Current Status: Rules of engagement (ROE) are established to guide the actions of our soldiers and airmen in combat to avoid escalating or widening the conflict, observe international law and hopefully help bring about the efficient completion of the conflict. Too often ROE are overly restrictive and developed at a level too far divorced from operational reality. These ROE hamstring our forces and push them into tactically unsound behaviors, often for nebulous reasons that have little to do with accomplishment of the mission. American soldiers are being injured and killed and mission objectives become difficult or impossible because of a broken and often politically driven process for developing appropriate ROE.
Correction toward the Ideal: The military and civilian command needs to establish appropriate policies concerning the development of rules of engagement (ROE). A key policy element would be that ROE should be developed at the lowest operational level that is possible—where there is direct knowledge of the in theater situation. Within general guidelines, these commanders should have formal latitude to emphasize operational effectiveness in ROE development—and reject any illegitimate or marginal objectives that put our soldiers and airmen in unnecessary danger.
Further, these operational commanders should not be at risk of second-guessing by the chain of command or other repercussions as long as the structural guidelines were followed for ROE development. Ultimately the ROE must allow the enemy no sanctuary or tactical advantage and not be reactive to enemy propaganda. If legitimate ROE that hamper our military operations are necessary, our national leadership should reconsider whether a military operation is even appropriate in a given theater.
Supporting Information: See the Learn More section to the right for more information on this topic—especially our white paper on Rules of Engagement.