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September 16, 2009

Did ROE in A-Stan lead to Marine deaths?

The answer is no. Michelle Malkin has a post up now titled "Report: Rules of engagement led to soldiers’ deaths". I wrote her to explain why this is not the case.

When Gen. McChrystal released his new Tactical Directive there was much consternation about the fact that there were strict limitations about when strikes against civilian locations were authorized. This was done to change our methods of dealing with enemy activity from dropping a bomb or indirect fire on them, to disengaging if possible to avoid killing civilians. This is a wise move if we are ever to gain the trust and help of the Afghan people. The new directive specifically states that if a unit cannot safely disengage, then they can use fire support against civilian locations.

(NOTE) This directive 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 (specific options deleted due to
operational security) are available to effectively counter the threat.

In the case under discussion an advisory unit and it's Afghan counterparts were ambushed and called for fire support from Apache gunships and artillery. They got neither in a timely fashion and almost certainly that was a factor in the deaths of the four Marines.

U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties,rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers duginto the slopes and tree lines — despite being told repeatedly thatthey weren't near the village.

But it was not the Rules of Engagement (ROE) that caused their deaths. If this report from a McClatchy journalist is accurate then mistakes were made. But the mistakes were in improperly applying the ROE and in disregarding the commander on the ground saying that there were no civilians in jeopardy regardless. If as reported they were denied this fire support due to an overly tight and wrong interpretation of the ROE, and worse if the chain of command failed to listen to the unit in contact advising that the call for fire would not harm civilians, then heads should roll. But let's find out if that is the case before we jump to judgment. And you will pardon me if I decline to take a story published by one journalist as the gospel truth on this. None of this, however, points to the ROE as the cause of these Marines deaths.

We need to adapt the way we operate and fight in Afghanistan to minimize civilian casualties or we will never succeed. But, we have to do so without leaving our troops incapable of defending themselves. These are not mutually exclusive concepts.

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posted by Uncle Jimbo at 01:01 PM

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