McChrystal’s Tactical Priority: Avoid Civilian Casualties

June 24, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

I didn’t have time yesterday to blog this, but it’s remarkable. In keeping with his recent move to restrict U.S. airstrikes out of strategic concern for losing Afghan support for the U.S.-NATO war effort, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, is putting forward new rules of engagement significantly restricting NATO forces’ latitude to respond to hostile action in populated areas. To call this a bold move is an understatement. With the exception of protecting troops’ lives, McChrystal is prioritizing the need to prevent civilian casualties above attacking an enemy. Yochi Dreazen reports:

Military officials in Kabul said the “tactical directive,” to be released this week, came in response to incidents such as one last month that killed dozens of civilians. Under the new rules, the incident’s deadliest strikes wouldn’t have been authorized.

“We don’t want another Granai,” a senior military official in Kabul said, naming the village where last month’s incident occurred. “The tactical gains simply don’t outweigh the costs.”

This is a robust effort by McChrystal to prove that he means it when he says that the loss of Afghan popular support will mean the United States and its allies lose the war. And it’s sure to be met with opposition from some corners of the military and commentators who think a concern with population protection tips too far into the realm of tactical passivity. (That’s a charitable way of putting a sentiment that Ralph Peters expresses here.)