British Soldiers Told Not To Shoot IED Emplacers

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 4 months ago

This remarkable report comes from The Telegraph.

British soldiers who spot Taliban fighters planting roadside bombs are told not to shoot them because they do not pose an immediate threat, the Ministry of Defence has admitted.

They are instead being ordered to just observe insurgents and record their position to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.

The controversial policy emerged at an inquest into the death of Sgt Peter Rayner, 34, a soldier from the 2nd Batallion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment who was killed in October last year by an improvised explosive device as he led a patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Wendy Rayner, 40, disclosed that in the days leading up to his death her husband been told that it was not his job to attack insurgents laying bombs.

Mrs Rayner, who lives with their young son in Bradford, told the inquest that the insurgents were being allowed to get away with the murder of British troops.

She said: “They are not allowed to fire on these terrorists. If they can see people leaving these IEDs, why can’t they take them out? One officer even told him ‘I am an army Captain and you will do your job’.

“We have lost too many men out there, they had seen people planting IEDs yet could not open fire or make contact with them. I believe strongly if people had taken on board what he was saying more he might have been here today.”

Under the Geneva Convention and the nationally administered Rules of Engagement the 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan are told they can only attack if there is an immediate threat to life.

A key part of the MoD’s counter-insurgency theory holds that it is more important to win over civilians by not killing innocent people than it is to eliminate every potential insurgent.

Analysis & Commentary

The penultimate paragraph is total crap, and the MoD knows it.  IED emplacers are combatants, and the British Soldiers no more have to wait for a gun to be pointed at their heads than a sniper has to wait for the same thing from a Taliban fighter 1000 yards away.

So that excuse is just a ruse.  The final paragraph outlines the real reason for the problem.  The British military doctrines for counterinsurgency, taken primarily from their experience in Northern Ireland, includes almost at every step of the process the de-escalation of violence no matter what the cost.

It not only loses counterinsurgencies, but it loses the support of the public (and in part, the later causes the former).  It’s what the British did in Basra, and it’s what they did in Musa Qala.  The enlisted men in the British Army are brave and well-trained, and the U.S. Marines have the utmost respect for the British Royal Marines.  But there is a doctrinal sickness in the officer corps of the British Army.  Not the British public, and not the British enlisted man.  The officer corps.  The officer corps of the British Army needs a gut check before it ever attempts another war of any kind, conventional, hybrid or counterinsurgency.

Prior: True Confessions of British Counterinsurgency


  1. On July 14, 2011 at 10:22 am, Theo Farrell said:

    Hi Herschel,

    I missed this report so thanks for pointing me towards it.

    British ROEs are restrictive in Helmand because British soldiers are subject to the risk of prosecution under English criminal law for unnecessary use of lethal force. Just as the British military are subject to European human rights law when it comes to the treatment of detaintees in foreign battlefields. European law has a long reach! This may seem bizarre, I’m sure, but there you have it.

    That said, it can make more sense to apprehend and prosecute IED emplacers than kill them. This is so when said emplacers are local insurgents rather than foreign fighters. Killing disgruntled insurgents risks creating more disgruntled insurgents. Apprehending them and turning the over to the local justice shura demonstrates military restraint and the rule of law, empowers local governance, and wins local consent. I saw this happening for myself when I spent some time with the 2/8 Marines in Garsmir in Oct 2009.

    I wd add that last October, the British Task Force Helmand under 4 Brigade were operating under the most restrictive ROEs as part of a driven to promote “courageous restraint”, in conformity to M4’s COMISAF direction. I discussed this issue with the Commander of TFH when I visited Laskhar Gah in Oct 2011. I believe that British ROEs may have changed since, in part due to the change in emphasis under P4.

    All the best,


  2. On July 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm, davod said:

    “courageous restraint”

    Better that our sodiers die than the government be embarrassed by a slew of EU or UK (or G-d forbid Karzai) charges that they actually killed ratbags placing IEDs.

    Either that or maybe Herschel is right that the fault lies with military doctrine not the politicos.

  3. On July 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm, Jim Harris said:

    A frequent idea expressed in articles about U.K Government/U.K. Military performance in either Iraq or Afghanistan (whether “Pro” or “Con”) is that “… they are doing what worked in Northern Ireland.” This kind of statement has become almost a category of mantra or catechism repeated at the altar of public opinion at appropriate times.

    Critical thinkers may want to question this mantra. Did the Brits really follow the best policy, military or civilian, in Northern Ireland? Might they have ended the carnage sooner, and better, had another course of action been followed? For that matter, is what the Brits say they did in fact what they did? Are there other factors there that are not discussed? Other “inconvenient truths?

    I don’t know, nor am I alleging one way or the other. My critical, inquiring mind (tinged with cynicism of life experience) just raises the question. Perhaps the learned and wise out there will point to answers.

  4. On July 17, 2011 at 12:07 am, DirtyMick said:

    Courageous restraint is another one of those words or phrases that the military makes up to justify their cowardice and ineptitude

  5. On July 17, 2011 at 10:23 am, Jim Harris said:


    I think we should direct charges of cowardice or ineptitude in the right direction — appropriate as those labels may be in some cases. I don’t think that British troops are cowards or inept, generally speaking.

    The problem is at the political level and the higher military levels ( — political level). I don’t think that cowardice is the issue even there, since the higher level leaders are not themselves exposed to combat. They have no basis for display or not of physical courage since they themselves are not at any focused risk.

    They may, however, lack moral (political) courage; and that cuts to their possible ineptitude. We have a large number of officers in the western world (including many of our own) who have been educated in our progressive liberal, touchie-feelie, lets-make-nice-with-everybody, kumbaya academic environment. Our political leadership(s), which are in charge of the military, are even more steeped in this academic viewpoint.

    Consequently, military leadership feels compelled (IS compelled, in many cases — witness the interaction between BHO and military leaders here)to adopt ideas that are counterintuitive to the warrior mindset, and that don’t actually have much deep, detailed research to back them up.

    A positive turn in recent events is that blogs like this one tend to increasingly question some aspects of “classical COIN.” This did not occur before, to my knowledge; not even during the long years of the Vietnam War. Classical COIN was not seemingly challenged then; the argument was over whether or not we were doing it well, or doing it at all, or even could do it. But I don’t recall the war-fighting philosophy itself being called into question.

    So the short sentence here: Let’s direct the charges to high-level British political and military leadership if such charges are to be made; not the British military generally.

  6. On July 17, 2011 at 11:28 am, Warbucks said:

    Since WWII our policy in conflict may have a theme but if one exists, it seems to be geared to the size of the engagement. The size of the engagement regardless of the initially expressed security threat seem to determine our long term posture: we try where possible  (a) to established in the public opinion a national security threat. (b) launch into a measured response (c) draw down the conflict to a morally defensible boarder, (d) maintain our military shield at our expense while providing the allied nation a savings of over 5% of their GDP to integrate them into our Western economy.  

    This seems to have worked in Japan, Korea, and a few other conflicts: , but my theory only seems directly applicable in maybe 20% of the time.

    The problem we now face is with Part (d) of the formula as its applied in the Middle East.

    It’s apparent we’re not finished. The problem now is one of our learning to deal with theocracies and their cultural programming and control. How do you implement Part (d) when at the core we have not established a workable Part (c)?

    The “Arab Spring” may actually hold an answer. To the extent that we enable the youth to freely communicate around, through and over the heads of these Theocratic dictators, even with all the attendant chaos, we begin to shape an answer to Part (c).

    In a sense, if we GPS 10,000 IED’s laid down by 100 terrorists, each identified for our own reference, during a time of transition, perhaps we can avoid more Sgt. Peter Rayner’s.

    What we really need to know is were are we at in this War? Are we in Part (a) now looking at attacking Iran or Part (d) for the region as a whole? I sense we should accommodate the Arab Spring with the electronics we can position to eventually enable the Iranian youth to topple their own dictators. Stuff seems to happen in waves. We’ve only viewed the early impulses of change.  

  7. On July 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm, DirtyMick said:

    Jim, I’m a long time reader her and I comment mostly on stuff involving RC East (especially Kunar Province) and I apologize for not being specific in my disgust for higher leadership by my comment. I would never in a million years call grunts inept or cowards

  8. On March 10, 2014 at 9:18 pm, kgbduck said:

    This is moronic. The correct course of action is to shoot the IED emplacer in the hip, wait and see for anyone to come to his aid, and shoot them in the hip as well and so on. Eventually people will wise up and stop coming to their aid and soon after they shot individuals will bleed to death. The end result is a very powerful message to not emplace IED’s, much stronger than capturing and then releasing the IED emplacer a few months later. Additionally the body or bodies will provide some good DNA for the intel folks. If a few cowards in the EU get all butt hurt, then have an Afghan Army Soldier pull the trigger; they aren’t subject to idiotic laws (or rational ones for that matter, but thats for another day)

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You are currently reading "British Soldiers Told Not To Shoot IED Emplacers", entry #7236 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Britain,British Army,Rules of Engagement and was published July 13th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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