Tuesday, February 16, 2010
This Washington Post report gives a much more in depth look at the rules of engagement established by GEN McChrystal to stem mounting civilian casualties. While I completely agree that some constraints had to be put into place, this struck me as somewhat drastic:
Not seeing any civilians on a video feed from a drone or through one's rifle scope is no longer enough. Under a tactical directive McChrystal issued last summer, troops must verify that there are no civilians inside a house by watching it for at least 72 hours to establish a "pattern of life" before an airstrike will be authorized.
Emphasis mine. Even if armed insurgents were observed going into the house or going into a different house. Or stay or move in the vicinity of houses. Given some of the scenarios Marines are facing now in this new offensive (as reported in this article), this seems somewhat extreme. 72 hours of watching a house?? Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been economy of force missions - trying to do more with less. Even with the assistance of UAVs to keep eyes on larger tracts of land not controlled by forces on the ground, 72 hours is a long time to observe anything and devotes significant resources that could be used elsewhere. I don't see how this helps prevent civilian casualties when less amount of time would suffice for the command to justify the use of force (oh, I don't know, maybe four to six hours?). I'm all about observing the situation and minimizing civilian casualties, but 72 hours??
I also highly doubt these limitations are guiding drone strikes across the border in Pakistan - given that those operations do not fall under the purview of ISAF (to my knowledge at least) and that they are usually conducted by the CIA (I should note that I don't know if they have these rules or not, but given the reports of these strikes lately it doesn't seem to be the case). Essentially, it suggests that killing "high payoff targets" of both Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda requires less rigor than destroying imminent threats to our soldiers and Marines on the ground. Understanding the strategic effects of killing high-ranking enemy, there are pretty significant effects to wiping out a platoon of insurgents armed, grouped, and about to attack your own forces. I have to say that would make me pretty angry if I were on the ground.
This also hamstrings commanders and removes the onus of decision making from him. That is what commanders get paid to do - make decisions based on the information he has in the interest of mission accomplishment. There is plenty of room for error of course, but this order essentially removes the ability of commanders to neutralize threats in any built up area. What if the Taliban guys just move from house to house every 48 hours? That will tie up large amounts of resources, either UAVs or putting boots on the ground to clear the area.
I'm not very keen on this order, and it's not even my ass hanging in the wind because of it. This strikes me as extreme and only used to appease the Afghan government while debilitating U.S. forces' ability to destroy enemy forces. This is no way to win a war.