Did ROE Lead to Marine Deaths?

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 9 months ago

Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive is at the same time entertaining, sardonic, witty, and when he wants to be, quite serious.  He is an asset to the Milblogging community, certainly more so than I.  But occasionally we must disagree, and I’m sure that James is okay with that.  Today is one of those times.  He writes:

The answer is no. Michelle Malkin has a post up now titled “Report: Rules of engagement led to soldiers’ deaths”. I wrote her to explain why this is not the case.

When Gen. McChrystal released his new Tactical Directive there was much consternation about the fact that there were strict limitations about when strikes against civilian locations were authorized. This was done to change our methods of dealing with enemy activity from dropping a bomb or indirect fire on them, to disengaging if possible to avoid killing civilians. This is a wise move if we are ever to gain the trust and help of the Afghan people. The new directive specifically states that if a unit cannot safely disengage, then they can use fire support against civilian locations.

But it was not the Rules of Engagement (ROE) that caused their deaths. If this report from a McClatchy journalist is accurate then mistakes were made. But the mistakes were in improperly applying the ROE and in disregarding the commander on the ground saying that there were no civilians in jeopardy regardless. If as reported they were denied this fire support due to an overly tight and wrong interpretation of the ROE, and worse if the chain of command failed to listen to the unit in contact advising that the call for fire would not harm civilians, then heads should roll. But let’s find out if that is the case before we jump to judgment. And you will pardon me if I decline to take a story published by one journalist as the gospel truth on this. None of this, however, points to the ROE as the cause of these Marines deaths.

Where Michelle has been is an enigma.  I covered this eight days ago.  But without rehearsing again the idea that there are unintended consequences to every action we ever take or decision we ever make (including ROE), we’ll tackle only the issue of this specific engagement.

First, as for the McClatchy reporter, I see no reason to doubt his account.  I wasn’t there.  Second, based on direct reports on ROE experiences from a certain Marine with whom I am close, an Army intelligence contact based in Ramadi several years ago, and extensive interviews of other Marines, I just don’t think it’s as clear as follow the written ROE and if you fail to provide support for your troops you’re an incompetent toad and should be flogged.  Things that are made out to be black and white are in reality under the stress and pressure and fog of battle only shades of gray.

Based on all indications, there is no question that the ROE contributed to this catastrophe.  It may not have been the only contributing cause, but it weighs large in the scheme of things.  A different decision, i.e., to support the Marines with artillery, might have averted the deaths of four Marines.  That decision was made based on the rules as they commanders understood them.  The communications they had directly from the battle had to be sifted through “what ifs,” and “is it possible that,” and the knowledge that Lt. Col. Chessani was brought up on charges for merely failing to conduct an investigation over the incidents at Haditha, Iraq.

So it’s one thing to demand that heads roll, and quite another to acknowledge that the formal rules by which our warriors are charged with crimes might have led to being hamstrung during battle.  As I have observed before, the counsel to consider the holistic consequences of actions in battle should never have been dealt with as a set of rules or a tactical directive.

Generals should teach, enable, inspire, create strategy, and lead.  When they issue tactical directives to Lance Corporals and Sergeants in the field, our military establishment has lost its way in a morass of micromanagement and unnecessary details.


Comments

  1. On September 17, 2009 at 10:38 am, Warbucks said:

    Out of deep respect for General McChrystal, I can not imagine any other scenario other than both the Secretary of Defense and the President are shaping the current Rules of Engagement. If there is any error being demonstrated by McChrystal, it’s most obvious dimension rests in a structural failure to have in place subtleties within the chain of command that encourage independent thinking to address the grey areas. Every soldier needs to feel, when in doubt… win the engagement.. and fight in that spirit at his level of operation.

    As it stands now, we are not functioning as American forces are inspired to function … creatively.

    This has the now recognizable trade-mark hand-print of this President himself all over it …. duplicity, deception, failure to lead, who for the first time in his budding career finds he has to deliver honest results not just hope.

    This congress and this President need to either engage the enemy and win the war with the resources demanded, or withdraw our forces entirely from harm’s way and stand down.

  2. On September 17, 2009 at 12:51 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    This is an interesting remark, and I fully agree with the idea that our forces should think and fight creatively. Adapt, adjust and overcome. The whole notion of dictating rules this specific implies that our leadership believes that our forces are not capable of doing that.

    But I think that McChrystal is following the COIN advocates (a very specific type), most specifically CNAS. CNAS is advising not only the administration but McChrystal as well.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,General McChrystal,Rules of Engagement and was published September 16th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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