A proposal to grant medals for “courageous restraint” to troops in Afghanistan who avoid deadly force at a risk to themselves has generated concern among U.S. soldiers and experts who worry it could embolden enemy fighters and confuse friendly forces.
Lt. Col. Edward Sholtis, a spokesman for Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who commands NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that no final decision has been made on the award, which is the brainchild of British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter.
“The idea is being reviewed at Headquarters ISAF,” Sholtis said. “The idea is consistent with our approach. Our young men and women display remarkable courage every day, including situations where they refrain from using lethal force, even at risk to themselves, in order to prevent possible harm to civilians. … That restraint is an act of discipline and courage not much different than those seen in combat actions.”
However, professor Jeffrey F. Addicott, a former senior legal adviser to the Green Berets and director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, said “It’s an absolutely outrageous proposal to our fighting men.
“The implication of this award is that we do not engage in war fighting that is appropriate,” Addicott said. “They’re sending a chilling message to our troops that we are not complying with the law of armed conflict. It’s a propaganda victory for our enemies.”
Sholtis disputed that the award would limit troops’ ability in the battlefield.
“We absolutely support the right of our forces to defend themselves,” he said. “Valuing restraint in a potentially dangerous situation is not the same thing as denying troops the right to employ lethal force when they determine that it is necessary.”
But other soldiers saw the medal proposal as a reinforcement of troubling rules of engagement. “Unfortunately, we are being reduced to a police force,” said another U.S. soldier. “There are troops that never leave Bagram or Kandahar airfield. … Maybe if they left us all on base and never sent us out to confront the enemy, we could all be honored [for] valor.”