Battling the Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 10 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.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On November 16, 2009 at 2:33 am, larwyn said:

    Dear Herschel,
    First thought is for the safety of our troops. Pray for them constantly, but the Lord helps those who help themselves. In this case, our troops are being betrayed by the cowards, the P.C. cowards, in the Military BRASS.

    Included your post in collection just sent out tonight, intro’d with an excerpt from Galen’s Mullings tonight. He was writing of the decision to bring KSM & COMPANY to NYC, but it is applicable, imho:

    .# On the Sunday shows yesterday, one Administration defender after another claimed it was important to show the world that the American system of justice is fair to all. Sen. Jack Reed (DEMOCRAT – Rhode Island) said, having civilian trials in New York was “an opportunity to show that we’re better than they are, we’re much better than they are.”

    # (A) When did we start thinking we had to prove to anyone that “we’re better than they are” and, (B) assuming the “they” is the terrorists, why do we think we have to prove anything to them?
    My second thought is MAY THEY ALL BURN IN HELL – that is, the MEDIA and all the sob sisters who have shackled our military from fighting to win in both of these HOT WARS. Same thing they are doing with ISRAEL. And must then say MAY THE BRASS who kow tows to the MEDIA also join them.

    Third and most distressing thought is that this LOSS OF MORALE is exactly what BHO & his LEFTIST ANTI-AMERICA CABAL want. They want the best of our troops and officers to leave the services. They want a shell of our military today to exist in next few years to prove that WE ARE NOT EXCEPTIONAL. They want to take us back to the post NAM & Bill Clinton military mindset.

    And it does not take a giant leap to realize that creating lots of demoralized troops mustered out of the services is a quick way of getting instances of Napolitano’s EX-MILITARY RW NUT CASE HOMELAND SECURITY threats, now isn’t it! FILE THAT UNDER: SELF FULFILLING PROPHECY.

    I am praying that the best of them, the best of America, do not fall for this ploy. I’ve asked my lists to call their Senators/Congressmen on Armed Services Committees to make their DISGUST KNOWN.

    Don’t usually comment on sites. Too busy trying to messenger great posts around the blogosphere, but wanted to see what response to my thoughts would be from your commentors.

  2. On November 16, 2009 at 2:36 pm, Paul G said:

    If, as you say, “The locals want us to chase and kill every last Taliban, even when there is the potential for collateral damage,” would it be too much to ask for them to chip in? Maybe work as scouts? Lead us to the T’ban and then let us take care of business? I’d like my neighbors to rake up my leaves — to chase down and pick up every single leaf — but I’m sure they’d be a lot more willing to help if I got off my dead a** and did some of the work myself.

    This “lets you and him fight” attitude has got to go — or we have to go.

  3. On November 25, 2009 at 10:18 am, Warbucks said:

    Young Icarus attempts to soar among the Gods of India. There is both the public face and the greater secrete truth. “Come, join me,” says Indra, “and share in destiny. The sun? But you’re a God Icarus! Come closer.”

  4. On November 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm, Dawg said:

    Sound familiar…?

    “Afghan Militias Battle Taliban With Aid of U.S.”

    “ACHIN, Afghanistan — American and Afghan officials have begun helping a number of anti-Taliban militias that have independently taken up arms against insurgents in several parts of Afghanistan, prompting hopes of a large-scale tribal rebellion against the Taliban.”

  5. On November 26, 2009 at 3:39 pm, DesertPete45 said:

    Does anyone really think their will be anti-tban militias that will chase the tban out? They will take our arms and do nothing. The tban is part of the fabric of society in many of these areas. Either WE kill them or get the hell out. Regarding the pantywaste wimps: obama, jones, gates, mullen, mcchrystal; I have no use for any of them. No real men among them. We may as well put oprah in charge of this sissified war effort. So now our mililtary is about diversity and making the women feel comfortable in boot camp. What the hell are our female marines wearing a head scarf for??? We are showing weakness. Screw their customs they sure as hell don’t care about ours. Either we pursue and kill or get out. We have a pantywaste cic and nothing but commies running our government. Allah Akhbar (however it is spelled) terrorism has come to our government, the camel has his damn nose under the tent, rather under the skirts of obama, jones, gates, mullen, mcchrystal, casey etc.

  6. On December 3, 2009 at 8:06 am, The Crawfish said:

    This makes the ROE from Vietnam and Korea look positively SANE! I’ll be linking this post in my column this Friday.

  7. On December 5, 2009 at 10:33 pm, Warfighter said:

    The problem the current administration has is they are currently looking through the glasses of “Nation Building”, while the AQ/Taliban are still coming to work with their war faces on.

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You are currently reading "Battling the Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan", entry #4212 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Featured,General McChrystal,Rules of Engagement and was published November 16th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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