I wrote about the Rules of Engagement (ROE) in an article last December. I have read twice since then that the ROE had been modified or changed. I had hoped to see serious changes in these orders, especially with the change of command to General Patreas. There was a drastic change in the operational part of the war with which I was quite pleased. Finally the order for the day was seize and hold rather than sweep and leave. This change guaranteed progress, as the same areas no longer would need to be cleansed of terrorists more than once. Unfortunately, I have seen little indication of the ROE for individuals changing.
The military has a set of basic ROE that is instilled during basic training. Much of that is for safety. Examples of these rules are, identify your target, assure that your target has a safe background (basically, if you miss you will not endanger anyone else), during training when in doubt do not fire, and other firearms safety rules. In combat these rules may be changed. From what I have been able to gather about the ROE given our soldiers, they may not fire unless fired upon, they must assure that danger to non-combatants is minimized or non-existent, they may not shoot into a Mosque without higher approval, they must identify the exact position of a sniper before engaging (which does not allow for suppression fire to neutralize the sniper), and many more rules that most of us would not wished upon ourselves if we were in the same position as our soldiers. I have problems when the ROE go too far in protecting others at the expense of our soldiers. I also trust that most of the time, actually, almost all of the time, our soldiers act in a way to limit collateral casualties. The American soldier is the best trained and best disciplined combat weapon in existence today.
Despite our men and women in our armed services having the best training, individual discipline, unit discipline, and leaders on the field of battle, much of our rules of engagement have been dictated to minimize political and/or legal ramifications. Only part of these overt restrictions have to do with “winning the hearts and minds” in our areas of combat, but much have their roots due to other decisions and policies. One good example is our policy to pay reparations to the families for the wounding or death of a loved one due to actions of our soldiers. Being a fan of the old phrase, “You get what you pay for”, I see where this policy will maximize claims against our soldiers. Where this policy may have its advantages and uses, I do not appreciate that our people must only return fire under the most limited of circumstances. This policy, I will assume, has caused relatives to hide the weapons used by a relative in a firefight, then making a claim for them as being an innocent killed in the combat. Since our people engaged in the combat are not able to enter the area until after the battle, this leaves time for making the switch of killed enemy combatant to killed innocent civilian all the easier. What is worse is we pay people to do exactly this and then make charges that reflect poorly on our troops. Can anyone say Haditha?
My call is for us to allow our military personnel to do their jobs as they were trained. This will lead to a great decrease in the peril our troops face, as they will be allowed more latitude in putting down the insurgents and terrorists. This, in turn, will minimize our deaths and other casualties while maximizing the number of enemy combatant deaths and casualties. Is this not what war is about? I would also bet that the number of non-combatant casualties would not appreciably rise. I firmly stand trusting the on-scene decisions our troops make at the moment of greatest danger, the start of combat, than I do in calling for clarifications and permission to engage. I hope that much has been done in this direction since General Patreas has taken command. I pray I will see results indicating the greater freedom for decision making at the unit level on the ground. I want a set of ROE that shows we trust our fighting men and women to do the right thing. They are trained to do so and I believe they are more than capable of performing up to any standard set for them. G-d bless our troops and watch over them.
Beyond the Cusp