It has been clear since the Bush years that there’s a contingent in the military that’s a lot more concerned about promotions and bad press than they are about the lives of the troops or winning wars, but it seems to be getting worse under the Obama administration:
To the U.S. Army soldiers and Marines serving here, some things seem so obviously true that they are beyond debate. Among those perceived truths: The restrictive rules of engagement that they have to fight under have made serving in combat far more dangerous for them, while allowing the Taliban to return to a position of strength.
“If they use rockets to hit the [forward operating base] we can’t shoot back because they were within 500 meters of the village. If they shoot at us and drop their weapon in the process we can’t shoot back,” said Spc. Charles Brooks, 26, a U.S. Army medic with 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, in Zabul province.
Word had come down the morning Brooks spoke to this reporter that watch towers surrounding the base were going to be dismantled because Afghan village elders, some sympathetic to the Taliban, complained they were invading their village privacy. “We have to take down our towers because it offends them and now the Taliban can set up mortars and we can’t see them,” Brooks added, with disgust.
In June, Gen. David Petraeus, who took command here after the self-inflicted demise of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, told Congress that he was weighing a major change with rules for engaging enemy fighters in Afghanistan. That has not yet happened, troops say. Soldiers and Marines continue to be held back by what they believe to be strict rules imposed by the government of President Hamid Karzai designed with one objective: limit Afghan civilian casualties.
“I don’t think the military leaders, president or anybody really cares about what we’re going through,” said Spc. Matthew “Silver” Fuhrken, 25, from Watertown, N.Y. “I’m sick of people trying to cover up what’s really going on over here. They won’t let us do our job. I don’t care if they try to kick me out for what I’m saying — war is war and this is no war. I don’t know what this is.”
…But U.S. troops and Marines interviewed during the past month in Afghanistan question what negotiations would really mean, to both them and the Afghan people. And they almost universally believe that negotiating would be a mistake before achieving decisive gains they believe are attainable once oppressive rules of engagement are relaxed.
“What does it mean if we give in to the Taliban? They are the enemy,” Brooks said. “This place is going to be a safe haven for terrorists again. The government doesn’t care about the sacrifices already made. As far as the mission goes, I want to see these kids go to school and have a future but not at the expense of my friends — not anymore.”
We have the greatest military in the history of the planet, but we also have legions of politicians, generals, and military lawyers who’ve set up rules that have made it impossible for us to adequately use them.
Yes, we need to have some rules in place to protect civilians, but we’ve gone so overboard that we seem to be needlessly endangering the lives of our troops and aiding the enemy. How many of our soldiers are not going to come home to their families because of silly rules of engagement that are primarily designed to prevent negative news stories on CNN? How many Afghan civilians are going to be murdered by members of the Taliban that our troops could have killed if they wouldn’t have been handcuffed by our own rules of engagement?
David Petraeus may have done a phenomenal job in Iraq, but there seems to be little evidence at present that he’s making progress in Afghanistan. Maybe that’s not his fault, but Petraeus took the job and he has an obligation to the men under his command to get that job done. At the moment, it doesn’t look like he’s fulfilling his obligation. Neither is our Commander-In-Chief, who quite frankly, is looking like he doesn’t have the chops to fill the shoes of the man who was in office before him.