The top U.S. general in Afghanistan will soon formally order U.S. and NATO forces to break away from fights with militants hiding in Afghan houses so the battles do not kill civilians, a U.S. official said Monday.Let me translate: the new rules give the terrorists a free pass to secrete themselves among civilians, using them as human shields.
The order would be one of the strongest measures taken by a U.S. commander to protect Afghan civilians in battle. American commanders say such deaths hurt their mission because they turn average Afghans against the government and U.S. and NATO forces.
Civilian casualties are a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. The U.N. says U.S., NATO and Afghan forces killed 829 civilians in the Afghan war last year.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took command of international forces in Afghanistan this month, has said his measure of effectiveness will be the "number of Afghans shielded from violence," and not the number of militants killed.
McChrystal will issue orders within days saying troops may attack insurgents hiding in Afghan houses if the U.S. or NATO forces are in imminent danger and must return fire, said U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith.
"But if there is a compound they're taking fire from and they can remove themselves from the area safely, without any undue danger to the forces, then that's the option they should take," Smith said. "Because in these compounds we know there are often civilians kept captive by the Taliban."
This is fundamentally backwards. We're talking about an active enemy not hors de combat, and so not entitled to non-violence under international law (see Geneva IV, Article 3(1); Geneva III, Article 3(1)--even if treaty protections applied to terrorist unlawful belligerents). Further, warfare doesn't bestow "safe harbors" for atrocities; rather, the laws of war are based on providing belligerents incentives to be just via reciprocity and reprisal.
By contrast, giving terrorists--customarily considered international pirates--an "olly olly oxen free" will promote the opposite. General McChrystal's forthcoming rules of engagement inevitably will encourage war crimes.
I understand that successful counter-insurgency must secure and engage the civilian population (see Section 1, page 29). I get it that tactical retreat makes a good press release. But the turn-around in Iraq came when ordinary Iraqis understood that coalition and Iraqi security forces would protect them from Al Qaeda.
General McChrystal is poised to promulgate a perverse inversion of the laws, and practice, of war. And he's told the Taliban via the Associated Press.