Leadership: Killing American Troops With New Rules of Engagement

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December 5, 2005: Rumblings from the Pentagon that new, and more restrictive, Rules of Engagement (ROE) are in the works, have caused some backlash from troops in Iraq, or who have served there, or are on their way over. The ROE are the general instructions about what troops can, and cannot, do in combat zones. For example, in 1983, the ROE for the U.S. Marines sent to Lebanon (for peacekeeping during the 1975-90 civil war) restricted how aggressively the marines could defend themselves from the local militias and Islamic terrorists. As a result, a terrorist truck bomb got into troop housing area, killing over 200 marines. In contrast, Iraq has much less restrictive ROEs, which results in more civilians getting killed, but nothing like what happened to the marines in Lebanon. When a speeding car full of civilians refuses to stop, when ordered, by troops at a check point, the troops have the authority to open fire at will. Not knowing if the oncoming vehicles is full of civilians, or suicide bomber explosives, the troops often do fire. Each time civilians are killed in situations like this, there is media coverage. But there aren't many of these incidents (especially if you don't count those invented by anti-war zealots), and the lives of many American troops have been solved as a result.

When word of new ROEs got around, there was a sharp backlash from the troops, including military lawyers. Restrictive ROEs make generals and politicians back in Washington feel more comfortable, but they get troops killed. Perhaps the rumor was just that, a rumor, planted to show all and sundry what one could expect if such new rules were actually issued. Interestingly, the "proposed new ROE" came in the form of an enormously complex and opaque document, which appears to have been created by a very large committee. The proposed new rules are, in theory, simply more complex, and not a danger to the troops. But these new ROEs were apparently developed by lawyers who never stood guard at a check point, or conducted raids into hostile territory.

Leaking information on the new ROEs may have simply been the easiest way to make the backers of these rules see the mistake they were making.

 


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