Could Petraeus dump unpopular combat rules?

In his public remarks this week the president emphasized that Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal's firing was "a change in personnel, not a change in policy" and that he expects replacement commander Gen. David Petraeus to continue the "hearts and minds" counterinsurgency strategy already in place there.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated that point in a Pentagon press conference Thursday, but also noted that doesn’t mean everything will stay the same. Some of specific rules of engagement – when troops can return fire, where they can patrol, who they can detain – could see major changes in coming weeks.

“Any new commander, Gen. Petraeus included, will go in, assess his command and what it is going to take to achieve the mission and certainly has the flexibility to make changes that he thinks are necessary,” Mullen told reporters. “And so my expectation is, certainly that’s what (he) will do widely and make adjustments.”

That’s welcome news for troops in Afghanistan who’ve been quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) complaining about limitations they face in completing the mission there. Earlier this week troops at one base in Afghanistan celebrated McChrystal’s possible firing, citing the restrictions as too severe for their safety.

Folks over at Danger Room questioned whether they'll see wider use of drones and airstrikes again. The Wall Street Journal noted that in Iraq Petraeus put a strong emphasis on limiting civilian casualties but also gave individual commanders more leeway in how to ensure that.

But, Mullen noted, flexibility to make changes doesn’t mean Petraeus must dump those rules. For now, troops will have to wait and see what the new boss has in store.

What do you think about the rules of engagement? Sound off here.

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