Jul 10, 2009

Marines at Risk Due to New McChrystal Policy ??

Marines Wrestle With Afghanistan's New Airstrike Rules

By David Axe
Danger Room (Wired.com)
July 9, 2009

Gen. Stanley McChrsytal, the new commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has issued new, more restrictive rules for when American troops can call in airstrikes, after a controversial incident in May killed dozens of civilians. From now on, U.S. forces must “work through” engagements where civilians might be at risk, rather than simply calling in a B-1 bomber, according to one officer with knowledge of McChrystal’s new rules.

On the surface, the rules — about “weighing the gain” of airstrikes against the cost of civilian casualties” — don’t sound that much difference from the old guidelines. They urged urged caution, too. But the Marines, who last week launched a major offensive meant to re-take a swath of southern Afghanistan from the Taliban, are already seeing a difference. For them, the new rules mean extra patience, and the possibility that the Taliban might sometimes slip through their grasp, if one incident in southern Afghanistan, on Monday, is any indication. The incident shows McChrystal’s tighter rules, in action — and reveals the delicate, dangerous situations that U.S. forces could face, as they try to balance the need to protect everyday Afghans, with the desire to kill the Taliban.

The Marines’ pursuit of a Taliban squad unfolded normally, until the Taliban took shelter in a building the Marines feared might contain civilians. Under the new rules, the Leathernecks couldn’t just call in an airstrike. Instead, they settled in to “wait out the insurgents,” CNN reported. “The Marines’ restrained approach differs from previous hits on compounds.”

But the new rules also require the Marines to “be sensitive to Afghan cultural norms regarding women.” So when a gaggle of civilians fled the compound, the Marines didn’t search the females. When the Americans finally stormed the compound, they found it empty — and realized the Taliban had sneaked out, dressed as women. “Apparently these were tall, rather broad-shouldered women with hairy feet,” a Marine spokesman mused.

This is McChrystal’s kinder, gentler Afghanistan war. In daily conferences, the top general is forcing his regional commanders to justify and take responsibility for every bomb dropped, and every life lost. “We are not saying that the enemy is going to get a free pass,” a spokesman said. “But in instances when our forces can make the decision to de-escalate, they have an opportunity to more deliberately work their way through the problem.” Problem is, de-escalation might sometimes give the Taliban an opportunity to work their way through, too — to safety.

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