6 years, 8 months ago
The first living Medal of Honor recipient since Vietnam is soon to be named, which is good news. The disturbing part of the Washington Post article is at the end.
“We should be stationing our troops in places where they won’t be earning the Medal of Honor because the population and terrain favor us and we have quick access to air support,” said John Nagl, one of the authors of the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine and president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense think tank.
Leaving behind the issue of allowing the insurgents safe haven for recruiting, raising of funds, training and rest, and leaving behind the issue of protection of lines of logistics and all of the other objections that could be raised to this incredibly stolid statement, Nagl’s quote betrays an Afghanistan policy and strategy that is in complete disarray.
He wants retreat in the face of enemy fires, allowing air power to accomplish the engagement. But the incredibly incompetent Afghan National Army is embedded with U.S. troops, and is learning to retreat and allow air power to finish the fight. What they will do when the U.S. has withdrawn in a year or two Nagl doesn’t say.
More importantly, McChrystal’s tactical directive severely restricts the use of air power. In fact, the Taliban know this and have used it to their advantage.
The Taliban no longer run and hide when they see a fighter jet overhead, brazenness that airmen attribute to the nearly year-old directive to limit close-air support.
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.
Pilots notice the bolder attitude, even from their bird’s-eye view in the sky.
“It can be very frustrating when you can see them shooting at our guys,” said Capt. Andy Vaughan as he walked out to his A-10 on a March 24 mission over southern Afghanistan. “They know we are not allowed to engage in certain situations.”
“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.
So Nagl and CNAS want severely restrictive rules of engagement, including for the use of air power, because of their belief in the doctrines of population-centric counterinsurgency and the possibility for noncombatant casualties, but CNAS also wants to send this severely restricted air power after the Taliban in order to keep it safe for the Soldiers who engage the Taliban.
I’m pointing out the paradox not so much in an attempt to embarrass Nagl or CNAS, but to show the depressing lack of leadership and strategic vision for the campaign. It is just that bad.