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WASHINGTON — Gen. David Petraeus will review and possibly modify the controversial rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he assumes command of the mission there, a spokesman for the general said Friday.
Many of the rules put in place by dismissed Gen. Stanley McChrystal over the past year — rules that dictate when troops can return fire, where they can patrol, who they can detain — are unpopular with American servicemembers who see them as restrictive and potentially dangerous to their mission.
But Afghan leaders have praised the rules for helping to limit civilian deaths, in particular edicts severely curtailing military airstrikes. Proponents of the military’s counterinsurgency strategy said winning public trust plays as key a factor in long-term success as killing enemy fighters.
On Friday afternoon, Fox News reported that a military source close to Petraeus said he will make changing the rules a top priority after his Senate confirmation, set for next week. But Col. Erik Gunhus, spokesman for Petraeus, refuted that story, saying no such decisions have been made.
Gunhus later acknowledged to Stars and Stripes, however, that “it is one of the things he will look at.”
In public remarks this week, President Barack Obama emphasized that McChrystal’s firing was “a change in personnel, not a change in policy” and the overall counterinsurgency strategy already in place will not be changed. But Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen on Wednesday said that Petraeus will have the flexibility to “make changes he thinks are necessary,” including updating the rules of engagement.
Petraeus is expected to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning. Gunhus said that will include more discussion on the combat rules, but would not give further details.
Obama called on lawmakers this week to conduct a speedy confirmation of Petraeus, to limit disruption in the Afghanistan military mission. Pentagon officials have no offered a timeline for when the combat rules review will take place.
Reporter Kevin Baron contributed to this story.