Congressman Complains That U.S. Forces Must Follow Rules Of Engagement In Afghanistan

An Oklahoma congressman is disappointed that in winding down the war in Afghanistan, American soldiers are unnecessarily constrained by things like the law of war and other niceties.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) was speaking at a town hall last Wednesday — the same one where he revealed that he sympathizes with the “birther” movement — when confronted with an audience member who believed that the fighting in Afghanistan hasn’t been worth it compared to the number of soldiers who have died in the twelve-year conflict.

“Here’s my thing about fighting over in Afghanistan or Iraq or any of these places — Pakistan — I would rather always fight on somebody else’s soil than our own,” Mullin replied. “But if we’re going to deploy our men and women to go over there, to get rid of bad guys then deploy them and let them go get rid of bad guys.”

What’s stopping them from doing so? In Mullin’s view, the Obama administration placing any constraints at all on what soldiers can and can’t do on the battlefield is effectively ruining the chances of victory overseas:

MULLIN: This asking permission before you can pull the trigger and worrying about the federal government not standing behind you when you’ve got to make a split decision, that’s bull. And it’s costing us men and women because they’re having to second-guess a situation that the bad guys aren’t second-guessing. They don’t care but yet we get chastised for doing so. So if we’re going to have rules of engagement and limit what we can use and the resources that Americans have — if we’re going to limit ourselves on how we fight a war, then forget about it. If we’re going to go fight, go over there, in a sense, kick butt, take names, come back home.

“We haven’t deployed our troops and said ‘Generals, take the war to them, go there, kick their butts and come home,’” Mullin lamented. “Instead we go over there and we try to be politically correct.” Watch the video here:

Counter to Mullin’s disappointment, the United States has always had at least some form of rules of engagement in place for fighting against enemies in wartime. In particular, the U.S. has been a party to the treaties that make up the Geneva Conventions — governing the ways that armies face each other in the field and the treatment of civilians during wartime — since the first was written over one hundred years ago. Even the Bush administration’s Justice Department ruled that the Taliban — while not considered prisoners of war — fall under the Geneva Conventions’ protections when captured on the battlefield.


Beyond that, there are a great many methods and resources that the United States has under its control that it has chosen not to deploy in Afghanistan. Under Mullin’s reasoning, there’s no reason that unleashing banned weapons such as chemical and biological agents should be prohibited so long as it kills members of the Taliban. Nor should civilian casualties be factored into decisions when launching attacks against Taliban positions or strongholds.

Further, disobeying those rules has a proven negative impact on the prosecution of the war, as seen in the case of a group of U.S. Marines who videotaped themselves urinating on the corpse of a Taliban fighter. In response, mass protests flared up around the abuse, damaging ties between Washington and Kabul, and inspiring several attacks against NATO forces. So far eight of the Marines have been punished for their actions, but the repercussions continue within Afghanistan.

Scott Keyes provided reporting for this story.