The war in Afghanistan – the “Good” war as Democrats used to be fond of calling it – is almost over, if one believes President Obama. But we still have men and women in uniform in the country. We have assets and allies in the country. And there is another presence in the country that doesn’t get much press: ISIS.
Military leadership is speaking out about the fact that the rules of engagement in Afghanistan are not only hobbling our troops in terms of general warfare, but are specifically preventing them from properly engaging ISIS at all, focusing almost entirely on Al Qaeda, whom you may recall the President likes to characterize as “on the run.”
As the Afghanistan War grinds into its 15th year, many U.S. military officers are telling Congress their hands are tied to go after the enemy, particularly the Islamic State, which is building up its presence in the country despite fierce opposition from the Taliban.
Current and former U.S. military officials tell me that the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan is almost entirely focused on the re-emergence of al-Qaida and that strikes against Islamic State leaders are scarce.
Afghan news media reported one such strike over the weekend in the province of Nangarhar. In July, U.S. airstrikes reportedly killed Hafez Saeed, an Islamic State leader, in what the group has called its Khorasan province. But U.S. officials tell me the rules of engagement in Afghanistan are highly restrictive.
“There are real restrictions about what they can do against the ISIS presence in Afghanistan,” Mac Thornberry, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told me about the rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Thornberry tells Stripes that in addition to the rules of engagement, American forces are held back by “White House micromanagement.”
The President very much wants combat to be over, or at least “over in the public eye,” in order to burnish his peacemaker legacy. Unfortunately his dreams for how history will be written do not reflect the reality that the troops face in Afghanistan:
In the last year, however, U.S. forces and the Afghan soldiers they advise and assist have been very much involved in combat as the Taliban increases its territory, al-Qaida expands and the Islamic State begins to establish its own foothold there.
As with our military engagements elsewhere around the world, in Afghanistan the President is far more focused on his agenda than on the facts and the reality of the situation as his military commanders both understand and relay to him.
As long as the American military is facing combat in Afghanistan there should be support and proper strategy by the Commander-in-Chief. Right now, according to those who are there, this is simply not the case.