The media is headlining collateral damage to Afghan civilians from coalition air strikes and US political leaders are covering themselves from criticism by reducing air strikes and implementing far stricter rules of engagement.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged in an interview with Al Jazeera that civilian casualties have become “a real problem” for the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
Gates’ remarks, in an interview to be aired Monday by the Qatar-based Arabic satellite news channel, came amid a raging controversy over an air strike that killed scores of people Friday in northern Afghanistan.
“I think it’s a real problem, and General McChrystal thinks it’s a real problem, too,” Gates said, referring to Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
New rules of engagement have had a real impact. Airstrikes on Afghan insurgents have been cut in half over the last few months.
Airstrikes by coalition forces in Afghanistan have dropped dramatically in the three months Gen. Stanley McChrystal has led the war effort there, reflecting his new emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties and protecting the population.
NATO fixed-wing aircraft dropped 1,211 bombs and other munitions during the past three months â€” the peak of the fighting season â€” compared with 2,366 during the same period last year, according to military statistics. The nearly 50% decline in airstrikes comes with an influx of more than 20,000 U.S. troops this year and an increase in insurgent attacks.
The shift is the result of McChrystal’s new directives, said Air Force Col. Mark Waite, an official at the air operations center in southwest Asia. Ground troops are less inclined to call for bombing or strafing runs, though they often have an aircraft conduct a “show of force,” a flyby to scare off insurgents, or use planes for surveillance, Waite said.
There is a price for those opportunistic media headlines, and for the cowardice of our leaders. It is paid by our troops, as Herschel Smith angrily explains.
(Quoted news account from McClatchey:)
GANJGAL, Afghanistan â€” We walked into a trap, a killing zone of relentless gunfire and rocket barrages from Afghan insurgents hidden in the mountainsides and in a fortress-like village where women and children were replenishing their ammunition.
â€œWe will do to you what we did to the Russians,â€ the insurgentâ€™s leader boasted over the radio, referring to the failure of Soviet troops to capture Ganjgal during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation.
Dashing from boulder to boulder, diving into trenches and ducking behind stone walls as the insurgents maneuvered to outflank us, we waited more than an hour for U.S. helicopters to arrive, despite earlier assurances that air cover would be five minutes away.
U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines â€” despite being told repeatedly that they werenâ€™t near the village.
â€œWe are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. Weâ€™ve lost today,â€ Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, 37, said through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latterâ€™s repeated demands for helicopters.
Four U.S. Marines were killed Tuesday, the most U.S. service members assigned as trainers to the Afghan National Army to be lost in a single incident since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Eight Afghan troops and police and the Marine commanderâ€™s Afghan interpreter also died in the ambush and the subsequent battle that raged from dawn until 2 p.m. around this remote hamlet in eastern Kunar province, close to the Pakistan border. …
The Marines were cut down as they sought cover in a trench at the base of the villageâ€™s first layer cake-style stone house. Much of their ammunition was gone. One Marine was bending over a second, tending his wounds, when both were killed, said Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, 21, of Greensburg, Ky., who retrieved their bodies.
I said it would happen, and only recently â€œofficialsâ€ have admitted that the new Afghanistan ROE have opened up new space for the insurgents. Now it has cost the lives of four more U.S. Marines. How many more Marines will have to die before this issue is addressed? The new ROE should have been dealt with as a classified memorandum of encouragement and understanding to consider holistic consequences of actions rather than a change to formal rules by which our Marines and Soldiers are prosecuted by courts. Yet the damage has been and continues to be done by poor decisions at the highest levels of leadership.
Damn the ROE.