Now that Lt. Gen. David Petraeus is the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, one of his first jobs will be to clarify what military and defense officials say are vague rules of engagement that govern how U.S. troops can use force to defend themselves. Gen. Petraeus was asked recently about the problem of the vague rules, which have been discussed at length in this column over the past several weeks. He told a former general during a recent meeting that fixing the rules will be one of his most important priorities.
More evidence of the rules problem comes from an e-mail from an Army E-5 sergeant in Iraq who took issue with the recent letter in The Washington Times written by an Army attorney. The lawyer asserted that the current rules for soldiers were adequate and not confusing.
"I can tell you from personal experience that [the current rules of engagement] don't give us very much leeway with self-defense," wrote the sergeant, a member of a combat service support unit. "They tell us in our convoy briefings that we have the right to self-defense, defense for civilians and other coalition forces," the soldier said. "However, I do know that it is hard for soldiers to distinguish when is the proper time to use self-defense and when it is not. Soldiers are scared and they have a right to be. If a higher-up decides what you did was not in self-defense, you could get in major trouble and we feel that it's really not worth it."
In one case, a soldier fired two 5.56 rounds and as a result "had to sit in an office for two days straight and tell his story over and over and fill out a ton of paperwork for doing what he felt was right." The soldier said after the experience that "he would never fire his weapon again because he felt the aftermath wasn't worth it, and that's just not right."
"The military has gone severely soft in its effort over here and that is why more and more [people] are dying," the sergeant concluded. "They're just too scared to let soldiers think for themselves."
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