British press heralds entry into fighting©Associated Press
April 18, 2002
LONDON -- As British troops secured a deserted cave complex in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the press back home was flushed with pride -- as the newspapers saw it, the U.S. military wasn't up to the challenge and had been forced to call in the Brits to finish the task.
In the words of the ever-patriotic tabloid Sun, U.S. troops "did their best but the job needs finishing."
"It's tough at the top as U.S. calls on our boys," said a headline in the Daily Express.
Britain may consider itself America's most loyal ally, but many Britons doubt that Americans are much good when it comes to the nasty reality of ground combat, no matter how many Hollywood epics they turn out. The critics also failed to mention World War II and the U.S.-led D-day landings at the start of the Allied invasion of Europe.
Despite Prime Minister Tony Blair's assertions that Britain and the United States stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the war on terrorism, the country's armchair generals are busy asserting British supremacy.
The Sun's military adviser, Maj. Gen. Ken Perkins, wrote Wednesday, "The al-Qaida terrorists still lurking in their mountain caves have not yet come up against troops used to mountain warfare."
The U.S. 10th Mountain Division, which has been heavily involved in fighting in Afghanistan, "are mountain troops in name only," he said.
London's Evening Standard recounted with delight a reported comment from a soldier of the 10th Mountain Division -- which, despite its name, is based in nonmountainous Fort Drum, N.Y. -- to a journalist: "We don't do mountains."
"It's verging on the scandalous that the U.S. commanders in Florida saw fit to throw the 101st Airborne and the 10th Mountain Division into altitudes of 10,000 feet," Maj. Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies, told the Associated Press.
"Operating in arctic conditions is partly a state of mind. You need training and acclimatization."
That, according to boosters of the British military, is where the Royal Marines come in. The members of 45 Commando Royal Marines sent to Afghanistan are mountain and Arctic warfare specialists who undergo rigorous training in freezing mountains in Norway.
On Monday, some 300 Royal Marines launched an operation to flush out al-Qaida caves located 10,000 feet up a snowcapped mountain range.
The mission, dubbed Operation Ptarmigan after a Scottish mountain bird, met with no resistance, though troops found ammunition, communications equipment and documents in the abandoned caves.
The opposition will be no match for the British, according to the pundits.
"The troops heading for battle in Afghanistan today are the best-equipped fighting men in the history of modern warfare," the Evening Standard proclaimed.
Despite such tabloid claims, the British military has been dogged for years by poor funding, wornout equipment and malfunctioning weapons.
The SA-80 rifles carried by the marines have been plagued by problems that stop them from working, their artillery is older than some of the troops and what little high-tech gear they have tends to be American produced or designed.
Some military commanders complain that Blair's government has committed British forces to operations around the world while failing to provide sufficient funding and equipment.
Heyman, however, is cautiously confident.
"I think the Americans have had considerable success so far," he said. "I hope the Royal Marines can build on that success."
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