[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
Many of you have seen the controversial NRO essay by David French on absurdly restrictive rules of engagement that enlisted men and their NCO’s and junior officers have been forced to wrestle with in Iraq, Afghanistan and miscellaneous conflict zones. This is a problem that began under the Bush II administration as the Army and Marine Corps wrestled with pop-centric COIN theory, but ROE became increasingly self-defeating under the Obama administration’s philosophy of micromanaging the world from the White House staff conference room. If you have not read the article yet, here it is with a blurb:
….This evening, however, our troopers believed that the car ahead wasn’t full of civilians. The driver was too skilled, his tactics too knowing for a carload of shepherds. As the car disappeared into the night, the senior officer on the scene radioed for permission to fire. His request went to the TOC, the tactical operations center, which is the beating heart of command and control in the battlefield environment. There the “battle captain,” or the senior officer in the chain of command, would decide — shoot or don’t shoot.
But first there was a call for the battle captain to make, all the way to brigade headquarters, where a JAG officer — an Army lawyer — was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His job was to analyze the request, apply the governing rules of engagement, and make a recommendation to the chain of command. While the commander made the ultimate decision, he rarely contradicted JAG recommendations. After all, if soldiers opened fire after a lawyer had deemed the attack outside the rules, they would risk discipline — even prosecution — if the engagement went awry.
.Acting on the best available information — including a description of the suspect vehicle, a description of its tactics, analysis of relevant intelligence, and any available video feeds — the JAG officer had to determine whether there was sufficient evidence of “hostile intent” to authorize the use of deadly force. He had to make a life-or-death decision in mere minutes. In this case, the lawyer said no — insufficient evidence. No deadly force. Move to detain rather than shoot to kill. The commander deferred. No shot. Move to detain..So the chase continued, across roads and open desert. The suspect vehicle did its best to shake free, but at last it was cornered by converging American forces. There was no escape. Four men emerged from the car. American soldiers dismounted from their MRAPs, and with one man in the lead, weapons raised, they ordered the Iraqis to surrender. Those who were in the TOC that night initially thought someone had stepped on a land mine. Watching on video feed, they saw the screen go white, then black. For several agonizing minutes, no one knew what had happened. Then the call came. Suicide bomber. One of the suspects had self-detonated, and Americans were hurt. One badly — very badly. Despite desperate efforts to save his life, he died just before he arrived at a functioning aid station. Another casualty of the rules of engagement.
If we are to take the premises of the domestic-politics driven ROE imposed on front-line troops by the Obama administration and a pliant senior leadership because they believe that our soldiers and Marines cannot be trusted with even the smallest decisions, the solution is obvious: we could field platoons composed entirely of lawyers. At least until robot soldiery becomes fully autonomous.