Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Strict battle guidelines hampering British troops in Afghanistan

Miles Amoore, The Times Online

Soldiers from 4 Platoon searching a compound where a rocket-propelled grenade was found

BRITISH soldiers have been catapulted into a deadly and often frustrating game of cat-and-mouse with the Taliban, played out in poppy fields and mud compounds, where dirt tracks are still thought to be littered with mines.

As they fight a severely weakened network of insurgents in the largest military operation in Helmand since 2001, they have expressed frustration at the Taliban’s ability to manipulate their rules of engagement.

Caveats imposed to minimise the risk of killing civilians have forced British commanders to adopt new tactics to hunt and kill the small groups of insurgents who have begun to seep back into northern Nad-e-Ali, where last week about 4,000 British troops seized a small pocket of land once occupied by the Taliban.

Strict new guidelines brought in last year by General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, have forced soldiers to rely less and less on airstrikes to kill insurgents, although Nato still dominates the skies above Helmand with drones.
Related Links

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Days into the intense assault of Operation Moshtarak it became clear to commanders that the Taliban’s leaders had either been killed in targeted raids launched ahead of the main air attack or had fled in the face of overwhelming British force.

But, as the week progressed, soldiers from the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) stumbled into isolated pockets of resistance.

A group of Taliban gunmen, numbering no more than five, opened fire on a BRF patrol as it trudged back to base through the boggy fields, sending four poorly aimed rounds cracking above the soldiers’ heads.

As the British soldiers tried to determine where the shots had been fired from, men from 3 Platoon sprinted towards the firing point.

“I’ve a bad feeling about this,” said Lieutenant George Mackay-Lewis as he watched the scene unfold. Bursting into a mud compound believed to house Taliban militants, 3 Platoon threw a flash grenade in first before firing a few rounds into the walls to stun the insurgents and minimise the risk of wounding or killing civilians.

By the time the soldiers reached the western edge of the compound, the fighters had fled. “It would have been the perfect time to fire a warning shot but we can’t do that because it has caused civilian casualties in the past. We could’ve got them to stop as they fled, though,” said Mackay-Lewis, infuriated that the first insurgents seen since the start of the operation had got away.

As the soldiers again trudged back through the marshy fields, the Taliban sent a final salvo their way, launching a rocket-propelled grenade. But dusk was fast approaching. The soldiers noted the firing point and continued back to base.

“Today we got feathers and a little bit of chicken. But it wasn’t enough for a full meal,” the officer commanding the BRF, who cannot be named, told his men as they huddled around him, listening to the day’s debriefing in the darkness of a small mud room. “The honeymoon’s over, guys. They are going to fight.”

The next day, a single gunshot fired at 4 Platoon triggered a similar pursuit. As the BRF sprinted towards the firing point, a Reaper drone circling above spotted insurgents running into a compound.

The fire support team at a nearby makeshift base watched the shaky image from the drone’s cameras on a computer screen.

Two insurgents were seen knocking a “murder hole” through a wall, of the kind used by the Taliban to fire at British soldiers. The insurgents darted between firing positions, peering through fresh murder holes and cracks in the walls.

One appeared to be carrying something wrapped in cloth, possibly a weapon. The airspace above the compound was cleared of helicopters and jets, creating room for the drone to fire a Hellfire missile.

Mackay-Lewis told his men: “Command wants to make sure they are insurgents inside and not civilians.”

The Taliban’s radio spluttered and crackled into life. “We can see the soldiers standing by a wall,” said one of the insurgents. “Be prepared to fire when they approach us.”

The advance paused as the BRF commander decided whether to launch the drone’s missile. He gave the order to engage and then immediately retracted it as he began to doubt that the men were insurgents.

“We decided that there was no imminent threat, so we held back. It’s called courageous restraint and we try to exercise it whenever we can,” said Captain James Boutle.

To read the full article click here


  1. Letting the Taliban live is just storing up problems for the future.
    Every possible means should be used to kill them now.

  2. Courageous Restraint or Fools Errand - agree with above...the sooner the Taliban are eliminated the quicker our troops are home - not forgetting of course after rebuilding the country!!! by the way...can anybody tell me were the Taliban are fleeing too....

  3. I believe that the British forces have indeed got things pretty much right on the "courageous restraint" thing. However, the US forces are a completely different matter.

    The US seems to be doing things on the basis of "never use a bullet if an F-16 is also available".
    The fact that they seem to be killing far more civilians than Taliban seems to be completely lost on them.

    I thought the idea was that this so-called "courageous restraint" was supposed to *save* civilian lives. We have seen NO "courageous restraint" at all from the US Air Force. Quite the opposite - if it moves, then it seems to be a target.

    I get **sick and tired** of seeing Nato/ISAF's continual feeble excuses and "we regret the loss of innocent lives" statements.
    That is just nonsense.

    If that were truly the case, then they would do something about it once and for all, and stop air-strikes. Of course, that won't happen.

    Air-strikes will continue, innocent civilians will keep dying, and Nato/ISAF will keep issuing these lame meaningless statements. Those statements mean as much as "the cheque is in the mail".