Fighting a War without Bullets?
Commanders have ordered a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan to patrol with unloaded weapons, according to a source in Afghanistan.
American soldiers in at least one unit have been ordered to conduct patrols without a round chambered in their weapons, an anonymous source stationed at a forward operating base in Afghanistan said in an interview. The source was unsure where the order originated or how many other units were affected.
When a weapon has a loaded magazine, but the safety is on and no round is chambered, the military refers to this condition as “amber status.” Weapons on “red status” are ready to fire—they have a round in the chamber and the safety is off.
The source stated that he had been stationed at the base for only a month, but the amber weapons order was in place since before he arrived. A NATO spokesman could not confirm the information, stating that levels of force are classified.
“Our overall aim is to defeat the insurgency which means we must gain and then maintain the support of the Afghan population,” said Lieutenant Commander Iain Baxter, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in a statement to HUMAN EVENTS/ Guns & Patriots. “This must be the objective of every action taken by ISAF service members, and it calls for responses that de-escalate situations where the use of deadly force may not be necessary. In doing this, leaders at all levels make enormous efforts to ensure that troops balance their own protection with the protection of the Afghan population.”
If there was a spate of friendly-fire casualties, then perhaps a change in the company’s rules would make sense. ISAF keeps no records of negligent discharges, however a search of casualties in Afghanistan showed only three fatalities due to friendly fire since January 2009—one from the U.K. and two from the Netherlands. With only three fatalities in the past 18 months—none of which were from the source’s unit—that argument doesn’t hold water.
“The idea that any combat unit would conduct any operation, including patrolling and even manning a security post—in which direct action may or may not take place—and not having weapons loaded, borders on being criminally negligent in my opinion,” says Lt. Col. W. Thomas Smith Jr., a recognized expert on terrorism and military issues. “This is nothing more than infusing politically correct restrictions into already overly restrictive rules of engagement. And this PC nonsense is going to get people killed.”
According to Smith, “American soldiers are highly skilled in the use of ‘loaded’ weapons, and so should be trusted to operate with ‘loaded’ weapons. If someone overseeing decisions on ROE [rules of engagement] thinks not, then ratchet up training. But don’t put a man on the street and force him to go through multiple prompts when a gunfight breaks out. Remember, the situation can go from quiet to kinetic in half the time it takes to breathe.”
In an ambush situation, just how long does it take to engage a target when your weapon isn’t already loaded?
“Too long,” states Sandy Daniel, military veteran and deputy director of the Victory Institute. “The first couple of seconds in an ambush are critical, and when that block of time is used to load a weapon instead of firing, you are losing the time you need to stay alive. Patrolling without a chambered round is suicide.”
Smith adds, “Let’s not forget the catastrophic result of not having weapons loaded on Oct. 23, 1983, when a U.S. Marine sentry barely managed to load his weapon and get off one or two hasty, ineffective shots at the speeding bomb-ladened truck that crashed into the Battalion Landing Team headquarters in Beirut. The truck breached the building, the explosives were detonated, and 241 Americans perished in the largest—at that time—non-nuclear blast in history.”
Based on discussions with veterans of previous conflicts spanning back to the Vietnam War, ordering troops to conduct patrols or to man a security post with weapons on amber status is actually quite common. In Vietnam, troops were typically ordered to patrol with weapons on amber, however the order was rarely followed or enforced. Troops operating at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, in Bosnia, and during the Gulf War had similar orders. In some cases, troops were instructed to remove magazines from the weapon completely, storing them in pouches. Worse yet, troops were only issued a handful of bullets in which to defend themselves in case of enemy contact.
The ROE our troops in Afghanistan follow, commonly known as the “Karzai 12,” are classified. But from what is known, the rules appear similar to those issued to the Marine Corps “peacekeeping” force operating in Lebanon from 1982-1984:
1. When on the post, mobile or foot patrol, keep loaded magazine in weapon, bolt closed, weapon on safe, no round in the chamber.
2. Do not chamber a round unless told to do so by a commissioned officer unless you must act in immediate self-defense where deadly force is authorized.
Marines were ordered to know these rules—which they carried on them at all times—as well as they knew their name, rank, and Social Security number. As Smith points out, we can see just how ineffective these rules were, and how deadly they were to U.S. forces. Had our leaders allowed Marines to carry loaded weapons, perhaps the 241 Marines, sailors, and soldiers killed in the Beirut attack would still be alive today.
Even if this order did originate from a company commander, this travesty is still the responsibility of the leadership that handed down such restrictive rules of engagement. NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s emphasis on protecting noncombatants is such that commanders are willing to jeopardize their troops in such a manner as ordering them into battle with unloaded weapons.
Hopefully, our military won’t experience another preventable mass casualty incident like the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. But with our leaders repeating the failures of the past by not permitting our troops to carry loaded weapons, it seems we have become our own worst enemy.