US Military Still Trying to Figure Out How Not to Kill Afghan Civilians

Pentagon Promises Yet More 'Guidance' on Air Strikes

Speaking today about the problem of civilian killings in Afghanistan, chief military legal adviser in Afghanistan Col. Rich Gross announced that new, unspecified revisions to the rules of engagement would be made in an effort to give new “guidance” on air strikes and helicopter attacks.

It is a very old story, and one perpetually rehashed. The US promised major changes after the 2008 Herat air strike, and against after the early 2009 Farah air strike. Such changes have been pledged over and over, with each promise coming in the wake of another massive civilian slaughter.

Each change is presented as a silver bullet, one that will allow the military to finally stop killing Afghan civilians en masse. But with record civilian tolls and some very embarrassing high profile incidents, including the attempted cover-up of a night raid in Paktia, the issues don’t seem to be the sort of thing that could be sorted out by simple rule revisions.

NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal has repeatedly argued that victory in the war is going to depend on getting the civilain death toll under some semblence of control, but the means of doing that seems to be elusive. Even talk of banning air strikes in heavily populated areas and ending night raids seems to be accomplishing little in change of tactics and next to nothing with respect to civilians deaths.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.