A Reset Button in a War Zone


To what extent, if any, should we use the change of command in Afghanistan to make a clear-eyed assessment of tactics and strategy?   The situation in Afghanistan is about as tenuous as things were in Iraq when General Petraeus turned things around.  If anyone can pull this off, it is General David Petraeus. 

That being said, is it time to revisit the Rules Of Engagement?  In today’s New York Times, Bob Herbert quotes one Army Sergeant’s frustration with the current ROE: 

“I wish we had generals who remembered what it was like when they were down in a platoon.  Either they never have been in real fighting, or they forgot what it was like.”

Scattered reports indicate that General Petraeus will review this “Courageous Restraint” business.   Back when the current crop of flag officers was chewing mud in Vietnam, they too operated under an absurd labrynth of rules that effectively had them fighting with one arm tied behind their backs while the enemy continued to ignore all the rules, thereby gaining yet another set of advantages over our troops.  Have they forgotten their buddies who were sacrificed on the alter of a hearts and minds campaign that won neither of the two?  This approach wasn’t called “Courageous Restraint” back then, though the terms the troops used for it remain unprintable here. 

Hearts and minds typically follow the victor.  Germany and Japan both experienced a Rodney King epiphany after their decisive defeat in WWII, and decided that we could indeed all get along.  While I trust General Petraeus, I hope he will revisit the ROE currently imposed on our troops and give them the green light to protect themselves and kill the bad guys, which after all, is what fighting a war is about. 

Americans are not blood thirsty.  We don’t go searching for a fight.  We love our freedom and our families too much to see either of them endangered on a whim.  But once we are attacked, as we were on 9/11, we unleash war, sending the very best of us to defend the homeland.   When our sons, daughters, brothers and fathers are in harm’s way, for heavens sake, take the gloves off and let them fight!  Our troops are professional warriors, not javelin catchers.

There are 3 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Profile Photo Member


    I agree with everything you said, with one exception.

    Back when the current crop of flag officers was chewing mud in Vietnam, they too operated under an absurd labrynth of rules that effectively had them fighting with one arm tied behind their backs…

    While the comparison you are driving towards (two wars with unreasonable restrictions) is correct, your assertion about this General Officers is not.

    Unfortunately none of today’s Army leading GOs served in Vietnam. In fact the last GO who did serve there retired on 3 June.

    That being said, these current leaders are most certainly aware of the lessons from military history, but for some reason are determined to repeat them. To be perfectly honest though, I am of the mind that the asinine rules that many are forced to deal with do not come from the GOs themselves, but those in ‘middle management’ who live to interpret and implement guidance from above, and then enforce/impose it. Welcome to the military Nanny State!

    Unfortunately, many times the implementation bears little resemblance to the original intention. Both the guidance and implementation are usually both driven by political considerations, not necessarily tactical ones.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Podcaster

    Charles, thanks for the correction.  I didn’t realize that the last few flag officers who served in Vietnam had retired.  Of course, I now feel even older, since I served with many of them, so gee thanks for that revelation too.

    Sadly, I’m sure you’re right about the mid level management actually imposing these ridiculous ROE.  Question:  Do you think the publicity this issue will generate during the upcoming hearings for General Petraeus will improve the rules for our troops?

    Years ago, I was in a staff meeting where all the squadron and groups commanders were showing the wing commander the charts proving they had met all of their performance metrics on aircraft maintenance, flying hours, etc., when the wing commander asked them how they had accomplished this?  You could hear crickets chirping after that question.  The boss went on to say that meeting the goals was great, but what had their middle management done to their people to meet those goals?  How many double shifts, how long since the troops had had a day off, how were they being rewarded for bringing those numbers up, what were the stats from the first sergeants on troops with marital problems or substance abuse, etc?   He stressed the difference between leading and managing and cautioned his commanders to pay as much attention to their people as they did to the metrics.   An important lesson that was unfortunately lost on many in the room. 

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Member

    Speaking of which, an interesting analysis of the current ROE:

    After a year of concentrated effort, NATO forces in Afghanistan have reduced civilian casualties, caused by foreign troops, 44.4%. There were 7.8% fewer battles even involving civilians, and 52% fewer civilians hurt by foreign troops. The most striking reduction (82%) 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%.

    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.”

    Well there are unexpected side effects to policies in Washington, Tampa, and even Kabul. But perhaps they are not so unexpected in places like Camp Leatherneck, FOB Salerno, or Combat Outpost Retrepo.

    • #3
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.