Rules of Engagement (ROE) are rules or directives to military forces (including individuals) that define the circumstances, conditions, degree, and manner in which force, or actions which might be construed as provocative, may be applied. They provide authorization for and/or limits on, among other things, the use of force and the employment of certain specific capabilities. In some nations, ROE have the status of guidance to military forces, while in other nations, ROE are lawful commands. Rules of Engagement do not normally dictate how a result is to be achieved but will indicate what measures may be unacceptable. Wikipedia (2014)
The first thing necessary to be addressed when considering Rules of Engagement (ROE) is that they have been around since OOG picked up a stick and brained TROGG. ROEs state the political correctness of any potential combat action whether in the military or the civil realm such as law enforcement. It’s the last ditch effort of politicians to control the force perceived in the incident and to present it to any judicial review after the fact so as to assure the best face is placed on the response to the incident. In no sense are we to believe legislators and policy wonks have any idea of what combat involves or the dangers resident to our combat personnel.
There are differentiations between law enforcement and the military making it seem combat is somehow different under the umbrella of defensive/offensive actions. It’s only the perception differs. A bullet doesn’t care which participant it penetrates or the possibility the actions of an aggressor (such as using human shields) and hiding behind the innocents may place the First Responder in peril. The only thing the policy wonks care about is how it looks in the white paper published days, weeks, months and possibly years after the event.
Some people are genuinely upset that ROEs seem to hamper the First Responder and cause inordinate numbers of injuries and deaths because “our people aren’t allowed to shoot back”. While there are restrictions concerning the saturation of the field of fire with ordnance and small arms fire there is still the right of the individual First Responder to defend by returning fire. It’s only after the fact the First Responder/combatant must justify his/her actions during the fight. This is in direct contradiction of American Jurisprudence because it requires the accused to defend when in other circumstances the accuser must prove malice and refusal to obey the ROEs.
Lt. Colonel David Bolgiano (USAF) said: “The confusion over the inherent right to self-defense doesn’t come from the written word. It doesn’t come from the law… The confusion over the inherent right of self-defense comes from assessing judgment-based shootings after the fact, in the clear vision of 20/20 hindsight, may not appear to be reasonable when in fact and by tactics they were.” (PBS.org 2008)
The disparity of thought comes into play when the individual must make a “snap” judgment based on the evidence available (and which is known from training, practice and experience as well as extant, immediate circumstances allows the First Responder to make the personal judgment as to the “Positive Identification”(PID) of a hostile combatant individual. This will be judged by those not there when the action took place.
Gary Solis, Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law School and a retired Marine said this: “The Rules of Engagement are much more general than, most people realize. They are not tactical instructions. They don’t and can’t cover all situations.” Additionally Solis pointed out: “PID…is as the term implies; before you can fire on an individual, you must positively identify that individual as representing a threat to you or your fellow Marines or soldiers. And if you cannot do that, then you are not supposed to fire on him or her.” Solis then closed with: “…it’s an objective assessment, but it’s also a subjective assessment… That’s why one person may say yes; another person may say no. The question is, what did the shooter feel?” (PBS.org 2008)
Rules of Engagement aren’t designed to protect or hurt individual combatants. There’s an antagonistic element where “troops are trained to defend themselves and that they have the absolute right to engage a target if they feel that their life is in danger. That is up against the idea that it is of vital importance to protect civilians from being engaged” as Josh White, Military Affairs Correspondent for the Washington Post wrote.
American Combat Operators are constantly and consistently up against insurgent forces and indigenous combatant personnel NOT wearing uniforms. The guerrillas they face are as shapeless and faceless as any in history. The enemy combatants have NO restrictions, they have NO ROEs. They have NO problem with using innocents as human shields. They have no conscience or scruples and don’t adhere to the niceties of political confetti such as the Geneva Convention or the tenets of the World Judiciary centered at The Hague. Their goal is to kill those they perceive as infidels. They have no concept of western culture being acceptable in their world view.
It’s we, the politically correct, prim and proper theorists making judgments and casting aspersions from the safety of our parlors and over polite dinner conversation on the actions of young people in the thick of combat. We feel superior in our role of disengagement as we restrict our valiant young warriors’ right to self-defense by injecting doubt from far and away.
We should be ashamed. You fight a war to win. If there are innocents killed maybe the Human Being should think about NOT making war.
It’s just a thought.
Thanks for listening