America's 'Tools' of Engagement
No set of rules can exist without pinching our freedom of action, and in effect, administering some semblance of restriction or pain. And when we bring our rules and values down from their lofty seats of abstraction, we find sometimes that they can lead to our undoing. For the noble and uplifted soul of the American soldier, our military rules of engagement (ROE) are frequently accompanied by great costs; and sometimes, by leaning in the direction of inaction or mercy, we can paradoxically exact an even greater portion of suffering for our treasured Band of Brothers. In essence, it is this heartbreaking moral dilemma, spotlighted within the narrative of the 2014 film Lone Survivor, that tests America's Afghan engagement policy to its threadbare limits. For in the hellish theatre of war, there is nothing except brotherhood and honor that is ever totally cut and dried.
In the clandestine world of rough men whose duty it is to kill the enemy and to degrade their will to continue fighting, how often the vicissitudes of fortune and folly swing to and fro as a fearsome pendulum. In the crucible of war, one may plan minutely for all contingences; but so often the most insignificant and unforeseen renders our best-laid efforts for naught. Such was the case in 2005 when four members of Navy Seal Team 10 conducted Operation Red Wings, a mission designed to identify Taliban loyalist and Commander Ahmed Shah who had been hiding in the Pech District of Afghanistan's Kunar Province. While attending their mission, Team 10 soon finds that their cover has been compromised by a group of goat herders comprised of several men and a boy of about fourteen (the true story, not the film which featured 2 boys). Since these "civilians," equipped with a radio, are following a path in the craggy terrain above a camp of Taliban sympathizers, the Seal team has deduced that these interlopers are most likely allied with their enemy. It is from this moral vantage point that the Special Ops team is confronted with the decision of what to do with their captives. In the interests of the mission, and for survival itself, should these Afghanis be set free -- or silenced forever?
Whether by virtue of the team's Western-honed morality or an adherence to their restrictive ROE, the decision is made to abort their mission and to turn loose the Afghanis. And although this seems at the time a prudent and merciful exit strategy for a mission gone wrong, it leads Team 10 and those who eventually come to retrieve them to the deadliest of outcomes. When the smoke has all cleared and the lone survivor, Marcus Luttrell, is airlifted away into the closing credits, 19 American servicemen have lost their lives: including Luttrell's teammates and 16 rescuers (8 Seals, 8 Army Special Ops) who were shot down while attempting to retrieve Team 10 in their MH-47 Chinook helicopter.
How easy it is to play Monday morning quarterback and to apply that bloodless critical eye to the decisions of others that have their genesis in mercy and military discipline. For in the Theatre of the West, we are horrified at the thought of women and children as casualties, even if they come as "unintended collateral damage" -- yet another cold-hearted euphemism for the friction of war that envelops innocence. And yet, an adolescent Afghan boy is fully capable and often expected to trigger a bomb vest or level an AK-47 at an adult -- especially in a country like Afghanistan where generous hospitality, desolate beauty, and unbelievable savagery coexist as diverse children of a callous mother. Moreover, American soldiers have found that their own moral ethos is often used against them, since the Taliban are well aware of the ROE that prohibits the targeting of civilians. Indeed, the Taliban flourish in that gray frontier of combat and have grown bold in the art of subterfuge by utilizing every black treachery of confidence to their own advantage -- often using women and small children to administer poison through food or by subtly luring off-guard patrols into an Islamist ambush.
But if we rocket ahead in time nearly a decade, it is readily apparent that for the American serviceman stationed in the Afghan charnel house, the state of affairs concerning his survival has decayed significantly; and in the interest of truth, our young men and women have been hemmed in by an invigorated amoral enemy at their fore and a fifth column military policy stabbing them in their backs. Should we be amazed that the usual suspects are at work here and that since 2009, 73% of the total deaths in Afghanistan have taken place? Our servicemen are dying at a rate of over 27 per month in a grisly theatre where their hands are tied by an administration that wants soldiers to do the near impossible. In the process, they are sitting ducks for a savvy enemy who knows that time and the American Left are on their side, so to speak.
In November of 2013, a bilateral security agreement hammered out between Afghan President Karzai and Secretary of State John Kerry will soon make it illegal for American soldiers to enter into Afghan homes for the purpose of engaging Taliban fighters, a shortsighted policy that effectively renders every dwelling a strategic "safe house" for a ruthless enemy.
Although Obama has decreed that our time in Afghanistan is near its end, nearly twenty thousand international troops will remain there for at least a decade; and this includes 8,000 Americans to assist with training, if this is to be believed. With these new ROE, Americans must know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Talban insurgents are carrying armaments before they can open fire. What soldiers find so disturbing about this is that even now, both air and ground troops are frequently denied the authority to engage even when the possession of arms is confirmed to a level of certainty. The new ROE will require American and Afghani troops to conduct insurgency operations together, and given the alarming rate of "green on blue" treachery (Afghani soldiers turning their guns on Americans), our servicemen will be placed at a deadly disadvantage -- not knowing with any degree of certitude if they are being led into a trap by our "faithless friends."
Most distressing and eerily related to the aforementioned film is the tragic case of an American CH-47 Chinook that was destroyed by Taliban insurgents in 2012, killing thirty Americans including a half dozen members of Seal Team 6. Prior to the downing, the pilot of an Apache helicopter had "eyes" on the spot from where the rocket was fired. His report and the file concerning the incident were obtained by the Washington Times. Reporter Rowan Scarborough quotes from these transcripts:
(pilot) "Due to the rules of engagement and tactical directives, I couldn't fire at the building where I thought the shooter was, so I aimed directly to the west of the building."
During the battle that preceded the shootdown, the crew of an AC-130 gunship noticed two armed Taliban fighters who were moving into new positions.
"There were several opportunities where we could have engaged with 40 mm, ensuring zero (collateral damage estimate) on any buildings," the navigator testified. "The opportunity was definitely there for us to engage those two guys or even provide containment fires to slow their movement."
Through the testimony of those involved in this Tangi Valley operation, aerial personnel were denied permission from Command to engage the enemy and were told only to continue observing their movements. The longer one looks upon the witness statements, the more it becomes abundantly clear from their sworn testimony that a politically-spawned ROE was the proximate cause of those thirty unnecessary deaths. Few can deny that this debacle occurred as a result of decision makers at the top who were either concerned more with currying political points with a feckless regime, or who had been cowed into a state of paralysis where fear of the lash from above tipped the scales in favor of death and defeat for those abandoned American soldiers consigned to oblivion.
The Obama administration harbors that rare proclivity to taint whatever object its cruel and insipid hand alights upon. Foremost among its black arts is a penchant for treachery. Not only does it abandon our political friends throughout the world, but it grovels to our enemies in the manner of a courtesan with a mind to enact fellatio.
Furthermore, this treachery extends even to its own kindred spirits, who are effortlessly thrown to the wolves when foul deeds committed in service to their Dark Lord are brought into the antiseptic light of day. If a sitting ambassador who is running weapons to America's sworn blood enemies is allowed to be paraded through the streets, sodomized, and brutalized to death while an American tyrant and his State Department lackeys dream of future electoral conquests, what chance has the lone soldier, who is little more than a blood-spattered pawn, to melt that frozen heart of forgetfulness? Having been stranded in exile without the authority to do what he must to maximize his chance of returning home outside the confines of a flag-draped metal casket, will he not despair of America and question the legitimacy of his service? Indeed, a whorish mother has accounted him mere fodder to be offered to thieves and brigands who rape and mutilate in the spirit of a loathsome idol more devil than god. In her greatest act of treason, the progressive regime, who loves in the abstract but is indifferent to the actuality, will surely sacrifice the lives she was sworn to honor -- treating her sons and daughters as expendable while she commits abominations with our adversaries and common cause with villains.
Americans are surely not a bloodthirsty people, and the sacrifices we have borne for the sake of others are legend to those whose gratitude has oftentimes been both infrequent and qualified. We are not of a mind to murder villagers or children, but frequently this exceptional moral imagination is not shared by those who would turn it against us to our own impenetrable sorrow. In wars of insurgency, where friend and foe are as indistinguishable as casings from an AK-47, the Islamic consciousness thinks little of using the defenseless as fragile shields that become as formidable as plate steel in the minds of moral men. If we find we cannot stomach the dirty jobs that need to be done in order to drain this Middle Eastern swamp, then perhaps it is finally time to come home and to settle scores with those torpid men who must stand accountable for so much dissolution and misery. If soldiers cannot act with courage and good conscience in a brutal theatre of blood because those who stand in the rearguard have delivered them up on some altar of political expedience, then maybe it is time to passionately rethink who that enemy really is and act prudently in a manner by which free and noble men censure such treachery: with the cleansing fires of "civil reformation."
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be corresponded with at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at www.stubbornthings.org.