Congressional Republicans just back from a trip to Afghanistan said Tuesday that the Obama administration’s approach to the war has confused U.S. troops, leaving them “dangerously” preoccupied with worrying about captured enemy fighters’ rights.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the confusion was evident in his conversations with U.S. troops, and said it runs so deep that there are two different standards of detention, depending on whether the troops are under NATO command or not.
“We see this preoccupation with prisoners’ rights, both on the foreign battlefield and here at home — it seems to be consuming the administration in the war on terror,” Mr. McConnell said.
Fellow senators who joined Mr. McConnell on the short, official trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said morale among U.S. troops is very high, and added there are signs of great progress in Afghanistan. They also praised Afghanistan’s troops for taking the lead in fighting in some parts of the country.
But the lawmakers also said that, when asked, military leaders said President Obama’s specified troop withdrawal timetable poses a problem.
Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican, said the Taliban is using next year’s announced beginning of a withdrawal as “a propaganda tool” to pressure wavering Afghans to rally against U.S. efforts.
Mr. Obama late last year announced an escalation of U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but said by July 2011 the first American troops would begin to come home.
Even as the lawmakers were speaking, hundreds of U.S. Marines were engaged in heavy fighting with Taliban insurgents as they tried to clear a militant stronghold in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Fighting in Afghanistan, which typically tails off in the winter months, has continued nonstop this year as the conflict heats up.
Thirteen insurgents were killed in the early hours of Monday when the Marines called in a Hellfire missile strike from an unmanned Predator drone, U.S. Marine Maj. Dale Highberger, second in command of the operation, told the Associated Press.
How to treat detainees from Afghanistan and Iraq has been a contentious issue for years.
Last year, the Obama administration confirmed reports that FBI agents conducting interrogations were reading legal “Miranda rights” to some fighters captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. The administration said that had happened some times under the George W. Bush administration as well.
Mr. McConnell said the confusion among troops about detainee policy ran throughout the ranks.
He said at one point he asked a general about policies and the general “didn’t want to answer the question without turning to his lawyer, who was also in the room.”
Mr. McConnell said the approach is part of the same mentality that led the administration to put the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day airplane bombing into criminal court proceedings, instead of treating him as a captured enemy combatant.