Mr. Swenson vented his frustration in an after-action investigation.
“It’s not JAG [military attorney] responsibility to interject to say, ‘Hey, we are concerned that you’re going to hit a building,’” he said. “I can tell you that I am concerned with saving as many lives as I can, not necessarily one. Unfortunately, this is combat. I can’t be perfect, but I can do what I feel what’s right at the time.”
He added: “I am not a politician. I am just the guy on the ground asking for that ammunition to be dropped because it’s going to save lives.”
Mr. Swenson recalled other instances in which the brigade command would not authorize airstrikes on targets he identified.
“I just get the craziest thing across the radio sometimes,” he said. “Just people second-guessing.”
Of 13 U.S. forces at Ganjgal, five were killed. The Afghan National Army lost eight soldiers.
Another soldier said in the same after-action report that there was a dwelling in Ganjgal used by the Taliban — including women — as a safe haven from which to fire rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons. Yet the command would not target the building.
“Let’s focus on [rules of engagement] because there is no reason you can’t level a house if they are shooting from it,” the soldier said. “I’ve never heard of a rule that would not allow [you] to fire on a house. They always teach you that you always have the right to defend yourself. Let commanders on the ground make decisions. We are using lawyers to make tactical decisions.”
He added: “You have the right to stay alive or keep your guys alive. We failed them by not keeping them alive because we didn’t provide them what they need to come out alive.”
The linking of an increase in American deaths to restrictive rules of engagement emerged a month before Ganjgal, when Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard was ambushed and killed in southern Afghanistan while on patrol.
Weeks earlier, his father, a retired Marine sergeant, wrote members of his Maine delegation in Washington to say that new rules against air and artillery support would get troops needlessly killed because the Taliban now enjoyed new safe havens among civilians.
“The rules of engagement are so convoluted, so open-ended, that it puts the people on the ground at risk no matter what they do,” said John Bernard, according to the Marine Corps Times. “It’s insane. You don’t let your guys languish there when these things happen. You err on the side of your guys, not the civilians.”
“The carnage will certainly continue as the already fragile and ineffective [rules of engagement] have been further weakened by the Obama administration as if they were playground rules,” he said.
James Russell, an instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School who has conducted research in Afghanistan, said: “I know of no way to quantify or gather evidence that would demonstrate a correlations between more casualties and a changed [rules of engagement].”