Konyobama 2012, Part II: Leading from Behind

(Continued from Part I)

So where does American policy sit in regard to child soldiering? 

This is not a new phenomenon for the American military and its soldiers.  American servicemen have encountered child soldiers among opposing forces in Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

In fact, if you are looking for a blow against the proliferation of child soldiers, then look no further than the Iraq War. After the Gulf Wa,r Saddam started his own version of the Boy Scouts, known as Saddam’s Lion Cubs, to confound western soldiers should they ever return. The U.S. State Dept. estimated the Baghdad chapter alone was 8,000 children strong. 

Child soldiering has been recognized as a vector for PTSD among our front line troops and medical corps with a growing body of research on how to prevent and treat the psychological trauma that occurs from encountering children on the battlefield.

In 2011 Americans were introduced to a new way to engage in a conflict, called “Kinetic Military Action”.  The purported positives of the term are that it is not "war," and does not rise to the level of “hostility,” so congressional approval is not required. It takes advantage of our technological might, so it is done from far away and high above by warships and jets, and requires “no boots on the ground,” keeping American servicemen largely safe and out of the way of direct fire. 

This new way of engaging in conflict was described by an Obama advisor, famously, as “leading from behind” and is now know more commonly as “The Obama Doctrine.” It was showcased publicly for the first time during the recent civil war in Libya.

As the rebellion in Libya escalated, it became increasingly clear that dictator Muammar Gaddafi was unlikely to be unseated by the rebel forces unless they received outside help. On March 2, 2011, President Obama took to the airwaves to announce that the United States, along with an international coalition, would be supporting the Libyan rebels. That support would take two forms: first, air and sea power would be deployed in support of rebel action; and, second, the rebels would receive humanitarian and economic aid. That aid ultimately took the form of equipment, arms, training and money. Emphasis was put on the fact that this was to be a short engagement (“days, not weeks”), and there would be no American “boots on the ground.” Additionally, American forces would lead the initial effort and then take a more reduced role as coalition members stepped into those roles.

This seemed to be a new and much cleaner approach to the dirty business of war. However, there is a fact of war, particularly a ground war, that is impossible to get around: to win, somebody’s boots must be on the ground.  

On July, 13, 2011 the U.K. Daily Mail headline read, “Rebels in waiting: Children as young as SEVEN being trained to fight on the front lines against Gaddafi.”  The equipment, arms and training the U.S. provided to the Libyan rebels was directed to a force using children as young as seven years old to fight.  Additionally, the “economic assistance” was used, in part, to hire mercenary groups to supplement the thin rebel ranks. These were African mercenary groups that force children into compulsory service through the same despicable techniques used by Joseph Kony and the LRA--African mercenary groups that were paid for by funds provided by the U.S.

As the days of the Libyan conflict turned into weeks and months, the U.S.’s role did not diminish as advertised, and the reason for it was simple: nobody else has the technology to plan and carry out missile and air strikes in as coordinated, safe and surgical a way as the United States. The US is so dominant in this area that to let anyone else take responsibility would be to add risk and likely casualties to the mission.  

That is no less true for the ground soldier. Today’s American soldier is truly a marvel. The degree of training, technology and professionalism each brings to the battlefield is rivaled by none.  Not long ago, the average American soldier on the ground was fairly comparable to his enemy, but that day is gone.  The modern American soldier is communicating by satellite, aiming with lasers, armored by ceramics--and, seen standing next to a fifteen-year-old kid with an AK-47, it is not a picture of comparable forces on the battlefield. 

And yet the Obama doctrine of "leading from behind" left a void out in front, and that void was filled in part by children in t-shirts and jeans, holding AK-47s...

(To be continued in Part III)


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