News / Asia

Petraeus Issues Order To Protect His Troops and Afghan Civilians

General David Petraeus (file photo)
General David Petraeus (file photo)
Al Pessin

The U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has issued his first tactical directive to the nearly 150,000 troops under his command, designed in part to address concerns expressed by some troops that previous orders made it too difficult for them to defend themselves.  

General Petraeus' directive orders his troops not to use force unless they are sure no Afghan civilians will be harmed, except in two circumstances.  The exact wording of that part of the directive has been kept secret.  But a release from the NATO command says the only situations in which Afghan civilians can be put at risk are those "where it is determined no other options are available" to protect international or Afghan troops

Aside from such instances, the troops are required to make the protection of Afghan civilians their top priority.  

Some troops had complained that the previous directive, issued a year ago by General Petraeus' predecessor, excessively restricted their ability to defend themselves.  The NATO military spokesman in Kabul, German Brigadier General Josef Blotz, says the document makes clear that is not the case.

"General Petraeus has made it quite clear that nothing is intended to hinder an individual's right to self defense," said General Blotz.

General Petraeus is a leader of the counterinsurgency movement in the U.S. military, which emphasizes protecting the local population.  But he told his Senate confirmation hearing in June he also recognizes it is important for the troops to be able to protect themselves.

"I see it as a moral imperative to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform and the Afghan security forces with whom ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] troopers are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder," said General Petraeus. "Those on the ground must have all the support they need when they are in a tough situation."

Some military officials concluded that local commanders had interpreted the previous directive too tightly, so General Petraeus says in his order that "subordinate commanders are not authorized to further restrict this guidance" without his approval.

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General James Dubik says that is important.

"Between the lines, he is seeking to achieve more alignment up and down the chain of command so that there's more clarity than perhaps in the recent months," said James Dubik. "You don't want a restriction at his level then to be more restricted at the next level below him, and then restricted even more the next level down, and by the time you get to the poor platoon and squad level, they can't shoot at anything.  So wisely he said, 'look, these are the restrictions that all of us will live by.'"

The Petraeus document also tells the troops to be "relentless" in pursuing the Taliban and related groups, but says "we must balance our pursuit of the enemy with our efforts to minimize loss of innocent civilian life, and with our obligation to protect our troops."  Petraeus says it is a "moral imperative" both to protect the civilians and to protect the troops.

General Dubik says those sometimes conflicting goals put a lot of pressure on ordinary soldiers and young officers in small units, which often operate in difficult conditions far from headquarters.  

"We ask and demand decisions by sergeants, lieutenants and captains in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, every day that are very complex, that require refined judgment and a balancing of competing priorities," he said. "This is something that I think is completely appropriate to push down."

In the directive, General Petraeus says he expects the troops "to exert their best judgment according to the situation on the ground," and pledges to support them when they do.  

Petraeus also says all operations must involve Afghan forces, in part to increase the international troops' understanding of the local situation.  He also tells the troops the new approach President Barack Obama announced in December is already showing results and starting to build momentum by beginning to reduce public support for the insurgency.  He describes the war as "a contest of wills," and tells the troops "every Afghan civilian death diminishes our cause."  

You May Like

US Companies Pledge Action on Climate Change

Goals include reducing emissions by as much as 50 percent, reducing water usage by 80 percent, and buying 100 percent renewable energy

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

UNICEF: Hidden Epidemic of HIV Among Adolescents

Researchers warn that Asia Pacific nations facing sharp rise in incidence of HIV among adolescents

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs