Rules of engagement in Iraq are Catch 22

This story in the Los Angeles Times illustrates the bind we have put our Iraq ground troops in. In trying to avoid civilian casualties we place our people in greater danger either from enemies or our ourselves.

If they act immediately they could find themselves charged with murder, if they don’t act they could be dead or get a comrade killed.

The rules of engagement appear to be so indefinite as to leave a hearing officer in Camp Pendleton not sure of their meaning. People in a hearing room with plenty of time to sit and think about the rules differ on their meaning. Marines in Iraq are expected to know them instantly under stressful circumstances.

At the same time, the rules for air attacks are entirely different. Civilian casualties in air attacks are expected. If a pilot is given a target on which he drops a bomb or a missile and there are civilians in the house, no problem. If he happens to miss that house and hit the one next door, that’s OK too.

These wars with no enemy front and no recognizable enemy are terrible for the soldiers caught in them.

Major Major Major Major would be proud. Or, actually, he would hide in his office and actively avoid doing anything.

This is precisely why fighting an insurgency is such a bad idea. It creates a climate in which every civilian is a potential enemy and counts on the occupier to accidently kill innocents which helps the recruiting of insurgents. This has been known since at least the Boer war and yet the US entered willfully into an almost impossible to win military situation and then seems surprised when it finds itself in exactly the situation that was predicted.

Fighting your own, home-grown insurgency might be necessary, but fighting someone else’s shouldn’t be.

This collossal blunder is a perfect example of Fettridge’s Law quoted below.

Welcome to the reality of a “police action”. One lesson consistantly unlearnt by chief exectives–despite decades of negative reinforcement–is that soldiers are neither trained nor equipped to be police officers, and trying to apply order and law in a place that is fundamentally lawless and fragmented by ethnic and religious strife. It was probably never the case that regime change was going to occur in Iraq without civil war and some amount of insurgency, but the notion that we were going to waltz in, knock Hussain over, and then after a couple months of housecleaning and accounting, hand the reigns over to some kind of widely respected civil authority empowered by the consensus of a liberal, secular democracy was such feckless naivete that anybody who thought it was all going to turn out alright needs to be poked with the Cattle Prod of Reality. I’ve just finished reading Imperial Life in the Emerald City, and while it’s clear that Chandrasekaran had a central thesis (that the failures of the CPA and subsequent civil authority in Iraq stemmed from a gross underestimation of cost and difficulty, and that people were selected based upon their loyalty to the current Administration and neoconservative principles) and selected anecdotes to support it, I don’t think he had to stretch very far to cherry pick relevent examples; the whole thing was a textbook case of blowhards attempting to apply manufactured consensus onto the discontent reality of a nation accustomed to state entitlement, cast into gross poverty, and lacking in basic services and physical infrastructure. While we may be “winning” the “war” against [del]insurgen[/del], excuse me, al-Qaeda in Iraq ( :rolleyes: ), there is a major humanitarian crisis unfolding in that overpopulated desert nation where clean water and fresh food are not basic, readily acquired commodities, and the availablilty of electricity and medicine are sporadic at best.

As for the “Catch-22”, it’s the typical response of political authority following the publicity of the aftermath of armed conflict. When you send in soldiers with guns and tanks, things are going to get blown up and people are going to die. This is, first and foremost, what they do. Sure, the military can provide humanitarian aid and construction support, but when people shoot at them, they shoot back. It’s idiotic to put someone in the middle of a war zone and expect that they won’t defend themselves, and indeed, at preemptively in their own defense. It’s also moronic to assume that they won’t develop an “us-or-them” siege mentality. When things start exploding and bullets are zipping around, the first thing to go is altrustic concern for combatants and bystanders.

He’d probably take a month-long vacation up in the hills where nobody could talk to him whether he’s in or out of his office. It’s kind of fun, in a very morbid sense, to cast roles in Catch-22 from the current Administration, particularly Generals Peckham and Dweedle, Colonel Cathcart, Clevenger, Nately, and Aarfy, and especially Milo Minderbender and ex-PFC Wintergreen. Sadly, we lack a Yossarian. I wonder; has anyone checked recent executive orders to see if any were signed by Washington Irving or Irving Washington?


That’s some catch.

So, a bomb goes off, and people run away from the big explosion–which, let’s face it, is probably what most anyone would do–and you can shoot them.

But you can’t necessarily shoot someone for pointing a fucking gun at you?

[slight hijack]

(Fetridge’s Law):
Important things that are supposed to happen do not happen, especially when people are looking.


The best there is.

I think our biggest problem is too many Scheisskopfs.

My Fettridge has to t’s, yours has only one. :wink:

Well, you are supposed to hold a discussion with the group as to the guy’s possible intent.

Welcome to the Northern Ireland Experience. You too can have the world’s media second-guessing your split-second decisions in next morning’s papers.

It’s a tad more serious than the media second guessing. These marines are being second guessed by their command. They are now undergoing a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not they will be charged and court martialed for war crimes including murder.

This kind of catch 22 directive sounds very much like what I heard from friends of my older sibs that managed to make it back from Vietnam. Have we had enough yet?

A week or so ago, I heard former Secretary of State Colin Powell discussing the current situation on NPR. Last summer, I attended a book review at Valley Forge Military Academy, at which Michael Smerconish interviewed Ilario Pantano and discussed his book, ‘Warlord’.
Lt. Pantano faced an Article 32 in connection with his killing of two Iraqis.

Powell and Pantano both used the same phrase: The imposition of your will on another. We failed in that endeavor, because the US public hasn’t the stomach to witness the prosecution of a war the way war must be fought. If we, as a people had the determination to impose our will on the whole of Iraq, and had acted to achieve that goal, no matter what means, I believe things would have gone much differently. Instead, we’re trying to fight a war wearing boxing gloves, and being called for low hits.

Sounds great. Now it’s necessary to find the army and marines to do that. According to the figures I read, there are just over half a million total in the army and 180,000 marines. That’s a grand total of 680,000 which is none too many for the job you outline. So we take all of our army and marines from everywhere around the world and commit them to Iraq.

Having the will to do something sounds great but you also need the wherewithal.


“Prosecuting the war the way war must be fought” works when the objective is conquest or the destruction of an invading army. It falls apart when the objective is “convince them to create a stable government that thinks we’re just swell.” The war’s proponents in this administration went in thinking they could make a glass sculpture with only a sledgehammer for a tool, and now they’re blaming people for not wanting to break more? This mess has certainly been the result of a failure to stomach reality, but not on the part of the American public.

::sigh:: Yet another thread started on some craaaazy media idea that doesn’t make any sense to anyone that’s been there. First of all, the ROE are NOT heavily guarded secrets- at all. They just aren’t. I had little cards in my wallet that had them written on them, they’re on the open internet, etc. It’s not kept secret at all.

Second, these Marines aren’t even charged with anything. It’s a preliminary hearing. It happens pretty frequently, and is usually said and done before anyone has blinked. They won’t go to trial, and even if they did, there’d be no conviction. No one actually goes to jail over this stuff.

Third, those ROE examples they gave are ridiculous. At the beginning of every JAG briefing we get on the ROE and Geneva conventions, they always say first and foremost (in big, bold powerpoint text) that a servicemember ALWAYS has the right to self-defense. We all know that, we’ve all been taught that. Hell, we even have a saying to convey that right…“Better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.”

Fourth, Positive ID (PID) isn’t that hard to get. It’s not a bureacratic process, it’s a split-second mental decision. If you decide you have PID, then you can shoot. It’s that simple. You may get questioned on it, but if you’re right, you’re right. If you’re wrong, it’s usually OK anyhow.

Lastly, two things not mentioned in the article directly: 1) you don’t need to shout-show-shove-shoot. You can skip straight to shoot if circumstances permit, like if you only have a second to react. A car speeds at your convoy, and you’re the gunner. You can’t shout, so skip it. You can show your weapon, but it’s more common to signal w/ the hands or a flare. You can’t shove from another vehicle, so you shoot at the engine block to disable it. If that doesn’t work, you kill the driver. I can’t tell you how many times soldiers didn’t have the time for this, and just shot the guy, or the engine shot ricochetted and killed the driver. No one gets in trouble. We pay the guy/family and the mission goes on.
2) Pilots were mentioned earlier. Please note that even pilots have to get clearance to drop something. In our area, it took an O6 to clear it. The planes don’t have immediate threats to deal with, so it’s no problem to take those 2 minutes to clear it. They’re accountable too.

The rules are made so clear that the hearing officer was quoted as saying that he was confused.

Did the article misquote him?

The rule of combat in the field…survive. The rest fall away in pursuit of that rule. With non uniformed enemy much atrocities will happen. The soldiers can not win.