6 years, 8 months ago
Via CBS News:
To the U.S. soldiers getting pounded with thunderous mortar rounds in their combat outpost near Kandahar, it seemed like a legitimate request: allow them to launch retaliatory mortar shells or summon an airstrike against their attackers. The incoming fire was landing perilously close to a guard station, and the soldiers, using a high-powered camera, could clearly see the insurgents shooting.
The response from headquarters — more than 20 miles away — was terse. Permission denied. Battalion-level officers deemed the insurgents too close to a cluster of mud-brick houses, perhaps with civilians inside.
Although the insurgents stopped firing before anybody was wounded, the troops were left seething.
“This is not how you fight a war, at least not in Kandahar,” said a soldier at the outpost who described the incident, which occurred last month, on the condition of anonymity. “We’ve been handcuffed by our chain of command.”
[ … ]
Despite claims from some relatives of military personnel killed in Afghanistan that the directive has limited the ability of troops to defend themselves, the officials said a review by the U.S. military of every combat fatality over the past year has found no evidence that the rules restricted the use of lifesaving firepower.
“We have not found a single situation where a soldier has lost his life because he was not allowed to protect himself,” one of the officials said.
If troops are in imminent danger, there is no restriction on the use of airstrikes or mortars. “The rules of engagement provide an absolute right of self-defense,” the official said.
For troops on the ground … the directive has lowered their morale and limited their ability to pursue insurgents. They note that Taliban fighters seem to understand the new rules and have taken to sniping at troops from inside homes or retreating inside houses after staging attacks.
“Minimizing civilian casualties is a fine goal, but should it be the be-all and end-all of the policy?” said a junior Army officer in southern Afghanistan. “If we allow soldiers to die in Afghanistan at the hands of a leader who says, ‘We’re going to protect civilians rather than soldiers,’ what’s going to happen on the ground? The soldiers are not going to execute the mission to the best of their ability. They won’t put their hearts into the mission. That’s the kind of atmosphere we’re building.”
The principal problem, senior officials say, is that U.S. and allied units across Afghanistan have carried out the directive in ways that are more restrictive than McChrystal intended. Fearful of career-ending sanctions if they violate the order, commanders at every subordinate level down the chain have tightened the rules themselves, often adding their own stipulations to the use of air and mortar strikes.
Less than six hours before Marines commenced a major helicopter-borne assault in the town of Marja in February, Rodriguez’s headquarters issued an order requiring that his operations center clear any airstrike that was on a housing compound in the area but not sought in self-defense. But before the order was given to the Marines, the British-run regional headquarters in southern Afghanistan amended the language to include any strikes “near” houses, according to two U.S. sources familiar with the incident.
The issue of divergent and overly-restrictive “interpretations” of the ROE being given down the chain of command is a red herring. The issue is a diversion from the real issue of overly restrictive rules and micromanagement of the campaign at the highest levels of command.
In More Rules of Engagement Examples from Afghanistan, I observed:
McChrystal’s advocates argue that McChrystal’s tactical directive was misunderstood and applied too restrictively at lower levels of command (the rules have been distorted as they pass down the chain of command). But that dog won’t hunt. His tactical directive remains available for viewing, and his words set the context for its application: “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.” The reader can make up his own mind.
As for warriors who have lost their lives to the rules of engagement, I give you three Marines and a Navy Corpsman, and for me, General McChrystal will always be responsible for their deaths. Others may have participated by their incompetence, but it all began with McChrystal.
But the real addition to the knowledge base for ROE in this example comes by way of prissy excuse and demur. Note that the report attempts to exonerate McChrystal’s direct report, General Rodriguez by explaining how the rules got revised after issuance. But here is the real question. Why the hell is General Rodriguez second guessing Marines in the field in combat operations?
The real problem is not that the rules got twisted. The real problem is that General Rodriguez took it upon himself to micromanage Marines who have successful combat experience from Iraq. The Marines no more needed General Rodriguez at any point during this operation than they needed a business secretary in corporate America issuing orders to them. Instead of providing logistics, materiel, equipment and resources, General Rodriguez made himself a nuisance to the operation.
This micromanagement is an increasing problem in the U.S. military, and it follows the American corporate model. But it seems to have taken on gigantic proportions with General McChrystal, an aspect that needs to change now that he is gone. Unfortunately, General Rodriguez is still around to meddle in affairs where he is not needed and is serving no useful purpose.
Postscript: General Rodriguez has been the subject of previous articles, specifically where he trotted out Army intelligence to decidedly inform us that there would be no 2008 spring offensive in Afghanistan, while I said that there would be, and it would be directed at logistics, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The reader can decide for himself who hit the target and who didn’t.