Did bad decisions in DC kill troops on the ground in Afghanistan?

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If we had a commander-in-chief who had served in the military, the following story would mean more than just a headline. According to a report by NBCnews.com, five U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan may have been the victims of a friendly-fire incident.The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said five of its servicemen had died Monday during a security operation in southern Afghanistan when their unit came in contact with enemy forces. “Tragically, there is the possibility that fratricide may have been involved,” ISAF said in a statement. “The incident is under investigation.”

The soldiers were members of U.S. special forces working with the Afghan military and were conducting security sweeps on polling sites in advance of this weekend’s run-off for the Afghan presidential election when they came under ferocious attack from Taliban forces. Yes, the same Taliban forces who just got back their five senior leaders.

When the Special Forces group came under attack, they called in for close air support. The Americans called in an airstrike amid fierce fighting and, according to U.S. officials, the B-1 Stealth Bomber strike somehow went terribly awry.

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I know, you’re all saying, so what West?

Here is the so what. I spent my 22-year career in the Army as a Field Artillery Officer assigned to infantry units as a Fire Support Officer, meaning I coordinated mortar, artillery, rocket, attack helicopter, and close air support for ground maneuver operations.

I can testify that a B-1 stealth bomber is not the preferred weapon of choice for close air support basically because of the circular error probable (CEP) considerations for the munitions it drops. Close air support is better done with an aerial weapons platform that can come in low over the shoulder of the friendly forces, and with the assistance of colored smoke, direct its munitions directly on the enemy.

Such is the mission of the A-10 Warthog aircraft, the preeminent weapon of choice for close air support, or an AV-8B Harrier, used by the U.S. Marine Corps.

But if you recall, it was U.S. Secretary of Defense Hagel who announced that not only would he take the Army to pre-World War II levels, he would also retire the A-10 aircraft. (Honestly, I prefer the A-10 rather than waiting for the development of the F-35 system. We could use service life extension programs (SLEP) to maintain this great close air attack platform).

Instead, we have five dead U.S. Special Operators because they did not have the appropriate close air support tool. This is why having more veterans of this current battlefield in office is important. If I were Secretary of Defense, I would transfer all A-10s to the U.S. Army where they can be better utilized and appreciated.

As well, I would develop more AC-130 Specter gunships which would be the Special Operations close air support weapon of choice and immediately available. We witnessed the results of an inappropriate response to a request for AC-130 gunship support during the Battle of Mogadishu during the Clinton administration.

My sincere condolences go out to the families of these fallen warriors. This did not have to happen, and it would not have if we had lions leading lions — not lambs.
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