More Evidence Against the Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 4 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.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On January 22, 2007 at 12:35 am, michael ledeen said:

    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.

  2. On January 22, 2007 at 10:10 am, Clyde said:

    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.

  3. On January 22, 2007 at 12:13 pm, Patricia said:

    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.

  4. On January 24, 2007 at 12:36 am, Charlie B. said:

    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.”

  5. On January 24, 2007 at 8:19 pm, Dave N. said:

    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 are being passed up the chain of command by the very same officers who have added the excessive complications to them, and the top generals are not bothering to reality-check the veracity of the information they are receiving through their official channels against direct (unedited, uncensored, unmediated) reports from troops in the field, then Houston, we have a problem. A serious problem.

    Of course it is impossible for one or a few generals to read or receive unmediated inputs from all troops, just from the number of them. But if the troops were encouraged to put in “reality-check” inputs on a direct link routed around the potentially obscuring filtration of reports through official channels, and the top generals were to read just a randomly selected assortment of these, the generals might start asking some good questions of the officers below them. Can T-1 lines and WiFi help penetrate the fog of war? Are the people at the top trying to see if they can?

    At the very least, it is incumbent on the generals to order a review of all versions of the ROE that have been promulgated down to the troop level, with the data-gathering directly from the troop level conducted by an investigatory group of officers (or civilian DoD people) who have played no part in either the formulation, transmission, or field-modification of the ROE, that is, people who don’t have a side in the discussion, but can be impartial. Might have Navy officers interview Army troops, Air Force interview Marines, something like that. This data-gathering must include finding out the troops’ understanding of the oral briefings they have received, in the cases where the troops are only allowed one-page “summaries” of the ROE (the full versions of which are apparently classified), and are orally briefed by officers from legal units. This would include the troops’ perceptions of what they thought the instructors were trying to emphasize as important, because in the absence of being given the full ROE, it is the impressions left in the troops’ minds by the briefers and instructors that will stick with them and govern them, not what is in some document they have not been allowed to see. It doesn’t matter if generals and upper officers are contented with what they have put in a secret document, it matters what the troops themselves believe they have been instructed to do and not do.

    The other matter has to do with one of Sgt. Boggs’ descriptions, of trying to think through the rules during the few seconds of an actual combat situation. His brief description conveys the essence of the time pressure, but there are other details which have likely been left out due to the desire to compress the account of the action to fit a radio show segment. The shock and concussion of an IED going off very close. Temporary loss of hearing, and possible temporary loss of balance due to the shock to the middle and inner ears. Mentally recovering from the nearby explosion as rapidly as possible, while looking for other immediate threats and wounded friendlies. (Brain concussions, from severe to mild, frequently result from IED explosions.) Physically acting to pursue the attacker during the few seconds of time which seem much longer, as adrenaline kicks in. Communicating with fellow soldiers who are also recovering from being stunned and also have temporary hearing loss from the explosion. I am of course guessing about these things in this case but they are very common to people in close proximity to an IED going off.

    This is the mental environment of the troops who must then, in a few seconds, sort out the ROE as they apply to the situation. If the ROE are simple and straightforward, and have been incorporated in training exercises with as much realism as possible, thinking of them and applying them properly is a reasonable expectation. If the ROE are complicated, arbitrary, in some ways ad hoc, and have been changed or otherwise “tacked on” as a last-minute affair before a deployment or a mission, then this is not a reasonable expectation. The problem of “cognitive overload” has been known since at least the Viet Nam war, when fighter aircraft cockpits became so complicated that pilots were sometimes overwhelmed with unneeded information during combat. The problem can arise either from excess irrelevant information, or excess rules with which one must process information. In the type of situation which Sgt. Boggs describes, in the seconds available, the brain only has time to process a few “thought cycles” with regard to abstract rules, no matter how well they have been learned. If the rules are too complex, the brain will at best simply set them aside in favor of more immediate survival-oriented concerns. How many seconds has the ROE-authoring general “planned” for the troops in this situation to spend discussing the ROE while trying to win the fight?

    It is the responsibility of the top generals, to take the ROE as they are briefed to and understood by the troops, (not just as they might be written in secret documents available only to higher officers), and subject them to experimental verification as best as can be done, such as might be set up in a combat-simulation course (“hogan’s alley”). For example, of several companies which have just completed work-ups and are ready for deployment to Iraq, task a few platoons for temporary duty (described to the troops as simply a couple weeks of extra training), which is in reality an investigation into the effects of various versions of ROE content and training methods. Various squads get trained in the different versions of the ROE which have been found by the investigators (described above) to be employed in the field. Make the training as similar as possible in style, method, and wording, as what the deployed units have gotten. Then conduct simulated combat situations (especially surprises) in environments as similar to “realistic” as possible. (Experienced troops as “red team” actors dressed and acting as innocents and muj, complete street scenes similar to Iraq, moving vehicles, everything, full size, full speed.) Have everything recorded on video, etc., with many cameras and mikes from all angles, so that every communication (whether voice, hand signal, etc.), every weapon firing, every troop’s movements and reactions, is timed, down to tenths of seconds. Paintball rounds or laser-type devices on the weapons are used to record where hits go; flash-bangs used in place of IEDs, etc. The questions are, how fast are the troops capable of reacting to surprises with the various sets of rules, and how effective really are the various rules, in preventing the harm of innocents while enabling success over the enemy?

    Some squads will have had training on the basic “top level” version of the ROE, which the generals may think are being used in the field. Others will have had the various versions actually in use in the field, as discovered by the investigators.

    Such an investigation and set of experiments into the effects of variations of ROE would provide a sound basis either for claims that the ROE that the troops actually operate under are acceptable, or that the ROE or the system by which they are promulgated need systemic improvement. Either way, it is the responsibility of the leadership to produce such data to justify their claims, or at least provide convincing evidence that such research has been or is being conducted. We’ll know that it has been, and that results of such research have been implemented, when we start hearing from troops in or returned from the field, that the ROE are, rather than being overly complicated and restrictive, actually useful and helpful, both in prosecuting the war against the enemy, and in ensuring the safety of friendly Iraqis, not only in immediate combat situations, but also in a reduction of future combat situations, due to attrition of the enemy.

    When designing things like fighter aircraft and naval ships, the military uses extensive simulations and experiments to make sure that what they end up with will be effective. Nobody would buy fighter planes without testing models of it in a wind tunnel first! Why then are we using our troops in the field as live “human experiment” fodder, to try out variations of ROE that may never have been run through realistic combat simulations? The ROE for our infantry need to be as extensively and scientifically tested and proven out as is possible, before they are given to the troops, and not “added to” willy-nilly, in the field, any more than an aviation maintenance officer would order the addition of some “extra fins” to a squadron of F-16’s simply because he was worried they might crash without them. We owe our men and women in uniform nothing less. The legal profession is not somehow exempt from the type of scientific scrutiny we routinely apply to engineering, medicine, and every other discipline and human activity. If they make claims to the adequacy and appropriateness of what they do, they need to be able to point to objectively gathered data, from both experiments and from the field, to prove what they are claiming is so. I look forward to reading of the implementation of and results from ROE effectiveness simulation experiments.

  6. On January 29, 2007 at 8:23 pm, Jim said:

    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).


  7. On January 31, 2007 at 11:48 pm, Charlie B. said:

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

  8. On January 31, 2007 at 11:52 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    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.

  9. On February 1, 2007 at 12:19 am, Charlie B. said:

    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.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

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.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (704)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (40)
Air Power (10)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (22)
Ammunition (277)
Animals (292)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
Antonin Scalia (1)
AR-15s (373)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (86)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (29)
Australian Army (7)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (3)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (222)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (18)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (3)
Blogs (24)
Body Armor (23)
Books (3)
Border War (18)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (38)
British Army (35)
Camping (5)
Canada (17)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (16)
Christmas (16)
CIA (30)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (3)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (218)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (210)
Department of Homeland Security (26)
Disaster Preparedness (5)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (15)
Donald Trump (27)
Drone Campaign (4)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
El Salvador (1)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (2)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (39)
Featured (189)
Federal Firearms Laws (18)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (1,777)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (15)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (44)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (9)
Georgia (19)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (1,651)
Guns (2,317)
Guns In National Parks (3)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (8)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (5)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (16)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (3)
Horses (2)
Humor (72)
Hunting (34)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (108)
India (10)
Infantry (4)
Information Warfare (4)
Infrastructure (4)
Intelligence (23)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (171)
Iraq (379)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (64)
Islamists (98)
Israel (19)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (3)
Jihadists (81)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (9)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (7)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (6)
Lawfare (14)
Leadership (6)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (2)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (14)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (8)
Logistics (50)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (280)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
Media (68)
Medical (146)
Memorial Day (6)
Mexican Cartels (41)
Mexico (61)
Michael Yon (6)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (5)
Military Equipment (25)
Militia (9)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (25)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (25)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (95)
NATO (15)
Navy (30)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (3)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (3)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (62)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (221)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (7)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (73)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Pistol (4)
Pizzagate (21)
Police (652)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (973)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (493)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Rifles (1)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (75)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (37)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (673)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (28)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (23)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Supreme Court (57)
Survival (185)
SWAT Raids (57)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (38)
Tactical Gear (14)
Taliban (168)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (21)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (96)
Thanksgiving (13)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (25)
TSA Ineptitude (14)
TTPs (4)
U.S. Border Patrol (6)
U.S. Border Security (19)
U.S. Sovereignty (24)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (10)
Uncategorized (98)
Universal Background Check (3)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (3)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (413)
War & Warfare (41)
War Movies (4)
War Reporting (21)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (6)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (79)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (21)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

June 2024
May 2024
April 2024
March 2024
February 2024
January 2024
December 2023
November 2023
October 2023
September 2023
August 2023
July 2023
June 2023
May 2023
April 2023
March 2023
February 2023
January 2023
December 2022
November 2022
October 2022
September 2022
August 2022
July 2022
June 2022
May 2022
April 2022
March 2022
February 2022
January 2022
December 2021
November 2021
October 2021
September 2021
August 2021
July 2021
June 2021
May 2021
April 2021
March 2021
February 2021
January 2021
December 2020
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2024 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.