General McChrystal’s Confusing, Counterproductive New Rules for Combat

by Joshua Foust on 7/17/2009

I have a new piece up at World Politics Review, on the confusing new rules General McChrystal has placed on the troops in Afghanistan.

Afghans appreciate Western forces risking their own lives to protect Afghan communities, even if doing so results in civilian casualties. In fact, given the Coalition’s tragic history of abandoning entire regions when they become too hostile, the directive to withdraw under fire seems at odds with the primary counterinsurgency goals of holding or building territory.

Gen. McChrystal’s directive, therefore, is fundamentally contradictory: It requires U.S. troops to protect undefined population centers, unless threatened by the very forces that endanger them.

Even more ironic is the subtext of Gen. McChrystal’s new directive, which speaks not to protecting the people of Afghanistan, but to protecting the Western troops inside of it. Withdrawing from a populated area when fired upon does not “protect” it any more than dropping bombs on it does. Afghans want America’s protection, not necessarily its absence — and confusing the two will make the situation worse.

As always, I welcome comments and hate mail on the topic.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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