Incoming Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus told senators today at his confirmation hearing that he has no intention of changing the rules of engagement or the “tactical directive,” which guides the use of air strikes, put in place by his predecessor.
What he will do is ensure that those rules are being uniformly applied by commanders in the field and that overly cautious officers at various levels are not imposing their own maximalist interpretation of the ROE and directive, and thus slowing the responsiveness of fire support when troops’ lives are on the line. “We have to be absolutely certain that the implementation of ROE and tactical directive is consistent across the force.”
Petraeus was questioned by a number of senators about his views on the tactical directive guiding the use of airpower and artillery issued by former Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal that was designed to curtail the growing number of civilian casualties that was posing a threat to the entire Afghan mission. The Afghan people, and the Karzai government, were growing increasingly enraged by the rising civilian death toll.
In counterinsurgency, the human terrain is the decisive terrain, Petraeus said, and he intends to do everything he can to keep the civilian loss of life as low as possible.
The ROE in Afghanistan are straightforward and largely the same as have guided military operations over the past few years, including operations in Iraq, he said. When troops are taking fire from a house, and they’re not sure whether civilians are in the house, instead of dropping a bomb on it, they should break contact and observe the house for a time, Petraeus said.
-- Greg Grant