The Side Effects of the Afghanistan Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

From Strategy Page;

After a year of concentrated effort, NATO forces in Afghanistan have reduced civilian casualties, caused by foreign troops, 44.4 percent. There were 7.8 percent fewer battles even involving civilians, and 52 percent fewer civilians hurt by foreign troops. The most striking reduction (82 percent) was in civilian casualties from air strikes. All this is calculated by comparing the last three months with the same period from last year. All this despite nearly twice as many foreign troops in action, and much more combat. Meanwhile, civilian losses from Taliban action are up 36 percent.

Many Afghans are not happy with this policy, with foreign troops increasingly encountering angry Afghan civilians, who demand that NATO act more decisively in pursuing and killing Taliban gunman. Even if it puts Afghan civilians at risk. This is an unexpected side effect to the change in NATO rules of engagement (ROE) in Afghanistan. The ROE change was partly in response to popular (or at least media) anger at civilians killed by American smart bombs. As a result of the new ROE, it became much more difficult to get permission drop a smart bomb when there might be civilians nearby. Now American commanders have to decide who they shall respond too; Afghan civilians asking for relief from Taliban oppression, or Taliban influenced media condemning the U.S. for any Afghan civilians killed, or thought to be killed, by American firepower. What to do? So far, the decision often favors the survival of the Taliban.

Unexpected?  This was only unexpected among dolts.  I said as much ten months ago (“officials” have admitted that the new Afghanistan ROE have opened up new space for the insurgents”), nine months ago (“the Taliban will surround themselves with noncombatants, in the end making it more dangerous for everyone”), eight months ago (“giving the insurgents safe haven amongst the domiciles of villages sends the opposite message than we intend”), seven months ago (“give chase to and kill the enemy as the surest way to win the hearts and minds of the locals, and thus win the campaign”), and four months ago (“I had predicted that these rules would have the opposite affect from that intended, i.e., that they would fail to prevent noncombatant deaths and might even cause more than if we were to implement a more robust set of ROE or simply leave the rules unchanged”).

Let’s not hear any more about unintended consequences or unexpected side effects of the ROE.  I’ve said plenty and issued the appropriate warnings.  The slow to learn haven’t been paying attention, and perhaps should never have been entrusted with the responsibility they have been given.

Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) is calling for a hearing on the ROE, and General Petraeus might be preparing to modify the rules of engagement, but I’ll take a wait and see approach on this.  The issue doesn’t pertain to whether there is such a thing as ROE, but whether Generals who should be talking strategy are issuing tactical directives to Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field under fire and requiring approval of staff level officers a hundred miles away in order to bring combined arms to bear on the enemy.  It has to do with micromanagement of the campaign.  It’s simply something staff and flag level officers should not be doing.  The campaign will be won or lost based on empowerment of the troops down the chain of command.

As I chewed the cud over the dismissal of General McChrystal over the weekend, it occurred to me that there was more than just the irrational devotion to a single military doctrine to blame for the fiasco that is Afghanistan (see endnote).  General McChrystal worked much of his career in Special Operations Forces where he micromanaged many things, including at the tactical level.  General McChrystal was never the right man for this job, regardless of whether he has been a good commander of SOF.  This isn’t a commentary on the man, but rather, a commentary on the situation.  It’s time for the new rules to go.  They were a bad idea from the beginning, and nothing useful or constructive ever came from them.

Endnote: I do not support a singular focus in counterinsurgency (such as population-centric COIN), but do support multiple, simultaneous and equally viable lines of effort.  Also, my view of Special Operations Forces is that SOCOM should be abolished.  Not SF or SOF, but the separate command structure for these groups.



  • DesertPete45

    Excellent article Captain, too bad all of this is true.
    “Many Afghans are not happy with this policy, with foreign troops increasingly encountering angry Afghan civilians, who demand that NATO act more decisively in pursuing and killing Taliban gunman.” My son would be in total agreement with this assessment.

    I am disgusted with our lack of war effort and I agree with your assessment of McChrystal. However, I have no confidence in Petraeus because he will be controlled by obama, jones, mullen and gates. I also believe Petraeus to be weak and another PC general.

    Does anyone believe that the T-ban are quakiny in their boots over the appointment of Petreuas and the boyscoutish statements of mullen, gates and mccain over the dismissal of McChrystal? Our govt is continually showing weakness and indecisiveness and world leaders are probably happy as can be knowing we have an America hater in the WH. We are weak and vulnerable as a nation because the elected lying whores in DC have opted to use the military and the A-stan civilians in a dangerous game.

    Thanks again Captain. Excellent analysis.

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  • Polarbear1605

    You hit the nail on the head!…Afghan casualties are up because we ain’t going after the bad guys. The amazing part is no one has taken notice…except you. Plain as the nose on your face. Bob Weimann http://www.defendourmarines.com

  • jaredclarksmith

    Captain,
    This is the question isn’t it: Do we intend to continue to pretend to make war on the Anti Coalition Elements (ACE), in Afghanistan, while we also pretend to train Afghan Security Forces and Afghan bureaucrats to defend and rule their own country!? Sort of a high level anti Knute Rockne; awww, we gave it our best shot guys, lets go home and have milk shakes!
    I have seen the anger of the Afghan people when we are not allowed to defend them and fight as mighty warriors. I have experianced the derision of the ACE when they perseve weakness in our front. All the cool Coin talk in the world is no match for the base tenant of the gurilla fighter: Patience. So really its quite amusing to watch our government tie itself it knots over the most trivial of matters; (hurt feelings), while our warfighters go begging for clear orders and simple support for combat actions.
    I’m afraid that our own madness is starting to match that of those we oppose in war torn lands.

  • http://www.tenfingers6strings.com TF6S

    Good post Herschel.

    Desert, not really sure where you are getting that Petraeus is “another PC general.” As Herschel has a wait and see approach, it looks like his a moving quickly to allow commanders on the ground to determine how to engage the enemy as they see fit in their area of responsibility. That means being able to pursue and ruthlessly kill the enemy.

    Wired is on it:

    “So, to send a new signal to those troops, Petraeus called it a “moral imperative” to allow troops “all the support they need when they are in a tough situation.” He said discussed it with the Afghan leadership over the last few days and indicated that he secured their “full agreement” for that principle. While Petraeus didn’t specifically promise a change in the rules or their application, that’s a pretty strong indication that a change is in the works when Petraeus gets to Kabul — something Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the committee, indicated he wanted to see the Senate ensure happens before the July 4 holiday.

    So while no one should expect Petraeus to abandon population-centric counterinsurgency — “we cannot kill or capture our way out of an industrial-strength insurgency,” he said, so you don’t get it twisted — “we will continue to pursue relentlessly the enemies of the new Afghanistan in the months and years ahead.” ”

    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/06/petraeus-ill-change-the-rules-of-war-in-afghanistan/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+WiredDangerRoom+(Blog+-+Danger+Room)

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,General McChrystal,Petraeus,Rules of Engagement and was published June 28th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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