If President Obama fights the Islamic State, or ISIS, under the same rules of engagement he uses in Afghanistan, the U.S. mission is doomed, warns a Pentagon official and prolific military embed reporter who says Obama hasn’t thought through the nation’s long-term goals.
Reagan administration Pentagon official Bing West blasted both Obama and former President George W. Bush for choosing nation building over victory and refusing to take any action that might have the slightest chance of endangering civilians, putting U.S. troops in a position that made progress almost impossible in Afghanistan and exposes the poor judgment of political leaders and military commanders who have no personal experience in combat.
West, author of the new book, “One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon at War,” also scolded Obama for thinking America’s enemies would go away if it just stopped fighting them.
“He did not want to be involved in wars, and he told us, ‘I’m just stopping these wars.’ Well, hello? If the other guy’s still trying to kill you, you can’t just stop a war. So he made the great mistake of pulling us out of Iraq, and I’m very worried that he’s still promised that we’re pulling out of Afghanistan completely,” he said. “If you allow those who intend to kill you to plot when they’re going to kill you, you’re going to get killed. So now he has been forced by public opinion to go back in against the Islamists who have taken over half of Iraq.”
West is very critical of Obama’s semantics in how he addresses the ISIS threat. Obama repeatedly has insisted there will be no “boots on the ground.” West said a thousand U.S. forces are already there. He said the government can officially designate the troops to be under CIA command and thus deny the U.S. has ground forces there.
In the book, West recounts his time with a Marine Corps platoon patrolling Sangin District, the deadliest area in Afghanistan. West describes Sangin as a place where the Taliban retreated after being forced back from other parts of the country. The dense vegetation made it very hard for Marines to see the enemy, but the rules of engagement made it even more difficult.
Due to intense protests from the Afghan government whenever civilian casualties occurred, the U.S. went to tremendous lengths to prevent future deaths from happening. In doing so, West said U.S. commanders tied the hands of soldiers and Marines in unreasonable ways.
“I am one of the few who doesn’t hold in high respect our four-star generals who most others know by household names, because I believe that those generals never understood the nature of the war,” West said. “They told us that we would go over and persuade the population to join the side of the government and to become democrats, and it never happened.
“They said in order to do this, we had to avoid any civilian casualties. The generals said to do that, you will have positive identification (PID) before you take a shot. Well, the fact of the matter is, the other side isn’t stupid,” he added, noting that those rules didn’t stand up very well to the reality on the ground.
“Usually, in a firefight you very rarely see the other human being. You only see him for about a second or two and then he’s gone again, because he’s hiding to stay alive and you’re hiding to stay alive. The notion that you needed positive identification, we all knew on the lines, everyone from a lieutenant colonel on down, that you really couldn’t do that.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Bing West:
The rules only got worse from there. When he was commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal further tied the hands of American forces by ordering they could not attack any compound unless they knew for a fact no civilians were present.
“You can’t be a squad leader as a four-star general,” West said. “The fact is, when we were getting fire from a compound, 99 times out of 100, we knew from being in that area that was where the Taliban were and where the people were not. And yet our orders were that we weren’t to return fire, and certainly we weren’t to use artillery or air.”
West said these rules constantly put U.S. forces in a defensive posture, but the red tape didn’t stop there. In “One Million Steps,” he reveals that each battalion had an attorney on staff. Insider: were required to call into battalion headquarters and get legal permission before artillery and air power were authorized.
“Sometimes you would call for air … honestly, I had this happening. You’d end up in this debate between the sergeant who’s standing next to you on the phone and the lawyer who’s back at the battalion and the air officer who’s back there and the pilots in the air. You’d all be talking back and forth about, ‘Well, are you really taking enough fire that I can really bomb? Are you really sure [no civilians are] there.’ All of this was done with the best of intentions, but we went entirely too far,” West said.
How did the U.S. military end up tying its own hands? West said part of it came from leaders asking troops to do things those commanders had never done.
“It’s the civilians and the generals having a wrong-headed view of war. Most of our generals have never been at war. Most of them were colonels or generals when the war began. They have never fired at anybody in anger,” said West, who noted President Bush had good intentions but set the stage for great frustration in Afghanistan.
“President Bush started it by basically saying we owe liberty to these people. What? I didn’t understand this, and I fundamentally opposed what we were doing when I was out there. We said we could go to these Iraqis and Afghans who are Muslims and say, ‘We’re form the West, and we’re here to show you there’s a better way of doing things,’ and they would become democrats, and we would build their nations for them. That was injudicious. As a result, we’ve reaped a bad harvest,” he said.
West, who is a Vietnam veteran, said the approach in Afghanistan should have been much simpler.
“If you’re going to fight people because they’re your enemy and they’ve killed you, go over and kill those who have killed you and stop right there. Don’t go any farther. Now we’ve reaped the whirlwind and we’re back into Iraq because we left it too early after we did all this. Now we’re back to fighting these guys again,” he said.
With respect to the big picture, West said Obama and his team obviously haven’t thought about the long-term goals in fighting ISIS.
“We haven’t figured out the political end game. We go in and we destroy Islamists. Who are we going to destroy them with? We’re going to destroy them with the Sunni tribes. Why are we doing this? Because the Baghdad government is Shiite and aligned with Iran and they were oppressing the Iraqi Sunnis when we left. So what are these Iraqi Sunnis going to do when they retake their country?” asked West.
“If you listen to President Obama, he’s going to tell you that this is reuniting Iraq under the Shiite government in Baghdad. No it’s not,” he said. “I’ll bet you if we have this conversation two years from now and the Islamists have been driven out, that the Sunnis announce they’re going to have their own state. I don’t think we’ve thought through where we’re going in this war.”