Are the rules of engagement making any difference?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

Are the rules of engagement making any difference?  They are with the Marines in Helmand.

On a base near Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, Marines are grieving the deaths of a sergeant and corporal killed by the remote-controlled bombs that have become the scourge of the long-running conflict.

Commanders try to keep the men’s rage in check, aware that winning over an Afghan public wary of the foreign military presence and furious about civilian casualties is as important as battlefield success.

“It causes a lot of frustration. My men want revenge – that is only natural,” says First Lieutenant Aaron MacLean, 2nd Platoon commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment Charlie company.

“But I keep telling them that the rules are the rules for a reason. If we simply go crazy and start shooting at everything, in the long run we will lose this war because we will lose the support of the population.”

He too is frustrated, accusing the Taliban of manipulating the rules of engagement by using women and children as shields and shooting from hidden positions before dropping their weapons and standing out in the open.

To regular readers of The Captain’s Journal, this isn’t news.  Recall that we said:

Based on recent communications with enlisted Marines (of various ranks), a perspective is developing around the current rules of engagement for Afghanistan.  There is no such thing as air or artillery support any more.  The ROE General McChrystal has set in place is killing Marines.  Sure, there was the ROE in Iraq, but Marines were genuinely encouraged to think for themselves, assess the situation, and ascertain the best course of action independently.  This is not being done in Afghanistan, where rules are micromanaging the tactical situation.  Many Marines with combat experience in Iraq are leaving the Corps for various reasons, but at least one reason for the exit can be traced to a lack of willingness to deploy to Afghanistan under the current circumstances.  Deploying Marines to Afghanistan are mostly inexperienced.

I stated that the ROE was causing a deleterious affect on morale in November 2009.  So as for whether the ROE are having their desired affect and winning hearts and minds of the locals, there is this report.

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — As his commander greeted a local leader in a district government building recently, Air Force Technical Sgt. Tyler Woodson, 20, scurried past them and ran up three flights of stairs to the roof.

There, Woodson, of Macon, Ga., surveyed the town. He saw children playing soccer in an adjacent field, trucks traveling on the main highway and, several hundred yards away, a glorious range of mountains.

He was looking for the best place to drop a bomb from an F-16, where there was no chance of striking anyone or anything.

“See over there,” he said, pointing. “It’s flat, so there’s no chance of debris falling on anyone.”

This is the new U.S. air campaign in much of Afghanistan.

Six months after Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S commander in Afghanistan, issued a directive urging troops to walk away from a fight rather than risk killing civilians, the Air Force is engaging in a campaign of restraint.

Instead of airstrikes, airmen increasingly are searching for places they can drop bombs that can be heard and felt, but where they’re unlikely to damage buildings or hurt people.

It isn’t a universal effort. In Afghanistan’s Khost and Helmand provinces, Afghanistan’s most violent, U.S. jets more frequently drop bombs that are intended to maim and kill.

In less-conflicted areas such as Nangarhar, however, soldiers are increasingly seeking tactics other than air attacks to get them out of hairy situations. Among the alternative uses of air power: buzzing enemy positions in a show of force and shooting flares or dropping warning bombs instead of directly engaging the enemy.

Privately, ground troops see that the restraint is putting them in greater danger, and they aren’t seeing results.

Afghans seem no more willing to provide information to U.S. forces, the troops say, despite U.S. efforts to minimize civilian casualties, even in a province such as Nangarhar, where education levels are relatively high.

Dropping bombs on unoccupied terrain to make loud noises, walking away from fire fights.  But the population is no more willing to help than before.  Remember that we have discussed the unintended consequences of less robust ROE, and even recently in the context of events in Garmsir, Afghanistan.

… the Taliban feel utterly protected by being amidst the population.  While it may be backed with all of the nice intentions mankind can muster, the unintended consequences of less robust rules of engagement are that more noncombatants die.  Many, if not most, of these townsfolk would never have been there if they had believed that they were in mortal danger, and the Taliban wouldn’t have been there to instigate the event(s) if we were giving chase to them and they were running for their lives.

When townsfolk can pelt the Marines with rocks and Taliban fighters can run amok in the crowds, U.S. forces are not respected.  It’s an ominous sign – that the most feared fighting force on earth, the 911 forces of America, the most deadly, rapid and mobile strike forces of any nation anywhere, can be pelted with rocks and hit with sticks without any fear whatsoever.  This isn’t likely to ensure belief by the population that they will be “protected” by our forces.

In order to believe that the ROE is beneficial, one must believe that the higher casualties suffered now will redound to less in the future.  But this is unproven doctrine, with the ROE is Iraq more robust than it has been thus far in Afghanistan.

Loss of troop morale and no resultant benefit with the population.  You heard it here before you saw it in the battle space.


You are currently reading "Are the rules of engagement making any difference?", entry #4480 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Featured,Rules of Engagement and was published February 2nd, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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