Memories play funny tricks, Hillary Clinton's especially. Her story of her trip to Tuzla where she appeared to have deflected bullets with her Wonderwoman bracelets is causing much amusement but there is a grain of truth buried under the hype.
What I'd like to do is unpick Clinton's speech and subsequent explanations of her "misspeak" and look at how she wove her tale. It centers on a landing tactic used by many air forces in trouble spots called the "Sarajevo landing" but the partial explanation opens up new questions.
Her new statements contradict the account given in her book "Living History". It looks like, as with Blair's dossier, "Herstory" was "sexed up".
UPDATE: Adocarbog's evidence confirms that the book was the start of the catalog of "errors".
The "Sarajevo landing" is a variation on the "Khe Sanh Approach". These sound like chess tactics and are both intended to outwit an enemy. They are designed to enable aircraft to get into isolated airfields where there is the possibility of them being attacked by small arms or anti-aircraft fire. The basic technique involves flying high until very near the airfield; then making a far steeper descent than a normal flight and finally pulling up to land or overfly the airfield at low level.
Khe San was a base in Vietnam that was strategically important but surrounded by Vietnamese fighters. The French had found in the siege of Dien Bien Phu that such camps can be overrun unless constantly replenished with ammunition and supplies. In Khe San these would be pushed from the cargo plane as it flew at very low level over the airfield before making a sharp ascent to avoid fire on leaving.
The Khe Sanh Approach is still used today in situations where groundfire is potentially a problem. It was used by coalition forces in the Kuwait conflict and by UN forces in the Balkans, (which led to its alternative name, 'The Sarajevo Approach'). The only modification which has been made to the basic manoeuvre is that the aircraft will now jink from side to side on its approach in order to confuse and evade any potential missile threats.Emphases mine
The technique is used in Afghanistan today and part of the precautions when carrying troops or civilians is to have all wear body armor as protection in the unlikely event of a stray bullet hitting. There follow a couple of random examples. Troops in active fighting areas do run from the aircraft to cover to avoid nearer snipers but clearly the Tuzla situation was nothing like those experienced in say Helmund Province in Afghanistan.
I arrive at Kandahar, shortly before midnight, on a huge RAF Tristar, along with hundreds of troops. For the final 30 minutes of the flight, we sit in total darkness wearing heavy flak jackets and helmets in case of attack.December 3, 2006
Mr Cameron (UK Leader of the Opposition) is meeting military commanders and air crew from the RAF squadrons operating Harrier GR7s, Chinook helicopters and Hercules transport aircraft from Kandahar airfield, one of the UK’s three main bases in the country.July 24, 2006
Donning body armour as the planes came into land, he said...
Now we know the tactic and how it operates in very active situations, let's go over Hillary's speeches and statements keeping in mind she (and probably all the entourage) would have been briefed about the landing beforehand to avoid panic during the final approach dive. Even on ordinary commercial flights unusual landing situations are warned about. I have been on a flight into a short airfield where we were particularly warned about the immediate application of "reverse thrust" to stop the plane well short of the end of the runway.
We know that Tuzla was a Sarajevo landing courtesy of Sharyl Attkisson in Couric and Co:
Due to the possibility of sniper fire, our pilots used what we were told are "assault take-offs and landings." In short, the climb and descent are very fast, and very steep to minimize exposure to hostile fire on the ground.Let's take the crutial sentence of Clinton's original speech.
It's exciting and frightening and, in the midst of it all, wearing our helmets and bulletproof vests, it's easy to imagine we may be narrowly escaping enemy bullets.
I remember landing under sniper fire.Mostly that has been taken to mean that she was under fire on the ground as her embellishment and plain falsehood in the next sentence implies.
There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.However, as we have seen, the Sarajevo landing is designed to avoid having the aircraft hit by sniper fire when making its final approach for landing. The videos show that at the time she, Chelsea and assorted entertainers were deplaning, they had removed their flack jackets and helmets. That is not the procedure for airfields where there is the possibility of snipers near enough to shoot. Clearly Clinton has confused the briefing about the landing (and maybe an extended explanation of it given separately) with what happened as she explained.
"Now let me tell you what I can remember, OK -- because what I was told was that we had to land a certain way and move quickly because of the threat of sniper fire. So I misspoke -- I didn't say that in my book or other times but if I said something that made it seem as though there was actual fire -- that's not what I was told. I was told we had to land a certain way, we had to have our bulletproof stuff on because of the threat of sniper fire. I was also told that the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac but that there was this 8-year-old girl and, I can't, I can't rush by her, I've got to at least greet her -- so I greeted her, I took her stuff and then I left, Now that's my memory of it.So what Clinton has now said is (mostly) true but again disingenuous. The landing was standard and because of a possibility, very remote in that part of Bosnia at the time, of sniper fire. Her use of the word "threat" implies a rather stronger likelihood than the reality. We do have to question though whether she was actually told to "move quickly because of the threat (that word again) of sniper fire". The stroll down the aircraft ramp, completely unsurrounded by Secret Service bodyguards and not wearing body armor, suggests not.
We perhaps also ought to question the original telling of this story. As AP says:
Clinton wrote: "Due to reports of snipers in the hills around the airstrip, we were forced to cut short an event on the tarmac with local children, though we did have time to meet them and their teachers and to learn how hard they had worked during the war to continue classes in any safe spot they could find."How likely is it that there were actually reports of sniper fire rather than the Sarajevo landing being standard operating procedure? The answer is given by Hillary herself in her explanation of her "misspeak" reported by AP:
Just after her speech last Monday, she reaffirmed the account of running from the plane to the cars when she was asked about it by reporters at a news conference. She said was moved into the cockpit of the C-17 cargo plane as they were flying into Tuzla Air Base.Perhaps this is Clinton's idea of body armor "saving their asses" although it is contradicted by Katie Couric's recollection and Clinton's first "clarification" of the speech.
"Everyone else was told to sit on their bulletproof vests," Clinton told reporters. "And we came in, in an evasive maneuver. ...
we had to have our bulletproof stuff on because of the threat of sniper fireMaybe Sharyl Attkisson and her colleagues donned them as an extra precaution. BUT, if Clinton is now telling the truth about the rest being told to sit on their flack jackets, it must have meant that the possibility of sniper fire in the air was so remote that the ordinary precautions of wearing them was considered unnecessary. How else do you explain the pilots telling the passengers to not take the regular precautions?
You will recall that Katie Couric also used the word "possibility" about sniper attacks. That chimes in with the sort of everyday experience that air travellers have. You are told (if you are flying over water) about your floatation jacket under your seat "in the unlikely event we have to land on water". You are told to fasten your seat belt. In the same way, the pilots would give a brief reassuring explanation of why the passengers were asked to put on their flack jackets.
Of the passage in her book, "Due to reports of snipers in the hills around the airstrip..." the AP reports her spokesman:
"That is what she wrote in her book," Wolfson said. "That is what she has said many, many times and on one occasion she misspoke."The attention this is getting has now thrown open the question of whether there were any actual credible reports of "snipers in the hills" as claimed in "Living History". Did she in fact "miswrite" and has repeated a falsehood "many, many times" but has been given a pass on it until her current vetting? The simple fact is that there are still inconsistencies in her story that need to be cleared up. As the Scottish poet Sir Walter Scott wrote:
Oh what a tangled web we weave,UPDATE: Adocarbog's diary provides the final evidence that there could not have been any sniper activity in Tuzla at the time. The reason given for the precautions in her book "Living History" are therefore false. There could have been no "reports of snipers" to cut short the visit.
When first we practise to deceive!
The timing of the error on her part is significant. This is not something wrongly remembered over a decade after the event. She clearly mixed up the briefing on the "Sarajevo landing" as a precaution with there being actual reports of snipers in a book published in 2003 and presumably written based on some form of records.
This brings into question her whole fitness to be a Commander in Chief. She could not distinguish between precautions taken against a possibility with a real and present danger. That puts her vote on Iraq in a new light. Unless she can produce evidence of those non-existant "reports" of snipers, she is clearly in the same league as McCain - unable to tell properly what is going on.