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Military officials: New 'directive' to clarify Afghan combat rules

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
Gen. David Petraeus' "tactical directive" is expected to be classified, but troops are eager to hear what it is.
Gen. David Petraeus' "tactical directive" is expected to be classified, but troops are eager to hear what it is.
  • Officials tell CNN Petraeus unlikely to reverse McChrystal's directives
  • "Tactical directive" may clarify when units must get permission to defend themselves
  • Some troops had complained previous directives were overly restrictive
  • Petraeus has made clear he is aware of the troops' concerns

Washington (CNN) -- Gen. David Petraeus is expected to soon issue a new "tactical directive" spelling out his views on how coalition air and ground operations should be conducted in Afghanistan, according to several U.S. and coalition military officials.

All of the officials CNN spoke to indicated Petraeus is not expected to reverse existing directives issued by the previous commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, but instead characterized it as a clarification of the rules he put into place emphasizing protection of civilians on the battlefield.

The directive may do that by spelling out more clearly under what circumstances units must get permission to launch attacks to defend themselves, according to the sources.

The directive is expected to be classified, but troops are awaiting it with some anticipation. Some troops on the ground complained about the McChrystal directives, saying they unduly hampered troops from defending themselves in favor of protecting civilian populations. Those McChrystal directives limited the use of airstrikes, night raids and other firepower against civilians.

At his confirmation hearing last month to take command in Afghanistan, Petraeus explained a tactical directive is "designed to guide the employment, in particular, of large casualty-producing devices, bombs, close air support, attack helicopters, and so forth."

The concern, however, is that implementation has been uneven, leading some units to be overly restrictive.

"We have to be absolutely certain that the implementation of the tactical directive and the rules of engagement is even throughout the force," Petraeus said, "that there are not leaders at certain levels that are perhaps making this more bureaucratic or more restrictive than necessary when our troops and our Afghan partners are in a tough spot. And when they are in a tough spot, it's a moral imperative that we use everything we have to ensure that they get out of it."

Petraeus made clear he was aware of the troops' worries.

"I am keenly aware of concerns by some of our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive. They should know that I will look very hard at this issue."

On Sunday, Petraeus issued a more general, public list of guidelines for counterinsurgency warfare in which he urged American troops and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to learn and adapt to the culture of Afghanistan while battling the Taliban insurgents and their allies.

While Petraeus called on the troops to "pursue the enemy relentlessly" and "seek out and eliminate" insurgents who threaten Afghan civilians, he also urged coalition forces to fight "with discipline" and be careful to avoid civilian casualties.