The president and top military brass must be held accountable
By James A. Lyons - - Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Let's face reality: There was absolutely no justification for removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism. Our intelligence clearly shows that Cuba was allowing and continues to allow Hezbollah, Iran's terror proxy group, to maintain a command-and-control base on Cuban soil from which to conduct criminal, narco-trafficking and terrorist operations throughout the Western hemisphere.
Regrettably, this leads to the sad conclusion that President Obama has lied again when he certified to Congress, as required by federal law, that Cuba could be safely removed from the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism. Does anybody care that our president lied again over a matter that affects our national security? Where is the outcry from our congressional leadership over this travesty?
However, there may be something more insidious going on. Mr. Obama had promised to close the U.S. Naval Detention Facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Gitmo) when he took office in 2009. This was based on the false premise that by keeping Gitmo open to hold the world's most dangerous terrorists, it was being used by al Qaeda and other terrorists groups as a major recruitment tool. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and prior acts of terrorism certainly did not occur because of this detention facility at Gitmo — it didn't exist at the time. Rather, we must understand that those acts and subsequent atrocious acts of Islamic terrorism are justified and commanded by the Koran and Shariah law.
Nonetheless, Mr. Obama, has for seven years prevented captured terrorists from being sent to Gitmo. Under the Obama administration's current policy, terrorists captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan are now being transferred to foreign custody or just released so they can return to kill more U.S. forces. This makes absolutely no sense. What is even more disturbing is that Mr. Obama's policy of killing potentially high-value enemy leaders with drone strikes instead of capturing has deprived the United States of much sensitive intelligence that possibly would have been critical for national security during the past seven years. To the average American, this may sound like a good tactic. In the Islamic jihadi mind, however, Mr. Obama is deliberately making them highly respected "martyrs" by dying fighting for Allah. This is no mistake, and is understood by all jihadis.
A recent article by retired U.S. Navy Capt. Joe John, chairman of Combat Veterans for Congress, addressed Rep. Duncan D. Hunter's Jan. 28 letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. This letter expressed his opposition to the transfer of the most dangerous al Qaeda terrorists imprisoned at Gitmo to foreign countries and to prisons in the continental United States. Such a reckless program ignores the fact that at least 30 percent of released terrorists from Gitmo have returned to the battlefield to kill more U.S. forces. There is more than just a passing concern, however, that it may be Mr. Obama's ultimate objective to turn over the entire U.S. facility at Gitmo to Raul Castro's Communist Cuba. This would be a travesty of the worst order since it would be only be a matter of time before Hezbollah took over Gitmo as its main terrorist training site in the Western Hemisphere.
Fortunately, the Joint Chiefs of Staff informed Congress that federal law prevents the U.S. armed forces from transferring al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist detainees from Gitmo to the United States. They must continue to take a strong position on this issue.
Separately, Capt. John addressed the debilitating impact of Mr. Obama's restricted rules of engagement forced on our combat forces. The net result has been an increase in our combat fatalities by 400 percent per year and wounded by 378 percent per year. From 2001 to 2008, combat fatalities averaged 90 per year operating under standard rules of engagement for a total of 630 U.S. military lost during almost eight years. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of combat fatalities jumped to 458 per year for a total loss of 2,292 personnel using Mr. Obama's restricted rules of engagement. This is unconscionable. A commander's first priority must always be the safety and protection of the forces under his command.
The restricted rules of engagement had the net effect of neutralizing our superior military capability while bolstering the stature and capabilities of the terrorists. Of course, the worst combat tragedy occurred during the "Extortion 17" mission in Afghanistan. The denial of legitimate suppression fire from an on-station C-130 gunship in a "hot-fire" landing zone that had been under fire for more than three hours was denied for fear of civilian casualties.
As a result, we suffered the largest loss of U.S. military forces in the 13-year war in Afghanistan. Forty-eight military personnel lost their lives. Those killed included 16 members of SEAL Team 6 (largest loss in their history), 20 special ops warriors, five helicopter crew members and seven Afghan military allies. Aside from the denial of suppression fire by our combat leaders, there was also a clear dereliction of duty in ordering that many SEALs and special ops warriors into a vulnerable CH-46 transportation helicopter instead of using a highly maneuverable, special warfare MH-47 helo. The sad fact is the mission turned out to be unnecessary.
There must be an accounting not only for our congressional leadership but for our senior military leadership, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for their failure to live up to their oath of office which has done untold damage to this great country. They must be held accountable as a lesson to future congressional and military leaders.
• James A. Lyons, a 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.