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Special operators in an Afghanistan meat grinder

Conservative Review

The worst aspect of Obama’s foreign policy is not that he pulled our troops out of the endless and aimless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, contra his promise, Obama has kept troops in those countries. The most deplorable aspect of his policy is that he has re-shifted the burden of an entire military force onto the backs of several thousand special operators and placed them in untenable predicaments with egregious rules of engagement in pursuit of undefined and conflicting goals.

I want to direct your attention to a Wall Street Journal article, which encapsulates this theme I’ve written about for quite some time and have discussed on my podcasts. The article, titled “Afghan War Rules Leave U.S. Troops Wondering When It’s OK to Shoot,” vividly demonstrates how our special operators are placed in the most dangerous and vulnerable positions defending the flagrant Afghani military against the Taliban, but must place a call to a lawyer before taking a shot at the enemy or calling in an air strike when their lives are in danger.

What Obama is doing to the SOCOM community in Afghanistan is likely a bigger scandal than Benghazi. Here is the game Obama plays: In order to maintain the illusion that he is pulling out of an unpopular and endless war, Obama announces that most troops are leaving the theater of war. He has the media tell the public that there are merely 9,800 troops in Afghanistan just to train the Afghani army or a few thousand “advisors” in Iraq to help with the effort against the Islamic State, but most combat operations have ceased. What he doesn’t say is that most of those few thousand soldiers are special operators who are sent on endless missions with the full intensity of special operations, yet are responsible for holding the entire region together – a task that typically requires a force of over 100,000 conventional soldiers. This is while their comrades are deployed to over 135 other countries.

While Obama advertised the much-vaunted drawdown of conventional forces in Afghanistan, he increased the number of monthly special operations missions between 2009 and mid 2011 by a factor of six. During Obama’s first term, casualties almost tripled in Afghanistan from the previous seven years combined despite the supposed end of combat. Over 90 percent of the wounded in action were incurred during Obama’s presidency. That is because he placed our warriors in the most precarious position possible. The military had already withdrawn in large numbers, there was no longer any strategic mission with a definitive outcome, yet our special operators were sent out on endless deployments and dangerous missions. To make matters worse, they couldn’t even fight the enemy and are now governed by worse rules of engagement than even conventional forces were ever bound by.

Even worse, the Afghani government is aware of every special operations mission before it is carried out. It is no secret that many personnel in the government and military are double agents for the Taliban. Many believe double crossing Afghanis were the source of the Extortion 17 tragedy – the group of over two dozen special operators, including 15 members of SEAL Team 6, being shot out of the sky in August 2011. They were also likely killed as a result of the egregious orders from the top not to bomb the known Taliban fighters spotted in the landing zone. That was clearly a more tragic, impactful, and consequential scandal than Benghazi, yet nobody in congressional leadership seemed interested in pursuing it.

Further disquieting is that the reports of hamstringing our special operators comes at a time when the Pentagon appears to be doubling down on this perverse, immoral, and dangerous strategy of leaving our best warriors behind in the most precarious positions and tying their hands. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told NATO last week that he might reconsider the decision to reduce U.S. troop numbers from 9,800 to 5,500, as was scheduled to take place at the end of the year, presumably in order to counter the Taliban offensives. Obama also announced a broader role for the U.S. military in Afghanistan without a clear objective defining that role. Additionally, he wants to pump another $10.5 billion of taxpayer funds into the corrupt government without any strings attached.

This comes on the heels of news that the Taliban now controls more territory than ever before since the 2001 U.S.-led coalition invasion. Yet, instead of allowing the troops to defeat the enemy, he is tying their hands in knots. Hence, the worst possible outcome: allowing the enemy to win, but forcing our soldiers to remain in the untenable meant-grinder. Special operators have become Obama’s private force to mitigate the worst damage of his most irresponsible policies. The perilous combination of keeping our special operations in the field stretched thin, albeit strictly hamstringing them from doing their jobs, is a recipe for more needless loss of life among our greatest warriors. There is already a lot of discussion about the high rate of suicide and retirement among special operations warriors. How can Congress allow this to continue for even one day? For Republicans on oversight and defense-oriented committees not to conduct hearings is criminal. For them to have passed another defense authorization bill without having addressed this issue is indefensible.

Next week, the Senate will likely vote on the defense appropriations bill. When Republican senators feel the urge to simply give Obama the funds without attaching any conditions, they should remember that somewhere across the world there are shadow warriors from patriotic families operating in middle of the night in Taliban territory alongside untrustworthy Afghani soldiers, unable to protect themselves or achieve the half-baked objective this administration has put forth. And they must also remember that simply doling out funds for defense to perpetuate Obama’s existing war on our warriors is not being “pro-military.”

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