After way too much speculation, Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus has reaffirmed the tactical directive restricting the use of indirect fires and air strikes put in place by his predecessor, Stanley McChrystal. The restrictive rules of engagement, intended to limit Afghan civilian casualties, have caused considerable grief among American troops who fear their hands are tied when it comes to unleashing firepower across the Afghan landscape.
“We must continue – indeed, redouble – our efforts to reduce the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum. Every Afghan civilian death diminishes our cause,” Petraeus writes in the ‘updated” tactical directive. Portions of the directive were publicly released today with some parts deleted that addressed the specifics of when troops are free to engage for operational security reasons. “Subordinate commanders are not authorized to further restrict this guidance without my approval.”
“Prior to the use of fires, the commander approving the strike must determine that no civilians are present. If unable to assess the risk of civilian presence, fires are prohibited,” it reads. The highly specific exceptions to that rule are deleted; the military’s ROE is typically classified. “We must balance our pursuit of the enemy with our efforts to minimize the loss of innocent civilian life, and with our obligation to protect our troops.”
Petraeus’ directive also mandates that “every” U.S. and NATO operation and patrol include Afghan security forces. “If there are operational reasons why partnership is not possible for a particular operation, the CONP approval authority must be informed…” He says partnering will reduce the incidents of civilian casualties as an Afghan troop presence “will ensure greater situational awareness.”
In his Senate confirmation testimony, Petraeus said he would leave the restrictive ROE in place so this should come as no surprise. What is surprising, in my opinion, is that it’s controversial. Whenever I hear troops complain that they weren’t able to level a house with a 500 pound bomb because they were taking fire from it, it really makes me question the repeated claims by military officials that the Army and Marines have masterfully adapted to fighting counterinsurgency.
-- Greg Grant