Rules of engagement again questioned on Capitol Hill

Cpl. James Kirkpatrick, of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, makes a long leap across a canal east of Marjah, Afghanistan while on patrol May 24. Kirkpatrick's squad was later attacked during that same patrol in a coordinated attack. (Thomas Brown/Staff)

Cpl. James Kirkpatrick, of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, makes a long leap across a canal east of Marjah, Afghanistan while on patrol May 24. Kirkpatrick's squad was later attacked during that same patrol in a coordinated attack. (Thomas Brown/Staff)

Rep. Walter Jones is back at it.

The Republican congressman with Camp Lejeune, N.C., in his backyard has again picked up the drumbeat calling for a congressional review of the rules of engagement used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

In a letter released Friday, Jones again asked House Armed Services Committee Ike Skelton, D.-Mo., and ranking member Howard “Buck” McKeon, R.-Calif., to hold a “classified hearing” in which military leadership explains the rules under which rank-and-file troops conduct operations outside the wire. The letter is also signed by Reps. Jeff Miller, R.-Fla., and Doug Lamborn, R.-Colo.

“As you are fully aware, recent media reports have increasingly raised the issue of the current Rules of Engagement (ROE) and Tactical Directives in Afghanistan,” the letter said. “We feel it is imperative that the Full Committee hold a classified hearing on this issue as soon as possible in order for Members to better understand whether the current Rules of Engagement and Tactical Directives are the best policy for our servicemembers fighting bravely in Afghanistan.”

It isn’t the first time Jones has called for a review of ROE, the classified guidelines under which Marines, soldiers and other U.S. service members fight. As Marine Corps Times has covered ad nauseum, they’ve been criticized repeatedly in recent months, including in an October cover story in our magazine.

In previous interviews, House Armed Services Committee staffers have said an open hearing on ROE would not be possible due to the classified nature of the discussion. A classified briefing before the whole committee is unlikely unless more members call for it, a committee staff member speaking on background told me in October.

An interesting footnote to the whole discussion: Jones, Miller and Lamborn use comments in the recent blockbuster Rolling Stone article that led to the demise of Gen. Stanley McChrystal to bolster their argument. They point out that a Special Forces operator who spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan told Rolling Stone that “every real soldier will tell you the same thing” about the ROE — that it puts lives in danger.

Coming off my recent embed with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, in Marjah, it came as no surprise to me that Rolling Stone was able to find troops frustrated by the ROE defined by McChrystal. For example, Marines I went on patrol with in Afghanistan expressed dread over dealing with spotters, who observe Marines on patrol and drop back as they advance, only to disappear completely when nearby insurgents working in  coordination with the spotters open fire.

Since the spotters carry no weapons, Marines say they are not allowed to fire on them, even though their involvement in a pending attack is obvious. As one corpsman said before we came under fire in May, it always starts with “one guy pointing.”

In a telephone interview, Jones told me this afternoon that he continues to hear ROE concerns from “moms and dads” in his district regularly, and believes the whole armed services committee needs to hear about the restrictions U.S. troops face.

“To me, it just sounds like a chaotic situation,” he said. “If we’re going to send them over there and keep them there, for God’s sakes, they need to be able to defend themselves.”


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. I’m just a civilian but I think the ROE is nonsense it seems like until one of your soldiers are killed then you shoot back

  2. ROE are prohibitive to the detriment of our troops lives; the troops who have put their lives on the line for what is suppose to be a worthy cause.

  3. In war ROE will get you killed or brought upon charges.
    Our ROE should be the same as the person we are fighting,
    it is the only way to win. If we are not there to win, then we should get the hell out of there. God Bless our Troops.

  4. These U.N. rules as complicit by our neutered military leadership including the current and past President, are KILLING and imprisoning our troops!!
    We believe they are outrageously stupid, giving the upper hand to the enemy!
    Who the heck created these? Desk jockey bureaucrats who have never seen combat!
    The Leavenworth 10 are WRONGLY incarcerated because they chose to PROTECT AMERICAN LIVES than protecting the enemy!
    Join us!!/pages/ROE-Rules-of-Engagement-US-Military/133982856628453?ref=ts

  5. I think it is disgusting how the government does not support our troops. With the ROE they have, our president and the whole bunch in congress might as well be holding a gun at the heads of our troops themselves. Those of us who have children in Iraq and Afghanistan take this very personal. Send your children to war, and then tie their hands behind their backs.

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