Sean Rayment / Daily Telegraph – 2005-05-17 22:59:32
LONDON (May 15, 2005) — British defence chiefs have warned United States military commanders in Iraq to change their rules for opening fire or face becoming bogged down in a terrorist war for a decade or more.
The Telegraph has learnt that the warning was issued last month in response to a series of incidents that led to the deaths of Iraqi civilians, mainly at checkpoints, after soldiers opened fire in the mistaken belief that they were being attacked by suicide bombers.
The warning is said to have taken the form of advice from senior officers who accompanied Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, the chief of the General Staff, on a recent trip to southern Iraq and Baghdad to visit British troops.
A conversation took place between officers on the differences between British and American rules of engagement, during which British commanders expressed their concerns over the use of US tactics.
Britain Learned of Danger of Overreaction
in Northern Ireland
They attempted to explain that in their experience of post-war counter-insurgency operations it paid to adopt a low-key and less aggressive stance.
American officers were told that when the British Army had made mistakes, such as in Londonderry in Northern Ireland in 1972 when troops shot dead 13 civilians during a civil rights march, the political and military consequences had been disastrous.
In the past month alone in Iraq there have been more than 130 car bombings and 67 suicide attacks that have killed more than 400 people. The attacks have led to renewed fears among coalition officials that American and Iraqi forces are losing the fight against the insurgency.
US military operations are typified by “force protection” ± the protection of troops at all costs — that allows American troops to open fire, using whatever means available, if they believe that their lives are under threat.
British Use a ‘Measured Response’
According to senior British officers, US military operations are typified by “force protection” — the protection of troops at all costs — that allows American troops to open fire, using whatever means available, if they believe that their lives are under threat.
By contrast, the British military has a graduated response to a threat and its rules of engagement are based on the principle of minimum force. Troops also have to justify their actions in post-operation reports that are reviewed by the Royal Military Police, and any discrepancy can lead to charges including murder.
A British officer said that some of the tactics employed by American forces would not be approved by British commanders.
The officer said: “US troops have the attitude of shoot first and ask questions later. They simply won’t take any risk.
“It has been explained to US commanders that we made mistakes in Northern Ireland, namely Bloody Sunday, and paid the price.
“I explained that their tactics were alienating the civil population and could lengthen the insurgency by a decade. Unfortunately, when we explained our rules of engagement which are based around the principle of minimum force, the US troops just laughed.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.