May 3, 2006: The media and anti-war politicians in the United States are putting pressure on the Department of Defense to change tactics American troops use in Iraq. The basic premise here is that American troops are too stupid to realize that their methods in Iraq are "unnecessarily rough" and only serve to anger many Iraqis, without providing any security or tactical advantage for U.S. troops. It's all about Rules of Engagement (ROE). These 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.
The latest ROE campaign is based on the false premise that the tactics of British troops in southern Iraq are kinder and gentler, and should be adopted by the naive and brutish American troops, since this would result in fewer violent incidents with innocent Iraqis, and making fewer enemies of these innocent and otherwise pro-American (or at least neutral) Iraqis. In fact, the British troops are facing a quite different situation in the south, which is almost entirely Shia Arab, than the American troops up north, where most of the trouble is with a very hostile Sunni Arab population. In fact, the U.S. troops to adapt their ROE to reflect the attitudes of the local civilians. Everything is just fine in most of northern Iraq, where the Kurdish population really likes having the American soldiers around. But in many parts of central Iraq, the Sunni Arabs are not happy about their man Saddam being out of power, and do not like the Americans at all. They show this dislike in many ways, playing games at roadblocks and being uncooperative during searches being quite common. A typical "let's make peace" deal U.S. commanders offer to local Sunni Arab leaders is that we will cut you some slack in the ROE area if you get your people to settle down. This doesn't get reported much. Not very exciting. Besides, it makes the troops look good, and that isn't the kind of news that will win any awards or ratings races.
Whenever there is talk of ROEs,, there is 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. Last year there was another such proposal, which got the troops up in arms (especially via the Internet). Interestingly, that 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. This sort of thing continues, with pundits and journalists, largely ignorant of history or actual operations in the combat zone, proposing changes that will get troops killed. American troops have been played this way too many times in the past. The memory is kept alive via the numerous Internet connections between the troops, and self-defense kicks in when the Armies of Ignorance once more come forward with new ideas, and the scary incantation, "we're here to help you."