Score One For The McChrystal Review

Musing on the laws of war, Andrew Exum recalls a lesson from his recent service on Gen. McChrystal’s 60-day strategy review:

One of the things we talked a lot about in Afghanistan with respect to civilian casualties is that the laws of land warfare and the Geneva Conventions actually allow you to do a lot with respect to collateral damage. But it’s beside the point. If the Taliban run into a compound, can you destroy it? Sure. But if by destroying it you also kill 15 civilians, you are not serving your strategy very well. You are, as a matter of fact, operationally ineffective. So it seems operational and strategic sense should kick in — in "wars among the peoples" at least — long before legality becomes an issue.

(I suppose Ex could be talking about his military service in Afghanistan seven years ago; it’s not clear.) Great point. And if the war in Afghanistan is ultimately a disaster, expect criticism of precisely this point to form the basis of a stab-in-the-back narrative. How, cry the anti-COINdinistas, could the counterinsurgents have forced our soldiers and marines to fight with one hand tied behind their backs? Attempting to protect civilian lives is well and good. But at the cost of the mission? 

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman