US Marines ‘frustrated’ by British jet

Author: Associated Press

The US Marines themselves didn’t attack militants shooting at them yesterday
because women and children were in the compound, an approach meant to avoid
civilian casualties at all costs.

“They did that on purpose,” sniper platoon leader 1st Lt. Joseph Cull, 28, of
Delafield, Wisconsin, said of the Taliban. “They are trying to bait us.”

General Stanley McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has
made protecting Afghan civilians his top priority. The approach is a shift
away from a military mindset whose traditional first response has been to
kill as many militants as possible. By holding fire McChrystal hopes to
avoid the massive civilian casualty cases of past months and years and help
win over Afghan villagers.

US Marines have been locked in battle with insurgents in Dahaneh in Helmand
province after they stormed into the Taliban-held town early yesterday.
Militants have been lobbing rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy
machine gun fire at the US troops.

The troops hope to break the Taliban grip in Dahaneh, sever smuggling routes
and protect civilians from Taliban reprisals so Afghans can vote here during
the August 20 presidential election, which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt.

The Marines locked in on a Taliban position yesterday in a cave in a nearby
mountain, from which militants were firing heavy weapons. The troops called
for an airstrike against the position, but the British Harrier jet that
responded refused to fire its missiles because British rules of engagement
require the pilot himself to identify the target, not just troops on the
ground.

Each country in the more than 40-nation NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan has
its own rules of engagement that apply to specific battle situations, but
McChrystal’s order to protect civilians applies to all forces in the country.

“Sure, that’s frustrating, but we’ve got to deal with it,” said Capt. Zachary
Martin, commander of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines.

Some 400 Marines and 100 Afghan troops moved into Dahaneh early yesterday by
helicopter and ground convoy. The troops took heavy fire from insurgents for
most of the day, killing up to 10 militants after calling in an airstrike on
an insurgent position.

But even that airstrike was carried out with great care.

Militants first started firing from the position about 5am. Ground commanders
wanted an airstrike called in on the position to help protect Marines
receiving fire. But superior officers wanted to be certain there were no
civilians there. Once Martin had established with near certainty that there
were not, an airstrike hit the compound ? hours after the Marines first
received fire.

The Marines say they can avoid civilian casualties with the help of the
sophisticated surveillance technology they have. Strict orders have also
been issued for the Marines to use proportional response when attacked.

But many of the riflemen voiced frustration at the limited options they were
left with when trying to expand control of the town yesterday. The orders to
hold fire appeared to have slowed their advance in Dahaneh, where after a
full day they held only a small foothold outpost.

On Thursday the Marines expected another day of intense combat as they pushed
deeper into the town. Insurgents seemed unwilling to fight overnight, when
they can’t match the Marines’ night vision capabilities. But after the sun
came up early today, the first rounds of fire erupted.

“Right on cue!” shouted Sgt. Ryan Kelsey, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the
first shots rang out.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, two separate roadside blasts in southern Afghanistan
killed 14 civilians, including three children, underscoring the high price
paid by ordinary people in the conflict with the Taliban, officials said
today.

Officials blamed the blasts on Taliban militants, who have made roadside
bombings their primary weapons.

A blast on a road in the Gereshk district of Helmand province ripped through a
vehicle carrying a family yesterday, killing 11 people, including two women
and nine men, said Daud Ahmadi, the spokesman for the provincial governor.

In neighboring Kandahar province, three children were killed after they
started playing with another bomb which they had found on the side of the
road west of the provincial capital, police official Mohammad Shah Khan
said. The victims were between 8 and 12 years old.

Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, where
thousands of additional US troops were deployed this year to try to reverse
the militants’ gains and create conditions for next week’s presidential
election.

According to figures from the US-based Joint Improvised Explosive Device
Defeat Organization, the number of incidents from IEDs soared to 828 last
month, the highest level of the war and more than twice as many as in July
2008. The majority of the victims in such attacks have been civilians.

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