Home inContext The Other Side of “The Runaway General” Story

The Other Side of “The Runaway General” Story

Samara Greenberg

General David Petreaus, credited with successfully using the counterinsurgency strategy, or COIN, to improve the situation in Iraq, agreed to relinquish his higher military position as head of Central Command for the position as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan yesterday after Obama accepted General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation. The Senate is expected to confirm Petreaus’ new role by Tuesday, and NATO’s endorsement is also expected to happen soon. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who supported McChrystal even after the article broke, embraced Petreaus as his new U.S. partner.

General David Petreaus

The Rolling Stone article that brought down General McChrystal and his crew, however, reported more than just criticism of the administration. According to the report, McChrystal issued some of the strictest directives to avoid civilian casualties ever encountered by the U.S. military during war. For example, he put restrictions on the use of air power and severely limited night raids, and berated soldiers responsible for civilian casualties. Soldiers were also given laminated cards with a list of regulations, including: “Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force.” In addition, under the rules, any insurgent who doesn’t have a weapon is immediately assumed to be a civilian — which is, of course, not always the case.

Similarly, top U.S. and NATO officials in Afghanistan recently toyed with creating a new medal for “courageous restraint,” which would be given to soldiers who avoid using deadly force (at the expense of their own lives). However, according to professor Jeffrey F. Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, “It’s an absolutely outrageous proposal to our fighting men. The implication of this award is that we do not engage in war fighting that is appropriate.”

According to the Rolling Stone article, these new rules of restraint are not what McChrystal intended. And the article doesn’t clarify if the restrictions were McChrystal’s making or passed down from the Obama administration. Either way, it is extremely difficult to determine how the U.S. can win the War on Terror with one hand tied behind its back. Hopefully, when General Petreaus takes the lead, he will loosen some of the deadly rules plaguing our troops in Afghanistan.