- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Sept. 11, retired Army Lt. Col. Allen B. West appeared at several events in the Washington area and addressed audiences on the war on terror. He had fighting words and vigorously challenged the Obama administration’s approach.

Col. West was present at a Sept. 11 vigil at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, sponsored by the Free Republic, a grass-roots, independent, conservative, online resource. He paid tribute to those who died eight years ago and lampooned the language currently used to describe America’s enemies.

“We have a recalcitrance to call the enemy, the enemy,” Col. West said during his address. “We now don’t want to say we’re fighting a war.”

Col. West has been sounding alarm bells at the Obama administration’s attempt to induce a cultural shift by changing the language used to address America’s combat operations. In March, the administration began to strip the term “global war on terror” from the defense community’s vernacular. The term “overseas contingency operations” is being used instead. In addition, the term “terrorism” has been replaced with the phrase “man-caused disasters” by administration officials, such as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

President Obama has “used that phrase [war on terrorism], but he’s also used different words and phrases in order to denote a reaching out to many moderate parts of the world that we believe can be important in a battle against extremists,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in a news briefing in February.

The last time the president used the phrase “war on terror” was on Jan. 23, his fourth day as president, according to a report published in The Washington Times. In August, John Brennan, head of the White House Homeland Security Office, said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the administration will not use the phrase “war on terror” due to the fact that “terrorism is but a tactic - a means to an end, which in al Qaeda’s case is global domination by an Islamic caliphate.” In addition, “global war” is imprecise in his view because it connotes that al Qaeda is “a highly organized, global entity capable of replacing sovereign nations with a global caliphate.”

Col. West disagrees. He has a distinguished 22-year career in active service, serving in three major conflicts: Operation Desert Storm (the 1991 Persian Gulf war), Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He earned the Bronze Star Medal, three Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals (one with valor) and a Valorous Unit Award.

He is now working on winning on another battleground: politics. In 2008, Col. West, a Republican, challenged Democratic incumbent Rep. Ron Klein in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. He lost that bid but now is vying for the seat in the 2010 elections.

During the memorial, Col. West challenged the Obama administration’s decision to declare Sept. 11 a national day of service, calling it the dilution of the meaning of the 2001 attacks. “This is a day of remembrance for the most heinous crime that was ever perpetrated against our nation - it is not a national service day,” he said.

Col. West said that if administration officials continue to change the significance of Sept. 11, “Pearl Harbor will be a remembrance of Japanese seamanship.”

The White House declined to comment on the record but pointed The Washington Times to a description of a Sept. 11 service conception by the families of the attack victims. The September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance was launched by the organization MyGoodDeed in collaboration with some of the family members of the victims.

Earlier that day, Col. West addressed the Center for Security Policy’s National Security Working Group on Capitol Hill. His speech had a similar message: communication matters. The correct terminology, in his view, is important for recognizing and identifying the enemy and rallying domestic support. In addition, appropriate language is also useful for information operations in combating the enemy, he said.

According to Col. West, a number of strategic goals must be achieved in order to secure victory in Afghanistan, one of which is preventing vital areas from being influenced by the opponents of coalition forces. He suggests that the U.S. try to communicate directly with the Afghan people.

Military bases that the U.S. is building in Afghanistan should be outfitted with radio transmitters, he said. This would emulate a similar program by the British in Helmand province that broadcasts throughout southern Afghanistan. It also would complement Radio Free Afghanistan’s Azadi radio station, which is widely popular in the nation.

Col. West’s communications strategy takes into consideration the high rate of illiteracy in Afghanistan. The CIA World Factbook estimates that about 28 percent of the Afghan population is literate.

Col. West also provided observations and assessments based on his combat experience in Afghanistan. He spoke about the need for greater security for the Afghan population. He said that without proper security from internal and external forces, a state cannot guarantee the rights and freedom of its people.

“Schools being open are a great thing, but at night the Taliban comes in to destroy those schools. If we cannot provide security, young girls will still be gunned down when they walk away from those schools,” said Col. West.

He recommended a revision of the new rules of engagement issued by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, which do not allow soldiers to engage forward enemy observers. Forward enemy observers are those who conduct intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance but do not carry weapons and do not appear to display hostile intent. Since they are unarmed, they are not considered legitimate targets and cannot be engaged. In Col. West’s view, this puts our troops at a significant disadvantage on the battlefield.

“The war on terror is a worldwide conflagration. It is not restricted to any certain country or theater of operation, and if we do not start developing goals and objectives at the strategic level and tying it in to what our soldiers, our men, women, airmen and Marines are doing on the ground, we are going to follow the same suit as Vietnam,” Col. West said. “We cannot afford to lose to this enemy.”

• David Centofante is a graduate student at Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies in Fairfax.

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