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Petraeus Promises Counterinsurgency Warfare with Strict Rules of Engagement

Posted on July 1 2010 3:30 pm
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In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, General Petraeus did not shrink from addressing the controversy surrounding U.S. military Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, General Petraeus has reaffirmed his commitment to an overarching counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, while promising to review — and quite possibly relax — the rules of engagement (ROE) which limit and prescribe the use of American firepower.

The General’s comments are unsurprising because, as I have observed here at NewsReal Blog, the only way the United States can win in Afghanistan is to employ a classic counterinsurgency strategy in which force restraint is as important as — and perhaps more important than — the decisive exercise of force.

Yet, by the same token, there is no question but that U.S. troops have been chafing at what they view as overly restrictive  rules of engagement — or at least an overly restrictive interpretation or application of these rules.

“There is an inherent tension in counterinsurgency operations,” Petraeus explained, “between engaging the enemy and protecting the population.

In fact, in the past few days, I have had a good discussion with President Karzai on this topic, noting that, if confirmed, I would continue the emphasis on reducing loss of civilian life in the course of operations to an absolute minimum, while also ensuring that we provide whatever assets are necessary to ensure the safety of [the International Security Assistance Force] ISAF and Afghan forces when they are in a tough spot.

As we have done in numerous after action reports and through other feedback mechanisms in recent months, we will need to continue to educate our leaders on the implementation of the ROE moving forward.

This latter point about educating military leaders on the implementation of the ROE is especially telling. It means that Petraeus is not backing away from rules of engagement that are quite restrictive. Instead, he will work with our commanders on the ground to ensure that the ROE are better understood and applied.

“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,” Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Those on the ground must have all the support they need when they are in a tough situation.”

Petraeus, of course, is exactly right about this. I just hope the politicians in Congress and the White House are listening: Because Afghanistan promises to be a “tough situation” well past the president’s planned withdrawal date of July 2011.

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