A bizarre take on the rules of engagement

General David Petraeus has said that he will consider changing the rules of engagement in Afghanistan because of concerns that, though they are designed to protect civilians, they end up putting Coalition troops in greater danger. The current, more restrictive, rules of engagement were put in place with the goal of reducing civilian casualties during fighting in order to win greater Afghan civilian support. Striking a perfect balance in this area is of course nearly impossible, and Petraeus’s comments reflect the difficulty of fashioning the rules: “I am keenly aware of concerns by some of our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement…. They should know that I will look very hard at this issue.”

Though there will certainly be spirited debate, coverage at Al Jazeera English features one of the most bizarre quotes you will read about the rules of engagement:

[Al Jazeera’s Patty Cullhane said,] “When McChrystal came in and took over in Afghanistan, he said that too many civilians were being caught up in the cross-fire and he severely restricted things.” But Hillary Mann Leverett, a former US official on Afghanistan and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera that the resultant changes did not yield intended results. “The reality is that there has not been a decrease in civilian deaths with the rules of engagement that was adopted by McChrystal,” Leverett said. “If General Petraeus does adopt looser rules of engagement, that would potentially lead to more civilian deaths. We are then likely to see even more violence, particularly more suicide bombings targeted at US forces and Nato troops.”

In other words, General Stanley McChrystal’s changes to the rules of engagement made no difference — they did not decrease civilian deaths, full stop — but if Petraeus moves the policy back toward the old rules of engagement, it could increase civilian deaths. Even though, you know, McChrystal’s changes did not make a difference in the first place.

Leverett has long shown a willingness to spin or manipulate facts in service of the agenda or point she is trying to advance. Is she now abandoning basic rules of logic as well?

Update, June 30, 2010: In fact, during the course of 2009 (with the new ROE in place for half the year) a UN report found: “The number of civilians killed by pro-government forces, including U.S. airstrikes, decreased by 28 percent over the previous year.” So Leverett’s analysis both defies basic logic and also ignores applicable facts.

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  • Kemal says:

    Al Jazeera is simply not a credible news organization. How can one believe anything they say in English when their Arabic language news is so vehemently anti-western?

  • Eric says:

    “Is she now abandoning basic rules of logic as well?”
    Her and Al Jazeera. Well AJ has been doing this for a long time, so this is not new.

  • Kemal, Eric:
    I don’t share your unremittingly negative view of Al Jazeera. (Full disclosure: I have received compensation from Al Jazeera for appearing as a guest on the network.) Robert Kaplan had a good piece about the network in The Atlantic that provides a different view from the one you express. He does a good job of detailing its riveting and in-depth international coverage, as well as critiquing its viewpoint: “George Orwell intimated in 1984 that purity can be a form of coercion, and in that respect, I find Al Jazeera’s moral rectitude disturbing. Because its cause is that of the weak and the oppressed, it sees itself as always in the right, regardless of the complexity of the issues, and therein lies its power of oppression.”
    Al Jazeera is not without its problems — serious problems, in my opinion — but I would not brush it aside as “simply not a credible news organization” or lacking logic.


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