3 years, 6 months ago
From The Washington Times:
KASHK-E-NOKHOWD, Afghanistan | Army Capt. Casey Thoreen wiped the last bit of sleep from his eyes before the sun rose over his isolated combat outpost.
His soldiers did the same as they checked and double-checked their weapons and communications equipment. Ahead was a dangerous foot patrol into the heart of Taliban territory.
“Has anyone seen the [Afghan National Army] guys?” asked Capt. Thoreen, 30, the commander of Blackwatch Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment with the 5th Stryker Brigade. “Are they not showing up?”
A soldier, who looked ghostly in the reddish light of a headlamp, shook his head.
“We can’t do anything if we don’t have the ANA or [the Afghan National Police],” said a frustrated Capt. Thoreen.
“We have to follow the Karzai 12 rules. But the Taliban has no rules,” he said. “Our soldiers have to juggle all these rules and regulations and they do it without hesitation despite everything. It’s not easy for anyone out here.”
“Karzai 12″ refers to Afghanistan’s newly re-elected president, Hamid Karzai, and a dozen rules set down by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, to try to keep Afghan civilian casualties to a minimum.
“It’s a framework to ensure cultural sensitivity in planning and executing operations,” said Capt. Thoreen. “It’s set of rules and could be characterized as part of the ROE,” he said, referring to the rules of engagement.
Dozens of U.S. soldiers who spoke to The Washington Times during a recent visit to southern Afghanistan said these rules sometimes make a perilous mission even more difficult and dangerous.
Many times, the soldiers said, insurgents have escaped because U.S. forces are enforcing the rules. Meanwhile, they say, the toll of U.S. dead and injured is mounting.
[ ... ]
The Times compiled an informal list of the new rules from interviews with U.S. forces. Among them:
• No night or surprise searches.
• Villagers have to be warned prior to searches.
• ANA or ANP must accompany U.S. units on searches.
• U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.
• U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present.
• Only women can search women.
• Troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch him placing an IED but not if insurgents are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid.
Analysis & Commentary
After requesting help with getting clean water to drink, the local Imam told the U.S. unit they “need to go. Get out of Afghanistan or it will never be resolved. Between Islam and the infidel there can never be a relationship.”
“In my personal opinion, the Americans won’t be able to resolve this problem,” he added. “The longer they stay the more likely there will be another attack like Sept. 11. It’s only the Afghan people who will be able to resolve this problem.”
But the local elders and villagers aren’t fighting the Taliban. Bing West reports that:
It is not obvious that winning the hearts and minds of village elders, or linking villages to Kabul, wins the war. Our soldiers note that the Afghans are happy to accept what we give them but do not reciprocate by turning against the Taliban. The elders don’t raise militias or secure recruits for the army, and they don’t fight; there has been no replay of that scene from The Magnificent Seven in which the terrorized villagers finally rise up against their oppressors. Instead, fearful locals plead with migratory Taliban gangs to move on. A rural population, no matter how content with its government, cannot stand up to such a tough enemy…
While I have a deeply rooted personal problem with those who won’t stand up to intimidation, I have also advocated more troops (for Iraq before it was popular, and now for Afghanistan when it is unpopular). We have seen this before, this notion that the locals don’t want the Americans around. It happened in the Anbar Province where the dispossessed Sunni population battled the U.S. Marines for three years. We shouldn’t make too much of it.
But the difference is that while the the U.S. Marines in Anbar were remarkably successful, they were under no such rules as we see in Afghanistan. They didn’t cede their authority to Iraqi Security Forces or even the local Iraqi Police, night time searches, seizures and census taking were an ordinary expectation, and there was no warning prior to raids and other kinetic operations so that the enemy could prepare his exit.
U.S. Marine Corps operations in Iraq may be said to be diplomacy with a gun.
Although negotiation can sometimes forestall violence, in Iraq it is more often the case that violence is a necessary form of negotiation. “Of the seven or eight tribes in my area,” said Maj. Morgan Mann, a Marine reservist who commanded a company in Babil province, south of Baghdad, in 2004-05, “one was the primary financiers and coordinators of most of the enemy activity.” Much as Capt. Bout did a few months later, Mann targeted the leaders of the “enemy tribe” with relentless house searches, heavy patrolling, cordon-and-search operations that shut down entire neighborhoods, and “very aggressive counterfire” — that is, shooting back intensely at attacking insurgents. “It culminated in my arresting the grand sheik of this tribe,” Mann said. “That was one of the no-no’s, supposedly. But as a result of that, we were able to get that sheik and about 20 or 30 of the sub-sheiks of this large tribe into a meeting in Baghdad to discuss how we were going to work together.” One of the subordinate sheiks put it bluntly to Mann: “I’m not your friend, but it doesn’t make sense for me to fight you” — for now.
I also know that a similar approach was employed in Operation Alljah in Fallujah in 2007. But while the intent was all for the best, the rules’ own destruction were there in seed form. While the intent was to win the trust of locals, the effect has been to humiliate U.S. troops and turn off the locals at the lack of force projection towards an enemy who offers no such friendship because they don’t need the help. There intimidation works like a charm against U.S. forces whose strategy relies exclusively on the very people being intimidated.
The locals want us to chase and kill every last Taliban, even when there is the potential for collateral damage. To be sure, efforts should be made to protect noncombatants, but dictating tactical decisions in the field by inflexible rule-making is not the stuff of victory in military campaigns, even in counterinsurgencies. Neither is ceding authority to incompetent and corruption-ridden troops who represent a corrupt administration.
Finally, in what is perhaps the worst possible affect of the rules of engagement, troop morale is beginning to suffer. A campaign whose troops are merely looking for an end to the deployment is doomed to failure. The lamentable fact is that U.S. troops are battling the rules under which they operate as much or more as the enemy himself – and we are doing this to ourselves.