By: Thomas D. Segel
Date: September 22, 2009
Harlingen, Texas, September 22, 2009: Active duty military personnel, veterans and retirees alike all expressed their outrage and disdain for the reported Rules of Engagement (ROE) that resulted in loss of life to four United States Marines and nine of their Afghan army allies. In a Taliban initiated ambush the insurgents out-gunned the joint military unit and pinned it to indefensible ground. The NATO advised Afghan force was denied artillery support and did not receive close air support for more than one hour after coming under attack. By that time 13 lives had been forfeited because of a politically motivated ROE that always favors the insurgents.
Why was artillery support refused? Why were the helicopter gun ships needed for close air support late? Why did more Americans die? Many feel it is due to the always politically orients Rules of Engagement, a war fighting practice that is only rarely understood by the general public, and is seldom clarified or accepted by members of the military community.
One person voicing such an opinion is retired Marine Corps Major Frank Stolz. This author and authority on weapons of mass destruction points out that the ROE has been a very controversial issue since before World War II. He explains, “The original rules were formulated through the League of Nations (1929 – 1946) and were mainly written and approved by diplomats, lawyers, peace advocates and many others appalled by the slaughter of millions in World War I.” The actions of that war, according to Stolz, “included the use of poison gases and the destruction of entire cities through artillery, naval gunfire bombardments and for the first time ever, aerial bombardment, often times when the cities were still filled with non combatant civilians.”
Those who formed the first “rules” included a few people who had observed the horrors of war, but most were never in or near the front lines. They formed their opinions on the conduct of war from places of safety and comfort.
Though the League of Nations attempted to stem the threat of wars, success was never seen. The first rules they accepted were No shotguns in warfare; No flamethrowers in warfare; No aerial bombing of inhabited cities; Enemy and allied supply ships were to be stopped at sea, the crews and personnel were then allowed to get into lifeboats with sufficient food and water to reach the nearest land, and then their ships would be sunk. Says Stolz, ”these were but a few of the nonsensical rules made up by pinstripe diplomats and lawyers.” As history tells us, all parties engaged in combat followed few of these rules.
The ROE we find practiced today will vary slightly from one combat zone to another. It combines the old League of Nation rules along with newer insufferable conditions demanded by the United Nations and many of the European countries. As Major Stolz points out the ROE was intended for the conduct of warfare by uniformed combatants. It was not created to deal with terrorists, anarchists, insurgents and criminal elements all hiding among the civilian populations. Stolz concludes by observing, “Either through stupidity or a desire by some to see us fail, we have now given terrorists who indiscriminately bomb and harm innocent civilians, the same “rights” afforded uniformed military combatants. That, to me, is akin to allowing serial killers periodic home leaves in order to get their heads straight.”
The retired military community seems to be angered by the ROE now in place and how our government appears to have little regard for the lives of our many troops now in harms way. Says one veteran, “I believe we are wasting lives in Afghanistan. It cannot be won without taking out all extreme Islamic fundamentalists. The Taliban are ruthless. They follow no rules, period! They massacre at will. They are pure evil. How do we win this? There is no way except massive casualties across the board. It is a useless war and one our brave soldiers should not be fighting.”
Marine retiree William Bloomfield write, “Having lived through more than one tour in Vietnam, in spite of the ROEs, it smells to me an awful lot like “de javu” all over again. Politicians who haven’t a clue in charge of those who do. It is egos taking precedence over good judgment and common sense.”
Master Sergeant John Clayton says he is an old Vietnam combat veteran, who fought in that war during 1967 and 68. Clayton says, “There is no substitute for victory and appeasement leads to defeat, as France found out in World War II. Do our enemies have ROE other than to defeat those who oppose them?” He notes they battle the enemy “kill n any way they can and to hell with humanitarian ROE that our government imposes on our military for political and appeasement reasons.”
One soldier now on active duty, (we will call him Bob) writes, “ I am scared every time I’m told to move into a dangerous area. Most of us know we will receive little support when things get hot. Nobody really seems to care about us. If they did, they would make sure we had the weapons and troops needed to protect ourselves and win this thing.”
General Stanley McChrystal seems to have those same feelings. He has requested more support troops and equipment. He has requested thousands more troops and sent the White House a detailed report of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. He says he needs this support at once and if it doesn’t come we could lose the war. The report has been sitting on the President’s desk for almost a month and no action has been taken.
While all the political indecision continues, the ROE remains in force. More soldiers and Marines will be sent into impossible situations and asked to win without the tools of combat needed to complete their tasks. More calls for artillery will be made and denied. More calls for air support will be made and delayed. More Americans will die because of indecision and political cowardness at home.