Home » Afghan Update » No Real Change Coming to Afghan ROE or Tactical Directive: Petraeus

No Real Change Coming to Afghan ROE or Tactical Directive: Petraeus

Incoming Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus told senators today at his confirmation hearing that he has no intention of changing the rules of engagement or the “tactical directive,” which guides the use of air strikes, put in place by his predecessor.

What he will do is ensure that those rules are being uniformly applied by commanders in the field and that overly cautious officers at various levels are not imposing their own maximalist interpretation of the ROE and directive, and thus slowing the responsiveness of fire support when troops’ lives are on the line. “We have to be absolutely certain that the implementation of ROE and tactical directive is consistent across the force.”

Petraeus was questioned by a number of senators about his views on the tactical directive guiding the use of airpower and artillery issued by former Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal that was designed to curtail the growing number of civilian casualties that was posing a threat to the entire Afghan mission. The Afghan people, and the Karzai government, were growing increasingly enraged by the rising civilian death toll.

In counterinsurgency, the human terrain is the decisive terrain, Petraeus said, and he intends to do everything he can to keep the civilian loss of life as low as possible.

The ROE in Afghanistan are straightforward and largely the same as have guided military operations over the past few years, including operations in Iraq, he said. When troops are taking fire from a house, and they’re not sure whether civilians are in the house, instead of dropping a bomb on it, they should break contact and observe the house for a time, Petraeus said.

– Greg Grant

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Drake1 June 29, 2010 at 4:56 pm

What did people expect when Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Petraeus come from the same school of thinking. Unfortunately, for Gen.McChrystal, he didn't have public sway or political skills as Gen. Petraeus to make an old tune sound new.


ThePaganTemple June 29, 2010 at 3:07 pm

No damn wonder we aren't getting anywhere. What amounts to, the so-called ROE is best described as, "the same damn shit that's been going on since we went there, only a hell of a lot more of it." And somehow, that's suppose to make things work out? That's like eating twice as many pinto beans as you typically eat when you have them for a meal and thinking it won't make you fart as much.


@7thwave July 2, 2010 at 6:11 pm

pagan…so what you are saying is nuke em and be done with it? WRONG. See, when you are cheezing the population off, the very same ones we are supposedly making a better life for, you actually help the enemy by helping them defeat us with the same overwhelming fire power we use against them. The more civilians we kill,we add to the enemies ranks. For every displaced person,we add to the enemy ranks, and so on. What we need to do is stop relying on the concept of zero casualties, start training in the concept of fire and maneuver, and use night to our advantage.


ThePaganTemple July 2, 2010 at 7:20 pm

I never said anything about nuking them, but we have to understand in no uncertain terms that we aren't going to engage this enemy in any meaningful, coherent way without some civilian casualties resulting from it. That's never been done anywhere in the world, and we aren't going to start it here, not and achieve any degree of real success.

The enemy here every bit as much as the Taliban is the UN, the pacifist left, and to an extent even some of our own NATO allies. That's because it is their standard operating procedure to have unrealistic demands and expectations of minimal to zero civilian casualties. As such, they are natural antagonists to this war, every bit as much as a good defense attorney is by nature a natural antagonist to a good prosecuting attorney in regards a criminal trial.

But this is not a criminal trial, despite the fact the left wants to treat it as such. This is a war, in every real sense of the word, and needs to be treated as such. Until we start to realize that, and act accordingly, every war, or police action, that we engage in, is going to look more like the conclusion of Korea at best, or Vietnam at worse, and very little like the end of World War II.

Having said all that, maybe a strategically aimed nuke or two (or three) in the direction of Waziristan might not be uncalled for, or maybe several thousand tons of Agent Orange. The Pakistanis need to be put on notice that, if they don't step up, that is going to be a very real possibility, more and more so the more time passes and the problem remains unaddressed sufficiently.

But then again, nothing is going to work, probably not even what I said, until we address the issue of the Warlords in a way that brings them into a comprehensive, viable government model that recognizes their traditional roles of power and enables them to have a seat at the table as equal partners, in fact, as the recognized legitimate authorities of the country. Give them power over the country's legislature in a system that guarantees constitutional tribal and individual rights in a way they can agree to, and you move light years towards solving the problem in the long-term.

The Taliban only came to power because of the power vacuum left behind by the Soviet departure. They are not the traditional power or rulers of the Afghan people, they merely stepped into that vacuum and maintained power by brute force and by fear. But in order to get rid of them, for good, we're going to have to work towards a system that is more tailor made for the spirit, heritage, and traditions of the country. A parliamentary western style democracy is just not going to cut it, I'm very much afraid, and its naive and when you get right down to it, a bit arrogant to insist that it is.


TMB June 29, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I'm glad it finally got put into print for what one of the biggest problems with the ROE are - timid commanders. The ROE are classified, but I can tell you they're not as draconian as you might think. The problem is getting commanders to not be afraid of using them. Instead we end up in battles where the commander is worried about bad press rather than using the directives to their fullest.


Engineer June 29, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Don't think so - I think we have a system in place that directs us to "break contact and observe" rather than sending the enemy home to meet Allah - quickly! Combat is not static - it's fluid and anyone who "breaks contact" to observe is asking to get flanked - COIN or full spectrum. The general rules of combat and warfare don't change despite the type of war.


``* June 29, 2010 at 8:53 pm

It's no freaking wonder why this 'war' has been going on for so long. We're acting like a glorified police force over there. If we see a bad guy 'anywhere' we take them out-then maybe the civilians will learn QUICKLY learn that they shouldn't be harboring bad guys, then it will be over quickly, then there won't be any more civilians killed (by accident, which happens in every war), then we can quickly help them rebuild, then we can quickly get the hell out of there. We also need to have a serious sit down with Mr Karzai and explain it to him that we're going to do it our way or we're leaving and you can do it on your own-trust me, he'll get it!


Edward Liu June 30, 2010 at 2:17 am

"f we see a bad guy 'anywhere' we take them out-then maybe the civilians will learn QUICKLY learn that they shouldn't be harboring bad guys, then it will be over quickly…"

Yes, because those tactics made the war end so much more quickly for the Russians, didn't it?.


``* June 30, 2010 at 4:15 am

The DIFFERENCE between us (NATO) and the Russians (USSR) is that they purposely targeted civilians, they would go in and lay waste to entire cities to purposely destroy the entire population. The Russian's (USSR) purpose was to conquer the country to gain access to the Persian gulf, our (NATO's) purpose is to get rid of the bad guys and give the country back to the Afgan people when were done

NOW do you understand the difference? Perhaps you need to brush up on your history

For us (NATO) you can't always avoid civilians (as in any war), but the way we are going about it now will take us another 20 years to clean up the place, then by that time they will have grown another generation of bad guys.


Crain June 30, 2010 at 7:32 pm

I don't think it matters to the Afghanis if their sons and family were killed intentionally or accidentally. Would it matter much to you?


Davis July 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm


``* July 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm

So Crain in you mind there is no difference between murder and accidental death?

There is no difference between being conquered and be liberated?

If you don't understand the difference then maybe you should move in N Korea to
get an better understanding of what 'real' freedom is

If you truly think we are the bad guys then man up and say so

Nick Chen June 30, 2010 at 1:29 am

To those who think it should be all about engaging quickly with disdain on the COIN ROE of observing before engaging, I think that is attributable to a lack of confidence in our soldiers' training. Perhaps you guys are right, but what I think that then calls for is NOT the removal of the COIN ROE, but rather improved training for all our soldiers. Think of how a sniper engages his prey. If he receives fire, he does not go ballistic with suppressive fire. He searches for openings in which the enemy shows up and then selectively engages the target even admist non-combatants. THAT should be the standard.____Our soldiers need better training and IF then it is the call of the commander at the scene to call for fire, then he should always have all the access he needs.


MadMike June 30, 2010 at 2:50 am

You certainly don't need to call in a B-52 strike every time you are shot at. Perhaps part of the problem might be with troops at the platoon and squad levels relying on commanders located miles away to tell them what to do. It has been said that troops spend more time on the radio than they do engaging the enemy. Instead of waiting for help from "above," troops should rely instead on basic infantry tactics, such as movement- to- fire, and so on. Any WWII vet will tell you that when they say, "help is on the way," it means help ain't coming any time soon.


Riceball June 30, 2010 at 10:03 pm

While you do make a point I feel that part of the reason why we don't engage the enemy by maneuvering is in part because your average soldier/Marine is weighed down by a heavy flak vest along with all of the other gear and ammo that grunts normally carry with them. A fully loaded combat infantryman now a days is about as fast and nimble as a turtle, especially in comparison to the average Taliban fighter who's not wearing any body armor and is carry not much more than his rifle and maybe a few spare mags which makes him as nimble as jackrabbit. Having served in the Marines back in the 90s it was bad enough running around with the old kevlar but having picked up (but not worn) one of the newer vests it makes the old kevlar seem like nothing in comparison. I've heard that the new stuff is so heavy that troops can't even go prone without being turtled and needing the help of a buddy to get themselves back up, while this may be a bit of an exaggeration it still goes to show that it's hard for the modern combat infantryman to maneuver and engage the enemy like they used to, especially one that's far less encumbered.


Riceball June 30, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Made a mistake, my reply was regarding what atamcs said.


MadMike June 30, 2010 at 11:33 pm

I agree. Too much weight, all around. I was impressed by the book "About Face," by Col. David Hackworth in which he stresses the need to, "out-G the G." I've also been thinking about the apparent lack of night-ops in Afghanistan. Why aren't we utilizing our night-vision advantage over the Taliban, for example? Better usage of light-infantry, small unit tactics is an important element to our success. By the way, my flack jacket made a great pillow, but that's about all.


Nick Chen July 2, 2010 at 5:19 pm

You're right about that. Riceball. By the way, I'm responding because atacms is my other username. i also think the other obvious problem is that we don't have enough troops so that when we are engaged, there's no other nearby manuever element separate from the one that is engaged. This way if you've got one squad split up into a fire team and the other the maneuver team, you should still have yet another squad that can called in to envelop the enemy from a completely different flank. We should be practicing swarming tactics, however our lack of mobilty as you stated is a factor plus our lack of manpower.

The problem is one mainly of training, however one piece of gear that troops should get to improve their mobility are the exoskeletons that Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Sarcos are working on.


@7thwave July 2, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Fancy gear does not win wars, Chen. We need to concentrate on training forces in marksmanship, being sensitive to the populations needs, and more adept at the concept of fire and maneuver. We rely too much on fancy gadgets to win wars because commanders are reluctant to risk casualties from our forces, command all the way from the president on down will not commit more resources to actually holding ground, and the training needed to ACTUALLY fight the war we are in now.


Drake1 June 30, 2010 at 3:28 am

Now everyone questions the soldiers instead of the ROE. That Gen. Petraeus sure does work magic.


AyeGuy June 30, 2010 at 2:54 pm

This is just a gesture to save face for McCrystal. The ROE will be loosened, count on it.


atamcs June 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I would hope that training has vastly improved, but when I was an 11M in the 3rd ID (granted this was pre-Iraq or Afghanistan) we didn't train as much as we should. ____It boils down to us always relying on firepower rather than manuever. We always rather use explosives on an enemy rather than seek to dislocate them via a positional move. What then happens? Well, it happened in Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan. The enemy hunkers down and the terrain provides enough cover and concealment such that it requires our troops to close in. That's not to say that our troops shouldn't be able to call in arty or airsupport, but I think the overabundance of CAS has made our guys a bit lazy.__As I said this is all hinging on our troops and their training. Get them better training such that they're almost at the level of snipers or SOF in their engagement skills and you'll see this issue addressed well.


STEVE GRAVES June 30, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I don’t have the time to visit this site very often - only when the topic is of some special interest to me. But after a few visits, a question came to mind - “Who the h33l is this BYRON SKINNER, and who does he think is conning?” I couldn’t remain quiet any longer after reading his latest comment, i.e. “The Marine Corps is really in trouble. Their Commandant and his top aides are being forced into early retirement because of their public disagreement with the DoD and JCOS.”

It might interest Mr. Skinner to know that the Commandant, GEN James T. Conway is retiring in November 2010, as scheduled, after a 4 year tour of duty, with many accolades. And those trouble-making aides. . . well his assistant Commandant, GEN Amos is being promoted to be the next USMC Commandant - which is a rarity.

I am very skeptical about a lot of the information posted by Mr. Skinner, but one thing I really can’t stomach are people who make things up out of thin air and then proclaim it to be some sort of inside intell scoop. To me that type of person is nothing more than a two bit LIAR!


@7thwave July 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Here is problem with the ROE,and I can understand why they are in place…Mao Tse Dung(forgive my spelling)was the master at insurgencies. He would always compare insurgency to fish and water. And because a fighting force is fighting within a populace, that force is a fish. And naturally the water is the population. Now,in order to gain the confidence of the population, he was so strict on such issues as replacing doors when they were kicked in,replacing live stock when it was destroyed, providing compensation for damages in a timely manner, and making sure his troops were very respectful of the population they were fighting in. He would enforce such standards by killing the soldiers and commanders that broke them.
In comparison with this type of doctrine that was practiced by the Chinese during their war that split Nationalist China from now Communist China, the strategy that was in place was brilliant. In today's war in Afghanistan, we need to be aware that the use of over whelming fire power is both a curse, and a blessing. We need to exorcise caution when dealing with a hostile population who supports the enemy, we need to be respectful of the concept of using fire power cautiously, and be aware that civilian casualties not only achieve cheezing the population off that we are trying to rebuild, but aid the enemy which in this case can be compared to a piranha in the water,and we are the cattle that can be eaten alive if we do not exorcise caution when dealing with the population.


TMB July 1, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Whether we think we're the good guys is irrelevant. What matters is what the Afghans think. Plenty of Afghans were content before we showed up. Same thing with the Iraqis. The citizens of those countries didn't ask for us to liberate them. Since we showed up, a lot of them have used their new freedom to tell us to leave.


Crain July 2, 2010 at 8:03 am

I'm not saying we are the "bad guys", whatever that is supposed to mean. I am saying that there are quite a few homegrown insurgents that are fighting coalition forces because they have lost family to coalition forces, and they want revenge and our forces out of their country. It doesn't matter to them if their son, or daughter, or wife, or whatever, was accidentally killed. Dead is dead, and they want revenge against the people that are killing their friends and family. I've seen this in Afghanistan, and I imagine the same thing was going on in Iraq. Never deployed there.

It seems madness to pursue a policy of constantly making new enemies in the process of defeating our current ones


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