The US and Israeli l rules of engagement in the Afghan theatre and in Israel's next battlefield respectively were aimed at preventing civilian casualties by prohibiting troops from firing unless they're shot at—or from launching artillery attacks or airstrikes when civilians are deemed near the target. Israel went a step further. The IDF has decided to integrate a Humanitarian Affairs Officer into each combat unit in response to the Goldstone report.
A recent example from Kandahar, reported by CBS news (July 7, 2010), tells the story of U.S. soldiers being pounded with a barrage of mortar rounds. The Americans requested permission to launch retaliatory mortar shells or summon an airstrike against the enemy. HQ officers denied their request because the insurgents were too close to a cluster of mud-brick houses, potentially with civilians inside.
I am troubled by these rules, which not only have effectively forced the good guys to fight with hands tied behind their backs, but also encourage the enemy to employ tactics designed to make use of human shield since it has become highly effective. It has been evidenced lately that the brave Shahids have increased their inclination to shooting or launching rockets from inside homes, schools, mosques or other civilian type structures, knowing that they are protected by the insane rules imposed on the other side.
These rules accomplish the exact opposite of what they have been intended to pull off. They are increasing the likelihood that either more civilians would be hurt in the crossfire or more American or Israeli troops would be killed as a result. What's more, they lower our troops' morale, and limit their ability to defend themselves, thus reducing their will to take risk and be effective on the battlefield. If we sacrifice our soldiers' lives in order to protect civilians on the other side, we will not win the war. We'd be better off quitting early, leaving the scene, saving our boys.
War is not a humanitarian affair. If we fight a war, we must make it clear that we fight to win. Collateral damage is unavoidable if winning is our objective. Protecting the lives of our soldiers must be our highest priority, higher than any fine humanitarian goal designed to make our conduct seem principled and honorable in our minds, but sick, weak and stupid in our enemy's eyes.
If being fair and honorable is in conflict with staying alive and being victorious, let's not be fair, let's not be stupid. Let us come back in one piece. Let us win.