Vernuccio’s View: Afghanistan Policy Had to Change

Most of the media has missed the actual key points of the President’s Afghanistan policy change.

The impact of Mr. Trump’s significant changes to the manner in which the United States conducts that armed conflict will extend beyond the battle against the Taliban.  Indeed, to a great extent, the White House move merely solidified what Mr. Trump had already decided to do in another fight, that against ISIS. Concepts such as nation-building and political micromanagement have been tried and have failed.

The President’s move is not surprising. In June, Defense Secretary James Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the U.S. was “not winning” the war in Afghanistan. Military.com reported that Mattis testified that he “…now has the authority to send several thousand more U.S. troops to Afghanistan…Mattis said President Donald Trump …’delegated to me the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan. We will define the way ahead, and I will set the military commitment’ in concert with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson under a new strategy to shore up the Afghan defense forces and the Kabul government.”

Major changes were necessitated by both the general failure over the past decades to reduce terrorism, and in particular, Barack Obama’s stunning strategic errors and resulting failures in the War on Terror.  These included the premature withdrawal from Iraq, which led to the empowerment of ISIS; his bizarre public announcement of a departure date from Afghanistan; his negotiations with the Taliban; his role in the ouster of governments on the side of the West in fighting-Islamic extremism in Libya and Egypt; his inexplicable support for the radical anti-American regime in Iran; the lies and still undisclosed reasons for ignoring the attack on Benghazi; and his amateurish and counterproductive micromanagement of U.S. military operations.

The U.S. Army War College  notes that in the larger War on Terror, “America’s efforts…have been substantial and sustained, with more than four trillion dollars spent, two and a half million military members sent into harm’s way, and nearly 7,000 service members losing their lives over the past 15 years.”

Clearly a different approach has become necessary, but many are not ready to admit that. Mr. Trump’s move to end the Obama White House practice of  micromanagement of military operations, is, according to Roll Call alarming “Senior Democratic members” despite the reality that prior practices have demonstrably failed.

In the aftermath of Obama’s ascension to the presidency, his Administration’s micromanagement was a key factor in increased American deaths in the field. As Rowan Scarborough noted in a 2013 Washington Times study  “The number of U.S. battlefield fatalities exceeded the rate at which troop strength surged in 2009 and 2010, prompting national security analysts to assert that coinciding stricter rules of engagement led to more deaths…it is clear that the rules of engagement, which restrain troops from firing in order to spare civilian casualties, cut back on airstrikes and artillery strikes — the types of support that protect troops during raids and ambushes. ‘In Afghanistan, the [rules of engagement] that were put in place in 2009 and 2010 have created hesitation and confusion for our war fighters,’ said Wayne Simmons, a retired U.S. intelligence officer who worked in NATO headquarters in Kabul as the rules took effect, first under Army Gen. Stanley M. McChrystal, then Army Gen. David H. Petraeus. ‘It is no accident nor a coincidence that from January 2009 to August of 2010, coinciding with the Obama/McChrystal radical change of the [rules of engagement], casualties more than doubled,’ Mr. Simmons said. ‘The carnage will certainly continue as the already fragile and ineffective [rules] have been further weakened by the Obama Administration as if they were playground rules.”

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government

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