Posted by: annemartinfletcher | May 2, 2011

Choosing the Right Military Tool

(When Air Power is Not the Answer)

For once, our military leaders chose the right tool to hammer Osama Bin Laden with. Every Air Force Academy cadet learns that the United States military is a tool for implementing political policy, to be wielded only by our constitutionally-elected civilian leaders. During my career, I observed the upper-echelons of the military advocate for the use of their own Service’s troops, even when those troops were not the right tool.

During Grenada, in order to ensure that the Navy played a role, a Navy Seal team inserted and was trapped. They had inadequate communication gear which did not transmit or receive on the frequencies that the other Services used. For that mission, the Navy Seals were the wrong tool–it should have been Army Special Forces.

When I was a staff officer working on nuclear war plans, the Air Force General in command asked us all to submit ideas that he could use to persuade Congress to fund a bomber. His bomber was terribly difficult to plan for, and not nearly as utilitarian as some other “stand-off” platforms carrying drones. We found it frustrating that the bomber continued to receive funding to be used in the wrong mission.

After the initial success of the War in Iraq, the Bush administration sent in hoards of untrained political loyalists to run the country. The proper tool should have been the Army Rangers who are trained in building community relationships and infrastructure, and the Civil Engineering Red Horse troops (both Air Force and Army), who are the experts in creating and restoring infrastructure. Instead, our civilian leaders cut funding for these troops while doling out money to civilian contractors. We all know how unsuccessful that effort was — again, our leaders chose the wrong tool.

Last night, our Commander-in-Chief and the military finally got it right. Precision bombing is not precise enough when the political and military objective is to identify, kill, and provide evidence of the death of a single individual. Clearly, the Navy’s Special Operations troops, and who knows how many CIA or other “boots-on-the-ground” operatives who provided the human intelligence on Bin Laden’s movements, were the right tool for the right mission. Well done!


  1. It is important to note that intelligence gathering is a mosaic–one piece at a time and testing it in various places. This operation was essentially 10 years in the planning. I find it noteworthy that the key intelligence about the couriers was gathered under the Clinton administration, developed under Bush’s two terms, and finally acted upon three years into Obama’s. It’s a reminder that this business is very hard work.

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