Robert Novak

 It is White SOF that is given the task of confronting armed narco-terrorists on a day-by-day basis. There are hardly more than 100 American soldiers assigned to this duty, many of them bearded and dressed as Afghans. They are augmented by British and New Zealand special forces, CIA paramilitaries and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) operatives.

 They are also hamstrung by senior officers who may be expert in conventional warfare but are at a loss to understand American troops far closer in style to Lawrence of Arabia than George Patton. The special operations soldiers and junior officers have a low opinion of Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, the U.S. military commander. On paper, he looks good: West Pointer, Ranger, veteran of the Grenada and Panama invasions. But the men who grow beards and wear Afghan headgear grumble that Barno does not have a clue.

 It is a strange war, with the JAGs -- Judge Advocate General military lawyers -- given a hand in military decisions. My sources tell of military commanders, despite credible intelligence of enemy forces, calling off air strikes on the advice of JAGs. This is the kind of restraint the U.S. military has experienced starting with the Korean War, when as a non-combat Army officer, I knew our forces had their hands tied behind their backs.

 I am told that one discouraged and now discharged Special Forces officer, who always has voted Republican and personally admires President Bush, thought about contacting a former military colleague now advising John Kerry. He decided that would accomplish nothing and would inject him in politics. Being lost in Afghanistan transcends politics and is a long-term American burden.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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