During his testimony to Congress yesterday, General David Petraeus made a point of directly addressing the problem of the existing Rules of Engagement (ROE). The existing Rules of Engagement were put in place by General Stanley McChrystal, with the intention of reducing civilian casualties. And they appear to have done so; the ROE change has produced a 28 percent reduction in civilian casualties caused by Coalition forces since last year. But these rules are widely disliked by US forces as they often endanger their lives while allowing Taliban fighters to escape and fight another day (and kill more soldiers and civilians). General Petraeus’ statement on the ROE is strongly worded, which shows there has been plenty of pressure on him to have the rules relaxed. Excerpted from The New York Times:
“I want to assure the mothers and fathers of those fighting in Afghanistan that I see it as a moral imperative to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform… Those on the ground must have all the support they need when they are in a tough situation.”
General Petraeus said the issue was so important that he had consulted on the matter in the past week with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan as well as other Afghan leaders, “and they are in full agreement with me on this.” He added, “I mention this because I am keenly aware of concerns by some of our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive.”
A loosening of the existing ROE will allow Petraeus to pursue the Taliban more aggressively. But it remains to be seen what the end game in Afghanistan will be. NATO and US officials seem to think the Taliban can be hit hard enough that they will be brought to the negotiating table, with the aid of Pakistan. But with Pakistan supporting and sheltering the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani Network, and HIG, this is ultimately a losing strategy.
It should be recalled that al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army never came to the negotiating table when the US and the Iraqi military pounded them during the so-called ‘surge’ in Iraq from 2007-2008. Tens of thousands of fighters were killed during relentless offensive operations. Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Mahdi Army never officially folded.
And the Taliban in some respects have more advantages, as they can move across the border into Pakistan, regroup, and wait out the offensive operations. This is exactly what they did in 2002. One major blind spot in US strategy in Afghanistan is the failure to admit the problems that stem from Pakistan and the US’ lack of a coherent policy to address these problems. This blinkered view must be addressed if the US ultimately wants to see an Afghan nation that does not harbor al Qaeda.
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