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ROE in Iraq

Reader comment on item: Israel's Unnecessary War in Lebanon
in response to reader comment: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT!

Submitted by russell wohlford (United States), Nov 24, 2006 at 11:18

I agree with almost everything Ron says here. I must admit, conditions have changed in Iraq since my 2003-04 tour there but I think a few comments on some of these concerns might still be timely.

Before my unit went to Iraq we were briefed on the Rules of Engagement for the theater. There were really only two rules but the implications were far-reaching: If you are fired on or if you feel threatened you may engage. We were told, this was modified in practice, not to fire warning shots. These two rules gave us a considerable amount of freedom to react to or even preempt attacks. In mass briefings we were told that we were being entrusted with a great responsibility, down to the lowliest private every man and woman was a representative of the United States of America.

Unfortunately my ugly mug was the face of American foreign policy. We were told to follow the Geneva Conventions and the Laws of Land warfare and recieved, or taught in my case, classes on those Conventions and Laws. The unwashed and untutored, if we are to believe John Kerry, were the recipients of the least-restrictive ROE I have ever heard of. There were very few examples of accidental killings of civilians by my company.

The insurgents killed a few civilians, not many I should note as the sectarian slaughters were not at full tilt yet. A great deal of care was taken not to kill or injure non-combatants by both sides for the most part. I don't think the local insurgents (a mix of farmers, ex-Republican Guards, Wahabbis, and opportunists looking for a paycheck) wanted to alienate the local populace so we saw little collateral damage from that sector. I won't say there were no Iraqi on Iraqi attacks but most of them were either criminally motivated or based on tribal feuds or religious differences In the earliest months of my tour the insurgency was still in its infancy and combat was infrequent. When it did happen it was short and sharp and usually resulted in dead Iraqi combatants.

I consider myself lucky. Although I was as careful as possible in my application of fire, you can only be so careful when slewing hundreds of rounds downrange with a .50. I never injured a non-combatant, much less killed one. Some might say that low restriction ROEs are a bad idea, that they could lead to slaughters or unneccessary killings. Maybe, but not in my company.

The locals, in Abu Saida for the most part, and in surrounding villages to a lesser extent, were quite friendly and I was told numerous times that these people relied on and expected our protection. In fact, because we were tight on the trigger and assisted with work on schools, the water plant, and a variety of other public-service related jobs, we were viewed quite favorably by the people of Abu Saida. I personally made several friends in the community.

Nothing was more telling than when an insurgent RPG team was engaged by rifle toting citizens as they attempted to infiltrate the town to attack our compound. People were shooting out of their windows and forced the bad guys to beat a hasty retreat. We discouraged that type of activity but I felt like these people not only liked us and wanted us there, but were willing to fight to protect us a job clearly outside their purview or responsibilities.

When we left Abu Saida I saw a lot of people crying. I am not ashamed to say that I let loose a few tears myself. We had very loose ROE, we used our firepower carefully not wantonly. We were responsible with our power and gained a measure of respect and I daresay affection from the people in our AO. They had very high expectations of Americans and I like to think that in at least our little corner of the Diyala Province those expectations were met.

A last note here: My unit was not Airborne, not Special forces, the recipients of no particularly special training , we were far from elite. I was in a tank company. We had some arty guys and mechanics. If a bunch of dirty tankers, just the kind of undereducated rank and file grubs Mr Kerry denigrates, can form a decent working relationship with a semi-rural population in an overwhelmingly Muslim market town in the middle of nowhere is there not hope? A little trigger control and the willingness to pick up a paintbrush or a hammer goes a long ways...


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