More Evidence Against the Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago


In Politically Correct Rules of Engagement Endanger Troops, I used main stream media reports of soldiers and marines conveying the problematic nature of the rules of engagement under which they operate.  As a result of this article, two NCOs who were in Iraq (one near Ramadi and the other in Kirkuk) wrote me to express their agreement, sharing even more detailed and remarkable stories of U.S. forces being hamstrung by overly restrictive rules of engagement.  I discussed this in The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement.

As a result of both of these articles, my readers have paid close attention to similar stories, and faithful reader David Neumann sent me the link to the Hugh Hewitt Show where rules of engagement were discussed.  After listening, I contacted Milblogger T. F. Boggs, Sergeant in the Army reserves, who recently completed his second deployment in support of OIF.  Sergeant Boggs was happy to converse with me on rules of engagement, and gave me permission to transcribe and publish the portion of the show in which he discussed this topic.  The transcription follows, after which I will offer an assessment and commentary (the content of which is only my responsibility).

T.F. Boggs on Rules of Engagement


I wanted to ask, regarding the rules of engagement, it’s frustrating to me and I think a lot of people that our troops have to be held to such a stringent set of rules in a war like this where everything seems blurred.  And I was wondering how the troops feel about it?


Yes, we feel the same way you do, and one story from my experience probably best expresses this … and officers would probably tell me that I should know the rules of engagement … I should act thereupon.  But the point is that the rules of engagement that are there now are hamstringing the soldiers because we think about what we’re doing before we can actually do it.  The second IED we got hit by – I was in the first truck – we saw the guy who blew the IED up on us.  So we were chasing after him, we were on the fly … seems like an eternity but it was like seconds … we were trying to figure out, okay, do we engage this guy, what’s going to happen to us if we engage this guy, are we going to get into trouble, what are we going to say, what are we going to do when this is all over with … so we shoot flares at him, and he doesn’t respond.  So we shoot another, doesn’t respond, so what do we do?  So we shoot warning shots to the side, warning shots to the other side.  Ten seconds of this stuff goes by, and this guy is gaining speed, taking off on us, and I finally tell my gunner, “just go ahead and kill this guy – I’ll take the rap for it.

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12 Comments on "More Evidence Against the Rules of Engagement"

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michael ledeen

amen, captain herschel. attempts to mitigate pain often produce the opposite effect: requires much more force, many more deaths, much more pain…or defeat. you can’t win a PC war when the enemy has only one rule: kill us.

Blogs of War » Rules of Engagement Wrap Up

[…] Herschel Smith wraps up his extended look at rules of engagement and our broader war plan for Iraq: U.S. counterinsurgency operations in Iraq have failed, but not for lack of capabilities of the U.S. forces. A new strategy is needed, and this new strategy requires an overhaul of the rules of engagement from top to bottom, macroscopic to microscopic. The approach to success in the coming months is likely to be more population-centric. But the softly-softly approach of General David Petraeus might not be strategically robust enough to carry the day in Iraq. Petraeus introduced the “cordon-and-knock


Where is General Patton when you need him? Or General Sherman or General Grant? We need someone who will KILL the enemy, and that enemy is anyone walking around with a weapon who isn’t Coalition forces or duly authorized Iraqi police or army. Anyone else should be shot on sight. Period. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs and you can’t win the War on Islamist Terror without killing the enemy. Our forefathers understood this: Winning a war requires a certain amount of ruthlessness when dealing with our enemies. The pantywaists in charge who have stuck us with these politically correct rules of engagement either never knew this or have chosen to ignore it, to our peril and especially to the peril of the troops on the front lines.


Well said. I hope someone in Washington is reading. It is almost as if the military had accepted the negative views of the media and the left first promulgated in the ’60s (baby killers!) and resolved to ‘reform’. Our military has nothing to apologize for, and this is a noble war.

Let the military do its job, Mr. President. Your legacy and Iraq’s depends on it.


Playing Nice When We’re at War…

…With the “surge,” supposedly, are supposed to come “more aggressive” Rules of Engagement. Some recent actions have been promising, but I’m not convinced yet that we really mean what we say……


al-Qaeda claims shoot down of Black Hawk…

An al-Qaeda off-shoot of Iraqi insurgents has claimed that it shot down a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter – and killed several support soldiers in Humvees – in Iraq yesterday. The U.S. military has acknowledged the crash, which killed 12 American…


Clyde, you are attempting to oversimplify the problem. The theater ROE as they are written were more than adequate in our AO near Habbaniyah. They are being improperly applied in some areas by risk-averse commanders, that is the problem.

Since our force levels in Iraq are inadequate, and our leadership wants to consolidate us on large bases to reduce casualties, the average Iraqi needs some means to defend himself and his family. The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police are too weak and/or inept to provide that security. So we allow them to possess AK-47s.

Great quote from Robert D. Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts:

“The survey indicated that, just as I had seen in Colombia, the most basic human right is not freedom as people in the West conceive of it, but physical security.”

Dave N.
Another good post and thanks for the h/t. A couple of comments – There have been a number of comments about the ROE controversy, including above by Charlie B., that the top-level ROE are not the problem, but rather mid and lower-level officers add to them, in some cases making them impractical from the point of view of the NCOs and troops. If this is right, that is, if the main problems reported with the ROE stem from the fact that they are too often complicated by additions as they are passed down the chain of command, then this might be an example of inadequate information flow up the chain of command, or inadequate curiousity about field conditions on the part of the highest-level leadership which promulgates the top-level ROE. It is the responsibility of the highest-level general responsible for the ROE to “close the information loop,” meaning, find out for himself that every troop in the field is operating under appropriate ROE. If we have a situation where the ROE are being larded up with excessive complications while passing down the chain of command, while at the same time, reports of the perfect adequacy and appropriateness of the ROE… Read more »

I understand troops in Iraq are given a card containing ROE.

Will someone please post a copy of this card, or a posting of the exact words on the card.

I would like to see what the troops are being instructed to do (or not do).



The ROE card is not for public distribution, and should not be posted on this, or any other website.

Herschel Smith

Thanks Charlie, but relax. It won’t be posted here. I know OPSEC when I see it. The things I say about ROE are all (and are all based on) public domain, open source information.

It doesn’t take OPSEC material to know that there is a problem. Some things are just prima facie obvious.


Herschel, the comment was more for the benefit of your readers like Jim. I just wanted to make sure it was stated in no uncertain terms.

Honestly, I think restrictive ROEs are caused by a fundamental problem of our campaign in Iraq – we are fighting an unconventional war with conventional forces. Our grunts are some of the best in the world at “locating, closing with, and destroying”, but commanders try to rein that mentality in by using administrative controls such as the ROE.


You are currently reading "More Evidence Against the Rules of Engagement", entry #452 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Department of Defense,Iraq,Rules of Engagement and was published January 21st, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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