WASHINGTON – A prominent Army general, bolstered by other military and defense leaders, contends President Obama’s preferred counterinsurgency policy is proving to be “devastating” for America and rewarding to its enemies.
Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely, now retired, was deputy commanding general in the Army’s Pacific Command, is founder of Stand Up America and has been a military analyst for Fox News.
Vallely says Obama has so degraded and demoralized the military in multiple ways – including a major purge of senior officers, with almost 200 relieved of duty over Obama’s five years as commander-in-chief and nine generals this year alone – that those remaining cannot speak out for fear of being forced out of the military.
Essentially, Obama’s counterinsurgency, or COIN, doctrine is a form of warfare that makes soldiers trained to fight tank battles shift to a combat style that emphasizes politics, cultural awareness and protecting the local population from insurgent attacks, Vallely said.
The result looks like failure, he said.
“Today Iraq, which is still wracked by violence and heavily influenced by Iran, has provided no victory for America, and Americans do expect victory when the U.S. expends great losses of life and thousands of wounded and dead troops,” Vallely said.
In Afghanistan, he said, a surge of more than 30,000 U.S. troops has produced a stalemate that leaves soldiers counting down to withdrawal at the end of 2014.
“Many mid-level officers and non-commissioned officers voiced many and varied new doubts about the Army’s battlefield performances and senior leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, regarding the feedback he’s heard.
Vallely attributes the failed COIN strategy to the lack of military officers speaking out against the Obama administration’s political and social demands. If they do, as he and other retired officers have pointed out, those outspoken officers are forced out or given bad evaluation reports.
That would mean “they will never make flag officer because of their failure to comply to a certain view,” agrees retired Navy Capt. Joseph John.
A Naval Academy graduate, John had three tours of duty in Vietnam, served as an al-Qaida expert for the FBI and was a commanding officer with SEALs embedded on special operations. Since then, as chairman of Combat Veterans For Congress PAC (Political Action Committee), he has helped elect 20 combat veterans to Congress.
“The truly sad story is that many of the brightest graduates of the three major service academies, witnessing what the social experiment on diversity … is doing to the U.S. military, are leaving the service after five years,” he told WND. “We are being left with an officer corps that can be made to be more compliant, that is, exactly what Obama needs to effect his long range goals for the U.S. military.”
He specifically referred to the Rules of Engagement, or ROE, in combat that were put in place after Obama took office, claiming the changes resulted in very high casualty rates in Afghanistan, including the loss of 17 members of SEAL Team 6 in one incident.
A more restrictive ROE grew out of the COIN strategy embraced by Obama as commander-in-chief.
Vallely and John aren’t alone in their criticism of this strategy.
Bing West, who served as an assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Reagan administration, served in the Marine infantry in Vietnam.
In 2006, Bing wrote the U.S. Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual that had the effect of enshrining counterinsurgency as nation-building in U.S. military doctrine.
Nevertheless, in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, this approach involved a “prodigious effort without commensurate returns.”
The doctrine required U.S. soldiers and Marines to safeguard the indigenous population, improve democratic governance, combat corruption, deliver economic projects and institute the rule of law as understood in the Western tradition.
In developing the counterinsurgency strategy from his experiences in the Vietnam war, Bing wrote in World Politics Review that the realities in Iraq and Afghanistan did not support such an approach.
Thus, while the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in swift conventional victories, they were followed, he said, by the rise of insurgent movements, with the U.S. military chasing “ever-elusive guerrillas in civilian clothes, before eventually changing its approach to a nuanced, restrained effort.”
“The goal was to win over the population and ‘drain the swamp,’ leaving the guerrillas, like water moccasins, to shrivel in the sun,” he said. “In both countries, instead of training an indigenous army or attacking the insurgents directly, the U.S. military made nation-building the focus of its counterinsurgency mission.
“Likewise, the coalition military, under firm U.S. direction, assumed responsibility for protecting the population and ensuring the provision of governmental services until the host nation was capable of doing so without foreign troops,” Bing said.
In Afghanistan, he said, more than 1,800 American troops had been killed since 2001, with the U.S. military carrying out more than 16,000 development projects.
Likewise, in Iraq, the goal of a full U.S. military withdrawal that was supposed to leave behind a stable democracy with a foreign policy supportive of American interests never happened.
Added to that, Bing said, U.S. and NATO coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan had imposed the strictest rules of engagement “in the history of warfare. Soldiers were instructed to return fire only when they had positively identified an enemy and when nearby civilians were safe. These rules were followed by the vast majority of the deployed units.”
Similarly, Michael Mazarr, a professor and associate dean for research at the U.S. National War College, was critical of the COIN strategy, which he said defense analysts saw as the future of U.S. defense planning and operations.
“We know that outsiders can’t run a successful COIN campaign on behalf of the local government,” Mazarr has explained. “Insurgencies and uprisings are best dealt with by the host government fighting the war largely by itself, while receiving aid, training and some special operators – or relatively small numbers of troops – from outside sponsors.
“However, if the war goes badly, the sponsor is often unable to keep itself from taking over the fight and throwing its armies into the fray,” he said. “This is what happened in Afghanistan, Vietnam and, for a while, Iraq.”
According to Vallely, the problem with the COIN strategy, which today constitutes the bedrock of U.S. military doctrine, is that it will not work in Muslim wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, since those wars are civil, not insurgent.
“These internecine Islamic fights are between Sunni and Shia or between autocrats and theocrats,” he said. “Neither NATO nor the U.S. Army has the charter or doctrine to resolve these or any other religious or tribal civil wars. Evolution might be the only solution to any Muslim pathology.”
He further contends that with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in December 2011 and their removal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Obama has done little to boost the morale in the military “and has offered no realistic solutions to strengthen the U.S. military.”
“In fact,” he said, “the evidence discloses that Obama has set the U.S. military on a course of unpredictable erosion and decay through acts that have demoralized the U.S. military.”
This concern was reinforced by a survey conducted in 2011 in which only 26 percent of Army leaders said they believed the Army was “headed in the right direction to prepare for the challenges of the next 10 years.”
This figure, Vallely pointed out, was down from 38 percent in 2006.
Bottom line, said Vallely: Military officers today lack any confidence in Obama as commander-in-chief. Yet, instead of speaking up, he said, they are preoccupied with covering up incidents so they don’t affect their career, rather than meeting the greater need of “boldly leading their soldiers.”