Lieberman: Rules of engagement hurting morale of U.S. troops in Afghanistan

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Sunday said that the U.S. military’s rules of engagement have hurt troop morale in Afghanistan and said that he hoped the new top commander there, Gen. David Petraeus, will clarify them as soon as possible.

The previous commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, placed restrictions on U.S. air strikes and artillery in Afghanistan, limiting the circumstances that allow troops under fire to call for fire support. Those rules of engagement have cut down on civilian casualties, but have been strongly criticized by American troops who say those rules have made the fight more dangerous.

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“When there are civilian casualties…that hurts the cause, but ultimately we ought to be concerned about the safety of our American troops here,” Lieberman said in a "Fox News Sunday" interview from Afghanistan. “We can’t let that happen and endanger their lives.”

The rules of engagement “have hurt morale here,” Lieberman added.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Petraeus called the protection of U.S. troops his “moral imperative” and said he would review the rules of engagement.

In a counterinsurgency campaign, such as the one applied in Afghanistan, there is an inherent tension between fighting a war and protecting and winning over the civilian population.


“If confirmed, I would continue the emphasis on reducing loss of civilian life in the course of operations to an absolute minimum, while also ensuring that we provide whatever assets are necessary to ensure the safety,” of U.S. and international troops, Petraeus said in written answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation process.

Lieberman, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said that he urged Petraeus not to hesitate to make the case for even more American troops to be deployed to Afghanistan should the need arise. 

Lieberman also said that “on balance” it was a mistake for President Barack Obama to announce the July 2011 date to begin withdrawing troops, because it sends a message to the Afghan people and the Taliban that “we are going to leave.”

But Lieberman acknowledged that the administration and military officials have stressed that the U.S. actions in July 2011 will be based on conditions on the ground.