Belmont Club

The Return of The Tunnel Rats

Space War describes an Israeli unit being trained for war in tunnels modeled after the Vietnam era labyrinth in Cu Chi. They will be needed if Gaza and Lebanon turn hot again.

Israel’s military is reported to have built a underground complex to train troops how to be Vietnam-style “tunnel rats” and go after Hezbollah in its elaborate bunker system across southern Lebanon should the shooting starts again.

The Hebrew-language Maariv daily reported this week that two of its reporters and a camera crew were allowed to inspect the “subterranean city” built in northern Israel “to train for an imminent war” against Hezbollah.

The newspaper quoted an unidentified “military commander” as saying the complex was fashioned on the labyrinth of tunnels constructed by the Viet Cong at Cu Chi, northeast of Saigon, during the Vietnam War.

Although the Vietnam-era Tunnel Rats were the most famous of the underground units, they are by no means the only ones. Soldiers have gone on similar missions in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has an extensive series of historic tunnels used for transporting water, the kariz, and during the 1979–1989 Soviet Union invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, such tunnels were used by Mujahideen fighters. The Soviet 40th Army had their own tunnel rats, who were tasked with flushing people out of the tunnels, then going through the tunnels to disarm booby traps and kill those who remained. Meanwhile, the United States Marine Corps and the Royal Marines are involved in similar work during the current ongoing war in Afghanistan.

In the confined spaces, small men with small weapons ruled. Vietnam Tunnel Rats often traded their .45 cal 1911s for revolvers to avoid being blinded by the flash and deafened by the noise. A few went on to use .22 caliber pistols equipped with suppressors.

Although commonly associated with Chinese, Vietnamese and insurgent styles of fighting, tunnel warfare was common in the West as recently as World War 1. Locked in frozen lines by machine emplacements and barbed wire, the combatants on the Western Front tunneled underground to mine or infiltrate their enemy.

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The war beneath the earth is probably as old as humanity itself. “Nearly 350 caves have now been discovered in France and Spain that contain art from prehistoric times.” Where beauty lives, so lurks danger. One British art critic believes that the world beneath us has been delved, beautified and fought over more than we imagine. “If I ever die in the service of art criticism, it will be because the fantasy of discovering a cave painting lured me into an unplanned and under-equipped excursion into a deep dark hole.” Perhaps, but if so, then those who lived in these dark places have sent no rumor of the exploits. And purposely so. Secrecy and hidden byways were the attraction of subterranean life after all.

“We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin’s folk, Gimli son of Gloin. Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day. In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-Dum: too well he knew them all. Ever up now he went, until we came to the Endless Stair”.


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