Father questions Afghan war strategies


POSTED: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Retired Marine 1st Sgt. John Bernard still believes that it was wrong for the Associated Press and newspapers to publish photos of his son dying during an Afghan ambush in August.

However, Bernard, a 26-year Marine veteran who fought in the 1991 Gulf War, said the bigger issue is the way the war in Afghanistan is being fought and the strategy that placed his son — Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard — at risk.

“;Even though I think it was a wrong-headed decision to print those photographs even after we asked them not to, the bigger issue is one that seems to get lost. ... It's how the current strategy and the rules of engagement are affecting these guys,”; Bernard said.

Bernard's only son, 21-year-old Joshua — a member of Kaneohe's 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment — was killed Aug. 14 in an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan. An Associated Press photographer was embedded with the younger Bernard's platoon in the town of Dahaneh.

Against the wishes of the senior Bernard and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the AP distributed a photo on Sept. 4 of the mortally wounded Marine being tended to by comrades. The Star-Bulletin and other newspapers published photos of the dying Marine.

Yesterday, John Bernard and his wife were among nine relatives to attend a memorial ceremony at the Kaneohe Marine base to honor the nine Marines and one sailor killed during the 2nd Battalion's seven-month deployment.

Since his son's death, Bernard has spoken out against the new rules of engagement imposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, five weeks before Joshua was killed. They limit the use of airstrikes and require troops to break off combat when civilians are present, even if it means letting the enemy escape. They also call for greater cooperation with the Afghan National Army.

Under those rules, John Bernard said, Marines and soldiers are being denied artillery and air support for fear of killing civilians, and the Taliban is using that to its tactical advantage.

“;We're trying to get someone in D.C. to listen,”; the elder Bernard said.

He said he has not had much luck getting his concerns to Pentagon leaders.

“;But the number of citizens who are hearing is growing exponentially,”; he said.

However, the elder Bernard, who led a platoon as a scout sniper in the first Gulf War in 1991, said his son did not die in vain.

“;It was about serving your country, your God and your family and serving the guys who were beside them. That's what it was all about.”;