Jones: Rules unsafe for war-zone troops

Published 9:04 pm Friday, June 4, 2010

Staff Writer

U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan are at greater risk than they should be because their hands are tied by certain aspects of the military rules of engagement, a congressman told local Republicans on Wednesday.
“Too many times we put handcuffs on our men and women in uniform,” U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., R-N.C., told about 36 guests and members of the Beaufort County Republican Women’s Club.
Addressing the club at a gathering in Washington, Jones said he wants those restrictions on military personnel to be debated by the House’s Armed Services Committee on which he serves.
The hearing can be classified if necessary, he suggested.
Referencing a meeting with some wounded troops whose colleagues were killed in Afghanistan, Jones said, “Frankly, some of those deaths could have been prevented if they had been permitted to fire first.”
Jones, who initially favored the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has since come out for ending or reducing U.S. military involvement in those nations and has questioned the nation-building efforts he said are under way in traditionally tribal Afghanistan.
“Quite frankly, I’m for getting our kids out of Afghanistan,” he told the club Wednesday. “We’re breaking the military. We’re absolutely breaking the military.”
He added, “We need to understand that we’ve got to rebuild our military, we’ve got rebuild the equipment. And, as a general has said to me who’s retired, what we need to do is to have special ops or killer squads to go in the backyard of the terrorists when we know where they are.”
This remark drew applause from the audience.
“That can be done with the special ops, it can be done with bombs, it can be done with drones,” he continued. “And we need to get smart about fighting this war on terrorism. It’s ironic to me, we’re spending $7 billion a month in Afghanistan. We’re talking about building schools over there, we’re talking about buildings roads. You can’t do it right here.”
Nodding to the coming midterm elections, he said “we need to rethink where we are and where we want to go, and I think our party could be the best hope for that to happen.”
In a subsequent interview, Jones was asked if the rules of engagement to which he referred were designed to minimize civilian casualties.
“The answer is yes to that question, but when we sacrifice a young man or young woman who could have defended themselves because they’re hesitant to fire that’s not what we need to be doing. If we’re going to ask our men and women to go fight for this country then you can’t handcuff them,” he said.
Asked about stipulations in the rules, Jones said, “In many situations if you don’t see the weapon, you’re not supposed to fire. It’s a little complicated.”
He said received a classified briefing on those issues and couldn’t disclose the information revealed during that briefing.
“This I can say,” he said, “if you’re going to send them to fight, if they believe that they’re defending themselves and their comrades, then why stop them?”
Jones said he had spoken with a man whose son was killed in Afghanistan, adding that the man’s son was on patrol the day before he was killed.
“They see Taliban soldiers going into caves, they call for air cover,” Jones continued. “The air cover comes, but they don’t fire. They said, ‘Well, why didn’t you fire?’ They said, ‘Well, we couldn’t see the weapons. We didn’t see them run into the cave.’ (The men on the ground responded, saying) ‘But the lieutenant just called in, I just saw them go in the cave.’ Well, the next day the man’s son was killed. As he said to me, ‘How can I say that it wasn’t one of those that went in the cave that killed my son?’”
Asked whether he favors the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Jones noted that President Barack Obama has said the troop drawdown will begin in July 2011.
“I just want to make sure that when they start bringing the troops home that there is no stopping it,” he said.
Having Jones as keynote speaker was something of a coup for the newly reconstituted Republican Women, which held an induction ceremony Wednesday night.
The club is the only “federated” GOP organization in Beaufort County, meaning it is the only Republican political club with ties to a state and national group, related Donna Lay, president.
Club dues are $25 a person per year, Lay said. At present, the club has 15 members, she said.
“Our primary objective is to get some good, conservative (candidates) elected,” she said.
Also present was Dena Barnes, president of the North Carolina Federation of Republican Women.
Barnes said the federation’s mission is to “improve the women’s political experience.”