Monday, April 13, 2009

He passed his first test

Obama would have been held responsible and blamed if the operation had failed because he was ultimately in charge. By authorizing deadly force so early, Obama did the right thing. The order to rescue the captain of the Maersk Alabama was approved by President Obama on Friday, and a standing order to shoot to kill the pirates if necessary was issued on Saturday. Regardless of what you think of Obama's politics, he deserves credit for this decision. Had this situation been allowed to drag on and on, it would have been a black eye for the USA, making us appear weak.

Score one for President Obama.

The Hollywood version of a rescue usually has the President sitting in the White House Situation Room with a video link to the U.S. forces on scene. The President gives the orders to shoot and the guys with the guns jump into action. But that’s not reality.

The decision to deploy forces is based on high-level operation plans, concept plans, functional plans, and operation orders (see link below). The ultimate decision to deploy forces abroad is made together by the President and the Secretary of Defense. They oversee the entire Joint Planning and Execution Community, which includes, among others, the regional combatant commanders, the U.S. Transportation Command, and the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

The first step in the case of the Maersk Alabama was an Alert and Deployment Order. This Order, which is issued by the Secretary of Defense under the President’s knowledge and authority, alerts the relevant military forces that will be required to participate. In other words, if the SEALs are tasked to conduct the rescue they will have to fly to the scene. This means that Transportation Command is tasked to provide aircraft to move the force to the scene. The Alert and Deployment Order gets the forces moving.

To those who do not understand why an order was issued on Friday, and another on Saturday, there were no forces on the scene capable of affecting a rescue on Friday. It takes time for those forces to be alerted, grab their gear, and board a plane. Then, once in the air, they have to have a place to land and get on the ship. There were two orders –1) Alert and Deployment and 2) Execute Order. Once the forces have arrived on scene an Execute Order is issued. Again, this is signed out by the Secretary of Defense under Presidential authority and with the full knowledge of the President. The Order stipulates who can shoot whom, under what circumstances, and what is to be done with the dead and wounded.

Even in the Alert and Deployment Order there probably was a paragraph authorizing Emergency Assault and defining the conditions under which that should occur. The personnel capable of doing the shooting did not get on board the ship until sometime on Saturday. The Execute Order included ROE (rules of engagement) and Emergency Assault Authority at the discretion of the on scene commander.

If you had a chance to listen to the Admiral’s briefing on the operation, it was clear that this is how the mission went down. Obama gave the order early to the on scene commander to use force if necessary, leaving it up to the on scene commander to use his own best judgment. This is the way things should be done.

Whether you like or dislike Obama, he should be given credit by all citizens for doing the operation the way it is supposed to be done. He gave the proper order early, kept quiet about what was going down (even though many news entertainment networks were blabbing about his ‘absence’ in this affair), and did not create obstacles.

Obama was tested, and he passed the test.

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