The recent January drone strike on a compound in Syria that killed an American al-Qaeda leader, Ahmed Farouq, with dual Pakistani citizenship, regrettably also killed an American aid worker, Warren Weinstein, who was being held hostage as well as an Italian aid worker, Giovanni LaPorto.
The unfortunate deaths of the two aid workers has raised the question again on our Rules of Engagement (ROE’s). It has been reported that President Obama has announced more restricted ROE’s which will apply to not only drone strikes but most likely manned aircraft as well. Under these new ROE’s, no strikes will be conducted unless there is “near certainty” of no civilian casualties. In a war situation, this makes absolutely no sense.
Such a near zero-tolerance policy on civilian casualties may sound very humanitarian to the faculty-lounge crowd; however, war is not a video game. It cannot be made antiseptic!
Never forget, the enemy uses our restrictive ROE’s against us. In that sense, no one should forget the tragic Extortion 17 mission in Afghanistan, which cost the lives of 25 elite SEAL Team 6 warriors. Besides not using Special Warfare MH-47 helicopters, the “restriction” on not allowing suppression fire from on-station C-130 gunships for fear of civilian casualties in what had been a “hot fire” zone for 3 plus hours, cost the largest loss of our special elite warriors in their history. The events surrounding this mission was clearly a case of “dereliction of duty.”
Currently, the micro-management by the White House on all tactical operations down to the smallest detail is another serious cause for concern. The very limited air strikes we have conducted against ISIS, 7 – 15 per day, is most likely a reflection of that micro-management. It is making our air power look ineffective and powerless to affect ISIS advances. We should be conducting as a minimum of 300 – 500 weapon delivery air strikes per day. Make no mistake – we are at war whether our Commander-in-Chief wants to recognize it or not.
The recent move of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier accompanied by the Aegis guided missile cruiser USS Normandy from the Persian Gulf region to a position off the coast of Yemen sent a very definite signal to Iran. On April 14, 2015, the UN Security Council, by a vote of 14 to zero with Russian abstaining, passed a resolution to embargo all arms shipments to Yemen.
Iran had a convoy of six cargo vessels escorted by two Iranian naval ships headed for Aden, Yemen, obviously to provide weapons to their allies, the Houthi rebels. The Houthi rebels cannot sustain their offensive operations without direct Iranian support.
The Iranian Ayatollahs apparently sensed that the Obama Administration is so desperate for a nuclear weapon agreement that they could flout the UN Resolution. However, Iran was clearly outmaneuvered and outgunned by the movement of the Roosevelt Strike Group. Rather than risk a direct confrontation, Iran turned its convoy around. The lesson to be learned is that the awesome capabilities of the capital ships of the US Navy still command respect and just by their movement send signals that cannot be ignored.
Iran, obviously embarrassed at having to turn its convoy around, seized an opportunity by having naval patrol vessels from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy surround a civilian container ship in clearly recognized international “transit” waters inside the Persian Gulf. They fired warning shots across the bow; bordered and took control of the vessel, and ordered the ship into the port of Bandar Abbas on trumped-up charges of failing to pay a lawsuit bill which was still being contested in court.
This was a sheer act of piracy. It was an unlawful seizure of the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Island-flagged and reportedly American-owned commercial vessel. It should be noted that the United States is responsible for the security and defense of the Marshall Islands. Therefore, this act of piracy was a direct provocation to the United States – a slap in the face! It clearly jeopardizes freedom of navigation in an internationally-recognized “transit shipping area.”
As usual, whenever Iran takes direct action against United States interests, our leadership, be it Democrats or Republicans, fails to respond. With F-18 aircraft monitoring the unlawful seizure of the Maersk Tigris, which was calling for assistance, a few well-placed 500 pound laser guided bombs could have significantly change the situation. However, with the Obama Administration’s “appeasement” approach to Iran and exercising tight control of all tactical operations, Iran was confident that there would be no response from our forces.
Iran is clearly moving to control, or at a minimum be in a position to threaten, two of the most important strategic straits in the world – the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab-el-Mandeb, thereby jeopardizing over 30 percent of the world’s oil shipments. It is part of Iran’s overall strategy to achieve hegemony throughout the Persian Gulf region and eventually eliminate Israel and directly threaten Saudi Arabia. Another complicating factor is the expanding alliance between Russia and China, both of which support Iran. Their expanding combined naval operations not only in the Western Pacific but now a just announced naval operation in the Mediterranean cannot be ignored.
President Obama’s strategy to fundamentally transform America and undercut US influence and leadership throughout the world, regrettably is being accomplished with no opposition from our Congressional leadership. We the people must take charge and force our Congressional leadership to act. If 30 million Egyptians can rise up in protest to take back their country, certainly hundreds of millions of Americans can as well!
James A. Lyons, U.S. Navy retired Admiral, was commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior
U.S. military representative to the United Nations.