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Harold Hutchison / Nov. 12, 2019

America Must Decide If It’s Serious About Winning War on Terror

There’s a lack of overarching strategy, or even an idea of what ultimate victory looks like.

We celebrated Veterans Day yesterday. Each year, it serves as the one day that Americans should be remembering and thanking those who stepped up and served their country. But it also needs to be a day of reflection — especially when we discuss the Global War on Terror.

Today, there are Americans who were born after the attacks of September 11, 2001 who are considering enlisting in the military. Right now, America has made some huge gains with driving ISIS into a bunch of holes and taking out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Those are important victories, no doubt about it. But there is precious little follow-up — and a lack of overarching strategy, or even an idea of what ultimate victory looks like.

To his credit, President Donald Trump had an idea of what beating ISIS looked like: Eliminating jihadi control over any territory. We succeeded, and with very few casualties. But there seems to be a lack of vision about the post-ISIS strategic landscape. It’s as if America is just waiting for the next group to form and strike. The situation is not as good in Afghanistan, where the United States seems to be just trying to contain the Taliban — while coming up with some face-saving strategy to exit.

This is not a serious strategy to win the Global War on Terror. It seems more like a holding action — the military has been asked to keep things tamped down, as if that’s the end goal. In one sense, it is winning, but the endless fighting takes a toll on those sent to fight, notably the members of United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

Those elite military personnel are carrying the brunt of the effort. They risk getting killed or maimed. They see their fellow troops killed or maimed. Even if they aren’t maimed, they risk the invisible wounds of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. That also goes for the rest of the military — but SOCOM is taking the brunt of the load in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan.

It gets worse, though. A Green Beret, Major Mat Golsteyn, is facing charges relating to taking out a member of the Taliban who built improvised explosive devices. That bomb-maker was responsible for killing and maiming American and Afghan troops. Yet the Obama administration went after him, an effort that recently re-started and that has been tainted by investigator misconduct.

But that misses the fundamental problem with the case: To win in Afghanistan, you need to do things like kill Taliban bomb-makers. Golsteyn did just that — and now, he faces a court martial that could deprive him of his freedom and a fair amount of his constitutional rights.

The Golsteyn case hits for another reason: Taking down terrorist groups like al-Qaida, the Taliban, and ISIS isn’t going to necessarily be a clean fight like World War II was. America pretty much had to ask those tasked with defending it to do some very necessary but distasteful stuff to protect this country. Look what it took to get Khalid Sheik Mohammed to talk. Then look at how those who accomplished that incredibly difficult, yet vital, task were treated.

Arguably, America has pulled its punches, even in the wake of 9/11. George W. Bush had a very superb definition of victory, and he pursued it vigorously. But early mistakes led to the strategy being badly executed. In addition, America pulled punches. Could the Long War have been shortened had the United States replicated the 1945 bombing of Dresden masterminded by Sir Arthur Harris on a Taliban-held city in 2001? Did we miss a similar chance to send a message during the anti-ISIS campaign of 2017?

This doesn’t just affect the War on Terror — but other parts of the globe as well. The nuclear negotiations with North Korea could have had better results if America had the ability to point to a bombed-out pile of burnt rubble that had once been the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa as a case of potential destruction being the consequence of incurring our wrath. Deterrence is not just having the ability to do something, it’s also about having the will to use that ability. The latter is arguably a bigger question than the former these days, and that is not good.

At present, America is asking its military personnel engaged in combat operations as part of the Global War on Terror to risk their lives. But at the same time, we are not serious about winning the war we have sent them to fight. Our troops deserve better than that.

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