July 31st, 2007

Up on the roof: mosques and the rules of engagement

The intrepid Michael Totten has some of the best reporting out of Iraq these days. Read his riveting eyewitness (minus night goggles, but armed with camera) account of a night raid in Baghdad with the 82nd Airborne on the lookout for curfew violators, both dangerous and not so dangerous.

Problem is, it’s hard to tell at the outset which variety of unidentified night wanderer you’re dealing with. Sometimes it’s hard to tell even at the endpoint of the encounter. But Totten will help you understand what it’s like for the troops these days patrolling the darkened streets of Baghdad.

Note the following exchange between Totten and a soldier concerning the rules of engagement under which our military must currently operate:

“They have a little bunker up [on the mosque roof],” he continued. “You can’t see it from here, but it has sand bags and sniper netting around it.”

“What are you going to do?” I said.

“Nothing,” he said. “It’s a mosque.”

“They’re violating curfew,” I said, “and stalking us in the dark from a militarized mosque. And you aren’t going to do anything?”

“Our rules of engagement say we can’t interfere in any way with a mosque unless they are shooting at us,” he said.

You could say that this is what PC considerations run amok have led to: killers know they can set up shop with impunity as long as they do so in a mosque. On the other hand, they also know that as soon as they start shooting from there, they are fair game.

It’s a situation in which our forces can only react after the fact, not before, although we all know the truth of the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In this case, however, respecting mosques and their sanctity has the (supposed) added benefit of not inflaming the locals over what might be seen as random, poorly motivated attacks on Muslim places of worship.

It seems to me that when troops go into a mosque that’s been equipped with sandbags and sniper positions it ought to be understood as a necessary defensive action taking place in a mosque that’s already been “militarized,” in Totten’s phrase, by the insurgents/terrorists. The locals are not dummies; they’d get why this is being done, and that they themselves are ultimately also the targets of those taking refuge in that mosque.

But I’m not in Iraq (and unlike Totten, I’m not planning a trip any time soon). I truly don’t know which approach is best. I wish I knew whether these rules of engagement are in place because the military experts on the subject of fighting insurgencies have decided they are best in the long run, or whether it’s just a result of lawyers being ultra-careful and tying the hands of the military unduly.

I do know that the situation is a good example of the complexities of fighting this sort of war, which has to occur on so many levels—military, cultural, and psychological. That, unfortunately, includes the necessity to traverse the metaphorical minefield of Muslim religious sensitivities as well as the actual minefields of insurgent and terrorist explosives.

[ADDENDUM: Think about contributing to the tip jar if you so desire. And Michael, please stay safe.]

[ADDENDUM II: Oh, and I almost forget: here's the inspiration for the title of this post.]

8 Responses to “Up on the roof: mosques and the rules of engagement”

  1. Thomas Says:

    The only thing… not every militia is hostile… and the position may be defensive… to protect the mosque from hostile militias… thieves… kidnappers.. and other assorted trouble makers…

    Anyway, I’m just saying… not shooting anyone who is armed… in Iraq… is not always a bad idea…

    Now, if they couldn’t shoot back… if shot at…. That would trip into crazy PC land IMO…

  2. gcotharn Says:

    Recently read Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell’s excellent memoir of an Afghanistan mission: “Lone Survivor.” It’s available everywhere. I recommend it.

    On the mission, Luttrell and three comrads are hiding deep in no man’s land, perched on a mountaintop which has virtually zero cover. They are scoping a village, looking for a sniper shot on the leader of an aggressive raiding militia which has an estimated 150 members. Three goatherders stumble directly onto their position, trailing a herd of goats with little bells tinkling from their necks.

    The goatherders are two adults and one 14 year old boy. The goatherders clearly despise the Americans. The Americans have no easy egress. They must traverse extreme mountain terrain, which will be very slow going, and they have only one way out of their position. They know the mountians around them are filled with local eyes and local militia fighters.

    The point of this story: the four Seals – all veterans of myriad action over the previous 5 years – all especially chosen for this particularly hazardous mission – all at least 30 years of age, cannot decide whether the Rules of Engagement allow them to kill the Afghan goatherders or not.

    Their original mission is sunk either way. The Seals are now only concerned with getting out, and with making a proper military decision about the Goatherders. If the Seals leave the goatherders alive, the Seals will be pursued off the top of their mountain, and through their one difficult egress, by maybe as many as 150 local militia. The Seals are split. They conduct a detailed discussion/argument about the ROE right on the side of the mountain, with the Goatherders sitting sullenly beside them. Perched on the side of a mountain in the Hindu Kush, the Seals discuss how killing the Goatherders would play in the Arab press and in the American press; and whether they – the Seals – might be brought up on murder charges by the military. Absolutely split about what to do, the Seals let the goatherders go. Luttrell makes the final decision.

    The goatherders go straight to the militia. The Seals are ambushed an hour later, as they struggle over the difficult mountain terrain, by over 200 coordinated militia weilding unlimited AK-47s and unlimited RPGs. The battle rages.

    The Seals kill maybe 100 militia. During the fighting, because they were being surrounded, the Seals are three times forced to deliberately leap/slide down the mountain and into the unknown. All four Seals miraculously survive all three leap/falls down the mountain. They are trying to make their way to a village far below, from which they believe they can defend themselves against all comers. They don’t make it. Three Seals eventually are killed. A rescue helicopter is shot down by RPG, killing 16 U.S. Special Forces inside. The incident becomes the worst loss of life in the history of U.S. Special Forces.

    Luttrell survives for a week – until his U.S. rescue – via the most miraculous, superhuman effort I’ve ever read or heard about, aided by courageous and principled help from a friendly nearby village.

    Luttrell remains wracked by guilt over making the wrong call re ROE and the goatherders, and thus playing a part in the U.S. deaths to follow. He said that in the very moments after his decision, as he watched the goatherders scurry away from their position, he knew he had made the wrong decision in letting them go. He sensed bad things.

  3. gcotharn Says:

    ps: during his week of survival, the 6’4″ Luttrell lost over 30 pounds.

  4. Lee Says:

    Yep. The only religion I know of where a “house of worship” can be armed to the teeth, used as a military base of operations and a fortress, but the only “desecration” is when an infidel shoots back defending himself.
    I, for one, am tired of the double standard.
    Indocrination is a hard thing to overcome, but it can be done. Unfortunately, it’s usually a hard lesson. Among my people in the 1880′s was a Paiute medicine man named Wovoka. He claimed to be “the Christ” and started the Ghost Dance cult. If done properly, God Himself would raise the Indians into the air while the earth was covered in new soil, burying the white man and purifying the earth, and their ancestors would be raised from the dead, and Indians would live in harmony with God afterward. It took Sitting Bull’s death and Wounded Knee to prove that Wovoka was a false prophet and that God wasn’t on “their side”.
    David Koresh claimed to follow the “true religion”, too. Well, God didn’t step in and save him, did he?
    It will have to be the same with Islam. But, we tell ourselves to be “tolerant” of other people’s beliefs. Tolerance of evil is not a virtue. Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel and John of Patmos told us what will happen if Islam is allowed to continue to steal souls and “wage war on mankind”.
    Unlike the impotent and penniless Allah, Yahweh does not need me or my money to establish “His will” on earth. Hopefully, Fred Phelps is reading this, too. It applies as much to him and his ilk as it does to muslims.

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    I wish I knew whether these rules of engagement are in place because the military experts on the subject of fighting insurgencies have decided they are best in the long run, or whether it’s just a result of lawyers being ultra-careful and tying the hands of the military unduly.

    Recently the ROE has tended to change depending upon what the military is actually doing. If the military can’t break the grasp of the locals from the power of the insurgents or terrorists or JAMA, then they’ll call in the heavy firepower to annihilate anything the enemy runs for. But until then, we have a sort of siting krieg where both sides avoid the other, and recently that has been true of Sadr’s forces and the US.

    If it was left to the military, I think they would have jacked anybody that had ever attacked the US or civilians. But the authority is supposedly in Washington DC and Iraq’s government. This naturally prevents the military from doing certain things and operations. This is called discipline and order when a good leader is in charge; and if a bad leader is in charge then we call it not taking the initiative.

    Btw, the goatherders and what not would have made great hostages and human shields. This is a sort of case study on how cultural limitations determine military actions.

    There are often times several options aside from kill or be killed, but they violate Western tradition because Western traditoin was based upon one army fighting another army.

    This either forces Western Tradition to reform to the traditions used by our enemy, or bad things tend to happen. The new COIN is already adapting to the reality on the ground. The decision made by the SEALs is quite understandable, but even there, the Western tradition of “good guys don’t take hostages” still plays the part.

    And if this war continues, Neo, without any decisive defeat or victory, the US will continue to become more and more like the enemy; to survive if nothing else.

    6 years is a small time in the changing cultures of people.

  6. camojack Says:

    oldielyrics.com[ADDENDUM II: Oh, and I almost forget: here’s the inspiration for the title of this post.]

    I figured as much. :-)

  7. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    The Up on the Roof was an excellent title for this post – glad you’re reading Michael (again?) and noting this important aspect of ROE.

    I think the US is doing poorly about publicizing WHY they aren’t attacking the mosque, yet — as well as what the locals need to do to keep it peaceful. If any guns fire at the US soldiers, I hope the Americans destroy the enitire Mosque, (but doubt that they will). I think “total war if attacked” against a building would be the kind of response that would make Muslims unhappy in polls, but ALSO less likely to tolerate obvious militarization of (sanctuary) mosques.

    There also needs to be an Iraqi Military / Police Force willing and able to go into the mosque and get rid of anti-freedom terrorists, if any are there.

    Many early Christian churches were also essentially “forts” — this was very true in Slovakia in the times of Turkish expansion where Bratislava was on the front line of the Christian – Muslim war.

  8. Grimmy Says:

    “I think the US is doing poorly about publicizing WHY they aren’t attacking the mosque, yet…”

    And how, exactly, would the US publicize such a thing? The msm is the organization tasked with such issues during a time of war, yet the msm is largely gone over to overt and blatant support of the enemy.

    I wonder sometimes what folk have in their minds when making such statement. The US government has no device to transmit mass media messages. It does not exist outside our news media and the news media is supporting the goals of our enemy.

    It is right and proper that blame be assessed in such situations, but lets put the noose where it belongs.

    There is a legal and traditional remedy for treason and traitors.

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