10 years ago
I have covered issues pertaining to rules of engagement in the following articles:
- More Evidence Against the Rules of Engagement
- The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement
- Politically Correct Rules of Engagement Endanger Troops
In a Washington Times commentary, retired U.S. Navy Admiral James A. Lyons, Jr., weighs in on the overly restrictive rules of engagement that hamper U.S. military efforts in Iraq. His sentiments are similar to the other reports on ROE, and work nicely to add to the things I have said in the articles listed above. He gives steps that must be followed in order to engage the enemy in Baghdad.
In order to ensure that the additional combat troops being deployed to Iraq can achieve their objectives, we must change the current restrictive rules of engagement (ROEs) under which they are forced to operate. The current ROEs for Baghdad — including Sadr City, home of the Mahdi Army — have seven incremental steps that must be satisfied before our troops can take the gloves off and engage the enemy with appropriate violence of action.
- You must feel a direct threat to you or your team.
- You must clearly see a threat.
- That threat must be identified.
- The team leader must concur that there is an identified threat.
- The team leader must feel that the situation is one of life or death.
- There must be minimal or no collateral risk.
- Only then can the team leader clear the engagement.
These ROEs might sound fine to academics gathering at some esoteric seminar on how to avoid civilian casualties in a war zone. But they do absolutely nothing to protect our combat troops who have to respond in an instant to a life or death situation.
If our soldiers or Marines see someone about to level an AK-47 in their direction or start to are receive hostile fire from a rooftop or mosque, there is no time to go through a seven-point checklist before reacting. Indeed, the very fact that they see a weapon, or begin to receive hostile fire should be sufficient justification to respond with deadly force.
We do not need to identify the threat as Sunni, Shia, al Qaeda or Mahdi Army. The “who” is immaterial. The danger is not. The threat of imminent attack must be immediately suppressed. And while we must always respect the lives of the innocent, the requirement of minimal or no collateral damage cannot preempt an appropriate response.
The insurgents, be they Sunni or Shia, are well aware of our restrictive ROEs and they use them to their advantage. Indeed, as the thousands of insurgent-inflicted Iraqi civilian deaths illustrate, the death squads, assassination teams and al Qaeda killers in Iraq have no regard for human life. Victims are looked upon as expendable: cannon fodder in order to achieve their objectives. As we saw in Lebanon, Hezbollah held women and children hostage in the same buildings they used to conduct offensive operations. They wanted civilian deaths. This same tactic is being used in Iraq today.
We cannot, therefore, afford to keep our combat troops shackled by a naive, legalistic disadvantage that takes no note of the real world, or the real battlefield. Moreover, our combat forces are currently fighting a two-front war: a literal battlefield in Iraq, and a virtual front in Washington, where politicians snipe at our troops with words, threats of budget cuts, and unrealistic strictures on our warriors’ behavior. Both the Iraqi insurgents and the radical Islamist fundamentalists dedicated to the destruction of Western values and democracy understand quite well that today, wars are not only fought on the battlefield but are also won or lost in Washington. They are only too happy to watch as our politicians water down our military goals and objectives in the name of some misbegotten legalistic concept of fair play and gentle warfare.
Our combat forces have never lost an engagement in Iraq. Let’s make sure they don’t lose the war in Washington. Unshackle the military and let our soldiers and Marines do their job. This will quickly silence the critics, as well as the insurgents and radical Islamist fundamentalists.
Assessment and Commentary
Admiral Lyons gives us a remarkable list of steps, each of which is logically and chronologically connected to the preceeding step. It reads like a written procedure, something that would be used as a list of activities for a worker while performing adjustments to setpoints of an electronic piece of equipment during the course of a work day, rather than doctrine to allow U.S. troops to make split-second decisions of life and death. There is no discussion of “close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver” in these rules. It demonstrates just how out-of-touch the lawyers who author the ROE are with the U.S. fighting man, counterinsurgency in particular, and warfare in general.
In requiring that the “situation is one of life and death,” the focus is placed squarely on a defensive posture rather than an offensive one, and in requiring that there be “minimal or no collateral risk,” the ROE have given the insurgent the perfect weapon (women, children, and concealment to prevent the successful quantification of risk by U.S. troops can be used to prevent engagement).
The list of places and activities in which the enemy can engage to avoid U.S. action is extensive. In prior articles, minarets have been shown to be favorite hideouts for enemy snipers, and yet U.S. forces will not even allow police to be stationed at the entrances to Mosques for fear of being disliked by the population. The Taliban have shown that they can gather in the hundreds for funerals, and still avoid being targeted by U.S. forces because religious gatherings are off limits.
Just recently press coverage was given to a nonlethal weapon (ray gun that increases the temperature of the skin), and while the technology was interesting to most readers, there is a nugget of gold in the report that is far more important than the ray gun. It was reported that Airman Blaine Pernell, 22, said he could have used the system during his four tours in Iraq, where he manned watchtowers around a base near Kirkuk. He said Iraqis often pulled up and faked car problems so they could scout U.S. forces.
“All we could do is watch them,” he said. But if they had the ray gun, troops “could have dispersed them.”
Note again, and remember that the enemy is being allowed to gather intelligence that could redound to death and/or injury to U.S. troops: “All we could do is watch them.”
Troop levels can surge, new nonlethal weapons can be brought on line, and better body armor can be deployed in Iraq. But until the ROE are revised top to bottom, the counterinsurgency in Iraq will fail because the enemy is being given too many weapons to use against the U.S. forces. We have met the enemy, and it is the ROE.