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Thursday, December 14, 2006

It Is Not Solely About The Amount Of Troops, But The Rules Of Engagement ...

Michael Ledeen @ NRO posted this up early this morning:

Anybody who's spent time with Iraq veterans has heard complaints about the short leash attached to our military. Every now and then a story surfaces that gives a bit of detail, in which our soldiers mutter that they're forced to put their lives at even greater risk because they often are forbidden to initiate action. They have to wait until they're attacked and then shoot back.

Herschel Smith, whose Marine son is bound by the restrictive Rules of Engagement, is the cutting edge of research on this important matter. Have a look. It's important.

Clicking the link takes you to Captain's Journal, and he is literally talking about the ROEs the troops are forced to abide by in Iraq. The beginning of the piece is some criticism he received from talking about such things, and his critics claimed that such a discussion could jeopardize lives in the field. I must concur with him in stating that his articles--ones that cited dinosaur media reports on ROEs and the problems therein--revealed nothing that would be considered an operational security violation. In fact, those reports should help the common civilian understand what our troops are being forced to deal with in Iraq. To put a finer point on it, this comes from an NCO serving in Iraq:

Our ROE was simple. The right to self defense was never denied. The ROE was based on a method of determining a life threatening scenario from a non-life threatening one. We called this the “Escalation Of Force.” Show, Shout, Shove, and Shoot. It’s pretty self explanatory and easy to follow in a perfect world. The problem is that the world isn’t perfect.

Scenario: You’re a gunner on an M2 .50 caliber machine gun mounted atop a M1114 Up-Armored HMMWV. You are the last vehicle and you are pulling rear security. A vehicle in the distance is swerving through traffic on a mission from God and closing on your convoy quickly. You wave your arms to get the driver’s attention to no avail. You yell obscenities at the crazy Iraqi while drawing down on the vehicle with your large caliber, fully automatic, machine gun. Hell, you even throw your water bottle hoping to get the hood on a bounce. Nothing. You notice a male driver who appears to be gripping the wheel a little too tight and who has beads of sweat forming on his brow. You realize that this could be trouble. But… to complicate the matter, there is a woman (presumably his wife) and 4 children in the car as well. The vehicle is fast approaching… and you have a mere second to react. Your buddy’s, nay, family’s lives are on the line behind you. They trust you to make the right decision. What do you do?

Option 1: Warning shots. Sure. Can work. Collateral damage becomes an issue, and high ranking military personnel HATE such paperwork.

Option 2: Wait it out. This choice is putting the lives of a “civilian” before the lives of your military “family.” I wholeheartedly disagree with this choice, but it keeps you out of Leavenworth.

Option 3: Stop the vehicle by any means necessary. Shoot ‘em up and ensure the safety of your family who depends on you.

Now with any of these options you find out in the end that either… A) Vehicle drives right on by and through the convoy, apparently the wife was in labor and they were speeding to the hospital. B) Vehicle drives right by you and slams into middle vehicle as 5 155mm Mortar rounds detonate the vehicle killing 3, wounding 4 and truly screwing up your day.

So, you don’t know if a pregnant wife is being rushed to the hospital or a family of insane insurgents are preparing to destroy you.

That is a lot of responsibility to be put on an 18 year old private sitting behind an uber powerful machine gun. That’s why our armed forces are so wonderful. We have 18 year old kids who can and do make those decisions daily. What a wonderful country we were born in.

You make the wrong move and kill civilians though, you not only have to live with the mistake, but you will be ridiculed unmercifully by the media/big army. You will be buried in proceedings and paperwork the remainder of your deployment, and you will not be the same. Your buddies will be affected as well. Cpl. X will see how bad it could be to make the wrong decision, and will hesitate just a hair too long when there is a real threat… and more men will die. The fear of failure leads to hesitation, and hesitation in war is a lesser form of suicide.

That, in my opinion, is the problem. This is not a war. The enemy does not wear uniforms, and therefore the Geneva Convention is null and void instead of applicable.

My unit, as well as the thousands of other soldiers in our area dealt with these problems on a daily basis. The “details” of the ROE changed daily. Some examples… For a time, the gunners would bring buckets full of rocks into the turret with them to throw through the windshields of vehicles not adhering to our warnings to stay away (that ended quickly after command had to pay for numerous windshields). We put signs in Arabic/Kurdish/Turkish on the backs of the vehicles warning them to stay away. We fired warning shots. We did nothing. We drove in the center of the road and dominated our routes by running ignorant drivers right off the road. We drove with the flow of traffic and narrowly averted disaster numerous times.

I am not in the military. My brother, however, is and he has similar comments regarding the ROEs in Afghanistan. They change. When they do, you are taking the consistency out of the decision-making process. Decisions, as this NCO points out, are based on split-second, life-and-death decisions. Another NCO weighed in, as well:

The ROE is a politically based cover your ass piece of paper. It has caused American deaths and really hurt our ability to actually DO anything …

The full ROE is classified, but soldiers are given a small 1 or so page excerpt. It is stressed that the ROE is not do be divulged or given out to anyone not in uniform, but is more of an FOUO at our level (for official use only) … They [the grunts] are told they can always defend themselves, but then given warning of “overdefending” themselves.

So yes, from the grunts on the field perspective … the ROE is vague and limiting. And every time “violations” of the ROE came up it caused our soldiers and marines to question their actions and sometimes cause casualties. If you look up the case of the [unit redacted] Soldier from the [location redacted] region you will see an excellent example. The [unit redacted] Soldiers started pulling back after that, and even though he eventually had the charges dropped it caused problems throughout the entire Battalion.

And without going into specifics if you look at [date redacted] incident when we lost two Marine pilots and an Army Lt north of [location redacted] you will see another example of how fear of ROE kept us from hitting an enemy until after he had fired at us (and led to a downed helo and an IEDed hummer). And it was almost much worse. We dropped two 500 lb bombs a little later and stopped the insurgents from a planned attack that might have led to even more deaths. And we almost didn’t do that because of ROE.

The commanders in the field are tasked with leading soldiers, not playing politician over what is and is not proper. The soldiers are supposed to be there fighting a war, and protecting their fellow brothers in arms. ROEs, I understand, are there for the protection of soldiers in the line of fire, as well as civilians.

However, as we have seen--especially in the case of Haditha where our troops were mercilessly slandered by the dinosaur media and the Left for doing their jobs--the ROEs tend to be a serious problem for the troops, at times. In the case of Haditha, our troops stood accused of a civilian slaughter; that they opened fire indiscriminately against civilians who were unarmed. Yet almost every soldier involved int he firefight stated, for the record, that the terrorists were using the civilians as human shields. our enemy KNEW what our ROEs were, and knew the soldiers would hesistate when a civilian was presented, and a clearly defined weapon was not present.

Here is one last one that the Captain's Journal cites from an NCO who relayed his comments to Blackfive-- a milblogger who has covered a wide variety of military stories from Iraq and Afghanistan:

Let me tell you a little something about ROE (Rules of Engagement). In Baghdad thousands of people are moving around all the time. Many houses, all of them, have guns. On a general scale, none of them are planning any wrongdoing at all. But they don’t think that Americans can accomplish anything, either, because they know we can’t search at will, can’t shoot at will, can’t detain at will.

If you wish to stop a car approaching a checkpoint, you must first post a sign a long way down the road, if it is ignored, you must verbally warn them, and use a green laser to get the drivers attention. If still ignored, you must fire a warning shot with an M4, then a M240, then, finally the kill shot. If at any time the car turns away, all you can do is TRY to pursue it, never shoot at it. Technically, similar rules exist for dismounted operations, and that puts more soldiers at risk than you can possibly imagine. I’m not sure Johnny on the street has this information, but Muhammed in the mosque sure does.

I can’t even tell you how pissed it makes me to hear a JAG officer suck in breath as he tries to think real hard how to explain the murky depths of our ROE. A system that used to be a way of allowing soldiers to avoid hurting civilians by using certain weapon systems at certain times has once again degenerated into a complex “Cover Your Ass” legal trick for higher command.

The ROEs matter in a war like this. It is urban combat, and often times, our troops are left guessing what their actions can and cannot be. And like the NCO who communicated his thoughts to Blackfive, this has literally turned into a 'cover your ass' issue that is going to end up getting a lot more soldiers killed. Our enemy is using our tactics against us in the most expedient and dealy way possible. Anyone remember the Giuliana Sgrena incident from March of 2005?

Ms. Sgrena, an Italian journalist who had been kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq, had finally been freed. Her ransom had been paid by the government of Itlay, and her rescuers were speeding towards Baghdad Airport. They tried to run a chekcpoint. The soldier's reports stated that the car was swerving around the barricades that had been rerected, was going much faster than the thirty mph that Ms. Sgrena has stated they were going (contradicting her earlier statement), and they had repeatedly ignored the lights flashed at them, and warning shots fired. The troops were left with no alternative but to open fire. Nicola Calipari, an Italian intelligence agent, lost his life then because the driver refused to yield. The troops followed the ROEs they had in hand, but after the incident, new ones were drafted fro checkpoints, which led to the sort that are described by the first and third NCOs above.

The military would do a much better job of handling the situation on the ground in Iraq if they took into account what the average soldier must face there. Our enemy wears no uniform, can blend into a crowd in a heartbeat, and strike from that crowd with no regard for any civilian lives. Yet, our soldiers are told to sit on their triggers by the guys who set the ROEs. This is a contradiction for the soldiers, and it is one that will cost us more lives in the field.



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