May 14, 2010

Too Quiet on the Afghan Front

Hatched by Dafydd

In a stealth shift of the rules of engagement (ROEs) in Afghanistan last July, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior NATO commander in Afghanistan, severely restricted the use of close-air support in our operations there.

Today, our soldiers and combat pilots are really feeling the hangover from that addled, "politically correct" decision, as Taliban and other terrorist fighters no longer "run and hide" when American jets scream overhead; they laugh at us, because they know we're not going to shoot:

Joint terminal attack controllers, airmen on the ground who call in airstrikes, and fighter pilots report that insurgents are encouraging each other to continue firing because they know the Air Force’s F-16s and A-10s are dropping far fewer bombs now than this time last year.

“Keep fighting; [coalition forces] won’t shoot” is the order that enemy leaders are giving -- in Pashtun and Dari, words that the JTACs have heard over their radios....

Much of [Air Force Captain Andy] Vaughan’s time is spent flying intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties, even though his A-10 -- with titanium planers underneath the cockpit and a 30mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun mounted on the nose -- was built to fly close-air support.

“The A-10 pilots … are just left circling in the skies,” said an Air Force officer here who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak on the record.

Technically, McChrystal gave the order; but considering the negative impact on our warfighting capability and the higher risk to McChrystal's own troops, I find it highly unlikely that the order originated with him. I would bet money that the order came from somewhere far upstream from McChrystal; from Gen. David Petraeus, Commander of Central Command; even from the Service Chiefs. I doubt it even came from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, except perhaps as a conduit.

I am quite convinced that the "decider" in this case wears a suit and never wore a uniform; I cannot imagine any combat infantry commander deciding to forgo close-air support, which we have used to excellent effect since World War I. In fact, I suspect the strategic retreat originated from someone with great power who loathes the military and thinks jihadism can be defeated by a flurry of subpoenas and indictments.

Regardless, the change in the ROEs has a devastating real-world impact:

Before a plane drops any bomb or makes a strafing run, the aircrew and the JTAC work together to determine if an attack can be justified. For example, either the pilot or JTAC must visually identify an insurgent firing a weapon before engaging the target -- no easy task either while flying a plane or taking fire on the ground, airmen here said.

“There are directives on what we need to ask the JTAC,” Vaughan said, and each pilot is looking for the JTAC to say “specific phrases” before he releases any munitions....

Even if a ground commander orders an airstrike, a JTAC does not have to authorize the attack if the situation does not exactly meet the conditions laid out by McChrystal, Bryza said.

When seconds count, the JTAC's determination is only a quarter hour away!

Without close-air support, we're fighting with one hand tied behind our straightjacket. It truly calls into question the seriousness with which this administration intends to fight even the "good war" in Afghanistan.

The goal of the order was evidently to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan:

Fewer civilian casualties have been reported since McChrystal issued his directive. The numbers are difficult to count and often disputed, but the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan puts the civilian death toll from airstrikes in 2009 at 359, down from 680 the year before.

This is a political goal that again points the finger at the civilian branch of the chain of command -- which terminates with the Commander in Chief, of course. Sadly, fecklessness appears to be the normal mode of operation for our post-racial, post-partisan, post-modern, third-millennial president when he tries to run a war.

But if the war on the Iran/al-Qaeda axis is not really a war, only a law-enforcement investigation to "solve" a disconnected series of criminal acts, then there's no reason to treat even its most warlike manifestations with the seriousness a real war demands: We can accomodate our ROEs to fit the politically correct fashion; and if that causes us to lose a few battles (and a few good men), it's a small price for those faceless minions to pay.

If the progressive caste demands a bloodless war with no (non-American) casualties, so be it; we'll order our mighty Air Force to stand down. If a few more soldiers get killed because they cannot call in an air strike, it's their own fault for not finishing skool and getting stuk in afganerstone. If the Obamacle even notices their demise, he'll be pleased they could sacrifice their meaningless lives to such a glorious cause as a war in which no blood is spilt -- except by American troops.

What a cathatric and humbling experience that will be for the lone (whether we like it or not) superpower!

I seriously wonder if we have elected an honest to goodness solipsist as President of the United States.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 14, 2010, at the time of 11:51 PM

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