On Sunday a raid was conducted by US Navy SEALs on al al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. There was a stowaway on the mission: Murphy. Lots of stuff went wrong. A SEAL Chief Petty Officer named William “Ryan” Owens was killed. And as this was the real world and not Call of Duty, some women and children were killed on the ground.
This is not a scandal. Combat is dangerous. Raids behind enemy lines are arguably the most dangerous form of combat (though a good case can be made that whenever rounds are snapping about your ass, the degree of danger you are experiencing is rather academic). We use highly trained men to make these raids because you need a critical mass of original thinking and “play-it-by-ear” capacity to make any raid succeed because two rules are always in effect: a) no plan ever survives contact with the enemy and b) the enemy always has a vote.
But there is a scandal. Apparently some in CENTCOM are trying to shift the blame for the outcome of the raid onto Donald Trump. How, you’d have every reason to ask, can the president be held responsible for a raid planned and coordinated by a combat unit. Easy: Trump Sucks.
U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.
As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.
One of the three U.S. officials said on-the-ground surveillance of the compound was “minimal, at best.”
“The decision was made … to leave it to the incoming administration, partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected,” that official said.
No. F*** no. You can’t say that and not have to mail in your man-card.
As a combat arms officer I find this appalling. The basic rule of military command is that a unit commander is responsible for everything the unit does or fails to do. The fault, if there is any, for this mission lies squarely on the planning staff that produced the operation order and the unit commander. The buck stops there. Right there. Intelligence in combat operations is never absolute and it is never perfect. If that is your metric then you shouldn’t be involved in combat operations. At some point a decision has to be reached that the mission outcome is either worth the risk or not worth the risk. That risk assessment is not made by the president.
During the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson was ridiculed for choosing targets for airstrikes himself. And rightfully so. If a president has time to get involved planning airstrikes it means that all the big problems of the nation has been solved. There hasn’t been a commander-in-chief since Dwight Eisenhower who had the ability to contribute to military operational planning in any meaningful way.
Over the past eight years we have seen the president, as personified by Obama, acting as an overpaid squad leader. There is no logical reason for a president to personally give the order to kill a couple of Somali pirates. There is no logical reason for the president to be in the loop for approving drone strikes. Not only is it a stupid way to run a military operation it is profoundly stupid politics. But it does allow the most effeminate and unmanly creature to ever occupy the Oval Office to boast about his toughness in killing people… so there is that.
Has our military really been so corrupted under eight years of Obama that it is unable to plan a mission without presidential guidance or accept responsibility for its outcome? Have we become so degraded in our military capacity that the on-the-ground commander relies on the president of the United States to spot flaws in his plan?
If there is an operation that requires the “president-in-the-loop” option, his job is certainly not to catch planning deficiencies like poor intelligence or lack of contingency planning. His job is to give a GO/NO GO decision based on the military advice he has received. Ultimate responsibility is Trump’s because he is the commander-in-chief, but the blame for planning deficiencies rests entirely at CENTCOM and lower levels.