking one can do that without firing a shot. The UN is the worst perpetrator of this blinkered policy.

"Let's insert armed troops who have no dog in the fight into a violent and volatile situation in which at least one side has murder on its mind, with the expectation that they will neither defend themselves nor the people they were sent to protect."

Brilliant strategy!

Bottom line, you want to stop people bent on massacring, starving or oppressing others, you will need to put bullets into some people. Pretending otherwise leads to the exact tragedy you expected to prevent, with the loss of both your troops and any sort of credibility.

The following is of course a fantasy, because the UN is a bureaucratic joke, but the response when the Fijans were first invested should have been to reinforce them. Send a few copters and planes overheard while moving in additional troops and issue a deadline. The first time the rebels fire a shot, drop the hammer on them. Make it clear that the troops sent there WILL keep the peace, even if they have to kill you to do it.

Like I said, fantasy.

What we have instead is what I think I first saw referenced in a Frank Miller comic; professional hostages.

Suddenly occurs to me that The Gods of the Copybook Headings should be on huge plaque in the lobby of the UN, in neon letters.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is moral cowardice that leads "those people who advocate for "doing something"; for sending peacekeepers to stop carnage and genocide...AND thinking one can do that without firing a shot." and their moral cowardice centers upon willful denial of the reality that, there is an inescapable price to be paid in defeating evil and that price is the deaths of the brave and the innocent bystander and the many ruined lives of those left behind.

The greater the evil, the higher the price.

All the pacifist talk and appeals to appeasement are deceitful cover for an unwillingness to pay that price. And that is why Churchill had the right of it when he observed that, "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." And what the appeaser feeds 'the crocodile' is... other people.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oorah, from your lips to G-d's ears. But make it a case of Wild Turkey. In honor of last century being "the American Century."
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Israel has known this day was coming since 1974. No, Israel could not have guessed that it would face off against IS or some number of the Arabic alphabet soup organizations making up jihad; but Israel knew that occupancy of the Golan would be again contested. I pray that Mr. Netanyahu isn't blithely sloughing off the former UN DMZ as he has the many towns in the south of Israel near Gaza. It is my hope that ere long Mr. Netanyahu has no influence on Israeli territorial integrity and security.

Syria no longer exists as a country, by definition. It no longer has universally recognized borders and it no longer monopolizes violence per Max Weber. Because it is a non-entity (merely a moot place holder of convenience), any agreement regarding the former UN DMZ is null and void.

Israel does not recognize the legality much less sovereignty of motely hordes such as IS. As the matter of national security it cannot permit the ground to become an encampment for jihadists. Therefore, Mr. Netanyahu's weary cabinet and party needs to prod him toward the courage one expects of a national leader. Churchill may have loved whiskey in quantity but he did not require it to muster the courage to face off against Hitler during the Battle of Britain. Grant may or may not have needed whiskey for sanity's sake, but he did not require it to face off against Lee in the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, or Petersburg. If whiskey is what it takes to motivate Mr. Netanyahu to fight, well, please, HaShem see that a case of America's finest finds its way into his hands, today. He needn't worry about the UN; that august body will blame Israel in any event. Better to have the UN doing so while Israel holds the former UN DMZ than putting up with proportionality nonsense as Israel struggles to wrest control from an entrenched adversary. May Likud and the cabinet force the issue and save Israeli families needless loss of their boys by putting off until tomorrow what needs doing, today.

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11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
The other shoe has not yet dropped concerning ISIS and Israel...

ISIS was spawned in the Syrian civil war and through a Darwinian process metastasized into the evil that it is today. ISIS attacked Iraq because it was weak due to Obama's premature withdrawal thus presenting a target of opportunity. However ISIS' continued survival is dependent upon new jihadiis replacing those killed in action or leaving on their own. To establish its "street cred" in the Arab world, ISIS will have to attack Israel. The most likely point of attack will be through the Golan Heights. When the time comes, Israel will have to decisively destroy this attack or ISIS will keep coming back much like Hamas keeps coming back. Fortunately(?), unlike Hamas, ISIS does have the option of attacking targets other than Israel. The question is whether ISIS will feel compelled by their religious fanaticism to keep coming back to Israel for a fight rather than expand their Caliphate by attacking weaker targets.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would only disagree with the premise that ISIS must attack Israel soon and that it must attack through the Golan heights. Militarily, that is a non-starter.

An alternate means to gain further credibility is for ISIS to take Baghdad and Damascus. Once it has de facto control over Syria and Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan become low hanging fruit. Accomplishment of that scenario, would create an ISIS led caliphate that would essentially surround Israel. Then it could attack Israel upon multiple fronts, with a much greater chance for success. Capturing Jerusalem would cement ISIS' credibility and give it the leverage to claim the caliphate... based on deeds.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
In the Arab world, the best means for drawing recruits is a fight with Israel. IS hasn't the manpower to do more than constantly harass Israel from Syria, but that might be enough to get the Arab blood boiling.

With enough Arab cannon fodder, I believe IS's most coveted target would be Aleppo. If IS can defeat Assad's regulars and take the city, Assad is going to be isolated in his homeland, which will be a salient with access for reinforcement open temporarily from the the south. As I said, Aleppo is the key to the Alawite homeland and Assad. There is the limited possibility of withdrawal by sea, but that is nearly zero.

With the Alawites and Assad removed from the equation, Damascus is wide open for the taking. Essentially, with small pockets of futile resistance will belong to IS. Lebanon then becomes the next item on the menu.

This is my best guess and does not diminish in the lest the probability of your own analysis.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
You argument is compelling. It makes strategic sense to capture the low hanging fruit first and then attack Israel from multiple fronts.

However the question stands whether ISIS' "street cred" could stand if it continued to attack Arab states and leave Israel alone. My guess is that ISIS is excused from attacking Israel so long as ISIS is busy with Assad. However after Damascus falls, ISIS will probably have no choice but to attack Israel. This of course is the basis for Israel's strategy, i.e. keep ISIS busy with Assad. It's an interesting question whether Israel could justify quietly helping Assad against ISIS.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
My guess, and of course it is just a guess, is that for now ISIS will leave Israel alone. Why? Because when you have 100 weak enemies, and 1 very strong enemy, it's straight military logic (not to mention much easier) to work on knocking down your 100 weak enemies first.

Then, you finally do get around to confronting the strong enemy, you will be far larger and have far more assets to do it with.

Of course, if the Paki's manage to slip a nuke to ISIS by the back door, all bets are off. But I think even that would be a 50/50 proposition as to whether it would be sent to Jerusalem, or to Riyadh.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
One should not assume rational behavior by ISIS. They're convinced that they are fighting for their moon god and he's tipping the Laws of Probability in their favor. Historically, that level of delusion has caused armies to walk into obvious traps and face annihilation when their god failed to deliver. The classic example was the ancient Jews in the battle at Eben-ezer when they thought the Ark of the Covenant would guarantee them victory against the Philistines.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Custer comes to mind, as well. I suppose that shows that overconfidence, whether due to misguided faith or simple Arrogance, is usually fatal in the field of battle.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Somewhat OT, there is a book titled "The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade", by Cecil Woodham-Smith. Flashmaniacs will know that this tome was cited in "Flashman at the Charge". Much like today's debacle on the Golan, the book cites pride, vanity, and obstinacy on the part of the English generals, Cardigan and Lucan, and their mutual hostility as leading to the fiasco at Balaclava.

The Philippine Army general was absolutely justified in taking a command decision to protect his troops from politically motivated morons at the UN.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nobody talks about the Heavy Brigade.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Latest news is that the terrorists who captured the Fijians will not release them unless the UN takes them off it's list of terrorists.

After that, they'll no doubt want to be on the Secretary General's Christmas card list and after that, a seat on the Security Council.

And FNC says the Golan border is now a patchwork quilt, with the Free Syrian Army holding one section and various other groups holding others.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Strange situation. Al Nusra now might own the whole Golan border right up to Israel without UN at all.

That changes things.

Well maybe some jihadi will now look upon the Valley of Tears and remember that once upon a time soldiers fought wars on battlefields to protect the farms, towns and cities and the people there. Nah, won't happen.

Was a good situation in the Golan for a while. The cows grazed next to the minefields, the wine became world class. Takes time to do that.

Now the defenses have to be put to again in the north and Gaza is far from finished. Courage is the work of the exhausted.

Bravo to the UN troops in Golan. The Filipino troops stand out.

Well Islamic States may have backed up their southern flank to the teeth of the tiger. Sure, IAF had some spectacular air strikes early on, but at this point there us no securing the Syria Lebanon border with those.

Israel ground defenses respond with counter battery fire against Syrian army when that happens but this is small stuff. If the Jihadis think that Israel will just sit by and watch them control the border as if they were the Syrian Army of old...IS can see the Valley of Tears now.




11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
My guess one of the greatest problems is one as yet undiscussed. I'll bet these units are allowed minimal ammunition. "You are peacekeepers, why would you need ammo? You are here to keep the peace, not start a war. We'll give you ammo when you need it and after you've completed the forms."

The Fijians might have been fighters but essentially unarmed fighters. If your country contributes "peacekeepers," your countrymen should still carry adequate arms and ammo for the environment. The problems is these contributing countries like the opportunity to send troops because they believe it doesn't involve risk. Carrying weapons and ammo can be a very sobering experience. Stationed unarmed in a hotbed can be sobering, too.

11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
They are exactly that. They have some weapons but nothing like a full military response. The point is supposed to be like a military police force where a political compromise exists. That is no longer the case in Golan.

I think it us not so much that risk was not understood. That is part of the deal. The issues are more pressing to get the UN force evacuated because the Syrian Army has lost control on the ground at this key border.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Several writers of the history of the US Army's campaigns against Native Americans in the West relate how old hands advised new replacements to keep a couple cartridges in reserve against the chance of being overrun. Indeed, some advised having a suicide partner - a bullet to the brain being infinitely preferable to the agony awaiting captives.

One of Custer's brothers at the Little Big Horn was treppaned (with removal of the brain), scapled, eviscerated, castrated, etc. That he had been likely mortally wounded led investigators to conclude that the desecration was postmortem. Custer's body, only, escaped gross mutilation. His wounds were considered fatal for the time.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Coalition politics is always tricky. Going back at least to the Northern "Polar Bear" Intervention of 1918-20 may Americans have accused the British of having the attitude, "You Yanks supply the troops and we'll supply the general." In WW-II Eisenhower worked full time to hold his alliance together, and sometimes it must have seemed incidentally had to deal with the Germans. He was routinely abused as being to pro-British.

It is possible that General Singh might have disposed of his own troops as casually. If so that could be an example of what James Dunnigan called "Burgoyne's Revenge." In any modern military officers are expected to be willing to expend their troops when needed for the mission but to demonstrate enough ongoing concern for their well being so as to not have to depend on coercive discipline when the need for a sacrifice arises. When dealing with coalition forces, who have no pre-existing sense of a bond to rely on, a certain degree of tact and leadership is essential.

For decades American generals have commanded allied troops. Recently it has been proposed that a German general take command of American troops in Europe. This is happening in the face of an escalating crisis in Europe. It may have been a bad idea or a good one to propose that change at this time. The ability of that candidate to lead will determine if Nato can survive.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is General Singh Fijian? If not, he wasn't expending his own troops - he was serving up the islanders as sacrificial lambs.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
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