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Intense Firefight in Eastern Afghanistan Shows Limits of Strict Rules of Engagement

Our own Christian Lowe is embedded with 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry in Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan. His account illustrates the very restrictive rules of engagement troops are currently operating under that are intended to minimize civilian casualties. Notice in the story that every single mortar round fired requires higher authorization. Not air strikes, mortar rounds.

By Christian Lowe

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSHMORE, Afghanistan --- The tinny voice came in crackling through a radio speaker mounted to the plywood walls of the command post. A squad of American Soldiers and their Afghan army allies were taking fire from insurgents near a small village outside Yahya Khel.

Rounds from an estimated 20 insurgents' AK-47 rifles snapped past until the Soldiers and Afghan troops fired back.

"It looks like they're breaking contact to maneuver to a better position," said Capt. Josh Powers, the commander of Angel Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. His 2nd platoon was in the fight; he stared at the map displayed in his command post at Forward Operating Rushmore, mentally plotting how he could best support his troops almost 40 miles away.

The Air Force tactical air controller assigned to Angel grabbed his radios and called in an F-16 Falcon fighter to support the Soldiers, but ultimately there wasn't much the TAC-P could do to help.

While other outposts deep in Paktika province had been untouched recently, it was the second time in less than a week that troops from COP Yahya Khel had come under intense attack. Obviously, the insurgents wanted the Americans out of Yahya Khel for any number or reasons including the fact that it hosts the largest bazaar in the region.

But while the full force of American might was just a radio call away from the command center here – artillery, attack helicopters, drones and mortars -- new rules of engagement designed to minimize civilian casualties made it difficult for leaders like Powers and his superiors to support their troops with extra firepower when the bullets were flying.

And with a fight like Afghanistan, where a relatively small number of troops are spread across vast areas with few paved roads, help can be a long time coming.

Read the rest of Christian's story here.

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