Politically Correct Rules of Engagement Endanger Troops

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 11 months 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:

“A 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. “In 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.



  • http://www.copthetruth.typepad.com Mike

    The problem is that these men and women are expected to perform warfighting duties with a police officer’s ROE. Escalation of force, indeed. In war, there is no escalation of force. There is a complete destruction of those opposing the accomplishment of the assigned mission, in this case, an Iraq free of terrorists and murderers. It is not possible to fight a war without hurting people’s feelings. The first rule of war is that people die; sad but true. And as long as our troops are stuck with these ROE, violations of which are exploited by the enemy, they will contiune to die. We need to put some of these politicians in uniform and make them walk patrols. Wanna bet things would change then?

  • http://Unicow.com wlpeak

    Well what do you know. There really are chickenhawks and they’re all in the Pentagon. What a surprise.

    Here’s a tip. If you cannot give your soldiers a true combat ROE then yes, by all means, pull them out. They don’t belong there and it is immoral to put them in harms way.

    It may not be Vietnam II but it sure is starting to look like Beirut redux.

  • http://www.realtime.net/~rentner Mike Rentner

    There are a lot of incorrect assumptions being made here, echoing the opinions which are being perpetrated by those in legal difficulties.

    Unlike most people who blather on the internet about the rules of engagement in Iraq, I actually know what they were, at least a year ago. They are for the most part, and rightly so, classified. So if you aren’t there, you can’t really know what they are.

    There are a lot of rules, but the individual Marine or soldier can understand how they impact his job fairly easily. Details might change from time to time, but I have never seen anyone second guessed who made a reasonable interpretation of the rule, especially if their decision was required in an immediate situation.

    One source of confusion in the general public, like I said, is coming from people accused of crimes, most notably the Marines of 3/1 who killed those families in Haditha. I was in Haditha with the battalion that was there before 3/1 and I know the area and the rules they operated under well. If you only go by the statements the accused Marines themselves have been trumpeting to the press, it would be very easy to convict them of manslaughter if not murder. It has never been allowed in pretty much any war that I’m aware of, to throw grenades into rooms of houses that are known to be occupied by famiies for the only reason that noises are heard coming from it. And to do it a second time after seeing the grisly results of the first wrong decision, is arguably nothing less than criminal. Yet these Marines claim that they were only following accepted practice, and they conclude that if killing families huddling in their homes is not allowed, then the ROE must be bad. Nonsense.

    The only issue I saw with the ROE when I was there was that some of the snipers in our battalion were afraid of the ROE. There are many times when a few of our snipers would be afraid to shoot because they were afraid of the ROE. Even though the ROE easily permitted them taking a shot, they claimed that the rules were too restrictive. I suspect that might be true with whoever you’re getting your story from as well.

    Despite the “elite” character that snipers claim to have, they often are not very elite at all. It is not a good assumption that they all went to or even graduated from sniper school. It is not a good assumption that they are all well disciplined. Just look at that movie about the first Gulf War featuring Marine snipers for proof. Heck, the guy claims, but I don’t really believe it, that he wet his pants three times, yet wasn’t even ever in combat. If he portrays his own story accurately (and I think he got a little too creative in his Iowa writing workshop), then the snipers in his battalion were the dregs, not the elites.

    There is no real problem with the ROE in Iraq. Everyone has their own opinion as to how to make things better, but there is no fundamental flaw in the rules that is keeping us from winning the war. All we really need are a heck of a lot more people to do the job.

  • Chuck Pelto

    TO: Herschel Smith
    RE: Not So Much Rules of Engagement

    Rather, the problem is we are not paying heed to lessons of the past.

    Specifically, the way the Brits put down the Communist insurgency in Malaysia during the 50s.

    Any town or village where they were having ‘trouble’ was evacuated.

    All citizens, with whatever they could carry, were moved to a new site where they built a new town with a good security fence around it.

    Only things that were inspected could enter or leave the new town.

    The old town was searched and, I would think, razed.

    Evidence of being part of the insurgency, e.g., materials found in the old town, materials being smuggled into or out of the new town, was used to prosecute and punish those caught.

    This system WORKED.

    While we don’t do it in Iraq, the insurgency will continue to florish.

    Regards,

    Chuck(le)
    P.S. Then there is the Pershing Technique.

    I see it as an adjunct to the system described above. Something to do with punishing the insurgents and their supporters who are caught.

  • Goodbye Natalie

    Though I appreciate Mike Rentner’s comments from above about two sides of the argument, the tone of his comment has the real smell of John Kerry elitism.

    Mike, since when was it a requirement to have a PHD to be a good shot? Anyone who has been to any professional schooling or college knows how overrated the classroom and field exercises are in comparison to the experience of real life situations.

    The most prudent approach to give our military concerning rules of engagement must be to provide a wide latitude of discretion and a trust that these young men are worthy of an assumption of not guilty when accused by an enemy, or worse, our “illustrious” press. I don’t find anyone willing to risk their life for the sake of others the dregs of society.

    When I read Mike’s comment, he leads me to believe that we’ve got leagues of blood thirsty killers on the march through the streets of Baghdad. What good will it do to double our force if they are handcuffed but provide more ducks on the pond?

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  • http://www.realtime.net/~rentner Mike Rentner

    Goodbye Natalie missed the whole point.

    And I dare her to compare me to John Kerry to my face.

    It’s funny how when people learn something contrary to what they want to learn, they toss out irrelevent insults like comparing the messenger of that truth to John Kerry. Don’t shoot the messenger.

    My point was that our Marines and soldiers DO have the ability to understand and obey the ROE easily, and they are supported when they do so, even if they fail but tried reeasonably to conform to them. Except in the very willful violations of the ROE that get into the news, I don’t know of anyone that has been prosecuted for using deadly force.

    My point was that there are bad apples in all organizations. We should not over-react to the bad apples who claim that the reason for their crimes is that they are being persecuted by restrictive ROE. When we find these bad apples, we must disassociate ourselves from their actions and punish them accordingly. It is not appropriate to accept their behavior and change the rules to accommodate their crimes.

    Goodbye Natalies should realize that our military is by and large very professional. It is not led by deranged men making rules that are impossible to follow or that unreasonably prohibit the job from being done. They make ROE that generally are consistent with rules in WWII, Viet Nam, etc. The fact that they are classified means that people here are generally talking about things they don’t know about.

    It’s funny how many of the same people who complain about the inaccuracy of the main stream media fail to see how myths about the military are just as riddled with inaccuracies. Snipers are not supermen. The ROE aren’t designed by madmen.

    Remember, the Iraqis are our allies. We need, and we have, rules that allow us to operate effectively. We can’t go around killing people indiscriminately. We need, as all militaries need, rules to guide whom we kill and when we can kill them. Otherwise we’d have lawlessness, and that is contrary to our purpose.

    My point is that the rules we have are unknown to most of you. You should trust the military to make rules that are reasonable for the situation and ignore the hacks that don’t know what they’re talking about.

  • John Davies

    I was thinking about this yesterday when the Senators were grilling Robert Gates about the Powell Doctrine.

    They kept using the overwhelming force part to try to get him to criticize the President on troop levels.

    I was steaming thinking of how they would have complained if the ROE had been loosened enough that we were using honest-to-god overwhelming force.

    We don’t have the guts for it. Yet.

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  • Herschel Smith

    Mike Renter,

    Let’s allow others have the podium for a while. Contact me off-line please at the e-mail address given on my web site. In the mean time and until we talk, all other comments made by you will be deleted.

  • Don Beier

    I have long been urging President Bush (thru emails) and my congressman to let these kids FIGHT TO WIN.
    I haven’t received any replies from Mr. Bush :>)
    They have been trained to fight and kill the enemy, NOT to be urban cops using “restraint”. Either let them do what they are trained to do, or pull them out. Just one man’s opinion. Don

  • martin

    What we have are democrats who are traitors, a media that is actually part of the enemy propoganda machine, and gutless republicans afraid of being called bad names.

    Bush needs to stand up and point out how democrats and the media cost livesin Viet Nam, and hwo they are trying to do the same here. But there seem to be no balls in the Bush.

  • Chuck Pelto

    TO: All
    RE: Rules of Engagement vs. Actual Strategy

    ROEs are necessary.

    However, they are not the be-all-and-end-all of how to conduct a winning war effort.

    We need a strategy that will:

    [1] Allow our commanders in the field to engage the enemy effectively.
    [2] Eliminate the enemy’s logistical and operational bases of operation.

    ROE will do neither. ROE is just what we tell the troops in the field how to engage the enemy….if they can identify them.

    The Brit approach in Malaysia is the only proven effective modern winning war strategy against this sort of situation. [Note: The Romans had an approach, but it was tantamount to genocide.]

    The Brit approach is not genocide. It is not ‘ethnic cleansing’. It’s brutal. But it is effective.

    Once the people realize that harboring the insurgents in their community results in the destruction of their property and their subsequent displacement to something resembling an internment camp, there will be fewer communities that harbor the insurgents.

    We’ve seen this played out in Israel’s approach to dealing with homes that harbor tunneling operations. The house is destroyed. Other homeowners think twice before allowing their house to become a target for destruction.

    In summation, it’s nice to talk about ROEs, but they are not, repeat NOT, going to end the insurgency in Iraq.

    Regards,

    Chuck(le)
    [Once the pin has been pulled, Mr. Hand Grenade is no longer your friend.]

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  • Herschel Smith

    Chuck,

    Proper thought-boundaries are needed here. Think “strict boundary conditions,” and read carefully. No one said that proper ROE will end the insurgency. You answered an objection that no one raised. With all due respect. Your comment was interesting, but the post was about potential endangerment to the troops, not ending the insurgency. I have other posts that touch on this, and they are probably poor compared to the thinking on the ground in Iraq. The military on the ground can come up with the strategy to end the insurgency. My post was about endangerment of the troops.

  • plainslow

    We need to win this war. But this is exactley why I did’nt want us to go in. I feel the war was justified, but I knew that this would happen. With our press, everyone was as worried about how they look back home. I would do the same thing. But we can’t win wars against an enemy of any size until we get over this. That’s why Clinton shot cruise missiles, and no soldiers to fight this enemy. And most of us agreed at the time.

  • http://www.harlemghost.thedorsai.com Jeff Carlson

    Mike,

    gotta call BS on your “I was in Haditha with the battalion that was there before 3/1 and I know the area and the rules they operated under well.” A rank, actual unit, your position and real dates would have lent some credibility to your claim. Since you did’nt provide any of those I have to assume you made it up to acquire some sort of moral authority to talk about the Marines there. A big lie in other words.

  • Herschel Smith

    Let’s all be courteous … please!

  • Lou Gots

    ROE’s infringing the individual right of self-defense may be unlawful orders. If I couldn’t get an instruction from the the Military Judge to that effect, I could figure out a way to argue it. If the ROE were framed in such a way as to forbid a combatant from shooting someone who was shooting at him, and the facts of the case fit that scenario, a not guilty verdict from a Court-Martial is a real possibility.

    The underlying problem here is the “Protocol I” issue. In 1977, many countries, but not the U.S., adopted a change to the international law of armed conflict to extend privileges of lawful belligerance to those fighing “occupation” even if the fighters were not bearing arms openly or not wearing an uniform or equivalent badge of identification. In operation, this means those fighting Israel, and now, the U.S..

    We have not ratified Geneva Convention Protocol I, but right now we are fighting as though we had. Because of this ambiguity, our statesmen, commanders and Staff Judge Advocates, the advisors of those commanders, are pussy-footing around the issue, with the results described above. and

  • http://www.realtime.net/~rentner Mike Rentner

    Jeff,

    Third Battalion, Twenty-fifth Marines. S-6 officer.
    Deployed to Hit-Haditha corridor of Al Anbar Province Iraq from Feb 18, 2005 to October 1, 2005.

    Mike Rentner
    Major, USMCR

  • George T Talbot

    Same problems in the Army also. Have been on a patrol where a bomb was throw at one of our vehicles. The turret gunner did not fire on the vehicle from which the bomb was thrown, despite having a clear shot at them while they drove away. The reason? Possible punishment under the UCMJ. But who could really blame the soldier who might be fined, demoted or otherwise punished. Yes, he should have fired and I place the blame for this sort of inaction/fear squarely upon the shoulders of the command. How can we fight a war like this?

  • Herschel Smith

    Lou,

    Your comment is interesting, and it significantly adds to the discussion. I would like to mine what you know about this subject. If you are so disposed, please contact me off-line at the e-mail given on the web site. Thanks!

  • George T Talbot

    Re #22

    George T Talbot
    Major, USA Medical Corps
    210 BSB in Afghanistan in 2003
    21-15 FAR in Iraq 2004-2005

  • Barry 0351

    Number one rule of engagment.
    1. Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.

  • Soldier Hard!

    Why does this not surprise me. Published on the subject 20 years ago.

    Accession Number : ADA184917

    Title : Rules of Engagement: What is the Relationship Between Rules of Engagement and the Design of Operations

    Corporate Author : ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLL FORT LEAVENWORTH KS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED MILITARY STUDIES

    Personal Author(s) : Burton, Michael A.

    Handle / proxy Url : http://handle.dtic.mil/100.2/ADA184917 Check NTIS Availability…

    Report Date : 04 MAY 1987

    Pagination or Media Count : 39

    Abstract : This paper initially explains the role Rules of Engagement (ROEs) play in the use of military force as a political instrument. ROEs are then characterized into three categories using theory and a historical overview of recent armed conflicts. From this analysis, the relationship of ROEs and the design of operations are investigated. This study concludes that ROEs impact on the design of operations in three significant ways. First, ROEs introduce a new equation of uncertainty into operations. Second, the operational commander must address the unusual degree of risk associated with limiting the use of force in relation to the enemy. Finally, limitations on the use of force can radically change the capabilities of the friendly force. The operational commander must assess his own force with respect to the limitations imposed by rules of engagement.

    Descriptors : *MILITARY OPERATIONS, *LIMITATIONS, WARFARE, POLICIES, THESES, RESTRAINT, MILITARY TACTICS.

    Subject Categories : MILITARY OPERATIONS, STRATEGY AND TACTICS

    Distribution Statement : APPROVED FOR PUBLIC RELEASE

  • Chuck Pelto

    TO: Herschel Smith
    RE: Boundaries

    “Proper thought-boundaries are needed here. Think “strict boundary conditions,â€? and read carefully. No one said that proper ROE will end the insurgency.” — Herschel Smith

    Actually….someone did say, or at least imply, that. See Glenn Reynold’s link to this thread on your blog.

    “ARE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT the real problem in Iraq?” — Glenn Reynolds

    Hence my comments.

    Go on with your ROE bun-fight. However, it will not change the outcome by very much, as it is not a strategic issue.

    Regards,

    Chuck(le)

  • Herschel Smith

    Chuck,

    Glenn has a right to write anything he wants. It is his web site.

    Unless you are omniscient, you do not know whether this is a strategic issue (which wasn’t the point of the original post anyway).

    I don’t know what a “bun fight” is, as I have never engaged in one. Let’s keep the comments on a high level, and avoid highjacking the comment thread.

  • Russ

    Mike,

    I was with the 101st in Iraq(the first time) and have several friends there now. I was never under the impression that the ROE was classified. Please tell me, as one major to another, where I could find that.

    And Lou Gots, soldiers might be hesitant to use some force at times in a confusing situation, but all soldiers are told that if they are being shot at, the use of deadly force against the attacker is ALWAYS justified, regardless of ROE. ROE never precludes the right of a soldier to defend himself, period.

  • srp

    My understanding is that there is a school of thought that in counterinsurgencies, as opposed to “regular” warfare, the goal is to use the minimal firepower necessary because killing enemy operators is not the primary objective. The enemy center of gravity is supposed to be its support/acquiescence from the population, and the counterinsurgent center of gravity is the government/occupying authority’s political legitimacy. So if you think of Type I and Type II error, the theory is that you’re better off erring a little bit more on the side of not shooting and letting a bad guy get away and/or taking a casualty than you are of erring a little bit and shooting an uninvolved civilian.

    I’m not sure this theory is correct, or if correct appropriate to the Iraq context, but if that is indeed our strategy then it would be military incompetence not to have rules of engagement that reflect it. He who wills the end wills the means.

  • http://www.realtime.net/~rentner Mike Rentner

    Russ,

    How would you find out that the ROE are classified? By the big words “SECRET” on the top and bottom of every copy of them printed by your fellow army brethren from CentCom and the other boys in Baghdad where they originate in some form or another. You can find them on SIPRNET. And if you don’t know what SIPR is, then I’m not going to help you any further!

    Locally made copies of the ROE often don’t include those words, but that doesn’t change their classification. A lot of things are loosey goosey over there because there’s a war going on, but the ROE are classified, as they should be. There’s no need to tell the enemy what we will do or not do in different situations. I’d prefer that it remain as surprising as possible to them.

  • Herschel Smith

    SRP,

    Yes, I know all about COIN, and “winning the hearts and minds of the people,” and “Military Operations Other Than War,” and so on, and so forth. I have read the Small Wars Manual and the recently revised COIN field manual (draft version).

    The best way to win the hearts of the people is to provide security. This may be done by killing the enemy.

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  • Breakerjump

    Every time one of The Captain’s stories gets picked up Renter comes by and tells everyone that the subject matter is classified…so, yeah.

    Rules of engagement in Iraq are not classified, and it’s silly to assert they are – at least not classified to any serious degree. I’ve read about ROE’s, heard about ROE’s from Marines and Soldiers on the ground in Iraq and those back from deployment as well as those waiting for deployment. I’ll reference a comment I made on another of The Captain’s posts:

    “The point here is that the statistical kill ratio is unacceptable. The margin of ratios the Captain and Ernest worked up is absolutely sane and reasonable. They are also a product of pussified, political, bureaucratic “counter-insurgency operationsâ€? that have left our Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines with unnecessary casualties and criminal charges.

    We should have learned our lesson from General Sherman. Let our Marines annihilate, or bring them the hell home. “

  • Russ

    Mike,

    I have one of my ROE cards in front of me, the one I was issued prior to departure from home station. Why can’t I find the word “SECRET” anywhere?

    I also asked both NCOs across the hall from me – one a vet of OIF from 2004-2005, and one a vet from Desert Storm – and none of us can ever recall ROE that was classified.

    Also, how would you square this with soldiers receiving ROE cards who were never given secret clearance?

  • http://www.realtime.net/~rentner Mike Rentner

    Russ, I’d say you had a pretty normal battalion that had a healthy sloppiness about nit noid administrative BS that are not worth worrying about when you’re being mortared every day.

    The ROE are on the order of 50 or maybe more pages, they are definitely classified, and for good reason. The bits put on the cards you’ve seen are likewise properly classified, but the absurdity of not sharing the info with people who need to know the info means that everyone makes handy little cards summarizing the ROE. The little bit that the average infantryman has to know is summarized as, “if you reasonably feel threatened, kill.” And then there are other escalation procedures that there is no need to share with anyone here. There are other rules for when offensive actions are permissable, etc.

    The ROE at the basic grunt level are pretty simple. The ROE for when to bomb a mosque or 3000 year old Ziggurat are more extensive. But if someone is using that 3000 year old Ziggurat to launch RPG’s at G.I. Joe, he has every right to shoot back, using proportionate force, to stop the threat, and the ROE support that. Proportionate force doesn’t mean you only respond to a knife with a knife, it means you respond with what is at hand that is reasonable. If a guy threatens with a knife and the most readily available weapon to counter that threat is a 120mm tank gun, then use the tank gun, don’t call in a nuclear strike on the whole city.

    Soldiers and Marines often misunderstand terms like “proportionate force” and think that they might get in trouble if they use the wrong weapon. This is not true, unless the weapon they choose is completely unreasonable. For instance, you don’t carpet bomb a village because of a sniper, but you can drop a bomb on the house he’s in. If you see a five year old boy that might have a rock to throw at you, you don’t necessarily want to use a machine gun on him, although you might have justification to do so if you think your life is in danger, say, the rock resembles a grenade. These are not the specific ROE, but they are concepts addressed by the ROE.

    In all this discussion, no one has given a single instance of someone who was prosecuted for violating the ROE. The only instances I’m aware of are very rare and very worthy of prosecution. A Marine shot a wounded man inside a mosque, this was in the news. How many people know that the investigation properly found that the Marine was fully justified in kiling that man? All they remember is that the press went crazy, a lot of people counter complained about the ROE, and the Marine Corps quietly went about its investigation and made a good ruling that there was no reason to say the Marine made a mistake, let alone commit a crime.

    So what’s the problem with the ROE? This whole argument is little more than a red herring that gets people all worked up who don’t work with the ROE.

  • Herschel Smith

    Mike,

    I appreciate the clarification and further explanation. I have to disagree. I know your position since you and I have exchanged e-mail in the past few minutes. I don’t think that this is a “red herring.” There are at least two aspects to this little post: the concrete (actual ROE), and the psychology of the revised ROE, or their effect on the psyche of the warrior who is making split second decisions in COIN and MOUT, pressures that warriors from previous generations did not face.

    Semper Fidelis, and pray for our troops.

  • Russ

    “In all this discussion, no one has given a single instance of someone who was prosecuted for violating the ROE.”

    That’s not the point. The point is that soldiers are hestitating b/c they think they MIGHT get prosecuted. I speak from experience on this.

    Outside of Karbala, my company encountered a group of folks dressed in civilian clothes hauling a trailer full of weapons. We shouted for them to stop, and they reached for the weapons, including one 15 year old boy. We killed all six at the scene, but a truck driver(transportation soldier) who was nearby and didn’t even go near the bodies to inspect them the way my soldiers did, tried to report up the chain that my soldiers had “murdered” the boy. CID conducted a VERY thorough investigation. Although my guys were ultimately exonerated, it resulted in a lot of them hesitating the next time they encountered someone carrying a weapon our of fear of going through that again.

    Yes, the system usually works to clear folks. But aside from a few common sensical egregious examples, the soldier should be given the benefit of the doubt in combat. Even the threat of an investigation can hinder some. Right or wrong, that’s how human nature responds.

  • Herschel Smith

    Russ,

    Sigh … finally.

    Yes, yes. This is the point.

    Finally, someone gets it.

  • plainslow

    Russ, you are right on.

  • http://www.zino.tv Mike

    The American people would still be behind this war if there was the sense that we were killing enough of the terrorists. These rules of engagement are infuriating.

  • Cycloptichorn

    Not being a soldier myself, it is difficult to think that I would be able to have any clear feeling of what that second or two of hesitation must feel like; when you have to weigh your possible future of being prosecuted for doing something wrong, against the possibility of not having a future because you didn’t pull the trigger. Horrifying.

    The real problem though is that there is no clear solution to the issue! There is a disconnect between the on-the-ground mission, and the political reality of trying to get the Iraqis to get their act together and stop killing each other.

    On the one hand, if we don’t start acting more aggressively, nothing will improve and in all likelihood the situation will continue to devolve.

    On the other, if we do act more aggressively, then we run the risk of coming off as butchers in the Muslim world, and uniting those who are currently fighting each other, against us.

    You may not think that second one would be such a big deal, but it is; the political and media victory is every bit as important as the military vic., and if it comes to the point where civilians are trying to kick us out en masse, then we’ve as good as lost.

    So, I really don’t know what I would suggest to do about the problem. Iraq has a real case of that these days.

  • http://www.realtime.net/~rentner Mike Rentner

    Russ,

    But this is not a problem of the ROE. The ROE exonerated them. The ROE were fine. Perhaps that is the problem we’re dancing around, what some are calling ROE is not the ROE, but the fear of that people will be punished irrationally.

    The world is harsh. There are no simple answers. But what solution do you propose? Should we not have ROE that already support what your guys were doing? Should we just allow anyone to shoot anyone for any reason? I would say no. I think we need some guidelines to point us in the right direction on when to use force. That’s what the ROE are, that’s what they’ve done, and they’ve done it very effectively.

    When credible charges are made, investigations must be done. Many soldiers and Marines are fearful that they will be punished, even though every investigation I’m aware of had the result that when honest, reasonable actions are taken, no one gets punished.

    Even if we had “better” ROE, your scenario would not change. Even in the most incredibly lenient and liberal rules in using force, if some truck driver claimed that there was a murder, there would still be an investigation. So what problem was the ROE? Changing the ROE would not correct that problem. We still have a free press, we still have private citizens, or even disgruntled fellow soldiers who will make inflammatory charges.

    It all comes down to trust. The soldiers and Marines must trust their officers to look out for their welfare. This harping about the ROE on the internet only serves to irresponsibly contribute to an atmosphere of distrust, where none is warranted. So far, the only people that have a reason to worry are those that lose their grip with civilization and commit atrocious crimes, and these people would be punished no matter what the ROE are.

  • Cycloptichorn

    It is possible that the email exchange between the two already occured, and he got a green light to continue…

    just sayin’

  • Herschel Smith

    Mike,

    To close out and complete this line of thought ;-) , it is a strange thing, you claim. With all due respect, I am very late as a blogger of the Iraq war. We are now more than 3.5 years into the war, and I have been blogging for around half a year. I cited only MSM reports, and that, reports Marines and Soldiers gave themselves. These Marines and Soldiers don’t know who I am, don’t care, have never read my blog, and never will.

    To claim that it is “harping about ROE on the internet” that has caused anything … anything … to happen, is not only to give too much credit to my little blog, but it is directly contrary to the facts.

    Simply to claim that the issue doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it so. I didn’t make this stuff up, and while you might disagree with the import of the alleged problem, not a single instance or report I cited is in dispute. The only difference we have here is one of analysis and interpretation.

    Your analysis is different from mine. Fine. Let’s leave it at that.

  • Russ

    Hey, Michael B,

    Maybe you should have read further up the post where Herschel acknowledged that he had talked to Mike via email. Implied from that was that he and Mike had talked and they had come to a new understanding that would allow for Mike to continue posting, since Herschel now understood more of his position.

    I take it from your posting that you, of course, are a member of the Armed Forces and therefore understand the nuances of what is being discussed by two professional military officers. That’s how you determined Mike was “winning.” Otherwise, you were talking without knowing context or perspective, and I know you wouldn’t have done something so inane.

    Mike,

    The problem I have is not with the ROE, but maybe better phrased as being with the way the investigations are carried out. My incident was during the combat phase of the operation and made by a single soldier who was 50-75 meters away, and had no corroboration with it. The very heavy handed way that CID conducted itself made me view them in an extremely unfavorable light. They made numerous other allegations during the interrogations, like my soldiers were shooting up dogs on the way in, in an attempt to get my guys to confess to things they had not done. They seemed more interested in getting someone to confess rather than finding out the truth.

    Combat is confusing, as you well know. Yes, there are soldiers who will act in morally objectionable ways, but they are the exception, and they should be treated as such. To investigate every shooting in an area full of shootings turns combat into an administrative police action. We are not, nor should we be treated like, the police. My opinion is that unless evidence comes forward that indicates intentional wrongdoing, nothing should be done. Again, that is giving the soldier the benefit of the doubt in every case. That might seem primitive, but soldiers WILL hesitate at the moment of truth if they fear consequences, real or imagined. 95% are good kids who know the difference between right and wrong.

    There is also the “CNN factor.” A lot of these incidents, like the one in Fallujah last year, are picked up by the press who try and convict our soldiers w/o trial, which is damaging to both them and the Army. Do you think we should let American soldiers die b/c they reacted a second too late b/c they might have been worried how it looked on the news?

    BTW, the CNN factor was part of why my guys were investigated so harshly – a reporter was around when the trucker made his allegation, and it got picked up by a few news services. Even when my guys were exonerated as having done the right thing, the news guys never printed a retraction.

    So the ROE might not be the problem – the way it is investigated is.

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  • Bearster

    We did not bomb Al Sadr and 8000 of his murderous followers when they all met in that arena. We did not kill the taliban leadership more recently when they came to a funeral.

    ROE.

    Here are two simple pieces of evidence, sufficient to condemn our current rules as being beneficial to the enemy.

  • AST

    I’ve joked for years that we should turn D.C. into a nuclear test site. The terrorists will probably do that for us, because our elites in the media, academia and politics are more interested in pleasing the EU and UN than in protecting our nation or winning the fights we get into.

    We are going down the same road as the Romans.

  • RHM

    What few people understand is that it is our Congress that establishes what our Rules of Engagement are for our Soldiers and Marines. That is the fundamentally the problem.

    People who have never served in the line of fire are making the rules. If the Soldier or Marine breaks that rule and defends himself he may spend 20 years in a military penitentiary.

    This is why they are afraid of pulling the trigger. They would rather die with honor than spend there life disgraced and dishonorably discharged.

    Death before Dishonor

  • http://www.realtime.net/~rentner Mike Rentner

    RHM,

    You are misinformed. Congress does not make the ROE. The commander in chief does, and he typically delegates that to his commanders.

  • http://www.unicow.com wlpeak

    Mike Rentner.

    It’s good to have you participating here. You certainly sound like a former S6.

    But could you comment on the bit in the blog article about the recently revised ROE?

  • http://www.realtime.net/~rentner Mike Rentner

    wlpeak,

    Absent the full language of any such ROE change, I can’t know the context of the claimed quote, and I can’t judge how giving commanders the option to limit self-defense is intended. Nor is it possible for me to know the veracity of the claims in the quotes. I’ve gotten first hand experience at how the media invents quotes out of thin air, so I don’t ever assume that anonymous, or even named sources are reported accurately.

    I could speculate that such an option would be intended for certain missions and areas where it is an appropriate rule. Say, you’re in the Green Zone (never been there myself, so this is wild speculation on my part) or in the Kurdish cities where there is little to no enemy activity. Perhaps it has gotten to the point that you don’t need all the admin clerks carrying rifles at all times, and there is enough security that any gun play is much more likely to be an accident than self-defense. Perhaps this is the intent, to allow local commanders some flexibility in the future. But we can’t know from these news blurbs what the import of this is, even if it is true. The rules are classified, and any mention of them in the media is going to be potentially misleading.

  • http://www.hoglog.com Kevin R.C. ‘Hognose’ O’Brien

    Interesting.

    We are talking across each other here. While the fifty pages of legal mumbo-jumbo that the SJAs have written, hoping to be able to make their bones by frying some infantry private, are indeed classified, it’s customary to provide a declassified ROE extract to the troops.

    A staff weenie might not know or remember this from his youth when he served with, you know, troops.

    There are innumerable examples of the chilling effect our legalistic military culture has on operations — some already have been cited. I’m not even a Marine, but I certainly haven’t forgotten how USMC lawyers went all-out to make an example of Ilario Pantano. Maj. Rentner may feel that this had no effect, because Lt. Pantano was not convicted and thrown in the brig… despite the best efforts of 8th and I, the Pentagon, and the news media (all of which should be considered in the “enemy” paragraph of your OPORD).

    Of course, Pantano’s Marine career was over. His reputation was in tatters. His unit and his Marines were all defamed and slimed. And the aggressive JAGs just collected a commendation medal and moved on to the next target.

    Let me step back from the Marines a bit, not (as I said) being one, and let’s look at another incident, from early in the war in Afghanistan. A key enemy leader was spotted by a Predator drone thousands of overhead. The Pred, operated at that time by another government agency, was one of the earliest armed UAVs. The end of this monster, who was responsible for atrocities of the grimmest bestiality (as well as repsponsible for the destruction of the Bamian Buddhas and other vital parts of the world’s cultural heritage) was only a keystroke away.

    However, an SJA at CENTCOM threw a hissy fit and would not allow firing on the gentleman’s motorcade. He remains in the top three HVTs in that theater (stripped of acronyms, that means the sonofableep is still at large — thank you, military-legal community, al-Qaeda’s best ally since the Associated Press).

    (I could also make an entire post on nutless commanders who let judge advocates dictate to them, but that’s another story).

    Then there are the investigations. It definitely sends a message for troops to be told that the training-ammo account is scraping the bottom, while investigations — however farfetched — clearly have no budget limitations whatever.

    It doesn’t matter that 98% of the time the investigation clears the soldier or Marine involved. It doesn’t matter that the innocent accused win acquittal at court-martial. While once it was possible to resume a military career after being cleared by a military court, that’s not the case today in the zero-defects atmosphere of the career military.

    Nobody thinks: “Gee, if I cap these guys, my squad’ll be safe, and if I get prosecuted maybe I’ll beat the rap and get a book deal!” Instead, he’s thinking, “If I cap these guys, I might be hung out to dry.”

    Then we could address the whole area of detainee rules and policy. Any prisoner you take can turn you into a prisoner instead — and, unlike him, you will be guilty until proven innocent. The consequences of this are predictable, and they are not good, but that is exactly what the JAGs have wrought.

  • Herschel Smith

    Folks,

    Robust discussion, but I am going to cut off comments. Sorry. I will make an update to this post in the coming days, and if you like, you can continue comments on the newer post.

    Spam Karma II is not doing some things that I want: I am having to moderate comments that it should not be catching, and it is letting some things go through (e.g., trackbacks) that I don’t want. I cannot baby sit this any more. You don’t want to read some of the trackbacks I am getting.

    I try to be automatic and open with comments and trackbacks, but I need to take a step back from this one for a while. If you want to make suggestions for an updated post, please send me mail. If you absolutely must update something that has been said here, or respond to something someone said to you, please send me mail and I will make it happen.

    In the mean time, I need to go back to my day job.


You are currently reading "Politically Correct Rules of Engagement Endanger Troops", entry #414 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Weapons and Tactics and was published December 6th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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