- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

In any conflict, the civilized world deplores loss of innocent lives, particularly women and children. To minimize civilian losses, the United States places extraordinary limitations on our military forces by restrictive rules of engagement (ROEs). We are not alone. As we saw in Lebanon, the Israeli Air Force dropped leaflets warning residents to leave a particular town, city, or area, since it was soon to be attacked.

The United States does the same in Iraq. About a week before our Marines hit Fallujah, Coalition forces were leafleting the city, warning civilians about the coming attack. The result? Many insurgent terrorists fled so they could fight and kill another day. Many Iraqi civilians were left to bear the brunt of the U.S. assault.

But even as we Americans “play fair” and announce our military operations in advance, that is not the case either for the insurgent murderers in Iraq or Islamic terrorists around the globe. The Jihadists give no warning. Nor, for that matter, do they worry about the slaughter of innocent civilians riding the trains and buses, or working in the police stations, office buildings, and shopping streets they target with their car bombs and homicide vests.

Here is the problem. One of most elemental rules of warfare is to keep your plans secret. You must to keep your enemy off balance. You must use guile, deception and perception management. And then tactically you must bring overwhelming force to bear on the specific objective area.

Failing to apply these fundamental rules and compounding it by telegraphing one’s plans in advance, produce two key events. First, your own forces are placed not only at a tactical disadvantage but subjected to greater casualties. Second, the enemy is allowed to redistribute his forces and equipment, thereby complicating your ability to achieve your objectives.

But the real tragedy of forewarning our adversaries is that it puts at risk the very civilians we and our allies are trying to spare. In Lebanon, thousands upon thousands of civilians were used by Hezbollah as human shields. It was to be expected: Hezbollah had built schools, hospitals, apartments, and homes, basically supplying all the services the weak and ineffective Lebanese government should have provided. But as Hezbollah built all this infrastructure, it also used these civilian sites to camouflage weapons storage depots, disguise command bunkers, and conceal rocket-launching positions. But no one complained the civilians had no one to turn to. There was no alternative option. And the Lebanese government was either unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

But placing civilians in the basement of a structure from which terrorists fired Katyushas ensured Lebanese innocents would suffer when the Israelis retaliated. Worse, it also ensured Hezbollah a huge propaganda victory in the world press. How cynical but effective.

Clearly, we need to reassess our restrictive rules of engagement. Our revised ROEs should reflect the words of President Bush: If you harbor, provide logistic support, train or arm terrorists, you’re a terrorist too. And by extension, if you permit a terrorist organization to operate within your neighborhood, and accept it without taking counteraction, you must be prepared to suffer the consequences.

For the civilians, counteraction means there must be an incentive program a network which can provide an alternative to the terrorist and armed militia intimidation. This is particularly important in Iraq if we are to eliminate the armed militias, the criminal gangs, the Sunni and Shi’ite death squads, and the Iranian-sponsored terrorists intent on fomenting a civil war in that fragile and unstable nation. We need to demonstrate a new ROE to the Iraqis: Either they are part of the solution or they are part of the problem.

James Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of Naval Operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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