Petraeus tightens rules of engagement

U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the recently appointed commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has reportedly added further restrictions to the “rules of engagement” that govern the use of force by most international forces in Afghanistan (Jason Motlagh, “Petraeus Toughens Afghan Rules of Engagement,” Time, 6 August 2010).

Most details of the new directive are classified (see unclassified details here), but Time reports that Petraeus has tightened the rules in a number of ways:

Under General McChrystal, NATO forces were prohibited from calling in air strikes or artillery fire on village compounds where the enemy might have been mixed in with civilians. Going several steps better, General Petraeus has reportedly expanded the ban on air strikes and artillery fire to all types of buildings, tree-lined areas and hillsides where it is difficult to distinguish who is on the ground.

Although the military has kept much of the directive’s fine print classified for operational security, other measures are said to include a curb on small-arms fire that has yielded a steady trickle of fatalities at checkpoints and in night raids on private residences. These have surpassed errant air strikes as the main source of civilian casualties.

The decision to further restrict the rules of engagement is part of an effort to reduce the number of Afghan civilians killed or injured by international forces. Recent reports confirm that the number of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and NATO forces has been declining.

The restrictions ordered by Gen. McChrystal were reportedly unpopular with some soldiers, who felt that the risk of allied casualties was increased by the restrictions, and many reports had speculated that Gen. Petraeus would loosen some of the rules.

That apparently turned out not to be the case, although Petraeus did assure his troops that the new directive, like the previous version, “does not prevent commanders from protecting the lives of their men and women as a matter of self-defense where it is determined no other options are available to effectively counter the threat.”

Exceptions to the rules reportedly include provision to forgo civilian-protection rules if troops are considered to be at risk of being overrun by Taliban forces.

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