Defense & National Security

Petraeus Takes Charge: Clarifies ROE for Troops

Yesterday, I participated in a long conference call with Gen. David Petraeus, the new overall commander of coalition forces in Iraq. In a wide-ranging discussion, Gen. Petraeus spoke about a lot of developments, especially the heightened cooperation Americans are receiving not only from the Iraqi government and its security forces but also from the general population. Many of the community leaders across the country, including within the Sunni Triangle, are cooperating and providing highly valuable intelligence about insurgents hiding and operating in their communities.

There have been a number of reports that the "ROE" — rules of engagement under which U.S. troops operate and which set the terms under which force, both deadly and non-lethal — have been confused. Petraeus hit this squarely. He said that the problem was not in the ROE but in the interpretation given them by lower commands. It had become a problem because on-the-line grunts were confused by these supplemental rules on how they should handle situtations that begin peacefully and then — for one reason or another — escalate into deadly confrontations.

Petraeus has issued a personal order to all troops and commanders that clarified the ROE and should end the problem. Here’s the money quote:

I am concerned about the unintended consequences of our efforts over thepast two years to reduce injury and death to innocents within the framework of escalation of force (EOF) situations. The intentions of these efforts have been absolutely correct; however, it appears that the results, in some cases, have led to establishment of procedures that have, in effect, changed the rules of engagement for our troopers. Let me be clear: (1) No one may issue supplementary guidance that forecloses the judgment of an individual facing a split-second and independent decision whether to engage a threat. Persons committing hostile acts or exhibiting hostile intent may be engaged with all necessary force without progress through EOF measures — though, of course, progressing though EOF measures should be the case when the situation allows. (2) Leaders should strive to shape situations so that coalition forces are not pressed into making snap judgments under questionable circumstances. Warning equipment, barrier materials, and nonlethal weapons, as well as signs — well-lighted at night and understandable to Iraqis — must continue to be issued to our troops. This is easier written than done, I recognize, but we must strive to minimize the situations that result in split-second decisions when we can. (3) To remain true to our nations’ values and maintain our discipline, commanders will investigate engagements resulting in death, injury requiring hospitalization, or substantial property loss to a civilian. Other incidents will be reported according to unit standards and may be investigated at local commanders’ discretion. Despite our best efforts to minimize them — efforts that are very important-there will be EOF incidents. Learn from them, conduct the AARs that are the hallmark of a professional force, train on the lessons brought to light, and share these lessons. Your chain of command will stand with you.

The last line says it all. The commander stands with his men. This is something almost unknown within Washington. It’s called leadership.

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