Must Our Troops Fight Terrorists And The Chain Of Command?

 

It may have been sheer luck, or divine intervention. Certainly, it couldn’t have been intentional, but it seemed that the very best commanders I had the pleasure of serving with during my time on active duty were usually found in forward operating theatres. The closer I got to the pointy end of America’s military spear, the more competent the commanders became.

Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, is home to the Wolfpack, the 8th Fighter Wing, whose commanders include the legendary Robin Olds. The wing commander when I was there was tough as nails. When his staff surprised him with a birthday cake, he volunteered to cut the cake by retrieving a ka-bar knife from his combat boot, cutting a couple of slices, and then sticking the knife into the conference table before sitting down to enjoy his cake, leaving everyone else staring at the knife as if they had just witnessed the planting of Excalibur.

When I applied for a few weeks of leave to fly back to the US for the holidays, the colonel looked irritated. “You mean you don’t want to be here if Kim Jong-Il comes to visit?” I promised I would be on the first plane back in that eventuality. “Good,” said the boss. “I might save a piece of him for you.” The colonel was in outstanding condition physically, running laps around the airfield regularly. Mentally, he was sharp as a razor and ready for war at any time.

I’ve been retired for about 6 years now, so I’m out of circulation, as it were. But I have to ask, how would warriors of the caliber as that colonel fare in today’s force? Today’s news brings word of increasing frustration with the rules of engagement our warriors must operate under in Afghanistan.

“If they use rockets to hit the (forward operating base), we can’t shoot back because they were within 500 meters of the village,” said Spc. Charles Brooks, adding that, “If they shoot at us and drop their weapon in the process, we can’t shoot back.” Brooks also explained that troops at his base have had to take down the camp’s watch towers, since they offend local sensibilities. “Now the Taliban can set up mortars and we can’t see them,” said Brooks.

For his part, Spc. Matthew Fuhrken, doesn’t believe his chain of command is paying attention to the reality in the dirt. “I’m sick of people trying to cover up what’s really going on over here. They won’t let us do our job….[W]ar is war, and this is no war. I don’t know what this is.” Well, I have a term for it, but our code of conduct forbids its usage.

As word of possible negotiations with the Taliban reaches the troops, morale sinks further still. Pvt. Jeffrey Ward sums up the sentiment thus: “If we walk away, cut a deal with the Taliban, desert the people who needed us most, then this war was pointless.”

Vietnam vets, does this sentiment strike a familiar chord? Ricochet readers and contributors, these are your troops talking. They are stationed in hell, on your behalf, and they are being forced to fight with their hands tied. Their laments belong in our thoughts as the election approaches. Much hangs in the balance in November, not least of which the proposition that our troops deserve a chain of command that is worthy of their valor and sacrifice.

There are 46 comments.

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  1. Thatcher
    ElevenX
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Kenneth

    War has never been a pretty thing. But wishing to make it a humane enterprise is madness – and a certain recipe for defeat.

    The attempt to make war humane is ultimately inhumane. It prolongs the suffering. · Oct 19 at 10:24pm

    The problem is that, if possible, inflicting civilian casualties in a “hearts and minds” situation like Afghanistan is detrimental to the overall mission (as I understand it) of creating a somewhat stable nation that won’t harbour or promote terror against the west. Needlessly provoking or harming civilians will only come back to bite us…

    To my knowledge, the only successful anti-insurgency operations, British in Malaysia and Americans in the Philippines, were in the colonial context and were truly nation-building operations over many decades. We have assisted other regimes with weapons and advisors but only when the regimes have had sufficent popular support to field a security force of their own nationals. Since neither of these conditions prevail in Afganistan and we have already shown our cards, i.e. we are leaving soon, every dead or wounded American is a complete waste.

    • #1
    • October 20, 2010 at 4:53 am
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  2. Inactive

    November won’t change the chain of command. Petraeus and his foolish counter-insurgency strategy are a disgrace.

    Bring them home. Leave the Afghans who are “offended” by watchtowers to their own miserable devices.

    • #2
    • October 20, 2010 at 6:36 am
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  3. Inactive

    I worry about that too. The only way to fix it is to fire everyone in the Executive branch, which can’t be done for two more years, which might be too late. I’ve heard a lot of Vietnam vets say, ‘We were winning when I left.’ And OBTW, I was trained as a naval aviator and we were required by custom to give a full ration of crap to Air Force pukes. But not Robin Olds, or Bud Mahurin– and some others.

    • #3
    • October 20, 2010 at 6:45 am
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  4. Moderator
    ElevenX

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Kenneth

    War has never been a pretty thing. But wishing to make it a humane enterprise is madness – and a certain recipe for defeat.

    The attempt to make war humane is ultimately inhumane. It prolongs the suffering. · Oct 19 at 10:24pm
    The problem is that, if possible, inflicting civilian casualties in a “hearts and minds” situation like Afghanistan is detrimental to the overall mission (as I understand it) of creating a somewhat stable nation that won’t harbour or promote terror against the west. Needlessly provoking or harming civilians will only come back to bite us.

    I didn’t mean that humanitarian considerations should play no part in war, or that war should be made as inhumane as possible just ‘cuz. That would be monstrous, and, as you say, needless provocation is also bad strategy.

    As war ought sometimes to be made less humane, other times it ought to be more humane. But war is never a humane thing (though it may be waged to win a humanitarian end). And to wage war without winning it as your central goal is cruel.

    For humanity to usurp winning in war is therefore cruel.

    • #4
    • October 20, 2010 at 6:48 am
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  5. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Craig, Kenneth, to what extent do you think that congressional oversight in Republican hands can have any influence over the current strategy, or lack thereof?

    • #5
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:02 am
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  6. Inactive
    Dave Carter: Craig, Kenneth, to what extent do you think that congressional oversight in Republican hands can have any influence over the current strategy, or lack thereof? · Oct 19 at 7:02pm

    Zero. They have only the power of the purse and they’re not gonna cut off funding.

    • #6
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:04 am
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  7. Thatcher

    The discussion of humanity in war should be limited to mean deliberate cruelty or destruction which has no military purpose i.e. Dresden, Hiroshima, Nakasaki aren’t “inhumane” which should pretty well reduce the “humanity” concpt to meaninglessness. Likewise “proportionality” is ridiculous except as limited above — fight above your weight class and expect a knock out. We also need to reexamine the assumptions behind the “Pottery Barn” metaphor attributed to GEN Colin Powell. Our national interests may well require us to destroy a threat even in an instance where we have neither the means nor the will to rebuild what we broke.

    • #7
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:12 am
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  8. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    When we left Vietnam, the North Vietnamese didn’t follow us home. I have the feeling that things will be much worse this time. Our leadership may have lost the stomach for fighting, but the enemy hasn’t.

    • #8
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:12 am
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  9. Inactive

    These commands come from the Commander in Chief , his qualifications include ……. His aspirations for our military are ……..

    • #9
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:14 am
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  10. Inactive
    Kenneth
    Dave Carter: Craig, Kenneth, to what extent do you think that congressional oversight in Republican hands can have any influence over the current strategy, or lack thereof? · Oct 19 at 7:02pm
    Zero. They have only the power of the purse and they’re not gonna cut off funding. · Oct 19 at 7:04pm

    I won’t say zero, but close. As Kenneth says they’ll have the power of the purse, but that’s not particularly helpful in this case. They can work the margins, but I think General Petraeus’ moral authority and above the political fray stature is our troops best bet.

    • #10
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:15 am
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  11. Inactive
    Dave Carter: When we left Vietnam, the North Vietnamese didn’t follow us home. I have the feeling that things will be much worse this time. Our leadership may have lost the stomach for fighting, but the enemy hasn’t. · Oct 19 at 7:12pm

    Seal the borders.

    • #11
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:19 am
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  12. Inactive
    Craig McLaughlin
    Kenneth
    Dave Carter: Craig, Kenneth, to what extent do you think that congressional oversight in Republican hands can have any influence over the current strategy, or lack thereof? · Oct 19 at 7:02pm

    Zero. They have only the power of the purse and they’re not gonna cut off funding. · Oct 19 at 7:04pm

    I won’t say zero, but close. As Kenneth says they’ll have the power of the purse, but that’s not particularly helpful in this case. They can work the margins, but I think General Petraeus’ moral authority and above the political fray stature is our troops best bet. · Oct 19 at 7:15pm

    You have a much higher opinion of Petraeus than I do. I think he’s a politically-correct toady.

    • #12
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:20 am
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  13. Inactive

    Yeah I guess I do, because I damn sure wouldn’t use the word toady to describe him.

    • #13
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:26 am
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  14. Inactive

    In fact, I think, should you encounter him on the street you should tell him that in your opinion he’s a politically correct toady. Let’s see how that works out for you.

    • #14
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:32 am
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  15. Inactive
    Craig McLaughlin: In fact, I think, should you encounter him on the street you should tell him that in your opinion he’s a politically correct toady. Let’s see how that works out for you. · Oct 19 at 7:32pm

    Yeah, yeah. Let’s see how the family of a soldier killed because of his rules of engagement handles him in such a situation.

    If you’re not willing to do what’s necessary to win, you at least owe it to your troops to give them the ROE’s to defend themselves.

    Petraeus is one of generation of flag officers who have come up in a politically-correct military. When Hamid Karzai whines about a couple of civilian casualties, Petraeus says “How high?”

    Maybe that’s not a toady. But it sure as hell isn’t George Patton.

    • #15
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:38 am
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  16. Inactive

    Petraeus has led troops in combat. Have you?

    • #16
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:42 am
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  17. Inactive

    So what? I haven’t been President of the United States, either, but I know a failure when I see one.

    A commander who allows his men to die needlessly in order to provide cover for his feckless Commander-in-Chief deserves contempt.

    • #17
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:49 am
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  18. Inactive
    Craig McLaughlin: Petraeus has led troops in combat. Have you? · Oct 19 at 7:42pm

    Do I have to rob a bank to know that it is a bad idea at best of times? Should I have been a Communist to know that as a political ideology Communism stinks? Do I have to be a thief to know that Hamid Karzi is a thief? I’ll stop now as I think you get the point.

    • #18
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:58 am
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  19. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Gentlemen, it’s the point you are both illuminating which has me in a quandary. Petraeus is a combat commander. His approach apparently prevented a disaster in Iraq. Why the turmoil in Afghanistan? Is he being undermined by the President? I suspect that Obama’s castrating withdrawal timetable is playing a huge role in enemy morale. To what extent is the administration tying our military’s hands as well?

    • #19
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:58 am
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  20. Inactive

    So I take that as a no then. General Petraeus has two options when offered a job. Resign or do the best he can to try to make it work. From my view he’s done the latter, your mileage may vary. But he deserves your contempt, really? It must be a burden to be so all knowing all the time. You Godlike thing you.

    • #20
    • October 20, 2010 at 7:59 am
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  21. Inactive
    Cas Balicki
    Craig McLaughlin: Petraeus has led troops in combat. Have you? · Oct 19 at 7:42pm
    Do I have to rob a bank to know that it is a bad idea at best of times? Should I have been a Communist to know that as a political ideology Communism stinks? Do I have to be a thief to know that Hamid Karzi is a thief? I’ll stop now as I think you get the point. · Oct 19 at 7:58pm

    The reason for the question,was the ad hominem attack. Calling a General officer who has served his country for 30 some years a toady is beyond the pale.

    • #21
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:02 am
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  22. Inactive
    Craig McLaughlin: So I take that as a no then. General Petraeus has two options when offered a job. Resign or do the best he can to try to make it work. From my view he’s done the latter, your mileage may vary. But he deserves your contempt, really? It must be a burden to be so all knowing all the time. You Godlike thing you. · Oct 19 at 7:59pm

    Nothing is more tedious than a flame exchange.

    I’ve made my point, so I’m gonna withdraw.

    You continue, if it pleases you.

    • #22
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:16 am
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  23. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Craig, speaking for myself, I give the General some slack precisely because he has led troops in combat and because of his work in Iraq. That said, to whom do we lay responsibility for such things as removing watch towers, thereby increasing the troops vulnerability to attack, simply to allay local sensitivities? His rank and time in service will be of little comfort to the families who bury their sons and daughters because of misbegotten rules of engagement.

    • #23
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:21 am
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  24. Inactive
    Dave Carter: Gentlemen, it’s the point you are both illuminating which has me in a quandary. Petraeus is a combat commander. His approach apparently prevented a disaster in Iraq. Why the turmoil in Afghanistan? Is he being undermined by the President? I suspect that Obama’s castrating withdrawal timetable is playing a huge role in enemy morale. To what extent is the administration tying our military’s hands as well? · Oct 19 at 7:58pm

    Dave, imho, upon Obama’s announcement of his timeline for withdrawal, Petraeus owed it to the country and to his troops to inform the President that he had just assured an ignominious defeat, to resign his commission and to address the nation.

    My anger springs not from the fact that he chose not to do so, but that he has chosen to squander the lives of some of America’s finest men and women with ROE’s designed to mollify Hamid Karzai.

    Obama can pretend to support the war all he wants. Petraeus can pretend to fight it.

    But our troops aren’t pretending to die.

    • #24
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:22 am
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  25. Inactive
    Dave Carter: Craig, speaking for myself, I give the General some slack precisely because he has led troops in combat and because of his work in Iraq. That said, to whom do we lay responsibility for such things as removing watch towers, thereby increasing the troops vulnerability to attack, simply to allay local sensitivities? His rank and time in service will be of little comfort to the families who bury their sons and daughters because of misbegotten rules of engagement. · Oct 19 at 8:21pm

    I’m not taking the general’s side because I’m impressed by his rank or time in service– but because I have no reason to believe nor have I seen evidence to suggest that he’s doing anything other than the best he can in a very difficult situation. Maybe he should have resigned, but if he had, some other general would have taken the job— and probably he would have been worse. As far as the ROE’s go are they worse now than they were under McChyrstal? I’m asking, I don’t know. But I surely don’t see any need to insult the man’s character.

    • #25
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:41 am
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  26. Inactive

    “we can’t shoot back because they were within 500 meters of the village,” Of course! This only encourages more of the same behavior from the Taliban. Hide behind women and children and stay by villages because the stupid Americans aren’t allowed to shoot you then! Human nature is not exactly rocket science.

    I subscribe to the Lemay Doctrine of war which basically means that if you’re going to go to war, you have to be the most unscrupulous SOB on the block. And if you have even the slightest reservation, stay home and don’t even bother. There’s nothing worse than a half-fought war. It’s not politic to say, but the insistence on minimizing collateral damage is asinine. That’s how we used to win wars. Frankly, I think we ought to take a page out of Curtis Lemay’s book. Dust off the B-29s give obstinate pro-Taliban villages 24 hours warning. If the village doesn’t kick them out, then we firebomb them. Simple as that. Support for the Taliban MUST be equated with certain death just like its predecessors Nazism and Japanese militarism.

    • #26
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:44 am
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  27. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Kenneth, your analysis rings true. Had I been in Petraeus’ shoes, Obama’s timetable would have provoked just such a reaction from me, which is why I was content to do a career as an NCO. By contemporary standards, a commission would not have suited me well. My goal was always to bring our folks back home in the upright position. A person with Petraeus’ background doesn’t strike me as a political animal, though I have worked for flag officers who were exactly that. Where ever the fault lies, the madness needs to stop.

    • #27
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:44 am
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  28. Inactive
    Byron Horatio: I subscribe to the Lemay Doctrine of war which basically means that if you’re going to go to war, you have to be the most unscrupulous SOB on the block. And if you have even the slightest reservation, stay home and don’t even bother. There’s nothing worse than a half-fought war. It’s not politic to say, but the insistence on minimizing collateral damage is asinine. That’s how we used to win wars. Frankly, I think we ought to take a page out of Curtis Lemay’s book. Dust off the B-29s give obstinate pro-Taliban villages 24 hours warning. If the village doesn’t kick them out, then we firebomb them. Simple as that. Support for the Taliban MUST be equated with certain death just like its predecessors Nazism and Japanese militarism. · Oct 19 at 8:44pm

    Byron…um…um…could you kiss me?

    • #28
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:50 am
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  29. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Craig, I don’t think the ROE are worse now than they were under McChrystal. But neither are they better. This issue was heating up prior to McChrystal leaving, but his departure overshadowed the problem. There was hope that Petraeus would revisit and reverse some of this nonsense, so the disappointment on the part of the troops is palpable.

    • #29
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:52 am
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  30. Inactive
    Dave Carter: Craig, I don’t think the ROE are worse now than they were under McChrystal. But neither are they better. This issue was heating up prior to McChrystal leaving, but his departure overshadowed the problem. There was hope that Petraeus would revisit and reverse some of this nonsense, so the disappointment on the part of the troops is palpable. · Oct 19 at 8:52pm

    Dave, my understanding from a perusal of military blogs is that the ROE’s have gotten worse, as Obama’s geniuses have pressured Petraeus to assure that his anti-war base doesn’t go ape over civilian casualties and fail to troop to the polls next month. We just suffered 17 America KIA last week, which are officially attributed to our increase in offensive missions. I wonder how many of those fine young men would still breathe had the ROE’s been designed for force protection instead of political expedience.

    • #30
    • October 20, 2010 at 8:59 am
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