07/08/2010 10:58 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Petraeus: Rules Of Engagement To Be "Clarified," Not Changed

In his Rolling Stone article, "The Runaway General," reporter Michael Hastings detailed just how fraught the relationship between U.S. soldiers and their command had become over what soldiers perceived as the limitations and risks of counterinsurgency strategy.

And while President Barack Obama's decision to replace General Stanley McChrystal with then-CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus was seen as a suggestion that counterinsurgency would remain the order of the day, there was still widespread speculation that Petraeus would make some sort of substantive change to the rules of engagement.

Well, if today's Stars And Stripes report on the matter is any indication, there won't be one. Here's John Vandiver:

Despite the complaints of some troops in Afghanistan that warfighting rules restrict their ability to defend themselves, the new commanding U.S. general will not be changing the Rules of Engagement, but officials say he will soon clarify actions soldiers may take to clear up confusion and alleviate frustration in the field.

According to Vandiver's report, Petraeus is prepared to take a few concrete steps to try to curb dissatisfaction with the strategy while giving troops a better sense of security. First, a new "tactical directive" is in the offing that will clarify the "what, where and how to apply force." The directive will maintain the high premium on limiting civilian casualties while simultaneously bolstering the ability of soldiers to defend themselves.

A second step is a re-adherence to pure COIN. Petraeus is apparently going to review procedures, and undo layers of rules and restrictions added by field commanders, the idea being that these additions have been the primary source of confusion and disgruntlement.

Petraeus' concern for limiting civilian casualties doesn't come from nowhere. Just two days ago, a new study confirmed how serious the blowback from civilian deaths can be. Here's Spencer Ackerman, at Danger Room:

A new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds "strong evidence for a revenge effect" when examining the relationship between civilian casualties caused by the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan and radicalization after such incidents occur. The paper even estimates of how many insurgent attacks to expect after each civilian death. Those findings, however intuitive, might resolve an internal military debate about the counter-productivity of civilian casualties -- and possibly fuel calls for withdrawal.

"When ISAF units kill civilians," the research team finds, referring to the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, "this increases the number of willing combatants, leading to an increase in insurgent attacks." According to their model, every innocent civilian killed by ISAF predicts an "additional 0.03 attacks per 1,000 population in the next 6-week period." In a district of 83,000 people, then, the average of two civilian casualties killed in ISAF-initiated military action leads to six additional insurgent attacks in the following six weeks.

It looks like the "COINdinistas" will still hold sway over the Afghanistan mission. Which means the tensions ably captured by Hastings are going to stay relevant.

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