Below is a very interesting read that popped up on military.com this morning. It highlights the pains, frustration, and issues our forces face when we have to fight with an enemy with no morals, convictions, or rules. Our forces are kept to a much higher standard, which is ironic when we engage in actions like combat which are, by their very nature, the most horrific and rudimentary actions we as human beings can perform.
Anger, frustration and a hunger for revenge are running high among U.S. Marines as casualties mount on the frontline of the battle against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
On a base near Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, Marines are grieving the deaths of a sergeant and corporal killed by the remote-controlled bombs that have become the scourge of the long-running conflict.
Commanders try to keep the men’s rage in check, aware that winning over an Afghan public wary of the foreign military presence and furious about mounting civilian casualties is as crucial as any battlefield success.
“It causes a lot of frustration. My men want revenge, that is only natural,” says First Lt. Aaron MacLean, 2nd Platoon commander of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment.
“But I keep telling them that the rules are the rules for a reason. If we simply go crazy and start shooting at everything, in the long run we will lose this war because we will lose the support of the population.”
He too is frustrated, accusing the Taliban of manipulating the rules of engagement by using women and children as shields and shooting from hidden positions before dropping their weapons and standing out in the open.
“They know we can’t shoot them if they don’t carry guns or without positive identification. They are fighting us at another level now,” MacLean said.
MacLean recently led his unit on a routine foot patrol near Marjah, expected to be the scene of a major offensive this month to drive the insurgents from one of their last bastions of control.
What the Marines encountered was a likely precursor of the battle to come.
They were met by fierce gunfire from Taliban gunmen who pinned them down for three hours at the expense of two of their men.
One corporal stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) — the remote-controlled bombs now the main weapon in the Taliban arsenal and which military intelligence officials say claim up to 90 percent of foreign troop lives.
The corporal’s legs were blown off and he was thrown yards into the air.
A second IED killed a sergeant who rushed to the corporal’s aid as bullets flew everywhere, MacLean said.
Three others were wounded in the clash, making it one of the bloodiest days for U.S. Marines since President Obama’s December announcement of a fresh troop surge in the war to eradicate the Taliban.
The death toll of foreign soldiers fighting in Afghanistan under U.S. and NATO command hit 44 in January — the highest for the month since the war began more than eight years ago — compared with 25 in January 2009.
The number of Americans who died last month in the conflict now in its ninth year was almost double the number for January last year, at 29 compared with 15, according to the icasualties.org website, which keeps a running tally.
The U.S. and NATO currently deploy 113,000 troops in Afghanistan, with another 40,000 due over the course of the year as part of a renewed strategy that emphasizes development and the “reconciliation” of Taliban fighters.
Most of the incoming troops will be deployed in Helmand, which along with neighboring Kandahar province has been the hub of the insurgency since the Taliban regime was removed from power in late 2001.
MacLean’s unit is among the first Marine outfits to be sent into Helmand since the surge was announced.
On the day of the ambush, Marines hunkered down in tents inside the camp as information about the encounter came in.
Some had tears in their eyes as the names of casualties were made known. Others held tightly to their weapons and yelled at their enemy on the horizon.
“We were attacked treacherously. We came under fire from everywhere, but the rules of engagement prevent me from doing my job,” said Lance Cpl. Mark Duzick, who was in the unit that was ambushed.
Outside a tent housing the Marine unit responsible for firing mortars stands an improvised cross bearing the inscription: “Here lies the 81st, death by stand down.”
Last year was the worst yet for foreign troops fighting in Afghanistan, with 520 soldiers dead, up from 295 in 2008. More troops will mean more casualties, military experts say.
For the Afghan people, too, 2009 was the deadliest, with the U.N. putting civilian deaths at 2,412 for the year, compared to 2,118 in 2008.
While most are caused by the Taliban, the insurgents easily exploit civilian casualties to spread distrust among the public for foreign and Afghan troops.
As the nature of the fight has changed, with the Taliban increasingly using suicide attacks and IEDs, there had been no traditional winter hiatus and defence ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said spring is likely to be ferocious.
“We will have the most intense clashes come the spring, and will shed the most blood this year,” he told AFP.