Photo: Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, 21, hours before his death last month in Helmand Province, killed by "hearts and minds" zealotry.
My fellow Washington Exainer columnist Byron York today adds his voice to what I hope is a growing chorus against Gen. McChrystal's increasingly restrictive rules of engagement. (Ralph Peters forcefully weighs in here.)
Important to keep in mind: These ROEs should not be seen in a vaccuum. They are merely symptoms of the "hearts and minds" disease that is debilitating our military and civilian establishment. They are also the tactics of choice in what Gen. McChrystal styles as "the struggle to gain the support of the [Afghan] people" (fireable offense No. 4 in today's column). It isn't our ROEs alone that are killing our men; it is the bankrupt premise behind them: winning hearts and minds as military strategy. Not to paraphrase George Bush or anything, but the fact is, They are already either with you or against you.
Bottom line: We should fight wars to destroy enemies. We shouldn't fight wars to win friends.
Of late, I have been writing frequently about death by hearts and minds/ROEs. Tragically, it is hard to keep up. Byron today notes the death of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, 21, who was killed last month when his patrol was ambushed in Helmand Province. Weeks before his death, as the Kennebec (Maine) Journal reports, Joshua Bernard's father, John Bernard, a Marine veteran of the first Gulf War, "had been raising red flags about the military's new rules of engagement policy, which stipulate when and how U.S. soldiers are and are not allowed to use force." The story continues:
Now, a month after his son's was killed, John Bernard, 55, says he is on a mission to spark a national discussion about the new rules, and the military's broader strategy in the Afghanistan war, which he believes led to Joshua's death and continues to endanger U.S. soldiers serving in the embattled country.
"Every moment this thing languishes, there's an opportunity for more (soldiers) to get killed," Bernard said in an interview late last week. "It's the political cause of my life. I'm apolitical, so it's new for me. This started for me when McChrystal hit the dirt, not when Josh died. Josh just became one of the first victims of it. Josh brought it home."
Bernard's efforts are gaining traction among Maine's congressional delegation. Rep. Michael Michaud and Sen. Olympia Snowe have written letters directly to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Sen. Susan Collins, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has spoken with Gates. ...
Lot of good that will do. We need a mass tea-party-style grass roots crusade here. The story goes on to discuss the young man's life and note that LCPL Bernard was deployed to Afghanistan via Iraq in May of this year.
In mid-June, Gen. Stanley McChrystal took charge as the top commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal, a four-star general with a history in elite special operations, aimed to take a new approach to the war, part of which involved a new focus on protecting the civilian population.
"The Afghan people are at the center of our mission. In reality, they are the mission. We must protect them from violence, whatever its nature," McChrystal said at a command ceremony in Kabul, according to the Associated Press.
Why doesn't he just adopt them and be done with it?
"But while operating with care, we will not be timid."
Sounds more like a daycare worker than a general. Anyway:
About two weeks before Joshua's death, John Bernard said he sent a letter to Rep. Michaud's office, outlining his concerns with McChrystal's approach in Afghanistan and the corresponding change to the rules of engagement, which order soldiers to "break engagement with the enemy" if civilians are, or may be, in the area ....
There is something so painful in this sequence of events, something that every American should take to heart in grappling with this issue -- the veteran-father who can see, from his home in Maine, the danger coming at his son and his fellow troops on the other side of the globe but do no more than write a letter .... Then:
The Associated Press account said that Bernard and his unit, tipped off on a Taliban location, were with bombarded gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, one of which struck Bernard. John Bernard believes the soldiers were intentionally drawn into an ambush, called a "fire sack" in combat terms, by the Afghans who were involved with the U.S. operation.
Hearts and minds in action, folks. I noted how McChrystal wants us "to connect with the people" in today's column; I didn't have room to include his specific plans for our forces to become "radically more integrated and partnered with" Afghan forces, something McChrystal frequently notes in the assessment. As McChrystal writes:
[US] units will physically co-locate with [Afghan forces], establish the same battle-rhythm, and plan and execute operations together. This initiative will increase ANSF force quality and accelerate their ownership of Afghanistan's security.
What the commander doesn't note is that it will also get our men killed. Back to the death of LCPL Joshua Bernard:
The Associated Press report also said that, during the shoot-out, "the patrol's Afghan interpreter disappeared and took cover, leaving the Marines unable to coordinate their moves with the Afghan soldiers."
Had it not been for the policy of U.S. forces working closely with Afghans and the new rules of engagement that restrict use of force in the name of preventing civilian casualties, Joshua Bernard might not have been killed that day, John Bernard said.
He's right, of course.
What are we as Americans going to do about it?