Many times, the soldiers said, insurgents have escaped because U.S. forces are enforcing the rules. Meanwhile, they say, the toll of U.S. dead and injured is mounting.
“We have to follow the Karzai 12 rules. But the Taliban has no rules. Our soldiers have to juggle all these rules and regulations and they do it without hesitation despite everything. It’s not easy for anyone out here.”
“Karzai 12” refers to Afghanistan’s newly re-elected president, Hamid Karzai, and a dozen rules set down by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, to try to keep Afghan civilian casualties to a minimum. “It’s a framework to ensure cultural sensitivity in planning and executing operations,” said Capt. Thoreen. “It’s a set of rules and could be characterized as part of the ROE,” he said, referring to the rules of engagement.
Dozens of U.S. soldiers who spoke to The Washington Times during a recent visit to southern Afghanistan said these rules sometimes make a perilous mission even more difficult and dangerous.
By mid-November, Capt. Thoreen’s unit had lost five soldiers to suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Many more had been wounded and three of their Stryker vehicles had been destroyed.
In his Aug. 30 assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, which was leaked to the press, Gen. McChrystal said that the legitimacy of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had been “severely damaged … in the eyes of the Afghan people” because of “an over-reliance on firepower and force protection.”To succeed, he wrote, “ISAF will have to change its operating culture to pursue a counterinsurgency approach that puts the Afghan people first.” This entails “accepting some risk in the short term [but] will ultimately save lives in the long term.”
The Times compiled an informal list of the new rules from interviews with U.S. forces. Among them:
• No night or surprise searches.
• Villagers have to be warned prior to searches.
• ANA or ANP must accompany U.S. units on searches.
• U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.
• U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present.
• Only women can search women.
• Troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch him placing an IED but not if insurgents are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid.
Because of the Karzai 12 rules, U.S. forces have had to bring in American women to conduct searches of their Afghan counterparts. “We have the women say their names before we search them because sometimes it’s a man under the burqa,” said Cpl. King. “In some cases, there are weapons on them.”
“It’s OK for the insurgents to use their women to hide weapons but it’s not OK for us [men] to search them,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Yost, 27, of Shelton, Wash. “So now, we have to break our own rules and bring women into combat just so they can search the women.”
The platoon members spread across and around the fields surrounding the village. An announcement from a dilapidated mosque alerted villagers of theimpending search.“Well, the bad guys know we’re coming,” said the interpreter, laughing. “They’re probably hiding their weapons by now.”
Capt. Thoreen, referring to the rules of engagement that his forces try to observe, “For our guys, it’s tough. Sometimes they feel they have their hands tied behind their backs.” WASHINGTON TIMES