KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - It’s early morning as the sun rises over eastern Afghanistan and an American patrol heads outside the wire. Minutes later, as the platoon reaches an open field, they come under attack.
Embedded journalist Mike Jackson asked the Platoon Leader what he thought of the new rules of engagement (ROE) issued by the Department of Defense shortly after they radio “troops in contact.”
As the young officer lay behind a low mud wall, flinching from the crack of incoming rounds and attempting to help treat a soldier who’d been wounded, he checks his watch and yells over the sound of the gunfire:
“I sent up the request to shoot back about 20 minutes ago,” said 2nd Lieutenant Richard O’Keefe. “Hopefully the President will get back to me soon.”
More Stringent Rules of Engagement
The new rules of engagement that require higher approval authority are part of a broad-based strategy of minimizing civilian casualties. Changes first came with the introduction of the Karzai-approved rifle combat sight.
Since its introduction, instances of civilian casualties have plummeted, causing many Afghan lawmakers to tout the optic’s success. Taliban spokesman Muhammed Muhammed Muhammed stated that with the recent lack of casualties their forces were taking in the field, the group was even willing to return to the negotiating table.
The success was unfortunately short-lived, when a stray goat was killed after wandering into a coalition firefight three days ago.
“This is a terrible day for Afghans everywhere,” spouted Afghan President Karzai in response to the latest outrage, calling on further restrictions to what he calls ‘reckless American gunplay’. Airstrikes and helicopter attacks, already requiring a General Officer’s approval before they can be used, have now been cancelled across the AOR.
Karzai demanded a higher approval authority to curb unecessary casualties.
As a gesture of good faith, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated that he would personally receive all requests to return fire through the military chain of command on a specially designed smart-phone carried with him during work hours.
If he decides the request has merit, he will then submit the request in PowerPoint format to President Obama, to be reviewed during the next White House morning security brief.
As cries of Allah Akbar reached a fevered pitch, the enemy closed to hand-grenade range. Lieutenant O’Keefe was asked if he thought the new rules were helpful.
“Oh, absolutely,” he replied, ducking as another RPG detonated on the other side of the wall he was hiding behind. “I mean, they told me in IOBC [Infantry Officer Basic Course] that counterinsurgency was all about the hearts and minds of the people. We can’t do that if we’re hurting innocent civilians. So yeah, I guess it’s a good thing. In fact I-” his next words were cut off as an enemy recoiless rifle shot impacted a nearby hut, killing the family of three cowering inside.
Earlier that morning Secretary Panetta made the following statement about the new restrictions:
“We want to emphasize that we stand behind our troops on the ground 100%,” said Panetta in a hastily called press conference to announce the news. “We just want to be absolutely sure they’re doing the right thing out there. Its all about safety.”
When pressed for his thoughts about the Secretary’s statement, Lieutenant O’Keefe agreed wholeheartedly, and launched into an insightful monologue about ‘just and unjust wars’, pausing occasionally to change spots, avoiding the areas where his men were engaged in savage hand to hand combat with the Taliban fighters that were swarming over the wall, his men swinging their empty rifles like clubs.
As Jackson sprinted away from the battlefield, following the tattered remnants of the Lieutenant’s platoon, he asked O’Keefe about his chances for getting clearance to fire.
“Pretty good I think,” the LT wheezed out between breaths as he ran across a field, dodging enemy fire. “It’s midnight in D.C., so if the President gets up early I think we can expect an answer in about 6 hours. Good thing we did a lot of running back in garrison!”