U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are now forced to fight a two-fronted war. Before each deployment, these soldiers understand fully that day after day they will do battle against relentless terrorists with shifting loyalties and unspeakable hatred. But what none of them could have foreseen was the killing field that would open from their rear: the Continental United States.
Our government’s incessant tightening of already restrictive ROE (Rules of Engagement), compounded by the failed COIN (Counterinsurgency) strategy–also known as “winning hearts and minds”–has made an otherwise primitive enemy formidable.
Our best and brightest come home in body bags as politicians and lawyers dine over white linen tablecloths; writing, modifying, and re-modifying these lethal rules. Rules that favor the enemy rather than the American soldier. Rules so absurd they’re difficult to believe until you hear the same stories over and again from those returning from battle.
In a delicate discussion with an Army Ranger who recently left the military, we heard the following: “I had to get out. I have a family who needs me. I didn’t join to be sacrificed. I joined to fight.”
This decision came shortly after he lost a close friend to the ROE. He explained how the Taliban had attempted an ambush on his friend’s squad but quickly realized they were in a battle they couldn’t win and began retreating. While chasing them, the U.S. soldiers were ordered not to engage due to the slight chance the Taliban had laid down their arms as they ran through some type of shack. While arguing with leadership at the JOC (Joint Operations Center), his friend was shot and killed.
A Navy SEAL who left his job only a few years shy of full retirement said the following: “I got out because I couldn’t take it anymore. We tried to explain how much reckless danger we were being exposed to and they told us we were being illogical.”
This type of response has created a growing crisis of confidence between our warfighters and senior military leadership. His argument wasn’t illogical at all.
A gut-wrenching pattern began forming in early 2009, a pattern completely ignored by Congress, the White House, and apparently the DoD.
In the first seven plus years of war in Afghanistan (October 2001 – December 2008) we lost 630 U.S. soldiers. In early 2009, this administration authorized the implementation of the COIN strategy. Over the next five years, the U.S. death toll skyrocket to 2,292.
Seventy-three percent of all U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have taken place since 2009.
In the first seven plus years of war in Afghanistan, 2,638 U.S. soldiers were wounded in action. In the next forty-five months (2009 – 2012) an additional 15,036 suffered the same fate.
Liars figure, but figures don’t lie.
While concern over being killed due to these policies weighs heavily on the minds of those we’ve spoken with, the deepest pit in the stomach comes from fear of prosecution should they violate these absurd and ever-changing ROE. The last thing a warfighter should ever be forced to experience is unnecessary fear.
Fear creates hesitation. Hesitation creates flag-draped caskets. Flag-draped caskets create fatherless children, widowed wives, and childless parents. Our heroes deserve the right to fight with swift hands, clear minds, and confident hearts.
However, today’s warfighters have the grave misfortune of serving leaders who elevate the virtues of inaction over action. The message? If you dare use your training or your gut instinct, if you have the fortitude to fight for your life or the desire to kill the enemy, there is a good chance you will be punished.
The physiological capacities of a true patriot cannot tolerate the vile stench of injustice, especially when perpetrated against those who defend us. Its wretched aroma permeates the core and demands a response.
We’re counting on you, the American patriot, for that response. We must defend our defenders. Please, spread the news and demand change.
Billy & Karen Vaughn are Gold Star parents of Special Operations Chief (SEAL) Aaron Vaughn, KIA 6 Aug 2011. Billy is the author of Betrayed: The Shocking True Story of Extortion 17. Read more or schedule the Vaughns for a speaking event at http://www.forourson.us.