The Daily Mirror ran a story about the increased angst in the ranks of Britain's forces over new orders that require British forces to be fired upon before engaging the enemy in Afghanistan. While these ROE are not new to the US and ISAF forces in general, the edict is being received by Britain's armed forces as another oppressive act permitting a greater level of danger for them in the interest of safeguarding "innocent" Afghan civilians.
This debate is not new for either the Brits or Americans but with each new edict comes a new round of unnecessary friendly deaths at the hands of the Taliban and our new "allies", the Afghan Army and Police. As the numbers of ISAF and NATO casualties increase, there is ever growing evidence of the numbing of the minds of those entrusted with the leadership of these forces.
The number of deaths attributed to treachery among the ANA and ANP aimed at ISAF and NATO forces should indicate that efforts to minimize the damage caused to civilians by heavily restricting our forces simply isn't working. If this kind of behavior was occurring in this country and growing at the same rate, the career health hand-wringers would be declaring an epidemic! Unfortunately, we will be seeing more of these attacks because there is no sign that either the DOD, Pentagon or the civilian leadership in DC are willing to change tactics and loosen the ROE in response to what is clearly an uptick in anti-American and ISAF sentiment.
This report about the moral and real world effects of these continuingly tightening ROE came just a day before reports of two more "trusted" Afghan's opening fire on their British and American "counterparts". In the first incident which occurred, ironically, just one day after the scathing Mirror report, three British Soldiers were killed and the second occurring in Kabul, today yielding another five American Soldiers wounded. Concerned Americans are asking why this is happening and the answer is really very simple.
It has been 10 years since we first invaded Afghanistan driving the Taliban from power and leaving Al Qaida in disarray, forcing them to seek shelter in the mountains around Tora Bora and across the border in Pakistan. We spent the next few years simply holding ground via COP's and FOB's because we had shifted focus to Iraq. A discussion about the value of that decision can be held in another venue and another time but what is certain is that during the Iraq War years, we lost focus in Afghanistan.
When we were once again preparing to re-engage the Taliban in Afghanistan which had reconstituted, it was under new leadership with a radically different vision for the operation and for our conduct in the battle space. General Petraeus who has been lauded as the tactical genius who "won" the war in Iraq, had done two things which occurred simultaneously; first, he requested and received a surge of some 30,000 troops. The benefit of that surge was felt in Al Anbar Province.
At the same time, he made a decision to change strategy and introduced the controversial doctrine of Counter Insurgency to our efforts in Iraq. Although he has been crowned as the father of the doctrine, the truth is he borrowed it from the Marine Corps's Small Wars Manual of 1940 and simply "re-tooled" it to fit the environment in Southwest Asia. Because these two elements occurred at the same time, many were led to believe that our eventual success in Al Anbar province was due to the strategy change.
This was an unfortunate misinterpretation of the taming of Al Anbar. The truth is that Al Anbar was won by hard fought, hardcore combined arms Infantry tactics and a little something called force saturation. Simply put, the "Insurgency" did not have any more maneuver space in Al Anbar because we had filled the battle space with American uniforms. But because a population needs a "hero", General Petraeus was held up as the COIN genius who won Al Anbar and with that kind of press comes a legacy and all legacies need justification. The justification came by way of a decision to change the strategy in Afghanistan with the hope of duplicating our success in Iraq.
Refocusing on Afghanistan would require changes and a change of leadership and so Defense Secretary Gates asked for General McKiernan's resignation in early 2009 and replaced him with a philosoph of Petraeus, General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal was not only loyal to Petraeus, he was also a staunch believer in COIN. The change was determined necessary because the Taliban had already rallied and were regaining territory taken from them early in the campaign. Petraeus and McChrystal both believed Afghanistan presented challenges that COIN was developed to respond to but Petraeus and McChrystal misread the population and the prevailing religious ideology of Afghanistan. In addition, the focus and intent emanating from the executive branch in DC, placed new emphasis on "playing nice". The greatest evidence of this new intent is found in the complete lack of discussion about the predominant religion in the region.
The reason the Taliban has been able to operate in such close proximity to our forces is the same reason we are finding so many incidences of treachery in the ranks of the ANA and ANP; the absence of scrutiny of the influence of the prevailing religion in the region and it's most hate filled verses. While the mantra from within the DC and emanating from the DOD is that Islam is a religion of peace which has been hijacked by a small percentage of adherents, the evidence suggests that the percentage is indeed higher. It is also indicative of a population that is not nearly as concerned with the actions of the Taliban as they are with our presence in their country.
Probably the most significant piece of evidence for this is in the proliferation of IED's. If in fact, as we are told, IED's are the product and weapon of an insurgent element that has perverted the doctrines of Islam, there should be very few of these devices left to injure our troops who are forced to patrol in and around populated areas without Close Air Support, Artillery Support, Support from organic weapons systems like 60mm, 81mm and 120mm mortars and who cannot return fire on an enemy if the engagement is near a populated area. But in reality, IED's are still being set and very few are being reported to ISAF or American forces by the population these unreasonably tight ROE are intended to protect. They are not being reported because the local population does not feel as oppressed by the Taliban as our leadership has chosen to believe. The Taliban are in fact, of the people in Afghanistan. They are Brothers, Fathers, Husbands, Sons, Neighbors and Friends. They also have one thing in common with the people that we, as a western force do not; a shared adherence to Islam.
The truth is, Counter Insurgency efforts throughout history have been waged at a terrible cost to the War Fighters who are forced to operate within that paradigm. And the historical record of success while working within COIN and its damnable ROE is abysmal. The evidence that is reported every, single day screams of its failure and yet no one in DC or the DOD or the Pentagon seems to be paying attention.
So the question to ask this day is whether our appointed leaders are more concerned about history recording their undying support for the strategy they have thrust upon our War Fighters or succeeding on the battlefield?
In the meantime our War Fighters will continue to be victims of short-sighted leadership and the tenacity of the Afghan people; the Taliban, the treacherous ANA and ANP, the corrupt Kabul government and the actions/inaction of the "innocent" population.
And this is because our leadership refuses to acknowledge or even consider the ramifications of working in an ideologically monolithic society where that ideology is Islam.