Tony Perry wrote an interesting article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times regarding the restrictions placed on American fighter-bomber crews in the war in Afghanistan. Reporting from the USS Eisenhower, Perry covered how the polices of Army General Stanley A. McChrystal practically play out for the pilots and commanders of the Eisenhower’s carrier air wings.
In the past years, there has been a concern for the number of Afghan civilian casualties and how that has led to a decline in Afghan support of the U.S. led war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This has led to McChrystal’s statement that “mission No. 1 is to avoid civilian casualties, even if it means letting suspected Taliban fighters escape.”
Excuse me for a moment, but isn’t the United States’ “mission No. 1” to defeat the terrorists and those who harbor and support them?
The commander of the Eisenhower’s air wing, Captain Roy Kelley told Perry he states McChrystal’s mission to his pilots in this way, “They [need] to know what our objectives are – that we’re here to protect [the Afghan] people, and that mean’s limiting civilian deaths.”
Capt. Kelley’s statement sounds noble and I do not doubt for a second that he is a fine fighter pilot and defender of our country. But notice the subtle change from what we went to war for when we were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. The stated mission then was to destroy the terrorists who attacked us. The mission now is to protect the Afghan people.
My question is, why did this change?
I understand there was political pressure that civilians were dying and I certainly get that it is a tragedy when anyone loses their life in war. But isn’t it a little difficult to defeat an enemy that, if smart enough to figure out how to commandeer airplanes and crash them into buildings, is certainly smart enough to figure out how to hide behind women and children?
I certainly do not believe we should be indiscriminately bombing the Afghan populations but when our troops on the ground are in a firefight and soldiers and marines are dying, it is beyond common sense that “infantry commanders, sometimes with lawyers at their elbows, go through a checklist to make sure their request fits the rules of engagement.” If you open fire on the United States military, there should not be any possible way you find sanctuary hiding in civilian populations or a mosque.
Rear Admiral Philip Davidson, the commander of the Eisenhower strike group made the comment that, “often in this war, it’s the bombs that you don’t drop that are the most important.” That’s easy for you to say Admiral when you drinking coffee on the bridge of a carrier. Maybe you should put yourself into the shoes of the lieutenant or captain who’s had one of his men die when an IED exploded and is now taking rounds from guys with AK-47’s. The bombs that “are the most important” are the ones that eliminate the threat, not withheld to protect Afghans who are harboring enemy forces.
My reading of history tells me that Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and George S. Patton would laugh at the orders as dictated by Gen. McChrystal, (who it should be noted might have his hands tied by President Obama.)
Afghan President Karzai has been very outspoken about us limiting civilian causalities. He needs to understand that he would not be in power without the United States of America. Either let us destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda without limitations placed by your government, or how about we go home and we’ll see how effective you are at handling it?
America needs to remember that we are fighting a war against the terrorists who attacked us. We are not fighting to prop up an Afghan administration, although that will be a side benefit of defeating Al Qaeda. As it stands, we will protect more Afghan people in the long run if we do not allow the enemy sanctuary but attack them where they are, regardless of where they are hiding. Then the Afghan people will understand it is in their interest to disassociate with the Taliban and take up their own arms to help defeat them, instead of allowing the Taliban to use them as human shields.
My random thoughts can be followed on Twitter at @plh55.