Mosques, Snipers and Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago

Michael Totten is in Baghdad, and while his (most recent) entire report is both interesting and highly worth reading, I want to focus in on the following words:

“They have a little bunker up there,? he continued. “You can’t see it from here, but it has sand bags and sniper netting around it.?

“What are you going to do?? I said.

“Nothing,? he said. “It’s a mosque.?

“They’re violating curfew,? I said, “and stalking us in the dark from a militarized mosque. And you aren’t going to do anything??

“Our rules of engagement say we can’t interfere in any way with a mosque unless they are shooting at us,? he said.

We left our stalker with his “co-workers? and walked away.

As interesting as this little experience is, it really is more of the same (we have reported on ROE problems for more than a year).  But the appended discussion in the comments section is equally interesting and worth thinking about.  Says someone named “Gifted” who refuses to use his real name:

I agree with the “no attacks on mosques policy.”

We have to win the civilian population over. Nothing would wreck this more than assaulting their mosques. Besides, soldiers can still shoot back if they are under attack.

This is a myth.  Quite simply, I do not believe it.  First of all, the distinction between having a sniper nest at a Mosque and actually using it to fire upon U.S. troops (so that they can then presume to return fire) is artificial and absurd.  There is no other function or purpose to a sniper nest than to be a domicile for sniper activities.  Allowing the domicile to remain is allowing the sniper to plan his kill.

Second, we have fired on Mosques more than year ago, and indeed, with tank rounds in Ramadi.  Anbar is pacified, and Baghdad is not, and this proves the point in question.  If taking out the insurgent activity in the Ramadi Mosque only served to recruit more insurgents, then pacification of Anbar could not have happened.  Also see our article Continuing Operations in Fallujah and the YouTube video linked up showing extensive and robust combat action against a minaret.  Again, Anbar is pacified, and Baghdad is not.

Finally, the writer presumes that it takes U.S. activity inside of a Mosque to recruit insurgents.  But consider what the message is when a cleric allows the sniper nest to remain atop the Mosque to begin with, i.e., “you can support killing and destabilization of our nation and still be warmly received at this Mosque.”  In other words, the message is already being given.  It needs no additional substantiation from U.S. troops.  If the snipers are not warmly received, but rather are feared for their threats, then U.S. forces should take action anyway in order to protect the clerics and citizens.

Lastly, even if “Gifted” was right about U.S. troops and combat action inside of a Mosque, this still doesn’t prevent the use of militia, police or Iraqi security forces from removing the sniper domicile.  To leave it in place is contrary to clear thinking and good sense, and is dangerous for U.S. troops (and Iraqi citizens).

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  • KnightHawk

    I read the same comment by gifted (and followed you comment back here) however when you say this:

    “Lastly, even if “Gifted? was right about U.S. troops and combat action inside of a Mosque, this still doesn’t prevent the use of militia, police or Iraqi security forces from removing the sniper domicile. To leave it in place is contrary to clear thinking and good sense, and is dangerous for U.S. troops (and Iraqi citizens).”

    Gifted didn’t say or even imply he would disagree with that and the question was not put (at least not mentioned in the dispatch) by Michael to any of the men he as to the possibility of others (ISF etc) attempting to resolve this issue.
    My own sense is that whenever possible it’s likey best to leave proactive Mosque engagements to the ISF. Will and should there be exceptions, sure and as you mentioned there have been exceptions. I’d like to see the ability in making those ‘calls’ pushed down further, I trust the vast majority of those leading units to know when it would be such may be or cause more trouble then it’s worth.

  • KnightHawk

    Opps, should be “^There will be and should be exceptions…”

  • Herschel Smith

    That paragraph wasn’t meant to imply that preventing ISF from assaulting a Mosque was the position that “Gifted” would advocate. I don’t know what position he would advocate on that question.

    I concur that it would be best to leave the Mosques to the ISF, but the problem is that there are plenty of ISF around, and Mosque problems still remain.

    This really is a huge issue and we need a national conversation on the nature of counterinsurgency, why we would wage it, should we wage it, how we wage it, and whether we support such a thing as national policy.

    Right now the only ones seriously discussing the issue are in the professional counterinsurgency community. The public, generally speaking, is absent from the discussion. This is a shame, because the public thinks that we are in a “war.”

    The professional community would probably say something like “Gifted” would say. The solution they would profer would be something like “we want the population to remove the sniper domicile themselves due to our nonkinetic operations” (WHAM, winning hearts and minds). It is counterproductive to take out the snipers and yet create two or three more insurgents in his place because we have infuriated the locals by “desecrating” their place of worship (forget that the desecration began when the sniper was allowed in). Or so the thinking goes.

    This sounds erudite, doesn’t it? Unintended consequences, and so forth. But I think the issue runs far deeper and is more complicated than that. Again, I recommend that you go back and watch the YouTube video I link up from a previous post where there is robust combat directed against a minaret by Marines in Fallujah. I simply cannot tell you how I know this to be true, but the soft “cordon and knock” approach to COIN was not followed in Anbar by the Marines. And if they took rounds from a Mosque, they sent M1A1 rounds back at the Mosque. Anbar is far better off than Baghdad today. This fact warrants some serious reflection.

    I also don’t buy into the notion of an insurgent for an insurgent. For instance, if the sniper is an ex-special forces Iraqi who has killed twenty Marines and you take him out by combat action directed at a Mosque, does it really matter if you replace him with two more insurgents if they are inexperienced, untrained and likely to give up and go home after their rage diminishes? It is a pretty safe bet that guys shooting from Mosques are hard core.

    As long as rounds are being sent down range by either Marines or insurgents, security is absent. Mothers don’t like to see gunfire while their children are trying to play and they are trying to find vegetables to eat for dinner. I suppose the best way of saying it comes from an article today, URL –>

    “So far as I can make out — I am not writing from Iraq, but I do make a splendid effort to follow the plot there — the Americans are finally doing what they should have been doing all along. They are taking the battle to the Islamist enemy, or rather, enemies, both Shia and Sunni. They are enlisting the help of tribal lords and other local allies against these enemies, de-emphasizing the grand “Marshall Plan” giveaways, and re-emphasizing small, visible, unbureaucratic improvements on that local scale. They have become less timid about inspections and searches, and thus have taken bigger risks of offending people, in the knowledge that providing better security is the only thing that will get them loved. They not only have more men now in theatre, but are using more proportionally up front and fewer in the rear. They are patrolling frontiers more pro-actively, and turning no blind eyes to suspicious incursions. By using different techniques in different districts, they are also breaking the enemy’s ability to camouflage.”

    As for the professional counterinsurgency community? Well, some of they would claim that when we wage a COIN campaign we should simply understand the nature of it and be willing to take casualties and place ourselves in higher risk situations (thereby showing the population that we care) in order to WHAM. And in the mean time? Well, we suffer losses due to snipers, because we don’t want to offend the population by going into Mosques.

    So there you have it in brief outline (I know that I simply the issues somewhat for public consumption). This is a conversation that needs to happen on a national scale before we ever attempt to wage a COIN campaign again. The difference between this one and any previous one is religion, and I don’t care how that strikes anyone. It is the truth.

    In previous insurgencies we haven’t had insurgents using places of worship. We do now, and questions of population sensibilities come into play. We must make a collective decision on how to engage this issue. Else, we will leave the sniper domiciles untouched, and turn our UAVs away from 200 Taliban fighters at a funeral only to leave and kill U.S. troops another day because a funeral has religious connotations.

  • Minority Mandate

    The question boils down to: what kind of war do we want to fight? Until Patreaus took over there seemed to be talk of pursuing a counterinsurgency-type war, but this ran counter to a strong desire for a conventional conflict. The American authorities and the American people urged an outcome that could be cleanly called ‘victory’. A word that is incongruous in a counterinsurgency conflict, except in an historical context.

    If we are attempting pacification through military dominance, a more certain and feasible route given our overwhelming force, the mosque is obstacle, like any other, and the answer is obvious.

    If we are trying to win hearts and minds, then the mosque issue needs to be addressed locally by counterinsurgency forces in conjunction with local residents. The answer may be much less clear, and palatable to troops in the field.

    If we want to save American lives and bring the populace to heel by force of arms, then we are using way too little force.

    Somebody needs to make a clear decision about how to proceed and stick with it. A decision that should have been made directly after our dynamic military victory. The elements of success for a counterinsurgency; a clear objective and civil support, are in the hands of the enemy. We are now fighting to show that the US can provide Iraq with security so we can win back civil support.

You are currently reading "Mosques, Snipers and Rules of Engagement", entry #563 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Rules of Engagement,Snipers and was published July 31st, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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