OK, before I get into this, let me explain a bit about these rules so you can make of them what you will.
These guidelines, similar to the “yellow card” issued to soldiers during the Northern Ireland conflict (an outline of when it is acceptable to open fire) eg a soldier may open fire on a threat if :
A.) The individual is openly armed and their fire is effective (by effective, it is meant that the fire is in danger of causing harm)
B.) The soldier believes his, or the lives of those who’s duty it is it his to protect to be in danger (ie if an individuals right to personal safety is compromised)
C.) The individual deemed a threat to be within a certain distance (depending on the weapon carried, ie if the weapon is a petrol bomb, it is not appropriate to open fire if the thrower is over 50 yards away as it is deemed that a petrol bomb is not effective at that range)
These rules, as you might have noticed, overlap, and they overlap for a reason. To prevent civilian casualties and reduce the risk to the soldier. These rules worked very well by and large, and civilian casualties were minimal in the conflict after their introduction. They protected both parties, whilst not infringing on either’s rights to self defense.
The new NATO rules of engagement however, negate that. It openly states that NATO soldiers are not allowed to engage any enemy unless fired upon, the target can be clearly identified and the fire is effective. Meaning if an insurgent were stood ten yards away from you pointing their weapon at you, you are not allowed to defend yourself by firing.
These rules are WRONG and they are STUPID. They are costing good soldiers lives by restricting their operational capabilities and effectiveness. It goes without saying, that everyone has the right to defend themselves, but also, it needs mentioning this is a guerrilla war, and to effectively stop all offensive capabilities of the NATO soldiers by insisting they can only return fire, is making them a moving target.
It puts them in a position whereby, to gain any advantage, they must first expose themselves, by trying to draw out the insurgents and, to quote British military slang “giving it the come-on”.
These “come-ons” usually involve walking through, or close by to Taliban controlled territory, making sure they are seen or “pinged by a dicker” and trying to draw them in to opening up, therefore allowing them to engage.
A recent paper by Colonel David M. Fee, of the US army, has this to say on the subject :
“The ‘UN charter provides the essential framework for use of force’ Article 51 states ‘Nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of an individual or collective self defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the UN'”.
Yet NATO thinks otherwise.
He continues : “The US, along with many other countries, adheres to an expansive interpretation of Article 51, allowing for the principle of anticipatory self defence ; described as ‘justifying use of force not only to repel actual armed attacks, but also imminent armed attacks’ The US interpretation of anticipatory use of force in self defence makes sense legally and tactically”.
Indeed. I wonder how many front line soldiers would disagree with that…
For those not versed in the articles of war, he basically just said “these rules are bullshit” well… A more literal translation would be “it makes no sense for us not be able to open fire if our lives are under threat” but either or… They’re both true…
These rules, whilst designed to protect non-combatants, give no thought to the soldier in the combat theatre. They are not well defined and are ambiguous at best, leaving them open to personal interpretation, or command level interpretation, as was proven by a patrol in 2007, in which two British soldiers died.
The patrol, on a night-time operation near Gamsir, led by major Jamie Nowell, was under the “429 A” rule, (which states they may engage positively identified insurgents) whilst their air support was under “Card A” engagement rules, which states they may only fire in self defence.
Major Nowell said : “Eventually the aircraft was put on 429 A, but it took 60 minutes. The opportunity to engage with the Taliban was lost”
The patrol was, pure and simply put at risk by these rules, and two soldiers paid the price for the air support not being able to engage.
Sgt Craig Brelsford, 25, was shot and killed whilst trying to retrieve the body of his comrade, Johan Botha, who was also 25. An action which earned Sgt. Brelsford a posthumous Military Cross for his bravery.
Coroner David Masters, said it would have “Put lives at risk” before continuing “It seems to me fundamental , that those who are being asked to deal with an operation like this, should be on the same rules of engagement. That should be known from the outset”.
He also expressed concern that the men were not all equipped with night viewing aids. And said after reading the soldiers statements “The impression I get is one of fear. One describes the operation as ‘operation certain death'”.
A very telling condemnation, and one which sadly came true for Craig Brelsford and Johan Botha.
These fucking idiotic rules, give the upper hand to the insurgents, meaning they are given a crucial advantage of being able to pick the time and place of the contact, something these rules deny NATO soldiers.
I would love to know who makes these rules, whether it’s a suited beaurocrat or a senior officer, makes no real difference, the fact is good soldiers are dying because of them. They protect only civilians and insurgents, and whilst every precaution should be made to protect non-combatants, provisions also need to be made to protect the soldiers who take all the risks, as nothing kills morale quicker than losing confidence in the orders you are given.
It seems to me the odds were stacked against NATO forces even before the introduction of the new engagement rules. A guerrilla war can only be fought using guerrilla tactics, a lesson that should have been learned from previous conflicts like Vietnam and the Russio-Afghan war. Both were fought with conventional military tactics and both were written off as a bad joke. The SAS however, who used guerrilla tactics in Borneo, we’re successful in beating significantly greater numbers by using four man teams in a “shoot and scoot” style. The SAS force in Borneo initially numbering less than 100 men.
Whilst I have NO doubt task force 8 (a combined special forces team consisting of delta force, 22nd SAS and an SBS squadron) are operating under different guidelines and rules of engagement, (special forces by their very nature, are sneaky beaky and operate within a different role to conventional forces, and it is worth noting that in the majority of cases if not ALL cases, they will be specially designated targets, rather than targets of opportunity, meaning the kill order will have been given before the operation commenced) and are no doubt operating in their classic role of reconnaissance and counter terrorism, this does not change the fact that the average squaddie should be able to defend himself when a threat is present, whether perceived or not.
It’s not as if intelligence is a problem either, I can’t speak for other forces, but the British forces are now operating a system whereby insurgent transmissions are monitored by an Afghan Interpreter, so nine times out of ten, they are aware of what is happening at any given time. They can hear in real time, what the insurgents are saying, and planning where they are and whether they are about to open fire, so WHY, with this information, are they not allowed to make pre-emptive strikes on insurgents?
Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh, that’s right, to prevent civvy casualties… Now, and let’s be honest here, in Afghanistan, as in any guerrilla war, the locals know what’s going on, they may not be complicit with it, but they know where the insurgents are and usually thin out fairly quickly, as, let’s face it, who is going to stick about knowing there is likely to be a firefight or that there is an IED nearby? How many of you would? Not many I’m guessing…
The insurgents also, leave markers, so the locals know where not to go, it may only be a pile of rocks, or a knotted tuft of grass, but it’s a marker nevertheless. Civilians, being JUST that, tend to stay away from these areas, so the risk to civilians is already minimal to start with.
That’s why these rules are bullshit. The risk to non-combatants are as low as its possible to make it, and all were doing here is handing the insurgents the first blow, and the ability to effectively control the critical first few moments of a firefight.
These soldiers, who do a fantastic job, are struggling enough with kit issues, supply issues, and all sorts of other problems you will probably never hear about, as well as the knowledge that every second on a patrol could be their last, should not be burdened with having to wait until being fired upon before being able to do the job they were sent to do and engage an enemy that already has the upper hand.
NATO must see sense, and realise this is hampering the operational efficiency of the average fighting soldier.
I know I’m sick to death of watching union flag draped coffins being slow-marched off the back of a Hercules at RAF Brize Norton, and whilst casualties are inevitable during conflict, these rules of engagement are good for nothing more than filling graveyards.
It’s a wonder then, with this in mind, that the casualty list from Afghanistan isn’t higher…