Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 22, 2009
WAR: Wrong Way Rules of Engagement

New Rules of Engagement

As a general matter, while I write a fair amount about national security strategy, I'm usually hesitant to wade into military tactics, a subject best left to the professionals. Even among those who know their stuff, military tactical decisions often involve difficult tradeoffs on which reasonable people can and do disagree, plus people who lack a military background (as I do) often make hilarious mistakes when attempting to lay out the facts of such stories, let alone dissect them, without running them by someone who knows their stuff. I'd prefer to avoid the kind of armchair generalship we had among so many on the Left during the Bush years who were hair-trigger quick to accuse U.S. tactical decisions of being (1) incompetent or (2) atrocities.

All that being said, I find myself utterly baffled by this report from the Associated Press on comments made by and on behalf of the new commanding officer in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and his spokesman, Rear Adm. Greg Smith, and of course I have to wonder if the order comes from McChrystal or originates higher up the chain of command from the political branches:

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan will soon formally order U.S. and NATO forces to break away from fights with militants hiding in Afghan houses so the battles do not kill civilians, a U.S. official said Monday.

The order would be one of the strongest measures taken by a U.S. commander to protect Afghan civilians in battle. American commanders say such deaths hurt their mission because they turn average Afghans against the government and U.S. and NATO forces.

Civilian casualties are a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. The U.N. says U.S., NATO and Afghan forces killed 829 civilians in the Afghan war last year.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took command of international forces in Afghanistan this month, has said his measure of effectiveness will be the "number of Afghans shielded from violence," and not the number of militants killed.

McChrystal will issue orders within days saying troops may attack insurgents hiding in Afghan houses if the U.S. or NATO forces are in imminent danger and must return fire, said U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith.

"But if there is a compound they're taking fire from and they can remove themselves from the area safely, without any undue danger to the forces, then that's the option they should take," Smith said. "Because in these compounds we know there are often civilians kept captive by the Taliban."

McChrystal's predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, issued rules last fall that told commanders to set conditions "to minimize the need to resort to deadly force."

But McChrystal's orders will be more precise and have stronger language ordering forces to break off from battles, Smith said.

As the article notes, there are reasons why the U.S. military needs to be careful about civilian casualties, because casualties make us unpopular with the Afghan public and cause friction with the Karzai government. But then, the "Team America" image of left-wingers to the contrary, our military is always more careful about civilian casualties than it would be if it was 100% focused on killing the enemy. That's the nature of our military even without formalizing an order in the rules of engagement, and moreso when you consider the rules of engagement typically ordered in most circumstances.

But McChrystal's order strikes me as going way too far in taking us out of the business of fighting the enemy. First, we know full well that our jihadist enemies love to use innocent or captive civilians as human shields; that particular war crime is their standard M.O. and has been for many years (as it is against the Israelis as well) - I can recall that being their standard tactic at least as far back as Mogadishu. To give them a complete sanctuary by virtue of committing a war crime is a very bad precedent that diminishes the U.S. military's effectiveness - thus prolonging the war - and only encourages more of the same barbarity. Second, publicly announcing that the strong preference for not shooting at people hiding behind civilians is being codified in a hard and fast rule only gives the enemy more encouragement and advice as to how to nullify our forces.

McChrystal "has said his measure of effectiveness will be the 'number of Afghans shielded from violence,' and not the number of militants killed." Now, it was true in Vietnam and Iraq and is true in Afghanistan that enemy body counts alone are rarely the sole measure of success. You win by breaking the enemy's will to fight and belief that it can accomplish anything by fighting, and while attrition alone can occasionally win a war, in the usual course you have to demonstrate the futility of resistance in other ways as well. But in any military engagement, simply playing defense cedes too much initiative to the enemy, and an enemy with the initiative and secure places to hide can always talk itself into continuing the fight.

What finally worked in Iraq was a 1-2-3 punch - more U.S. and especially local troops, expanded rules of engagement, and a dedication to clear and hold areas of the country and deny safe havens among the Iraqi people. McChrystal's new rules, if accurately described here, seem to be a move in the opposite direction on both of the latter two scores, and a repeat of some of the less successful tactics tried in Iraq. That's bad news all around.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:21 PM | War 2007-12 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Crank, do you have any bead on where Gov Sanford disappeared to for four days without contacting his office or family?

Scratch another cat off the 2012 GOP list...

Posted by: robert at June 22, 2009 7:27 PM

Crank,

Reality is, all military strategy is perfect until it encounters the enemy. Read Gen. Grant's memoirs. He was brutally honest about how often chance played a role in whether a campaign was successful or not. Also, dealing with an insurgency is very similar to our Civil War in that to get to the enemy and their resources you had to go through civilian areas and how you deal with the locals can greatly effect how they involve themselves. Not all of the South was strongly in favor of the Confederacy. Same is true in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Robert,

I doubt Sanford was a contender. Then again I didn't expect McCain to be the nominee last time.

Posted by: largebill at June 22, 2009 10:07 PM

Isn't funny how the Lefties wat to talk about potential 2012 Republican opponents as Obambi is now, per Rasmussen, having higher strongly disapproves vs. strongly approves for the first time and his overall numbers are now down in 53%-53% range, despite 24/7 media fellatio. You can only fool some of the people some of the time and now a growing percentage of those in the middle realize ....hey wait a second this guy is a socialist and he is an appeaser and I didn't vote for this. I didn't vote for 2 trillion dollar annual defiicts, I didn't vote for ACORN to get billions of dollars and hey why is my President eating ice cream cones while Iranians are being massacred in the streets and wait did I hear right North Korea is going to be launching frigging missiles at Hawaii-what is our President going to do about that. Hey you know this guy is an empty suit, he is a wimp and he is just a tax and spend liberal- I am idiot how did I ever vote for this guy?


The middle is waking up Lefties and its not going to be pretty for you. Just imagine where you would be if you had a media that wasn't totally in the tank.

But you know what-keep blathering about Sanford, and Palin and whoever elese your masters are telling you to attack this week.

Posted by: dch at June 22, 2009 10:57 PM

Sanford is apparently hiking the Appalachian Trail, and his staff told RedState they are able to contact him. Apparently this is disqualifying for a presidential candidate? Or is it just not being Obama that's disqualifying?

Posted by: Crank at June 22, 2009 11:01 PM

Just imagine if Sanford belonged to a racist church for 20 years, donated thousands of dollars to said church, called the racist pastor his spiritual advisor and father figure, lived in a foreign country under a different name, hung out with domestic terrorists and accomplished absolutlely nothing in any job or position he had ever held-that would be Hope and Change we can believe in.

Posted by: dch at June 22, 2009 11:55 PM

Crank, McChrystal's strategy has to be from someone else. Any competent military commander knows that to reduce civilian casualties you strike hard and fast. The idea being if the conflict is shorter, there will be fewer civilians caught in the line of fire. This will make Afganistan a repeat of the Soviet experience.

Posted by: maddirishman at June 23, 2009 3:51 AM

This has Obama's thumbprints all over it. Does the amorphous and unverifiable "number of Afghans shielded from violence" remind anyone else of the amorphous and unverifiable "number of jobs saved or created"?

Posted by: joe at June 23, 2009 4:15 AM

"As the article notes, there are reasons why the U.S. military needs to be careful about civilian casualties, because casualties make us unpopular with the Afghan public and cause friction with the Karzai government. . . . our military is always more careful about civilian casualties than it would be if it was 100% focused on killing the enemy. That's the nature of our military even without formalizing an order in the rules of engagement, and moreso when you consider the rules of engagement typically ordered in most circumstances."

Yeah, I agree. I'm no military tactician either, but this seems dumb. Even if I thought this was a good idea, I certainly wouldn't say it publicly.

Posted by: MVH at June 23, 2009 9:04 AM

It seems to me that this is an effort being made at the front end to avoid "winning the war, but losing the peace." Would you rather we act as we did in Vietnam and "destroyed the village[s] in order the save [them]"?

The political issues associated with western involvement in this region are complex and far-reaching. Cheney may have really believed that we would be welcomed in Iraq as "liberators," but the real world doesn't work that way.

As for Sanford, it just seems a little odd. Lord knows we have had some odd candidates in the past and, in the end, the voters don't bond to them. At least he is not sleeping with the wife of one of his staffers.

Posted by: Magrooder at June 23, 2009 10:01 AM

Would you rather we act as we did in Vietnam and "destroyed the village[s] in order the save [them]"?

Of course not. But this policy is like a giant billboard to terrorists that says: go ahead and hide in civilian houses, you'll be safe there.

And doesn't this really put the civilians at greater risk? Do the Afghan civilians want terrorists seeking safe haven in their homes?

Posted by: MVH at June 23, 2009 10:14 AM

I love the Sanford apologetics and the intensity of the conservative response reveals the blood that's been drawn.

His wife said she couldnt contact him, then that she could. That he was getting away from the kids to write, or, per his office, to hike. Took a public funded car for his little vacation too. Nice to see that he left a trail of breadcrumbs so that he could be contacted in case of emergency.

Posted by: robert at June 23, 2009 1:51 PM

Stormbringer has his take on it http://seanlinnane.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Theo Spark at June 23, 2009 4:33 PM

"Took a public funded car for his little vacation"-excuse me do you know any of the rules of his state regarding use of vehicles by the Governor, (who by the way is a 24/7 official) or this was that just another little attack point you masters told you to use. BTW-do you know if he conducted any state business while in that car-any business at all?

Run along little boy, run along

Posted by: dch at June 23, 2009 10:55 PM

The hike story is a cover. Secret plane flights. I almost feel like a birther, except with the facts on my side.

Posted by: robert at June 24, 2009 12:41 AM

This order clearly came from the commander-in-chief who is unconcerned about US military casualties.

Posted by: stan at June 24, 2009 10:17 AM

robert,
The story now is that Sanford was in Buenos Aires. I'm in Bs As too, but haven't see the governor. But, then again, I don't hang-out in gay nightclubs. (Educated guess that's where he was, since he's a "family values Republican").

Posted by: Berto at June 24, 2009 11:10 AM

Y'all have to admit, Berto nailed that one. You can't have a long and storied history of closeted GOP politicians and not get stuck with that one.

Posted by: jim at June 24, 2009 11:30 AM

Does anyone on the left want to defend this policy further? You've said nothing to convince me so far that this is a good decision.

Posted by: MVH at June 24, 2009 11:34 AM

The only long and storied history I see is threadjacking.

Posted by: MVH at June 24, 2009 11:41 AM

"Sanford is apparently hiking the Appalachian Trail, and his staff told RedState they are able to contact him."

Way to drink the Kool Aid Crank as you revert to "defend our rising stars at any cost" mode. Is there an Appalachian Trail in Argentina or in an airport parking lot?

Posted by: robert at June 24, 2009 12:27 PM

The only way to make this story http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31522908/ns/politics-more_politics/

better is if he were nailin' Palin.

Posted by: Magrooder at June 24, 2009 2:48 PM

Wow. Color me shocked!
First we find out Sosa was on steroids.
Then we find out a sanctimonious GOP politician is a hypocrite.
What's next? Will we find out that Chief Justice Roberts is nothing more than a tool for the ruling class?

Posted by: Berto at June 24, 2009 3:33 PM
Site Meter 250wde_2004WeblogAwards_BestSports.jpg