(Max Blenkin/Sydney Morning Herald) – Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan believe their rules of engagement are too restrictive and hand the enemy an unfair advantage, a retired US Marine Corps general says.
General Anthony Zinni, a former commander of US central command and now US head of defence company BAE Systems, said he believed concerns about restrictive rules were coalition-wide.
This is an issue touched on by an unnamed Australian soldier in an email complaining about the adequacy of support provided to troops in a major fight with insurgents on August 24 which claimed the life of one digger.
“Everyone is too scared about collateral damage,” he wrote.
General Zinni, in Australia for a strategic leadership forum, said concerns about the rules had been conveyed by coalition and US soldiers, including his own son, a marines officer in Afghanistan.
“There is a strong sense in on the ground by the company commanders and platoon commanders that the rules of engagement are too restrictive,” he told reporters.
“They result in more casualties. They don’t allow for the kind of immediate engagement. The enemy understands these rules of engagement and manipulates them.”
Rules of engagement apply to all coalition troops in Afghanistan and dictate circumstances in which they can open fire or resort to certain weapons.
Following a series of air and artillery strikes which resulted in civilian casualties, the rules were tightened to limit use of heavy weapons against civilian compounds, even if insurgents were firing from them.
General Zinni said that meant a request for an air or artillery strike needed to be cleared at multiple levels, wasting time, with many missions refused.
He said that reduced troops to using direct fire weapons, just the same as the enemy, with engagements lasting longer and increasing the danger to nearby civilians.
“Some of the rules of engagement that were designed to be extra-protective of civilians, which youcan understand and certainly sympathise with, are actually not,” he said.
General Zinni said US Commander General David Petraeus had ordered a review of the rules of engagement to strike a better balance.
For Australia, a significant upcoming event will be the NATO summit in Lisbon next month, with General Zinni suggesting NATO had greatly disappointed in Afghanistan.
“When you look at the NATO membership that actually engages in the field and are willing to fight, you are down to a small handful – the Brits, the Canadians, the Dutch, the French maybe,” he said.
“The rest are either absent and hide behind constitutional issues or won’t engage. Or they show up and they want to be in safe areas. They don’t want to leave military bases. We have sort of glossed over this.
“It’s a military alliance. The agreement is that we will fight. The contributions …. of some have not lived up to the requirement.”