The latest U.S.-Afghanistan security agreement tightens the screws on an already-restrictive set of rules of engagement for forces operating in that country.
The proposed Bilateral Security Agreement, announced Wednesday, was hammered out by Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Approved by President Obama, it would virtually ban U.S. troops from firing in dwellings, according to The Washington Times.
“U.S. forces shall not enter Afghan homes for the purposes of military operations, except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of U.S. nationals,” President Obama pledged in a letter to Karzai, The Times reported.
U.S. soldiers are not pleased.
“The first people who are going to look at it and review it are the enemy we’re trying to fight,” Ryan Zinke, who commanded a team within SEAL Team 6 told The Times. “It’s going to be a document that can be used effectively against us. This is where we either fight or go home. What’s happening is we’re losing our ability to fight overseas.”
The Times reported:
Even before the security agreement’s rules of engagement were drafted, troops complained about meeting the requirements of an increasingly burdensome checklist before they can fire. The rules grew stricter in 2010 after a series of mistaken U.S. bombings killed civilians and special operations troops raided villages and homes at night.
The rules of engagement today also place restrictions on dwelling assaults, but Mr. Obama’s language of “extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk of life and limb” sets the bar much higher.
“Call me crazy, but what on earth is the point of remaining there under these [rules of engagement], much less subjecting American soldiers to another set of restrictions that make sense only in proportion to your distance from the combat zone?” military analyst and retired Army Col. Ken Allard wondered.
U.S. military pilots have blamed current rules of engagement for more than likely contributing to the loss of 30 American lives last year, including 17 SEAL Team 6 members shot down in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter by Taliban members.
An AH-64 Apache gunship pilot reported seeing Taliban fighters in the area where the rocket propelled grenade was launched, downing the Chinook and taking the lives of everyone on board. But he testified at a government investigation of the incident that his hands were tied.
“Due to [rules of engagement] and tactical directives, I couldn’t fire at the building where I thought the [shooter] was, so I aimed directly to the west of the building,” the pilot testified, according to transcripts obtained by The Washington Times.
The crew of a second gunship spotted two Taliban fighters moving into new positions during the firefight leading up to the shootdown.
“There were several opportunities where we could have engaged with 40 mm, ensuring zero [collateral damage estimate] on any buildings,” the navigator testified. “The opportunity was definitely there for us to engage those two guys or even provide containment fires to try to slow their movement.”
The navigator’s testimony included this exchange with the investigator, according to The Times:
Investigator: “Did you ask to engage them?
Navigator: “Yes, sir.”
Investigator: “And it was denied, right?
Navigator: “Yes, sir.”
AC-130 commander: “I think he spoke with the Ground Force Commander and he said, ‘No. No-go. Just maintain eyes-on.’”
The new rules of engagement, not yet signed by Karzai, will only make matters worse for U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan. Allard is right — why on earth are we still there subjecting our troops to these restrictions? Zinke was also on target when he noted, “we either fight or go home.”
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