In June 2009, Gen Stanley McChrystal took over as the overall commander of US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. Shortly after he took command, he issued new ROEs aimed at helping US and ISAF forces win the hearts and minds of the locals. This was supposed to herald a new phase of Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Among the new restrictions, apparently designed primarily to address complaints from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a man with little to no military experience prior to being protected by ODA 574 and installed as the new leader of a Pashtun resistance against the Taliban, were prohibitions on night raids and air support missions aimed at residential compounds.
The loss of the cover of darkness to go after Taliban, Haqqani, Al Qaeda, and other bad actors is bigger than has been talked about. That is a major tactical advantage gone. While there has been some evidence that the bad guys have night vision, it’s still not widely used, while our warfighters have had better and better night vision capabilities in recent years. The likelihood of getting in, getting the target, and getting out without anyone getting shot at night is a lot higher than trying to do it in broad daylight. The classic example is Mogadishu in 1993. A more recent example is my own platoon, callsign Lowlife, in Trek Nawa, just east of Marjah. We’d gone in during the middle of the night, but because the rules specifically stated that we were not allowed to enter a compound at night, we were out in the fields, hunkered down in the open when the shooting started at daylight. We had nowhere to move except by the two canals that were within crawling distance.
That fight ended up lasting 8 hours. Most of that time we were surrounded, and at times unable to even lift our heads out of the dirt far enough to shoot back, the volume of fire coming from the Taliban was high enough. So we called for air support. We had two JTACs in our platoon.
Over the next several hours, support mission after support mission was denied. Why? Because the target was a residential compound. We were taking accurate fire from that compound, we could even see the loopholes the enemy had knocked in the walls, and see the dust and smoke from their fire. But no, somebody back in the TOC wouldn’t clear the air support to drop because that was a residential compound, and some Afghan’s feelings might get hurt if we blew up his house. That wouldn’t be proper COIN, you know.