"Sir! Target acquired!" "All right corporal, call the lawyers, and get the green light."
As Capt. Anthony Zinni monitored a live video feed from a Predator drone circling overhead, he spotted four men planting a booby trap in the middle of the road here.
For Capt. Zinni, one of the officers responsible for approving airstrikes in the nine-day-old battle for Marjah, it seemed like an easy call: The men were digging a hole alongside a road where a Marine supply convoy was scheduled to pass within hours. But just as he was about to give the order to strike, Capt. Zinni spotted even-smaller white figures on the video running along the path south of the canal.
Children. Maybe 50 feet from the men planting the booby trap. "It's not a good shot," Capt. Zinni said, ordering the Predator drone to delay the strike. "It's not a good shot."
The 45 minutes that followed help illustrate why it is taking coalition forces so long to secure this hotly contested part of Afghanistan.
As the biggest coalition offensive since the Taliban government fell in 2001 enters its second week, allied officials on Sunday said it could take at least a month to secure Marjah and Helmand province as troops here meet pockets of unusually stiff resistance. U.S. and Afghan troops were converging Sunday on a western quarter of Marjah, officials said, where a group of remaining Taliban had concentrated and were apparently making a stand. ...
Such civilian casualties have been a constant source of tension between the Afghans and the international forces. On Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged coalition troops to redouble their efforts to avoid killing innocents in Marjah, where at least 19 civilians have reportedly died in clashes between insurgents and combined U.S.-Afghan force.
Last year, U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, issued a directive restricting air attacks on homes, making the strategic call that it's better to let a few insurgents escape than alienate the Afghan public by inflicting civilian casualties.
First, let me state that I respect General McChrystal. that said, I believe it's a fool's errand to let terrorists escape to avoid civilian casualties. Yes, we should take every possible step to avoid injuring or killing civilians. However, we learned this lesson in Iraq. Haditha was a prime example of what terrorists were willing to do to prevent our soldiers from doing their job. And while that incident provoked a firestorm of accusations and finger-pointing, the Marines involved in that incident have been cleared of any serious crime. The murder charges were dismissed. And while we respect President Karzai's call to limit engagements, it'd be helpful of him to get his populace to work with us more. That means contacting our soldiers when these terrorists are in the area, then clearing the area so we can deal with said terrorists. And what if the terrorists are using people as human shields? Casualties happen, folks. Our soldiers will do their best not to kill those civilians.
The point is we shouldn't be consulting with lawyers before we engage the enemy. That's an aspect of micro-management our soldiers shouldn't have to deal with. We're in a war, not a courtroom. This sort of red tape is no different than someone in DC, other than the president, giving their two cents on what our soldiers should do, and what extent they make act.
The US military takes every possible precaution to limit civilian casualties. Sometimes that may not be possible. Our soldiers shouldn't have to look over their shoulder about possible prosecution for doing their job provided they do that job as outlined by the mission parameters, and the field manuals that apply to each branch of the service. Later in the story is a suggestion to send an attack helicopter in to scatter the kids and the terrorists, and even that was nixed.
We can't keep fighting this front in Afghanistan with one hand tied behind our back, and a lawyer standing behind them ready to charge them for doing their job. If that continues, this mission is lost no matter how many troops we put on the ground.