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White House Sets New Rules of Engagement for Troops in Afghanistan

afghan

By Debbie Gregory.

President Obama has approved new authorities for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in an effort to better use the troops. The new rules give U.S. forces a greater ability to accompany conventional Afghan forces that are fighting the Taliban.

“This makes good sense. It’s a good use of the combat power that we have there,”  he said.

The changes allow an increase of close air support, which could lead to additional airstrikes, and come on the heels of Gen. John Nicholson’s 90-day review.

Since the combat mission officially ended in 2014, U.S. forces in Afghanistan have largely avoided targeting the Taliban.

Since then, the rules of engagement have limited strikes in Afghanistan to protecting U.S. ground troops, targeting al Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or protecting Afghan forces when they are in imminent danger of being overrun by the Taliban.

But in the face of a resurgent Taliban and a struggling Afghan military, there has been a push for expanded criteria in the rules of engagement.

Carter pushed back on any notion that expanded authorities mean a change in mission.

“Obviously, our mission is the same, which is to help the Afghans maintain control of the country and to avoid having a counter-terrorism challenge once again from Afghanistan,” he said.

Nicholson’s review also assessed troop levels in Afghanistan. Currently, there are approximately 9,800 U.S. troops there, with plans to drop that force to 5,500 by the end of the year.

Nicholson was largely expected to recommend keeping more troops in the country, but no decision has been made as to whether troop levels will change.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Should US Resume Airstrikes Against Taliban Targets?

aiforce

By Debbie Gregory.

The Taliban’s growing military might is posing a strategic “rock and a hard place” question for President Barack Obama: should the United States resume airstrikes against the Taliban?

Gen. John F. Campbell, who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan until last month, proposed resuming offensive strikes against the Taliban. The U.S. withdrew most of its troops in 2014, dramatically reducing the number of airstrikes against Taliban targets throughout Afghanistan.  And after spending tens of billions of dollars training Afghan security personnel, the Taliban continues to advance.

Afghan forces are struggling to hold back resurgent Taliban forces, which have reclaimed some areas won during the U.S. troop surge, albeit at a great cost. Many Taliban fighters think “they are operating from a position of strength,” according to Campbell.

That leaves the White House with the choice of either limiting the numbers of strikes (and risk the militants continuing to gain ground) or allowing American pilots to bomb a broader array of targets, restoring the U.S.’s combat role in Afghanistan.

The formal end of NATO’s combat mission in January 2015 meant that the U.S. was rarely directly targeting the militants from the air. Although U.S. commanders can call in airstrikes, there are only supposed to do so under certain circumstances: to protect NATO troops, target al Qaeda militants, or come to the aid of Afghan forces in danger of being overrun by the Taliban or suffering a clear defeat on the ground.

Senior Pentagon officials are pushing to revise the rules of engagement so they can be free to fire on Taliban forces massing to seize territory and directly target their leadership.

The Pentagon said no decision has been made to broaden the air campaign in Afghanistan. So what is the best use of America’s air power in Afghanistan?

In 2001, U.S. air raids were instrumental in taking down the Taliban regime, but also killed and injured civilians.  While Gen. Stanley McChrystal scaled back the bombing to avoid alienating the Afghan population, his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, ramped up the air raids.

And while the Afghans are slowly building their own air force, it won’t be battle ready until 2020. So, what do you think? Should the U.S. resume the airstrikes against the Taliban?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Troops to Remain in Afghanistan: Military Connection

president obama saying Troops to Remain in Afghanistan

By Debbie Gregory.

In a stark reversal from earlier pledges to end the war on his watch, President Obama halted the withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan. The announcement that the United States will keep thousands of troops in the country indefinitely will prolong the American role in the 14-year war.

While Mr. Obama said he continued to oppose the idea of “endless war,” the decision follows months of appeals from military leaders to extend the draw down timeline. And it marks an acknowledgement that, despite claims Al Qaeda is on the run, militants continue to pose a serious threat to the country.

“While America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures,” said Mr. Obama.

Under the new plan, the administration will keep the current force of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, then draw down to 5,500 troops in 2017, at a pace still to be determined by commanders.

The decision, which was reached after a lengthy review leaves the “how” and “when” of ending the war in Afghanistan to Obama’s successor.

The current American force in Afghanistan of 9,800 troops will remain in place through most of 2016 under the administration’s revised plans, before dropping to about 5,500 at the end of next year or in early 2017, Mr. Obama said. He called it a “modest but meaningful expansion of our presence” in that country.

According to the United Nations, the Taliban are now more widespread throughout Afghanistan than at any point since 2001. Just last month, the Taliban scored their biggest victory to date, seizing Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks before pulling back.

President Obama conceded that despite our best efforts, and years of building the Afghan Army and police force, the Afghan forces are still not fully up to the task of protecting their country.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

What Will Bergdahl’s Fate Be? Military Connection

What Will Bergdahl's Fate Be?

By Debbie Gregory.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, who led the investigation of Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture in Afghanistan, said he doesn’t think the Army sergeant should go to prison.

Bergdahl alleges that he walked away from his post as part of a plan to express his concerns about his unit’s leadership. While Dahl admits Bergdahl’s concerns were off the mark, “he felt it was his duty to intervene,” said Dahl.

It’s alleged that Bergdahl’s plan was to travel the 19 miles from his post to the forward operating base, sparking a search and creating a “PR event” to catch the attention of someone at the top of the chain of command.

Instead of reaching his destination, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban. His capture and eventual release cost the U.S. five Taliban commanders as part of a prisoner exchange. It also cost his fellow soldiers a grueling and dangerous 45-day search.

Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The outcome of his Article 32 hearing will help determine if he will face a court-martial.

The prisoner exchange, contrary to U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists, drew a lot of public criticism.

At the hands of his captors, Bergdahl was beaten and kept in a cage for three years, and attempted to escape on multiple occasions.

“Nobody knows Sgt. Bergdahl’s story,” said Terrence Russell, senior program manager for the Joint Personnel Recovery Center’s Defense Department office. The former Air Force survival instructor, who has done 125 debriefings with former hostages and POWs from the Gulf War on, said, “I hope someday the world gets to understand how difficult Sgt. Bergdahl had it.”

Bergdahl has several injuries that were more than likely caused by being kept in a crouched position for extended periods.

Bergdahl’s lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, said Bergdahl never intended to avoid his duty and that his case should be treated like a one-day AWOL stint, which he said carries a penalty of 30 days’ confinement.

If Bergdahl is tried and convicted of the misbehavior before the enemy charge, he could get life in prison.

The presiding officer will forward his recommendations to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. Abrams will decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial or be resolved in another manner.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.