Opinion

It's time to remove lawyers from the war room

On April 12, 2016, tThe Taliban on April 12 announced the start of its annual spring offensive, which they are callingdubbed Operation Omari in honor of - named after their former reclusive leader, Mullah Omar. It may be , in what may be a decisive fighting season for Afghan or Taliban forces.

But the government forces won't be getting all the help they need from U.S. and coalition air power.  There are too many conditions on when and how coalition air forces can go after the militants who are trying to retake Afghanistan. That should change.

Last year, there were The 2015 fighting season witnessed record numbers of casualties among Afghan security forces and headline grabbing gains by Taliban forces, including the temporary fall in September of Kunduz, a major population center in northern Afghanistan, in September. There is much blame to go around for the poor performance of Afghan forces, to include disunity within the National Unity Government led by President Ashraf Ghani and his cChief eExecutive oOfficer, Abdullah Abdullah., a government brokered by Secretary Kerry after a contested election back in the fFall of 2014. Still to this day, Moreover, the Afghan military still lacks a mMinster of dDefense. Masoom Stanikzai, the former acting Defense Minister who was rejected for the post in 2015 by Afghan lawmakers, has just been nominated moving to head the National Directorate of Security, and with Gen. Abdullah Kahnhas been nominated to fill the defense position and Masoom Stanikzai, the former acting Defense Minister, moving to head the National Directorate of Security.

After Afghan forces took the lead from NATO and U.S. forces in combat operations in late 20142015, as NATO took on a a train, advise and assist mission under new role under Operation Resolute Support.  for Afghan forces. But the switch has resulted in With the changing roles came increased fatalities among Afghan security forces and a huge reduction of coalition air support from coalition forces

Afghan forces have struggled to fill this the massive void left from the vanishing coalition air support. The country's air force Afghanistan’s Air Force is currently a hodgepodge of Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters and Mi-25/Mi-35 gunships. New to the Afghan aAir fForce this year is a fixed wing propeller based plane, the A-29 Super Tucano, which will help fill some of the close-air support gaps for Afghan forces.

Even with new air platforms for the 2016 fighting season, the Afghan air force is not expected to be at full strength until 2020, according to Army Gen. John Campbell, the former Resolute Support commander, General John Campbell. With well-known vital capability gaps for Afghan forces heading into the 2015 fighting season, why didn’t U.S. and NATO forces aid their partner nation force with more air power as a reinvigorated Taliban swept through much of Helmand valley and northern Afghanistan?

In a January op-ed in the Washington Post, "It’s time to unleash America’s airpower in Afghanistan," n op-ed written by retired Gen.eral David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at The Brookings institution, shed light  titled "It’s time to unleash America’s airpower in Afghanistan,"shed some light on the this apparent cognitive dissonance of from the Obama Aadministration’s war strategy in Afghanistan.

More recently, coalition forces conducted more than With more than over 600 airstrikes in support of Iraqi forces as they fought to retake Ramadi. Why was the U.S. not doing more for Afghan forces as they fought to repel the Taliban from Sangin, where Marine infantry units sustained casualties at some of the highest rates seen over the course of the 13-year war?an area that saw much bloodshed from U.S. Marines in 2010 from the famed Darkhorse unit.

Simply put, lawyers within the administration contend that the authorization for the use of military force no longer extends to the Taliban except in certain prescribed situations: against groups of militants known to have attacked Iraqi forces previously and against Taliban forces directly engaged in battle with coalition forces.

Coalition air forces may target al-Qaieda and ISIS offshoots, as they have in Syria, Iraq, and Nangarhar Pprovince in Afghanistan, as part of the coalition’s broader war on terrorism. The Afghan Taliban are not designated as a terror group by the U.S. Ggovernmennet

, and as the U.S. and NATO transitioned to a supporting role in Resolute Support, our war against the Taliban ended.

The first peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan's history by the NUG signaled the end of America's war against the Taliban, and thus an internal problem for the Afghan government only. This cognitive dissonance stems from our initial invasion of Afghanistan, having never designated the Taliban as a terror group- despite its harboring and support of al-Qaeda, the U.S. argued its case for invading Afghanistan under the pretense of self-defense invoking Chapter VII Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

The U.S. has consistently treated the Afghan Taliban as a classical insurgency, never designating it as a terror organization, despite its harboring of and support for al-Qaieda.,tThe U.S. argued its case for invading Afghanistan under the pretense of self-defense provisions of invoking Chapter VII, Article 51, of the United Nations Charter. Despite impressive gains by the Taliban, the U.S. continues to see Kabul’s war against the resurgent group as an internal problem, and unwilling to target the organization as part of under its broader counter-terrorism mission.

Today, the distinction between classic insurgent organizations and terror groups is increasingly blurred, especially in Afghanistan. The selection incorporationof Sirajuddin Haqqani -- leader of the Haqqani network that was designated a terror group in 2012 by the U.S. -- as the deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban further blurs the lines. Brig. General Charles H. Cleveland, the chief spokesman for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the New York Times that the Haqqani network is currently running the day to day operations of the Taliban, including carrying out a recent truck bomb attack in Kabul that killed 64.

Further complicating issues are recent reports that Aal-Qaieda and the Taliban are working closely together. According to General Cleveland, there are roughly 300 AQ fighters supporting the Taliban in Kunar, Khandahar and Ghazni provinces. Last year, aAl-Qaieda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, pledged support to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, Mullah Omar’s successor.

Attempting to place various non-state actors in Afghanistan in specific categories in Afghanistan is a Sisyphean task. The social and economic dynamics that create conflict and violence in Afghanistan stymie the ability to classify and separate these various organizations. The complex web of patronage networks blur terror groups, warlords and classic insurgent groups into one giant group looking to further their organization’s gains. The lack of a monopoly of force by Afghan forces, and inability to control border regions emboldens these groups to cooperate and co-opt each other for survival.

If the U.S. truly wishes to assist its partner in Afghanistan, where it has devoted blood and treasure for 15 years, it must end the debate over semantics and remove lawyers from the war room. It's time to take the handcuffs off American airpower, and as General Petraeus recommends, unleash American airpower on the Taliban.

Shawn Snow is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, specializing in Central and Southwest Asia. He served 10 years as a signals intelligence analyst and completed multiple tours of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan. His work has been published in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The Diplomat and Small Wars Journal.
The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.

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