10 years ago
Note: This article has been updated and expanded with The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement.
In his article Spinning Haditha, Marine W. Thomas Smith made the following sad but prophetic observation:
… every student of military science understands the ugly nature of insurgencies; where insurgents are un-uniformed, unconventional fighters who move freely throughout the community during the day, and become bushwhackers at night. They routinely use women and children as human shields, and often coerce the latter into the service of operating guerrillas.
This is particularly effective against U.S. forces, because the enemy knows that no matter how much stress they may be under, American soldiers will go to great lengths to avoid killing women and children; and even hesitate (at great risk to themselves) when they see women and children shooting at them.
I followed on to predict that charges of civilian casualties and inappropriate rules of engagement would become a staple of enemy propaganda, that rules of engagement would be modified, and that U.S. troops would become increasingly hesitant to fire on the enemy. Every one of these predictions has come true.
As discussed in Newsweek’s expose on Marine Captain Rob Secher, Captain Secher wrote home that “any time an American fires a weapon there has to be an investigation into why there was an escalation of force.”
In my article Unleash the Snipers!, I noted that Marines in Ramadi have noted the hindrance the rules of engagement have become to their missison:
The military has also tightened rules of engagement as the war has progressed, toughening the requirements before a sniper may shoot an Iraqi. Potential targets must be engaged in a hostile act, or show clear hostile intent.
The marines say insurgents know the rules, and now rarely carry weapons in the open. Instead, they pose as civilians and keep their weapons concealed in cars or buildings until just before they need them. Later, when they are done shooting, they put them swiftly out of sight and mingle with civilians.
In my article Racoon Hunting and the Battle for Anbar, I noted that Marines from Fallujah report that:
â€śA lot of us feel like we have our hands tied behind our back,â€? says Cpl. Peter Mattice, of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment. â€śIn Fallujah, [insurgents] know our [rules of engagement] – they know when to stop, just before we engage.â€?
Most recently, from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who interviewed PGA golf professionals on a tour of Iraq to entertain the troops, we have this sobering report directly from the front:
“One guy told me, ‘I’m hesitant to do the job I was trained for. I don’t want to return fire because I might be on CNN the next day.’ That’s sad. That’s a guy risking his life for us. He doesn’t want his family to see him on CNN being portrayed the way those guys are being portrayed.”
“He said, ‘The hardest thing for a soldier to do, despite all his training, is to return fire when he is fired upon,’ ” Kelly said. “It shows the smallness of the position I’m in, comparably speaking. Fear of failure (in golf) and fear of death, come on, there’s no comparison.”
For those who know about the confused ROE, this should not be surprising. As noted by Newsmax, Rules of Engagement: Can Our Troops Defend Themselves?, the vaccilating and politically correct ROE are described as having changed to the point that our troops are afraid of defending themselves:
Well before the conflict in Iraq and up until apparently this past summer, U.S. combat troops found comforting words in the ROE for the individual fighter facing an unpredictable enemy, seeking to kill him or her through any trick or stratagem:
“Nothing in these ROE limit an individual soldier’s right to defend himself or a commander’s inherent authority and obligation to use all necessary means available and to take appropriate action to defend his unit and other U.S. and friendly forces in the vicinity.”
And these words for the unit leader:
“These rules do not limit a commander’s inherent authority and obligation to use all necessary means available and to take all appropriate actions in self-defense of the commander’s unit and other U.S. forces in the vicinity.”
However, the new standard ROE promulgated this past summer (CJCSI 3121.01B) has individual self-defense described as a subset of unit self-defense.
Furthermore, the new regulation ominously adds some specific wording that says, “as such, commanders may limit the individual right of self-defense.”
One informed source, a former military lawyer, noted to NewsMax that with the new language in place it is problematic to tell soldiers during their training that they have an inherent right to defend themselves. Indeed, the new rule can only add to the bewilderment and suspicion with which some soldiers regard ROE.
Analysis and Commentary
From the beginning of a Marine’s time in the Corps, to the last day that he is active, he lives with the concepts of “fire watch” and “guardian angel.” When Marines are sleeping, deployed on a base, or any other time they are not actively engaged in operations, a “fire watch” is set up, and Marines rotate through this duty. This is a defensive posture, taken twenty four hours a day. The guardian angel is supposed to locate to a position of concealment in order to move in offensive operations against any enemy who would do harm to Marines. Defensive and offensive postures – the two go hand-in-hand and are employed at all times.
The Marine is taught that he is always free to defend himself and other Marines. The protection of Marines is thought- and activity-consuming and is paramount in their tactics. Fast forward to Iraq and current ROE. Now he is taught that commanders may limit the right of individual self-defense. If there were only one or two anecdotal pieces of evidence that Soldiers and Marines felt hamstrung and confused by the current ROE, then this might point to a problem.
I have given the broad outline of a change in ROE, along with four such pieces of anecdotal evidence, and this is only from main stream media reports. Further, while orders flow down in the military, complaints flow up. If Captain Secher felt this way (noting that any time a weapon is fired, an investigation has to be conducted), it is extremely likely that his men felt this way. There certainly is a problem.
Consider the psychology of the warrior. Even if not a single Soldier or Marine had died as a result of hesitation due to ROE (that is, even if this danger is only potential and has not become actualized), the psychology of fear has set in. Not fear of the enemy, but fear of firing a weapon. This fear can cause hesitation, and even the enemy knows the U.S. ROE and can and has taken advantage of them. Hence, there is increased danger for our troops, and they know it.
What we need are robust rules of engagement. What we have are confused Soldiers and Marines, afraid to fire their weapons.