Recon By Fire

Herschel Smith of The Captain’s Journal has made several posts about the Rules of Engagement in Iraq. Some of his more notable posts were The NCOs Speak on Rules of Engagement, Rules of Engagement and Pre-Theoretical Commitments. Herschel and I have disagreed a bit over the ROE – he believes that the ROE are insufficient for the prosecution of this war. I believe that the Rules, as they are written, are sufficient yet are being incorrectly applied by some local commanders. Obviously, neither of us have been able to trot out much in the way of specifics due to operational security concerns, and pretty much agreed to disagree.

Yesterday, Herschel posted an interesting video clip from a journalist embedded with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion 2d Marines (BLT 1/2). While on patrol, the Marines were engaged by approximately 8-10 insurgents and responded aggressively with fire and maneuver. They initially killed 3, and suspected that more were hiding in a reed-lined canal. This is all very familiar to me, as it very closely resembles what was occurring near Habbaniyah last year. The patrol leader decided to “recon by fire” the suspect canal. The embedded reporter was surprised by this tactic, and apparently conducted a cursory investigation into similar incidents that may have killed innocent Iraqis. Of course, the reporter’s lack of tactical knowledge is blatantly apparent in this clip, as neither incident constituted a reconnaissance by fire. The first incident appears to have been a 6-year old boy who was mistaken for an insurgent, the second was a round that ricocheted during an “escalation of force” (EOF) incident.

From what I see in this video, the patrol leader made the correct tactical decision to recon the canal by fire. The reporter again shows his tactical ignorance by saying:

The logic behind recon by fire? It’s better to fire a bullet blindly than send a Marine into harm’s way.

Reconnaissance by fire does not mean firing blindly with the hopes of hitting something. It is a technique of firing into areas believed to contain enemy in order to provoke them into returning fire or fleeing, at which time they can be engaged using more precise methods. The Rhodesian Selous Scouts used a more refined version of this, known as the Drake Shoot or Cover Shoot, in their frequent close quarters engagements during the Rhodesian bush war. My only point of concern with the Marines’ recon by fire shown in the video is that they did not do so from a position of cover. In my opinion, it would have been wiser to take cover and recon by fire with their 40mm grenade launchers. However, I was not on the ground with them, and they may have had reasons to use rifle fire instead of grenades. I believe they showed proper consideration for the collateral effects of their recon by fire by remaining close to the canal and firing at a downward angle. As it turns out, their tactic worked and another muj was dispatched. Bravo zulus all around, if you ask me.


  1. John says:

    wonder if media ignorance like this affected Haditha reporting at all…

  2. I had to replay the ending to make sure I heard it correctly. I did.

    I'm a civilian and even I could see this reporter is trying scandalize something so he can make a name for himself.

    But, unfortunately, this the type of reporting we have come to expect from the MSM…that's why I've turned off my television and started surfing the net looking for sites just like this one so I can get the truth.

    Thanks for keeping us informed.

    P.S. A search warrant in Iraq? C'mon, the next thing he'll be saying is that the terrorists weren't mirandized(sp?) before being taken into custody.

  3. mustang says:

    Next time they should send a stupid ass reporter into a reed line on a canal to see if there are any bad guys around.

    I too have quit watching the seditionist news networks.

    let me get this straight, a 5.56 round richochets into a car and hits 4 people and kills two? hmmmm.

  4. Hi Slab. Nice writeup. Thanks for dropping by my place today. Don't be a stranger. I'm glad these boys didn't get hurt. Pray for all our boys in harm's way, including my son who fights in Fallujah at the moment.

    S/F, Herschel

  5. John says:

    best wishes to your boy, Herschel. Here's hoping that he comes home safe.

  6. Slab says:

    mustang, odds are it was at least 7.62X51mm, probably even .50 caliber that went through that car. Few Marine vehicles run 5.56X45mm weapons as up-guns. Unless the Marine employed his M4 for the EOF, which is doubtful, given the reported effects.

    Herschel, anything I can do. I'll try to swing by more often, but times, they are a-busy. I can't say how happy I am with my new-found skills and confidence in treating battlefield injuries. Sometimes I wonder if a Marine with the type of training that I just received could have saved my friend Chris. More than likely not, his wound was likely too severe, but it does make me wonder. Look forward to seeing more of your commentary.

  7. Thanks John. Slab, just before Daniel deployed, they put him through a combat medical rescue course where he learned to clamp a femural artery, do a tracheotomy, etc., and he is better for it. He is one of a couple in his platoon trained to stand in place of a Navy Corpsman if they aren't near. I am glad that you have had this training (write me and tell me about it). If I had my way, every one of our Marines would have it. Alas. But for the money and time. Sigh.

  8. Kirk says:

    There was a great scene in "Band of Brothers" where this soldier was talking to this captured German. The captured German had actually grown up in Oregon. The American soldier had as well, and so they talked a bit about the common places in Oregon they had known.

    After the American soldier walked away he heard gunshots. The Captured German soldier had been executed along with a handful of other captured German soldiers.

    The Greatest Generation now they knew how to fight a war. We could learn a lot from them.

  9. Slab says:

    So let me get this straight. You are advocating the execution of unarmed prisoners? Aside from the illegality and immorality of that, what, exactly, does it have to do with the topic of this post?

  10. referman says:

    Just dropped in from BF.Referman that's refrigeration and A/C mechanic just to set things straight..Best wishes to your son and his brothers from here also Mr. smith..My nephew did two tours if fallujah during op phantom fury he's home now..As they were saddling up to go in their commander assigned an embed to ride along,she demanded they remove the lady pictures from the track,him being in charge told her to live with it or go home.They weren't sure if the embed even got a ride to fallujah,it wasn't with any AAV in their platoon.Their are only a hand full of reporters worth reading,Bill Roggio or Michael Yon are my favorites.Someone should explain to the socalled reporter the marines never run from a fire fight.Recon by fire great reading..Semper Fi

  11. Kirk says:

    You were talking about ROEs.

    Back when we won wars they had little to no concern about ROEs. We remember these people as the Greatest Generation. Well if they are so great and they won the last war that we really won, shouldn't we start emulating them?

    Our ROEs are getting our soldiers KILLED. But Bus doesn't care. He just cares about Libby! And I looked up what happened to the Pendleton Eight, and they are all in jail right now. They have been convicted but there is no outrage by the conservatives out there. We failed to protect their backs, and as a result they "took a bullet" and became a political casualty of war. I feel disgraced that we would treat people who gave so much to our country in this way.

  12. Bxp says:

    Reporter Brian Palmer here. My response to all the commentary about the clip from my PBS piece was posted is as follows:

    First off, my life was in the collective hands of 1/2 Bravo Co. on that day and many other days. I wanted all of them to come home safely.

    Regarding my use of the term "recon by fire", I was quoting Marines. The action was pronounced "recon by fire" by men on the scene. All Marines, including the battalion XO, subsequently referred to it as such. Argue with them about the terminology.

    The better to send a bullet "blindly" remark is my own, but it is a paraphrase of a direct quote from a Bravo Co. platoon sergeant. Here it is, verbatim:

    "Basically there was a great tactic you can use — recon by fire. And it was better to send a bullet instead of a Marine goin', especially when you know there's enemy out there."

    Their rounds could have gone anywhere “down range,” hence my use of the term "blindly".I don’t know where those bullets went that day, nor do the Marines who fired them. That’s a problem if you’re on the business end of those 5.56 rounds.

    It's also fair to say that certain TTPs too often result in civilian death in Iraq.

    Here’s a direct quote from a Mojave Viper coyote from 6/2006:

    “Over the last 12 months or so we killed about 1000 Iraqis at blocking positions and checkpoints. About 60 – six-zero – we could demonstrate that, yeah, he was a bad guy, he was an insurgent. Six-zero out of about 1000. So all we’re doing – if we don’t communicate what we want them to do, all we’re doing is creating more enemies.”

    Those are a USMC Captain’s words, not mine.

    The USMC later disavowed his statement and that of a corporal who cited the same figures. But while HQMC may quibble with the Capt. and Cpl.’s figures, such events are all too frequent. They are also deeply corrosive to the US “hearts and minds” mission. To deny this is, to me, propaganda.

    "Stupid ass reporter" I can live with. But "cursory" and "propaganda" don't apply. I was right there with Bravo, on my 3rd trip to Iraq with them. You can take a lot away from me, but not that.


  13. jordan says:

    BP, thanks for the information in this report.

    My only objection is with those incidents you selected to cover, reported on in a way that implies alot of innocent people are being bullied about by Marines who are "the law" and therefore can act with impunity.

    None of your statements standing alone can be viewed as unreasonable, but strung together in this way it seeks to portray the Marines as dumb, gun-toting grunts, and the local communities as peaceful innocents.

    That tone permeates alot of MSM coverage, and at this point in the war, soldiers can't and shouldn't refrain from pointing out innaccuracies, clear mistakes, and unfair coverage where they see it.

    The innocents who get caught up in this war pay the cost for some communities' cooperation with the enemy, making it necessary for all to be "worst cased" or at least treated warily. That's the sane way to go about the job our Marines do — the only way.

  14. mustang says:

    It appears that the civilian side of the house expects our soldiers and marines to act like cops doing a drug bust in Kansas City. I think that doing these entries into buildings that are firing at our troops has resulted in many unneeded casualties on our guys, It use to be if you were taking fire from a building in a war zone, you leveled the building! ie bring up a tank or call in air.

    Yes there are ROE's and anyone killing civilians in cold blood do need to be punished,but when they are caught in a cross fire or being used as shields,oh well, war is hell.

  15. mustang says:

    And let me also add that the news media very seldom if ever reports on the attrocities that AlQuaida and the other vermin are committing on a daily basis to civilians.

  16. Slab says:

    Brian, I think there are some misunderstandings between us. I don't think of you as a "stupid-ass reporter". I can understand that it looks like I am taking shots at your "tactical ignorance", but in all reality you're not a grunt, so why would you be knowledgeable about such things? However, what I am trying to do, as a subject matter expert (SME), is add some perspective to your report. That's how I believe military bloggers such as myself can best contribute to informing the American public.

    As I pointed out, the two incidents you cited at the end of your report had no relation whatsoever to the tactics employed on that patrol. To talk about where those 5.56 rounds went – well, from what I can see in the video, the Marines appeared to be firing into the canal itself, which would mitigate the surface danger zone for those rounds.

    Feel free to e-mail me ragarding this discussion if you like – I am going to be very busy for the next 3 weeks with predeployment training, but I would definitely be open to discussing this further if you would like.

  17. Brian,

    As a civilian, I understand (and you need to understand) that military terminology is like a foreign language…it's easy to mis-use the terms, contextually speaking.

    Unless you speak it fluently, you run the risk of using it wrong and (1) offending people, and/or (2) making yourself look like a fool.

    You are correct that, "(you) don't know where those bullets went that day." However, you went on to make an erroneous assumption and said, ”nor do the Marines who fired them.” You were wrong, wrong, wrong. They had a site/scope, you didn’t. They are trained in that tactic, you are not.

    Sometimes “it’s better to say nothing and look like a fool, rather than to speak and remove all doubt.”

  18. Mike says:

    I wish I would have read this article and the forum last year when it was relevant, but this proves my theory about the MSM not being allowed to operate any where near combat soldiers/marines. The military needs to go back to having soldiers with a MOS of reporter write the stories and articles and then have those articles cleared by a commanding officer before we see or read them here in the States. That's the way it was done up until WWII and we haven't won a decisive victory since except for the Gulf War. And the only reason we didn't march on to totally defeat Husein then was because of the MSM crying about the "highway of death". Civilian reporters have no business being embedded with our warriors. If they want to go over there on their own – so be it – but I don't want to hear any sob stories from ABC, CBS or NBC about how their reporters aren't being protected by soldiers trained to fight a war and not babysit some reporter with a chip on his shoulder trying to bring down my brothers and sisters in uniform with his total lack of military tactics. If you aren't willing to pick up a rifle and fight for the life of the Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman next to you – STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM THEM and listen to reports on AFN.