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Rules of (mis)engagement

Posted by Richard on June 22, 2010

A short time ago, the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan passed 1000, and the Brits just lost their 300th. Today was an especially deadly day for coalition troops, and this month is turning into one of the deadliest of the war. This is not unexpected. When the surge began, everyone predicted a rise in casualties. More troops engaging in more operations equals more casualties. 

But that alone may not be the full explanation. On Sunday, George Will reported on a troubling email from a non-commissioned officer in Afghanistan. The NCO cited several examples from his own battlefield experiences illustrating that the rules of engagement under which troops are operating are, in his words, "too prohibitive for coalition forces to achieve sustained tactical successes." Here's one of them: 

Receiving mortar fire during an overnight mission, his unit called for a 155mm howitzer illumination round to be fired to reveal the enemy's location. The request was rejected "on the grounds that it may cause collateral damage." The NCO says that the only thing that comes down from an illumination round is a canister, and the likelihood of it hitting someone or something was akin to that of being struck by lightning. 

The others are no less nonsensical and dangerous to the troops. In a counter-insurgency operation, it's both morally and practically important to minimize unnecessary civilian casualties. But there's such a thing as being stupid about it. When a group of villagers is, as in another of the NCO's examples, openly cheering for the enemy and harboring insurgents in their homes, being solicitous of their feelings is unlikely to win their hearts and minds — only to win their greater contempt. 

Right or left, hawk or dove, surely we can all agree that it's wrong to send soldiers to fight under rules that make it impossible for them to succeed and that greatly increase their chances of dying.

(HT: Vodkapundit)

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