New Battlefield Rules Putting U.S. Troops at Risk?

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Controversial battlefield restrictions may be making the fight even tougher for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The military's new rules of engagement emphasize protecting Afghan civilians even if it puts American troops in danger.

President Obama says the 30,000 additional troops he is sending to Afghanistan will help to get that chaotic nation under control. To that end, one of the troops' main missions will be to win over the Afghan population. According to General Stanley McChrystal, that often means showing restraint--even in the face of enemy fire.

Critics say this strategy prevents U.S. troops from doing what used to be their primary job: pursuing and killing the enemy.

"When you say more troops, it does not make a difference if you don't have the right rules of engagement," said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen West. "Because then you're just creating more opportunities for more of our soldiers to be exposed to hostile fire."

West spent time in Afghanistan training Afghan security forces.

"The big thing now is, you cannot bring in any type of additional firepower, be it artillery or aircraft, if there are civilians that are going to be involved," he told CBN News. "The Taliban understands that--they intermix civilians with them, and our soldiers are forced to pull back."

The restriction on calling in air support is just one of several new rules of engagement laid out by General McChrystal. The guidelines are meant to cut down on civilian casualties and collateral damage. Here are a few of them:

--U.S. troops cannot engage the Taliban if any civilians are present.

--They cannot fire unless they see the enemy preparing to fire first.

--they are not permitted to conduct a search without the presence of the Afghan army or police.

--No searches can be conducted at night or by surprise.

General McChrystal issued a directive earlier this year explaining the new rules, writing:

"Like any insurgency, there is a struggle for the support and the will of the population. Gaining and maintaining that support must be our overriding operational imperative--and the ultimate objective of every action we take."

Washington Examiner columnist Diana West says this strategy cost American lives in one recent Taliban ambush in eastern Afghanistan.

"You had the hostiles embedded with the civilians, knowing that we would do nothing," West told CBN News. "And sure enough, we lost four Marines in that ambush. Which is a disgrace."

Proponents say a similar strategy worked in Iraq, where U.S. troops spent countless hours on the ground talking to locals and tribal leaders. Some of those tribes eventually joined Coalition forces in turning back al Qaeda.

But Afghanistan has a long history of repelling non-Islamic forces--and a primitive tribal culture that no outside power has been able to penetrate over the long haul. The U.S. is hoping to become the first.

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Erick Stakelbeck

Erick Stakelbeck

CBN News Correspondent

Erick Stakelbeck is a sought after authority on terrorism and national security issues with extensive experience in television, radio, and print media. Stakelbeck is a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News.  Follow Erick on Twitter @Staks33.