Jun 25, 2010 10 Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Update: Drudge took our headline. Cool!
Gen David Petraeus, the new US commander in Afghanistan, is to review the controversial doctrine of “courageous restraint”, according to Pentagon sources.
He is to re-examine the rules which some soldiers believe have prevented them from defending themselves.
“There will be no change in overall policy but all aspects of tactics and implementation will be looked at afresh,” a Pentagon official told The Daily Telegraph. “The issue of ‘courageous restraint’ is a controversial one on the ground and there may be ways it can be modified.”
Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief, said that “Gen Petraeus will have the flexibility to look at the campaign plan and the approach and all manner of things when he gets to Afghanistan”.
Changes to allow soldiers more flexibility in using lethal force are likely to be welcomed by both American and British troops.
This month became the bloodiest of the nine-year war yesterday after four British were killed when their Ridgeback vehicle rolled into a canal in Helmand. It meant a total of 79 foreign troops had died in Afghanistan so far this month. The previous record was 77 killed last August.
Gen Petraeus was nominated by President Barack Obama as the successor to Gen Stanley McChrystal who was fired on Wednesday for disrespectful comments by him and his staff about several top American officials and the French.
It is unlikely that Gen Petraeus will make radical changes leading to a return of the use of overwhelming firepower that once characterised US military operations. He drew up the new American counter-insurgency manual in 2006, implemented it in Iraq and was a mentor to Gen McChrystal.
But some senior officers believe that Gen McChrystal’s tactical directives were too rigid.
In guidance issued last August he stated that “destroying a home or property jeopardises the livelihood of an entire family â€“ and creates more insurgents” and that “large scale operations to kill or capture militants carry a significant risk of causing civilian casualties and collateral damage”.
These things, he argued, carried the risk of sowing the seeds of Western demise in Afghanistan and that success would only be achievable if troops displayed the courage needed to risk being killed in order to spare civilian casualties and even property.
While the principle of avoiding civilian casualties is certain to remain at the centre of Afghanistan strategy, restrictive rules of engagement that require platoon commanders to seek higher authority before escalating force might be modified.
“Petraeus was the man in Iraq to row back from the indiscriminate use of force but he is not allergic to the use of heavy weapons and air power against an enemy area,” said a military analyst who was attached to his staff in Iraq.
“His approach is to get the troops among the population and build relationships on the ground. If that involves killing while trying to engage the locals then so be it.”
A British official who also worked with Gen Petraeus said: “Gen McChrystal imposed courageous restraint as a mantra whereas the big theme of Gen Petraeus was strategic patience.
“The difference between the two is important. Gen Petraeus believes in getting all elements in place through a slow strategic build up but he also prizes the importance of momentum by walking through the streets and taking them on.”
Mr Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were visibly distressed about the sacking of Gen McChrystal during a press conference yesterday (Thu).
Adml Mullen said of the former Special Forces commander in Iraq: “He led men in places the rest of us could not follow, and he fought men in ways the rest of us could not fathom.”
But they enthusiastically endorsed Mr Obama’s choice of Gen Petraeus, who agreed to a demotion to step into the breach.
“Gen Petraeus has already established himself as one of the great battle captains in American military history,” said Mr Gates. “His judgment, intellect and proven record of success as a theatre commander in Iraq make him the right choice to lead the military coalition in Afghanistan.”