Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rules of Engagement or Disengagement?

Jim Kouri

During the preparations for the 1980 Operation Eagle Claw (or Operation Evening Light), a military rescue operation of the hostages held by Iran during the Carter Administration, then Secretary of State Warren Christopher feared that the rescue troops would kill Iranians while saving the American hostages. During the planning stage, Secretary Christopher asked, “Can’t you just shoot them [the Iranian radicals] in the leg or something?” Clearly, this icon of the left possessed no experience with weapons and saw one too many motion pictures depicting war. But have we returned to that ridiculous Carter-era mindset in 2010?

U.S. troops involved in President Barack Obama’s much-heralded military surge in Afghanistan are complaining about the new rules of engagement to which they must adhere. As a result of alleged killings of innocent civilians by Afghan and NATO troops, the Pentagon has promulgated strict rules that force soldiers and Marines to hold their fire until they are certain the individuals they face are armed.

While the Pentagon assures military commanders that the new rules are classified to keep terrorist and militant groups from obtaining them, troops claim that al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other enemy fighters know what actions are permitted and prohibited.

In addition, according to a source, who has trained Iraqi counterterrorists, these new rules are created by individuals who never fought in a war or who may be experienced military commanders but are or have become politicians rather than soldiers.

“If a Taliban sniper, who’s killed a number of U.S. soldiers or Marines, decides to come out from hiding, all he needs to do is leave his weapon behind and walk out free and clear,” said the source who requested anonymity.

“It’s hard to fight a war like that let alone be victorious,” he added.

Even more disheartening to counterterrorism and warfighting experts is NATO and Afghan military officials flatly stating that killing terrorists and Taliban militants is not their goal in southern Afghanistan. They claim it’s more important is to win public support, and the way to win support is for soldiers and Marines to not fire their weapons or fire them only when absolutely necessary.

They even acknowledge that these rules of engagement will place troops at risk, but in the name of winning hearts and minds allowing enemy fighters to escape is a small price to pay.

The Afghanistan surge and the Iraq surge are similar in terminology only. In Iraq, according to reports, if coalition troops were fired upon by enemy snipers, they’d simply call in an airstrike to neutralize the threat.

In the Afghanistan theater, fighter jets will fly low over the battlefield to feign an attack, but the jets will not fire on enemy positions

The new guidelines state that U.S. troops should use deadly physical force in self defense only, which is similar to the resistance/force continuum utilized within U.S. law enforcement.

However, the new rules of engagement create more questions than they answer. For example, what are Marines and soldiers permitted to do if a suspected terrorist or militant appears unarmed and approaches them with a hidden explosive “suicide vest?” If the enemy fighters are aware of the U.S. military’s restrictions on use of deadly force, what prevents the enemy from training fighters to conceal their weapons?

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