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.