By Stefanie Schappert
Special to the Clyde Fitch Report
Hey, Taliban, are you scared yet? Nah, I didn’t think so. Even after our President, the leader of the free world, gave the OK to increase troop levels in Afghanistan? (Finally, after three long months of painstakingly mulling the “options” while our soldiers died.) Nah, I didn’t think so. Or maybe it was the lackluster way he said it — boy, those testosterone-laden cadets at West Point seemed fired up, right? Or was it President Obama’s announcement, 18 months before we get all of those 30,000 boots on the ground, that troops would start pulling out? (Note to terrorists: hide out in caves until we leave.) Or maybe you’re not scared yet, Taliban, because no matter how many thousands of U.S. troops are in Afghanistan at one time, you’ve learned how to effectively play the game. Politically, strategically, you’ve learned how to beat the system. The tragedy is that you’ve learned it from us: you’ve learned how to watch, observe and communicate with each other about how we operate and you even have a manual. You’ve learned our rules of war and you’ve exploited them to your advantage. Kind of like people in our country taking advantage of the welfare system.
So the real question, now that more troops are being committed, is this: Are we to conquer the enemy or to coddle it? Simply stated: When will our military and political leaders wake up and realize our own rules of engagement are actually hindering our troops on the battlefield? The last time I checked, we were locked in a war against Muslim extremists determined to take down the Western world. If our self-imposed tactics and strategies continue to tie our soldier’s hands behind their backs, we won’t succeed. Whether you agree with the war in Afghanistan or not, we’re already there — leaving now and allowing the shaky and corrupt Afghan government to be overrun by the Taliban and become another breeding ground for terrorists is not an option. Even Obama knows this, which is why he had no choice but to go against his liberal base and give the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, almost all of what he requested (he asked for 40,000 more troops).
So, yes, we need more troops. Yes, we need to train more Afghan soldiers. And yes, we need to put pressure on Afghan president Hamid Karzai to clean up his Mafia-style government. But we also need to allow our soldiers the autonomy to do their jobs without micromanaging their missions. The problem began way back during Vietnam, then it worsened in Iraq, now it’s ever-present in Afghanistan. It’s what soldiers call a “CYA” (“cover your ass”) mentality in the upper ranks of a big-government-style centralized military in which the soldier on the ground cannot do his job. And that job in Afghanistan, folks, is to kill or capture religious fanatics hell-bent on returning to power in Kabul, terrorizing the Afghan people — and then us.
One of our soldiers’ biggest complaints on the battlefield is the time-consuming, cumbersome chain of command they must navigate when responding to active intelligence. Let’s say a soldier gets a tip from a reliable informant that a known Taliban leader will be at a certain place at a certain time. The soldier and his team need to jump on this intel right away to get the bad guy. Sounds simple, right? More often than not, however, by the time their mission plan gets an OK from the lengthy string of brass above them, the bad guy is long gone and our soldiers are left in a puddle of frustration. Local insurgents know this, which is why they keep themselves extremely mobile to avoid capture. We might as well be packing them to-go lunches.
And when our soldiers finally capture bad guys, another boondoggle follows. That’s because we currently follow the NATO rules of engagement in Afghanistan. It means, among other things, that an insurgent can be held for 96 hours, then must be handed over to the Afghan authority. It doesn’t matter what we caught him doing and it doesn’t matter how much he may or may not know. Well, these terrorists are savvy. They understand the rules. All they have to do is keep their mouth shut for 96 hours and they’re practically home free.
And they have virtually no fear of being roughed up — our government has made that perfectly clear, what with Navy SEALs being court marshaled for allegedly giving a terrorist a fat lip.
While in custody, in fact, terrorists can pretty much take a load off and dine on that free lunch we gave them.
Oh — are we still wondering how Osama Bin Laden keeps slipping through the cracks? Our troops in Afghanistan call it the “revolving door” policy and nothing is being done to correct it. In some areas of southern Afghanistan, for example, it can take 24 hours just to get a detainee to the Afghan authorities by way of U.S. helicopter, so that essentially cuts our already too short 96-hour interrogation time down by an entire day. And it was reported last August that in some remote areas, our Marines are stalling and even refusing to send helicopters to pick up the detainees knowing they’ll lose good intelligence. What a waste of manpower, money and more important, the morale of our weary heroes.
Even the Brits have started to realize the insanity of these rules of engagement. Last month, the British command instituted a new policy allowing their forces to hold detainees past the 96-hour NATO deadline — and to review a case every 72 hours. Bob Ainsworth, the British Defense Secretary, recently said the revised policy is fundamental to the military’s success in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban insurgents are ruthless and indiscriminate in their attempts to kill and maim our troops and the Afghan people,” Ainsworth said, adding that detaining insurgents “beyond 96 hours can yield vital intelligence that would help protect our forces and the local population — potentially saving lives.” Many in the U.S. were hoping General McChrystal would also address issues surrounding our rules of engagement in his surge proposal to President Obama, but it wasn’t even mentioned.
History contains innumerable lessons. After World War II, German soldiers were asked how they were defeated and they said they were unable to track and keep up with the U.S. forces on the ground. Indeed, even our lowest-level soldiers were given authority to make critical decisions, keeping the Germans scrambling for cover. During the 1980s Soviet push to take over Afghanistan, the Kremlin played the opposite hand and was defeated: The Russian army was controlled by a centralized command structure made up of multiple layers, resulting in slow-moving troops who were unable to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Our commanders also seem to have forgotten why the U.S. Special Forces were so successful at the start of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan: They operate in small 12-man teams and are quick, mobile and adaptable, unlike conventional big armies.
So for all the folks depending on Obama’s surge to bring us victory in Afghanistan, remember that our soldiers are dealing with a self-destructive system of rules on the ground. These rules, many feel, are designed to aid the enemy instead of our troops. Maybe our commanders should listen to the words of the regular Joe immortalized in the image above: “How about a nice cup of shut the fuck up.” Let the soldiers do their jobs. And then we can talk about getting out.
Stefanie Schappertis a freelance journalist based in New York. Credits include NY1 News, Fox News Channel, and Vaccinated TV. She has worn many hats inside the newsroom: producing, writing and editing. She also has been out in the field covering stories behind the camera as well as producing and reporting. Schappert’s conservative viewpoint came into sharp focus following the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the resulting political climate. While working on the acclaimed NY1 documentary 9/11: A Day In Time, Schappert quickly embraced her role as the wife of a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier (Green Beret) deployed to the Middle East. This former NFL Cheerleader and classically trained dancer is known to hang out with quite a liberal crowd and has been the buzzkill during many a dinner party. Lipstick Conservative does not necessarily represent the views of The Clyde Fitch Report.