Morale: Rules Of Engagement To Die For


May 10, 2010: In Afghanistan, European NATO commanders are recommending that NATO establish a combat award recognizing soldiers who risk their own lives to avoid Afghan civilian casualties. This would be called the Courageous Restraint medal and the first few would probably be awarded posthumously, because the most obvious cases would involve NATO troops holding their fire when the enemy uses civilians as human shields. This enables the enemy to kill their better trained and equipped opponents. The best example of this occurred in 1993, when 24 Pakistani troops were killed by Somali gunmen using civilians as human shields. Those dead Pakistanis would be eligible for the Courageous Restraint medal. The only problem with this is that the troops are none too happy with this use of human shields, or getting killed because of it. American troops have permission to do whatever it takes, if American lives are endangered. Other NATO troops have similar escape clauses in their ROE (Rules Of Engagement), but sometimes not as robust as the American one.

What commanders are trying to do here is inspire the troops to sacrifice their lives in order to avoid civilian casualties. But the troops can do the math, and realize that the bulk of civilian deaths are at the hands of the Taliban. That, however, is not news (in or out of Afghanistan). Any Afghan civilian dying at the hands of foreign troops is news. Most troops are not willing to die to help their boss avoid some unfavorable press.

Meanwhile, the traditional military awards for battlefield valor are still being earned for the usual reasons, to help one's fellow soldiers in a dangerous situation. This sometimes involves saving the lives of civilians, who are also being threatened by Taliban violence. But apparently the NATO commanders are proposing the Courageous Restraint award for actions that go far beyond this, into territory troops are reluctant to travel. Since troops who win medals for valor, never think about winning a medal when they do what it takes to earn one, it's difficult to understand how a Courageous Restraint award will be anything but a propaganda ploy inflicted on the families of soldiers who die because of restrictive ROE (Rules Of Engagement that allow the Taliban to take shelter behind human shields, and continue to shoot at NATO troops.)



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