Afghanistan: A flaw in the rules of engagement


Britain’s Ministry of Defence website has an article that perfectly illustrates what is wrong with the rules of engagement in Afghanistan. A British sniper spotted what he believed was a Taliban spotter who was directing fire on the sniper’s fellow soldiers, and instead of killing the spotter, he fired a warning shot:

The soldier, who can only be known as Corporal Danny for security reasons, shot at the feet of an unarmed man who was apparently directing gunfire at Cpl Danny’s unit, an Army spokesman said.

Armed with a .338-calibre rifle, Cpl Danny, from 4th Battalion The Rifles, serving with the 3rd Battalion The Rifles Battle Group, was watching over his patrol in the village of Sadul Kariz, which lies to the north east of Sangin, northern Helmand.

The soldiers stopped to drink tea at a mosque when Cpl Danny saw movement in a compound which had previously been used as an insurgent firing point. Cpl Danny warned his patrol over the radio, but as the soldiers moved away there was a burst of gunfire.

Cpl Danny could not see exactly where the shots were coming from but he saw a man near the compound pointing towards the patrol. Uncertain that the man was indeed part of the attack, Cpl Danny took a split-second decision and fired a single shot into the ground five metres in front of him. At this point, the man ran away and the firing stopped.

Bing West said it best in a videotape he took of recent combat action in Afghanistan: “Leaving your enemy intact is not a smart idea in any war.”

As long as Taliban spotters know that they are immune from attack for spotting our troops, they will continue to do so.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Scott says:


  • C. Jordan says:

    Warning shot! Really?
    He should have taken the shot for his fellow brothers in arms. Could have said he missed.
    Sorry sir, the wind took the bullet.

  • Erik says:

    This has got to be an issue specific to the Brit ROE. Our ROE, specifically relating to the inherent right of self defense, definitely would have allowed for the direct engagement of the spotter when he was observed directing the enemy’s fire at the patrol. (He would have giving up his legal status as a civilian under the internationally-recognized Laws of Armed Conflict, and would now be classified as an enemy combatant.)

  • bacsi says:

    This example is one of those non-issues. Some circumstantial evidence existed for tagging the guy as a spotter but none of it was definitive.
    Kill your enemy if you can, but if you think killing innocents is part of the game then it’s time to go home.
    You need the support, or at least passive acceptance of the local population if you are going to acquire the intel necessary to know your enemy and how to get to him. That is what turned Iraq around in case you missed it. You don’t get that with indiscriminate fire. This is a civil war, this isn’t about masses of opposing armies maneuvering on battlefields and unavoidably trampling over clueless civilians.
    It’s bad enough to kill someone’s combatant brother, dad, uncle, whatever, in a stand-up fight; but you kill their non-combatant brother, dad, uncle, whatever just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you or one of yours will eventually pay for it.
    In vietnam the ROE was a fragmented incomprehensible pile of dog excrement, served up by LBJ and other brainless supporters of the Democrats’ War. Sentries standing guard with no ammo; No-Fire zones because compensation might have to be paid if an artillery strike damaged the trees in the French rubber plantations; B-52 strikes following the same set route over Hanoi time after time after time because they were told to; VN fighter bases put off limits while rocky fords along the Ho Chi Minh trail were targeted; etc.
    There is a reason why A-teams focus on and spend a considerable amount of time on civic action activities among the locals. Save a kid from typhoid and you have made, if at least not a friend, someone who just might give a shake of their head as you head down the wrong road.
    Take care guys, damn the politicians, and God Bless our Troops

  • Joe says:

    Unfortunately this is very much the situation for our troops as well. Under the previous administration it wasn’t a problem — people spotting targets for insurgents were considered combatants — now its simply not the case.


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