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Brownwater Sailors

Training with the new Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

By 8.3.06

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This article appears in the July/August 2006 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe, click here.

TERRORISTS HIDE, TRAIN, AND OPERATE wherever they think they're out of reach. In the caves of Afghanistan we routed them out with a new weapon. The thermobaric bomb was designed to kill terrorists hidden deep inside caves and to burn up whatever chemical or biological weapons that might be with them. But on the backwaters of Africa, the waterways of the Middle East, and wherever bays, swamps, and rivers divide the land from the sea, terrorists -- such as the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka -- gather and use the sanctuary of the inland waters to smuggle weapons and money, and to hide when they're not engaged in piracy. This problem isn't new. Our "riverine" forces fought this battle in the muddy waters of inland Vietnam. Faced with that problem -- and more -- the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command is combining new thinking with some old ideas.

It's the Navy equivalent of a tool box, a conglomeration of brownwater warriors, construction battalions, explosive ordnance disposal, and just about everything you might need to secure a port, interdict terrorist pirates, or do the myriad other jobs the Navy has to do that won't be done by big ships, fast aircraft, infantry, or special forces. As NECC commander Adm. Don Bullard explained, "We need to go in every environment the terrorists operate to win this war." He said, "If we need to go into rivers and jungles to do that now, we will. We want to take away the sanctuaries and take away terrorists' ability to operate on waterways to traffic in arms and weapons of mass destruction." Right now, NECC is gathering its pieces and parts, growing to its authorized strength in the neighborhood of 40,000 sailors. Admiral Bullard said NECC is "the ugly baby everyone wants to kiss."

One part of the baby is the brownwater Navy, meant to go wherever inland waterways may take it. Since the "riverine" Navy of the Vietnam era, there hasn't been a lot of attention paid to the littoral area. NECC is taking part of the Navy back to the future.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.