* EmailEmail * printPrint * Share Gen. Petraeus’s Review of Tactics Must Focus on Night Raids and Civilian Protection

General David Petraeus, the new US commander in Afghanistan, has suggested that he will review specific tactical restraints, even though the overall strategy and direction of the Afghanistan war will remain the same.

As General Petraeus takes over command in Afghanistan, he will probably need to revamp the overall practice of night raids. Night raids have long been one of the biggest complaints of Afghan civilians. More than 98 civilians were killed in night raids in 2009 (and many times that number detained or harmed) in these night-time house searches. These search and seizure operations are often accompanied by heavy use of force. Further, beyond actual harm, the raids are extremely offensive to Afghan culture.

Recognizing how much night raids clashed with the “hearts and minds” premise of counterinsurgency, General McChrystal put in place new tactical restrictions in January designed to set the bar higher for authorizing these raids, restricting certain conduct, and increasing accountability. But it’s not clear that these have had much impact.

No one yet knows how the change in leadership of the Afghanistan mission will impact the lives of civilian and soldiers on the ground.

“There will be no change in overall policy but all aspects of tactics and implementation will be looked at afresh,” a Pentagon official told The Daily Telegraph. “The issue of ‘courageous restraint’ is a controversial one on the ground and there may be ways it can be modified.”
   
Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief, said that “Gen Petraeus will have the flexibility to look at the campaign plan and the approach and all manner of things when he gets to Afghanistan”.

While the principle of avoiding civilian casualties is certain to remain at the centre of Afghanistan strategy, restrictive rules of engagement that require platoon commanders to seek higher authority before escalating force might be modified.

“Petraeus was the man in Iraq to row back from the indiscriminate use of force but he is not allergic to the use of heavy weapons and air power against an enemy area,” said a military analyst who was attached to his staff in Iraq.

Changes to allow soldiers more flexibility in using lethal force are likely to be welcomed by both American and British troops.

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