Commentary: Military lawyers' deadly rules of non-engagement

Last week the Taliban stole two large gasoline tanker trucks. On the way back to their hideout they got stuck in a riverbed. Noticing this from aerial surveillance, an American air strike was called in. And as U.S. warplanes are wont to do, they wiped out the tankers and every living thing in the vicinity.

And we're the bad guys?

Apparently. You see, the Taliban enlisted neighboring civilians to help pry loose their newly acquired weapons of semi-mass destruction. And those unfortunates went up in flames along with the trucks and the Taliban.

This is why they say war is hell. Civilian casualties are regrettable but often unavoidable. And as long as the Taliban continues to hide behind civilians, civilians are gonna get killed. The Taliban, not the Americans, are the bad guys in this incident. Period.

Yet the politically correct legal beagles at the Pentagon continue to force new "rules of engagement" on our military men and women, which are costing Americans their lives. Indeed, just days after the tanker truck incident, four U.S. Marines were killed in an ambush because of these asinine ROEs.

"We walked into a trap," wrote Jonathan Landay, a reporter embedded with the troops who were ambushed, "a killing zone of relentless gunfire and rocket barrages from Afghan insurgents hidden in the mountainsides and in a fortresslike village where women and children were replenishing their ammunition."

Women and children were replenishing their ammunition? Hello?

But that's not the most outrageous part.

The Marines "waited more than an hour for U.S. helicopters to arrive despite assurances that air cover would be five minutes away."

How and why did we launch a ground mission without making damn sure air cover was immediately ready, willing and able to come to the rescue if necessary?

But even that wasn't the most outrageous thing.

While waiting for the helicopters to arrive, "U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines despite being told repeatedly that they weren't near the village."

To be fair, this kind of pussy-footing around in a war zone isn't something new under the Obama administration. These exact same kinds of restrictive rules of engagement were forced on our troops in Iraq under President Bush as well.

This over-lawyering of war has to stop. American Marines and soldiers are dying needlessly because of it. If we're not going to let our military do the job our nation has trained them and sent them to do, then they shouldn't be sent in the first place. Either take the handcuffs off and let them fight, or bring them home alive instead of in a box.

Enough is enough.

• Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a limited-government public policy organization.

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