Monday, June 21, 2010

Making the same mistakes in Afghanistan as in Vietnam

Perhaps the biggest lesson of the Vietnam war is that we can't win if we tie both hands behind our back. Political meddling in Vietnam put our troops in an impossible situation. It's happening again in Afghanistan.

According to George Will, "[This is from] a recent e-mail from a noncommissioned officer (NCO) serving in Afghanistan. He explains why the rules of engagement for U.S. troops are 'too prohibitive for coalition forces to achieve sustained tactical successes.'

Receiving mortar fire during an overnight mission, his unit called for a 155mm howitzer illumination round to be fired to reveal the enemy's location. The request was rejected 'on the grounds that it may cause collateral damage.' The NCO says that the only thing that comes down from an illumination round is a canister, and the likelihood of it hitting someone or something was akin to that of being struck by lightning.

Returning from a mission, his unit took casualties from an improvised explosive device that the unit knew had been placed no more than an hour earlier. 'There were villagers laughing at the U.S. casualties' and 'two suspicious individuals were seen fleeing the scene and entering a home.' U.S. forces "are no longer allowed to search homes without Afghan National Security Forces personnel present." But when his unit asked Afghan police to search the house, the police refused on the grounds that the people in the house 'are good people.'

On another mission, some Afghan adults ran off with their children immediately before the NCO's unit came under heavy small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and the unit asked for artillery fire on the enemy position. The response was a question: Where is the nearest civilian structure? 'Judging distances,' the NCO writes dryly, 'can be difficult when bullets and RPGs are flying over your head.'

When the artillery support was denied because of fear of collateral damage, the unit asked for a 'smoke mission' -- like an illumination round; only the canister falls to earth -- 'to conceal our movement as we planned to flank and destroy the enemy.' This request was granted -- but because of fear of collateral damage, the round was deliberately fired one kilometer off the requested site, making 'the smoke mission useless and leaving us to fend for ourselves.'"

It's a miracle that our troops are willing to fight under rules like this. They are expected to risk death themselves in order to prevent enemy combatants from being killed. This is insanity, but perfectly understandable given Obama's military experience as a community organizer. If these rules continue, we will lose the Afghan war.

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