Some insights regarding current ROE in Afghanistan:
US casualties in Afghanistan provoke rage and frustration
A hunger for revenge is palpable among US Marines as casualties grow on the frontline of the battle against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. 'My men want revenge - that is only natural,' says First Lieutenant Aaron MacLean.
By Jason Gutierrez, south-east of Marjah for AFP
Published: 11:40AM GMT 01 Feb 2010
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 civilian casualties is as important as battlefield success.
"It causes a lot of frustration. My men want revenge - that is only natural," says First Lieutenant Aaron MacLean, 2nd Platoon commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment Charlie company.
"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, which is expected to be the scene of a major offensive this month.
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). Military intelligence officials say that it is possible that 90 per cent of foreign soldiers' lives are currently being lost in this way.
The corporal's legs were blown off and he was thrown metres 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 US Marines since President Barack Obama's announcement in December of a fresh troop surge in the war to eradicate the Taliban.
The death toll of foreign soldiers fighting in Afghanistan under US and Nato command reached 44 in January - the most in a month since the war began more than eight years ago.In January 2009 the figure was 25.
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 US and Nato currently deploy 113,000 troops in Afghanistan, with another 40,000 due this year as part of a renewed strategy that emphasises development and the "reconciliation" of Taliban fighters.
Most of the incoming troops will be deployed in Helmand, which along with neighbouring Kandahar province has been the hub of the insurgency since the Taliban regime was removed from power in late 2001.
MacLean's unit contains some of the first Marinesto 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 Corporal Mark Duzick, who was in the unit that was ambushed.
Outside a tent housing the Marines' 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 Afghans too 2009 was the deadliest, with the UN putting civilian deaths at 2,412 for the year, compared to 2,118 in 2008.
While most are caused by the Taliban, the insurgents 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 General Zahir Azimi, a defence ministry spokesman, said that 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 said.