Yon on the Rules of Engagement

Michael Yon continues to report from the front lines in Afghanistan, both in pictures and words.  Michael has not been terribly sanguine about the progress or the prospects of the war, although the men on the line have performed magnificently.  In a telling anecdote, Yon describes the discipline of British troops in adhering to the rules of engagement:

Word comes a little later that the Taliban are saying we bombed people who were eating watermelon in a field.  The Afghans responded by telling us this was a lie, because they know how careful the British and Americans are with their fires, and they also knew that Afghans do not sit in fields around here this late at night eating watermelon.

I’ve witnessed too many missions (several in the last week) wherein British or Americans refused to fire because they could not positively spot a weapon, despite it being flagrantly obvious that we were tracking actual enemies.  It’s very frustrating for me at times because I want to say to an American or British commander…Take the shot!  This is too obvious!  But that is not the place of a writer.  The strategic wisdom behind the Rules of Engagement can be difficult to contest, though tactically, those same ROE can be fantastically frustrating.  Tactically, the restrictive ROE endanger our troops every day, but strategically there is no doubt that strong ROE save the lives of even more.

Later, Michael interviews an officer in Afghanistan’s growing army about the prospects for lasting democracy in Helmand Province, and in Afghanistan in general:

I asked Colonel Wadood if the people of Afghanistan understand Democracy and he said yes, but not the people of Helmand, who “understand only Swordocracy,” and everyone laughed.  And then spontaneously, Colonel Wadood said, “We have the best Democracy with Islam.  Our religion is one of brotherhood and oneness.  Our religion is about equality, no status.”  He said these things, and more.  Colonel Wadood continued, pausing long enough for me to write, “Women have the right to education, to have a job, to be a candidate in elections.”  Colonel Wadood paused, and continued, “If we applied these things it is the perfect democracy and perfect religion.  Killing people is forbidden.  Drug trafficking is forbidden.  Cruelty and brutality is forbidden.  Attacks that Taliban execute are all against Islam and Sharia.  The best Muslim never harms anyone with his eyes, his tongue or with his hands.  He should only be useful not harmful.  We cannot kill infidels without reason.  But if they invade our honor, our religion, our land or our pride, we can kill them.  Same condition applies to Muslim too.  If he does these things we can kill him.”

Our land is a relatively reasonable threshold; most Americans would feel free to kill invaders, too, and defend that right of national defense in general.  It’s the honor, pride, and religion thresholds that are the reason we’re over there in the first place.  That’s been the thresholds used for the tribal conflicts in Afghanistan that stretch back into antiquity.  Wadood has been in the military for 30 years, and has yet to see a day of peace in his country.

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