With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

"A Horrible Mistake": Time to Ditch CENTCOM

The bad news stemming from the ill-planned and ill-managed U.S. evacuation of the Afghan capital just kept coming in. The Washington Post put it this way in blowing the whistle on the culminating disaster: “U.S. military admits ‘horrible mistake’ in Kabul drone strike that killed 10 Afghans.”

Following the August 26th terrorist attack outside Hamid Karzai International Airport that took the lives of 13 American troops and dozens of Afghan bystanders, U.S. forces set out to preempt any repetition. Alas, efforts to prevent further U.S. casualties resulted in the killing of innocents, including seven Afghan children. “Horrible mistake” was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s characterization of their deaths.

The result was not what General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., head of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), intended. To his credit, McKenzie did acknowledge that he was “fully responsible for this strike and its tragic outcome.” The four-star Marine general went a step further. In a recorded video statement, he offered his “profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed.”

It’s easy enough to understand McKenzie’s sense of remorse. Who wouldn’t have felt dismayed — bummed out, even — that such a humiliating blunder should mark the conclusion of a failed twenty-year war? And just as Uncle Sam was limping toward the exit, hoping to leave with a modicum of dignity intact, Fortune itself seemingly let loose one last gratuitous kick, one final insult to the self-proclaimed greatest military on the planet.

But in this particular context, what does the phrase “fully responsible” even signify? Should McKenzie’s acknowledgment prompt him to offer his resignation? Should he be fired? Would his ouster suffice to make amends for those seven dead children?

Given recent events in their country, it’s hard to imagine Afghans even taking notice of the general’s professed feelings or, for that matter, his fate. As for the American people, most of us have moved on. Afghanistan is already so yesterday.

And that, let me suggest, is a problem. Given our notoriously short national attention span, Americans are overlooking a “horrible mistake” of far greater consequence. I refer to the very existence of CENTCOM.

Created by Ronald Reagan in 1983, it’s presently one of 11 Pentagon “combatant commands” that quite literally span the globe, even extending into the great beyond of outer space and cyberspace. CENTCOM’S earthly area of responsibility (AOR) encompasses 20 nations stretching across the Greater Middle East (and only recently came to include Israel as well). The command’s website spells out the specifics: four million square miles inhabited by more than 560 million people from 25 ethnic groups adhering to myriad religious traditions and speaking 20 languages along with a host of local dialects. In itself, though only one of those 11 commands, it’s already a realm of impressively imperial dimensions.

Read entire article at TomDispatch