SMALL WARS JOURNAL
No, Really: Is the US Military Cut Out For Courageous Restraint?
by Jason Lemieux
General (GEN) Stanley McChrystal’s recent dismissal has spurred a host of articles that quote US troops complaining about his controversial rules of engagement (ROEs) directives in Afghanistan. The reasoning underlying these complaints usually shows a lack of understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine, an unwillingness to accept its logic, or both. The stubborn refusal of many servicemembers to accept McChrystal’s “courageous restraint” directive calls into question our military’s suitability for population-centric counterinsurgency.
By now, the reasoning behind the restrictive ROEs is well known: Insurgents depend on support from the civilian inhabitants (whether the distinction between insurgents and “civilian inhabitants” is always meaningful is another question) of their theater of operations. GEN McChrystal termed it “Insurgent Math”: Every time you kill an innocent person, you create ten new insurgents. GEN McChrystal further elaborated that, "Destroying a home or property jeopardizes the livelihood of an entire family and creates more insurgents."
In a June 23, 2010 radio bit titled, “Troops Surprised About Gen. McChrystal's Ouster,” NPR correspondent Tom Bowman told his colleague that, “Now, clearly, you know, [the troops] don't want to kill innocent civilians, but they believe their hands are tied in going after the Taliban.” It’s certainly true that a portion of the troops, perhaps the majority, have no desire to kill innocent civilians. What America is not being honest with itself about, however, is that a significant minority don’t really care how many civilians are killed as long as they are allowed to do what they imagine to be their jobs:
"He should be fired," said a 23-year-old specialist who recently completed a deployment in Afghanistan. "Today's rules of engagement in Afghanistan is a Taliban weapon that is commonly used against American forces" (WaPo, June 24).
"We have all of these stupid rules that in the end wind up hurting more people. I mean, hesitation can mean death out here," said a soldier serving in the South (Time, July 7).
Complaining in the infamous Rolling Stone article that the ROEs defeated the purpose of his deployment to Afghanistan, PFC Jared Pautsch opined, “We should just drop a ***ing bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself: What are we doing here?”
A lot of Americans sympathize with the troops on issues like shootings at vehicle checkpoints (escalations of force [EOFs], in euphemistic military parlance) in which a civilian vehicle is engaged after a servicemember, in a “split second decision,” perceives the vehicle to be a threat. Frankly, much of this sympathy is overblown. In most of the EOFs that I witnessed in Iraq from