Gen. Petraeus revises the rules of engagement for NATO forces in Afghanistan

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, speaking to Afghan soldiers at an oath taking ceremony.

From Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor: Gen. David Petraeus, appointed this June to turn the Afghanistan war around, has just made his first visible impact on how the increasingly deadly conflict is being run.

On Wednesday General Petraeus revised the Afghanistan rules of engagement, which are guidelines for when and how the US and other NATO troops under his command can shoot to kill. At the time of his confirmation a rethink of the strict rules put in place by his predecessor Gen. Stanley McChrystal – which many combat troops complained put protecting Afghan civilians ahead of protecting them – was likely.

Now, he’s issued a change in approach that appears to relax the rules around the edges, while maintaining the priority at the heart of NATO’s counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy in Afghanistan. The full directive is classified, according to the International Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF), the mission Petraeus leads. But the excerpts from Petraeus’s rules released on the ISAF website place more emphasis on the appropriateness of lethal force than the McChrystal order it replaces.

The nuanced shift in the rules is no surprise. Some officers privately said that under McChrystal the priority on protecting Afghan civilian lives had become too doctrinaire and that, in practice, officers were reluctant to return fire or use artillery against attacking insurgents because of the presence – or possible presence – of Afghan civilians among them. …

What this [shift in policy] will mean in practice is hard to say. With 101 NATO casualties in June, that month was the deadliest of the 9-year-old war for foreign troops. July’s death toll of 66 US service members made that month the deadliest of the war for the US. And most NATO casualties are the result of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) placed on roads and footpaths, against which air power or guns are of little use.

Civilian casualties have been a major source of tension between NATO forces and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, who has railed in the past against the loss of civilian lives at NATO hands – though human rights workers in Afghanistan say the vast majority of civilians now dying in Afghanistan are being killed by the Taliban.  (photo: Musadeq Sadeq/AP)

Image: ap%208%206%2010%20David%20Petraeus%20roe.jpg