Concluding Thoughts on Afghanistan ROE Modifications

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

Marcus at Justbarkingmad has responded to our Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux.  I won’t recapitulate his arguments here, but he has put some time and effort into his post and it is well worth a read.  A few concluding thoughts follow (concluding until I see the new “rules” or “guidance” in action).

First, Marcus shouldn’t be so quick to lecture us on the merits of FM 3-24.  War – and insurgencies and counterinsurgency warfare – has been around far longer than FM 3-24.  And as I have stated before, I consider the recent overhaul of Army Field Manual 3-0 to be superior to FM 3-24 and a doctrinal step forward.

Second, the narrative at the moment is that these “adjustments” to the rules involve mostly Close Air Support (CAS).  We’ll take a wait-and-see approach.  The discussion thus far from General McChrystal doesn’t restrict his changes to CAS.

Third, Marcus brings up our example, U.S. Marine Corps operations in Garmser in 2008, and asks if there were noncombatants involved?

Mr. Smith fails to provide the reader with any evidence that McChrystal’s proposed policy would have affected the inevitable outcome there. Were human shields used systematically in Helmand Province to prevent the Marines from accomplishing their mission? We are left only assuming that it must have occurred—maybe.

He has utterly missed the point.  McChrystal’s stipulation was, or is going to be, that if it is possible that noncombatants could be involved, back away from the fire fight.  The Marines could not possibly have had comprehensive knowledge of the situation inside Garmser upon arrival, and thus to the Marines, “it could have been possible.”  Thus the operation would not have been conducted.  It is verifying the conditionals that is problematic here.

And speaking of Garmser, concerning our point:

Just how our critic supposes that the Marines could have protected the population of Garmser, while several hundred Taliban fighters were dug in and waiting for the Marines, he doesn’t say. But he makes the mistake of conflating phases of the campaign, and also of failing to understand that the campaign will require various lines of operation or lines of effort.

Marcus demurs to other doctrinal considerations but fails to answer the question.  Here it is again.  The British assisted the Marines in transit to the Garmser area of operations.  There is no electricity.  There is no sewage.  There is no running water.  There are sand storms.  Water and other supplies are dropped via air supply.  When the Marines get to Garmser in order to “protect the population,” they find that several hundred Taliban are dug in and waiting for them, requiring fire fights that at times was described as “full bore reloading.”  If Marcus wants to protect the population, how does he dislodge the Taliban entrenched in Garmser without kinetic operations?

Finally, I do not believe that protection of the population comes first or is most important in counterinsurgency.  Rather, I believe that protection of the population is one line of effort that should be pursued.  If, as our friend Gian Gentile would point out, one line appears to be more productive and/or efficient, then let’s allow the troops to discover the center of gravity of the particular insurgency that they are dealing with.

Following this line of thought, Marcus should be careful to give himself maximum latitude to learn (including the situation in the next counterinsurgency he faces) without being restricted to one narrative.  We should all be able to study the sources, glean the beneficial aspects, jettison the others, and be able to keep from being in bondage to history or any one particular school of thought.  In the words of our friend Gian, “history should inform the commander’s judgment but never accompany him to the battlefield.”

Prior:

Changes to the Rules of Engagement for Afghanistan

Update on ROE Changes for Afghanistan

Afghanistan Rules of Engagement Redux




You are currently reading "Concluding Thoughts on Afghanistan ROE Modifications", entry #3229 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Rules of Engagement and was published June 29th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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