Jaeger: At War with Denmark’s Elite Special Forces, is a book by former special forces soldier Thomas Rathsack. Originally it was published in Denmark where it was a best seller and is said to have inspired many youngsters to volunteer for the military; since 2015 it has been available in English too.
The book starts with a brief autobiographical sketch of the author’s life before he enlisted in the Danish special forces. Next, it describes the truly grueling training he and his comrades received; including insane physical effort and culminating in parachute jumps from 30,000 feet. Next, it outlines some of the action the author saw in uncongenial places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. It concludes with the half-hearted attempts, and ultimately futile, attempts of the Danish military to try the author for allegedly having revealed all kinds of secrets.
While no literary masterpiece, the book is very impressive. I was especially interested in what made a young man decide on such a career, perhaps the toughest and most dangerous on earth; and one, moreover, which leaves those who embark on it with no time for anything else. As Rathsack says, repeatedly, it was the desire to test himself that made him tick. To the utmost, again and again and again. No surprise here, really, since the same has been true since at least the time of Homer on.
But what really caught my eye, and my mind, was something else. Let me use the author’s own words, as far as possible, to describe it:
“American drones—MQ-1 Predators—had over the past week kept a watchful eye on the… regions in the mountainous provinces” along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Their drones had captured pictures of Taliban and al-Qaeda members crossing the border… However, the unstable weather conditions of the late winter had made the Predator less effective. Task Force K Bar was therefore assigned the task of observing activities in the area. Fortunately for us, this meant boots on the ground…”
“We would be inserted by helicopter at night flying over hills, mountains and valleys, through areas swarming with armed enemies… The operation was expected to span 10 days,” which meant that each of them would have to carry up to 180 pounds, including water. Preparations included gathering and compiling intelligence: “We needed information about wind, light, rainfall and temperature. We needed to know where the enemy was expected to be, whether they were armed and organized, and what their morale was. And finally we’d need information about whether the local population was friendly or hostile, and where the nearest town or settlement was located… Advanced computer programs provided us with information about the altitude and gradient of the mountains. We sought out the best places from which to observe the villages and the tracks we were interested in…”
“The landing zone couldn’t be too close to our observation base, since the enormous CH-47 helicopter taking us in was extraordinarily loud.” Communications, medical equipment, and plans for enabling the team to be extracted in case things went wrong had to be prepared. “We were privileged in that the pilots who flew us in were the best in the world.” In support would be jet fighters and “the awesome American flying fortress, the AC-130 Gunship, which carries a whole arsenal of weaponry systems.” All this, so just five men could be landed on a mountain 250 miles from base.
“I was in the best company possible—with some of the world’s top soldiers.” Once the team had been flown in and were on the ground, “we quickly secured our position for all angles. A deafening silence set in. Not a sound in the night… It was as if we had found ourselves in a vacuum… Getting away from the landing zone as fast as possible was crucial The Chinook had probably been heard in the villages a few miles away. That meant Al Qaeda and Taliban forces would be aware of special forces in the area.”
The men spent the rest of the night marching to their predesignated observation post. Given the altitude (9,000 feet), the terrain, and the loads they carried doing so required an almost superhuman effort. On one side were a handful of the world’s best soldiers, trained at great expense for years on end until they became perfect killing machines. Backing them up were entire forests of machines some of which, such as the F-16 fighter bombers AC-130 gunships (which, however, being slow and vulnerable, were only allowed to operate by night) cost tens of millions of dollars each. And what were they after? “The village beneath me consisted of 14-15 single family houses, all made of clay and enclosed behind the concrete walls that nearly all Afghan houses had… The only sign of life was a herd of goats, bound to a tree in the western part of the village… just after 9 A.M two men stepped out of one of the bigger buildings in the village. They were dressed in loose, brown robes, and walked slowly to the small grove of trees where the goats were tied up. They sat in the shade, leaning up against a tree and began conversing. I noted it in the logbook It was the only activity on this watch.”
A few nights later, payoff! “I froze at what I saw through the scope. A group of men were walking along a trail from one of the values south of the village. I counted 12, all armed with Kalashnikovs…. The group was clearly on its way across the border from Pakistan.”
Not long thereafter the commandos were discovered. Whether by accident or because the opponent, alerted by the helicopter’s noise, had noted their presence and was actively looking for them is not clear. Probably the latter, since the village appeared to be abnormally quiet. Thus another operation had to be prepared to get the commandos out before they were overrun and the survivors, if any, put to death in any number of interesting ways. This time, in addition to a Chinook and F-16s on standby, 30 soldiers from the American 10th Mountain Division (plus at least one helicopter to carry them) and an Advance Warning and Control System (AWACS) costing perhaps $ 200,000,000 were involved.
All this, I could not help but wonder, only to observe a handful of bearded men issuing from clay huts while armed with locally made assault rifles? And only to end up by failing to achieve anything?
PS: Those of you who have not seen the following link showing US male and female Marine on training, do yourself a favor and take a look. http://i.imgur.com/t3CF25z.gif.