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US commiting the same mistakes 42 years later

Posted: Wed Oct 14, 2009 1:01 am
by Karl Heidenreich
I´m baffled on how, after 42 years, after Col. Harry Summer´s book on Vietnam and Gulf War, after Gen. Creighton Abrams "clausewitzian" revolution, we hear things like this again: ... s-military

"Fallen Marine's father wants change

John Bernard has been critical of the rules of engagement in

NEW PORTLAND, Maine - It was the last way John Bernard would have wanted his voice to gain prominence in the national debate over the war in Afghanistan.

The retired Marine had been writing to lawmakers for weeks complaining of the new rules of engagement he believed put U.S. troops at unacceptable risk in the insurgency-wracked country. He got little response.

Then Bernard's only son, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard — a Marine like his dad — was killed in an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province, the latest victim of a surge in U.S. combat deaths.

Three weeks later, Joshua became the face of that toll when The Associated Press published photos of the dying Marine against his father's wishes and John Bernard was thrust into a national debate about the role of the press in wartime.

Suddenly, for all the worst reasons, John Bernard's voice was being heard.

New resonance to his view
The loss of his son and the furor over the photo have given new resonance to his view that changes must be made in how the war is fought before President Barack Obama sends any more troops to battle the Taliban and al-Qaida.

"For better or for worse, I may be the face of this. That's fine," said Bernard, sitting on his porch as he drank coffee from a Marine Corps mug. "As soon as someone bigger can run with it, they can have the whole thing."

Bernard's criticism is aimed at new rules of engagement imposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, five weeks before Joshua Bernard was killed. They limit the use of airstrikes and require troops to break off combat when civilians are present, even if it means letting the enemy escape. They also call for greater cooperation with the Afghan National Army.

Under those rules, John Bernard said, Marines and soldiers are being denied artillery and air support for fear of killing civilians, and the Taliban is using that to its tactical advantage. In a letter to his congressman and Maine's U.S. senators, Bernard condemned "the insanity of the current situation and the suicidal position this administration has placed these warriors in."

"We've abandoned them in this Catch-22 where we're supposed to defend the population, but we can't defend them because we can't engage the enemy that is supposed to be the problem," he said in an interview with the AP.

The military says the new rules, while riskier in the short run, will ultimately mean fewer casualties.

Before Joshua died, his father lived quietly as a professional carpenter and church volunteer.

Son hit by grenade
That changed on Aug. 14, when Joshua was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while acting as point man for his squad in the town of Dahaneh. He died that night on the operating table.

On Sept. 4, the AP distributed a photo of the mortally wounded Marine being tended to by comrades. Many newspapers opted against using the photo, and the distribution launched a fierce public debate, especially after Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly criticized the AP.

John Bernard still believes the AP's decision to release the photo — to show the horror of war and the sacrifice of those fighting it — was inexcusable, but he says the bigger issue is how the war is being conducted.

As he sees it, the U.S. was right to go to war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but eight years later the focus has shifted to counterinsurgency instead of hunting down the enemy. Marines are trained to "kill people and break things," not to be police officers and nation-builders, he says.

The Taliban "are tenacious and you have to fight them with the same level of tenacity," Bernard said. "If you're going to try to go over there as a peacekeeper, you're going to get your butt handed to you, and that's what's going on right now."

Bernard also disagrees with U.S. troops working side by side with Afghan soldiers and police. The mission on which his son was killed was compromised by someone who tipped off the Taliban, he says, citing gunfire from all directions that targeted the Marines' helicopter when it landed. Bernard believes the Marines were led into a trap.

Writes a blog to share views
Bernard writes a blog sharing his views with others.

"I don't think John changed because his son died," his pastor, the Rev. Valmore Vigue, said. "He was committed to this cause because he believed it was right, and that's why he's doing it."

It's been a little more than a month since Joshua was buried in a small cemetery about five miles from their 1865 farmhouse in the rolling hills of western Maine, where the leaves of maples, oak, birch and poplars are turning fiery red, orange and yellow.

Bernard has accepted the loss, but his grief is obvious. He pauses from time to time to take deep breaths as he speaks of his son. Several times, he closes his eyes, as if remembering.

Bernard, 55, joined the Marines in 1972 and served 26 years on active and reserve duty, leading a platoon as a scout sniper in the first Gulf War in 1991. Physically fit, with closely cropped hair and a Marine Corps tattoo on his arm, the retired first sergeant remains a competitive shooter.

He and his wife, Sharon, raised Joshua and their daughter, Katie, 25, in New Portland, population 800. The family attended Crossroads Bible Church in nearby Madison.

Father and son shared the same philosophy: service to God, family, country and Marines — in that order, Bernard said.

Joshua was quiet, polite and determined. He led a Bible study in Afghanistan and earned the call sign "Holy Man." He also was a crack shot — best in his company, his father said.

Request denied for artillery fire support
Bernard says the battle that claimed Joshua's life was just one example of all that's wrong in Afghanistan.

When four Marines were killed in another ambush, near the Pakistan border, a McClatchy Newspapers reporter embedded with the unit wrote that its request for artillery fire support was declined because of the rules of engagement. The reporter quoted Marines as saying women and children were replenishing the insurgents' ammunition.

In another recent incident, an Afghan police officer on patrol with U.S. soldiers opened fire on the Americans, killing two of them. The assailant managed to escape.

The solution isn't that complicated, Bernard said. He wants the U.S. military to return to its original mission of chasing and killing the Taliban and al-Qaida. Otherwise, he said, bring the troops home.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, raised Bernard's concerns to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an Armed Services Committee meeting last month.

"Getting this right in the long run will actually result in fewer casualties," Mullen said, according to a transcript of the hearing. "That doesn't mean risk isn't up higher now, given the challenges we have and the direction that McChrystal has laid out."

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, also raised Bernard's concerns in a letter to Gates, requesting that someone from the Pentagon chief's office formally contact Bernard. So far, no one has.

As a retired Marine, Bernard said he's obligated to speak up. His son is now gone, but he said others are still at risk.

"We've got guys in harm's way getting shot at and getting killed," he said. "To me, it's immoral that anybody in this country wouldn't have that first and last on their minds."

Re: US commiting the same mistakes 42 years later

Posted: Wed Oct 14, 2009 1:05 am
by Karl Heidenreich

This is not that difficult to understand: the US is commiting the same mistakes of the Vietnam era. Trying to fight an insurgency on their terms is a clear formula for defeat. Ask the Romans at Palestine in the year 70 AD.

In order to achieve victory only escalating the conflict will be an option.


Maybe, but war is hell as Sherman said.

If the US did not realize that then more soldiers will die and no victory will loom in the horizon. Let´s remember that the enemy does not care for civilians nor for the rights of no one: as General Giap 42 years ago: they only care on victory.

Re: US commiting the same mistakes 42 years later

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 1:54 pm
by RF
This is why we shouldn't be in Afghanistan. You can't fight half a war.

So far as 42 years ago is concerned, the US voter was given a choice in 1968. They didn't take it, they elected Nixon. Wallace and LeMay would have finished it.

Re: US commiting the same mistakes 42 years later

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 3:02 pm
by Bgile
yes, and LeMay would have bombed the Russians as well, only in the 50s. And probably anyone else that he didn't like, if there were any bombs left.

Re: US commiting the same mistakes 42 years later

Posted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 8:07 pm
by Karl Heidenreich
I have a great regard for Curtis Le May, one of the last (and likely, THE last) Generals of all times. He is regarded as fierce in a democratic society which is both, timid and pathetically political correct.

I agree with Bgile, he would have seized the oportunity when the US had clear strategic nuclear superiority to send them where they belong (hell) and win a more stable peace than the one Truman and Ike bought letting the world be blackmailed by Uncle Joe (Roosevelt´s pal).

My opinion of Douglass McArthur has changed a lot in the last four years, but still I regard him as a hell of a General when it comes to compared him with Ike, Westmoreland and (light years of difference) Colin Powell. And it´s obvious that Mac was a far superior intelect when compared to the artillery captain from Missouri, Harry S. Truman which become president by accident and like Nixon and Bush, got away with a second term. When Mac and Truman were in their bitter "affair" in Korea Mac once told the reporters: " I have been ordered to bomb that bridge, but only our side, not the chinese... In all my years as the military I have never heard about bombing "half a bridge"". Well, here we are again: first Bush the clown and then Obama the leftist are ordering their troops to fight half a war and by doing so commiting treason because their men, American brave fighting men, are dying needlessly and the war is the way to be lost.

I think that US Presidents need to pay less attention to highly educated morons from Harvard and Yale with the pride wall full of meanless frames and read a bit of real generals: Genghis Khan, Caesar and Scipio. Then, maybe then, they could win the war the only way it is winnable: escalation to a degree in which devasting firepower, attrition and absolute anihilation of the enemy is achieved. And I can guarantee you that US casualties will be near the zero figure then.

Re: US commiting the same mistakes 42 years later

Posted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 1:17 pm
by RF
In the very long run which is better - a Europe and Russia heavily contaminated with nuclear fallout, or a post communist Europe and Russia? Both are free of communism and the latter free of mass radiation sickness......

Re: US commiting the same mistakes 42 years later

Posted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 1:19 pm
by RF
For the record Karl, Nixon didn't exactly get away with a second term did he? And neither did his vice-President.....