The notion of changing hearts and minds has been part of American military doctrine for decades. From Vietnam to Afghanistan, the winning of hearts and minds abroad has been central to our foreign policy for more than a half century.
We see this today in the continued fighting in Afghanistan, where it seems a higher premium is placed on the lives of potential enemy combatants than American troops, the idea apparently being that fighting a kinder, gentler war will somehow encourage that country’s transition to a more stable government and society.
[sharequote align="center"]We must defend our defenders.[/sharequote]
But the tragedy is that the Obama administration is trying to change the wrong hearts and minds. Rather than winning over the Afghan people, our political and military leaders are forcing deadly changes in the rules of engagement onto American warfighters, making them more vulnerable to attack and death in action, and less effective in combat.
We heard stories about this from our son Aaron, a Navy SEAL who was among 30 troops killed in 2011 when the helicopter in which they were traveling was shot down. There is a morbid expression among the special operations forces with whom our son served: hesitation in combat means flag draped coffins. But hesitation is precisely what the Obama administration has instilled in too many of our troops through its restrictive rules of engagement and the data are startling.
According to the Department of Defense Casualty Analysis System, there were 630 troops killed in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2008. But beginning in 2009, the Obama administration’s new rules of engagement ushered in a dramatic spike in deaths with 816 killed in just the first two years of his policy, and a total of 1,726 dead since it was initiated.
No case better illustrates the disgraceful folly of this policy than that of Clint Lorance, the former Army platoon leader now serving a 19-year prison sentence for ordering his men to fire on three suspected Taliban scouts in July, 2012, killing two. He was convicted in a court martial that featured a string of prosecution witnesses who were granted immunity, and Lorance’s lawyer argues that the government deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence and other information linking the three scouts to terrorist networks.
A United States Marine Corps carry team moves the flag-draped transfer case holding the remains of Master Sgt. Aaron Torian of Paducha, KY, during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base February 18, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. Assigned to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Torian, 36, was on his sixth combat deployment when he was killed by an improvised explosive device February 15 in Afghanistan. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
When confronted with a potential threat, Lorance had to make a decision: engage the enemy and protect the lives of his men under threat or disregard the threat and place his platoon at risk.
It is the worst possible combination of choices - heads they win, tails you lose. Like so many troops on the ground in Afghanistan, Lorance was forced to decide between survival and hazard. He chose survival. Obama’s restrictive rules of engagement did not change Lorance’s heart and mind, and it landed him behind bars.
Lorance did not join the Army to be a battlefield lawyer; he was a combat soldier acting with the heart and mind of a warrior. Yet current policy seeks to alter the hearts and minds of the military by forcing them to make what amounts to split-second legal decisions before engaging the enemy.
Reasonable people can disagree over policy and rules of engagement but there should be no disagreement about whether Lorance and all of our soldiers deserve a fair hearing when their actions are scrutinized. We expect American forces to conduct themselves with honor so it’s only right that honor and fairness be extended to them in a court martial. Lorance was not afforded either and he deserves a new trial. A fair trial.
Thousands of like-minded Americans gathered in Washington, D.C. this past Saturday to make that same point: we must defend our defenders. These people rallied to raise their voices in support of our troops and the freedom they defend, for Americans and people around the globe.
We do not want to send soldiers like Clint Lorance into combat with the heart and mind of a lawyer. They are warriors and we ask them to do the hardest, most dangerous work imaginable. We must demand they be given the tools and policies they need to win on the battlefield, and the justice they deserve when questions are raised.
Billy has authored the book "Betrayed: The Shocking True Story of Extortion 17" and Karen serves as Senior Military Families Advisor for Concerned Veterans for America. They are the founders ForOurSon, which is dedicated to preserving our Republic.
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