Leadership: ROE Versus the Baby Killers

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p> March 23, 2007: General Dave Petraeus, the new commander in Iraq, has a reputation for quickly fixing problems. Earlier this month, he became aware of troop commanders adding additional restrictions to the ROE (Rules of Engagement). Troops who violated these additional restrictions (like firing at someone who was suspicious, but not firing on them) got chewed out, interrogated, or worse. This was causing troops to hold their fire, even when they were in danger. That hurt morale. So Patraeus issued a clarification, saying that self-defense was of paramount importance, and that the existing ROE would be used as-is, without any additional restrictions by lower ranking officers.

 

That helped, but there's still a problem. The terrorists are ruthless and clever. They know that American troops are discouraged from firing at mosques and unarmed civilians. So the terrorists have developed several clever tactics to exploit these restrictions. One is to have weapons placed in several buildings, or hidden outdoors, in an area usually crowded with civilians. Thus the several gunmen can fire a few shots at passing American troops, put the weapon down, back away from the area (or run out a back door) and go to where they have hidden another AK-47, sniper rifle or RPG launcher, and repeat the process. The gunmen keep this up until the Americans pass, dismount and find the weapons, or kill some civilians. The last outcome is the desired one, because this becomes fodder for some great propaganda about the bloodthirsty American killers of innocent Iraqis.

 

Terrorists also like to fire from mosques, although this is becoming less popular now that U.S. troops often have Iraqi soldiers with them, or on call. Americans generally don't fire on, or go into, mosques (again, because of the Information War angles), but Iraqis troops can, and do. The people running the mosques are increasingly unwilling to host terrorists, and get raided by the cops. This has led to shootouts inside the mosques, between pro and anti-terrorist factions.

 

It gets worse. Recently, a car bomber was found using two children in the back seat to get him through a check point. Once past, he parked the car, got out, ran away, detonated the hidden explosives by remote control, killing the kids in the backseat, as well as several bystanders. So troops can expect to see some vehicles on the roads, near convoys, moving in a threatening manner, but with kids in the backseat. What's a soldier to do? Clarifying the ROE helps, but it is not as decisive a move as you might think.