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Some US troops in Afghanistan may patrol with no rounds chambered in weapons

Update, May 21, 2010: Herschel Smith, writing at Captain's Quarters, describes an official communication about this policy. Smith received the communication after writing commentary about the policy described in our article.

Update, May 24, 2010: The US Report stands by this story. Some blogs appear to view the situation regarding patrols as harmless. We do not. Some of those same critical blogs even note decisions about weapons protocol are made at the "lowest tactical level." Apparently that is where the claim in our story began--at the lowest tactical level. When blogs and media cite our work, we would appreciate accuracy on the claims and charges. Furthermore the blog offering a crit of our story cites the wrong source for the official communication we mention above. That official communication went to The Captain's Journal, not to Black Five.

Original story:

Scenic photo of one of Afghanistan's beautiful places, the Bamyan lakes region of Bamyan Province, Afghanistan. [Photo CIA World Fact Book.]By Chris Carter

Commanders have reportedly ordered a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan to patrol in a manner that could handicap them.

Some soldiers are being ordered to conduct patrols without a round chambered in their weapons, The US Report has learned from an anonymous source at a forward operating base in Afghanistan.  Our source was unsure if the order came from his unit or if it affected other units.

On war correspondent Michael Yon's Facebook page, commenters stated that this is a common practice in Iraq, while others said that it is occurring in Afghanistan as well. According to military protocol, “Amber” status requires weapons to have a loaded magazine, but the safety on and no round chambered.

"The idea that any combat unit would conduct any operation, including patrolling and even manning a security post -- in which direct action may-or-may not take place -- and not having weapons loaded, borders on being criminally negligent in my opinion," says Lt. Col. W. Thomas Smith Jr., a recognized expert on terrorism and military/national defense issues. "This is nothing more than infusing politically correct restrictions into already overly restrictive rules of engagement. And this PC nonsense is going to get people killed."

According to Smith, "American soldiers are highly skilled in the use of 'loaded' weapons, and so should be trusted to operate with 'loaded' weapons. If someone overseeing decisions on ROE thinks not, then ratchet up training. But don't put a man on the street and force him to go through multiple prompts when a gunfight breaks out. Remember, the situation can go from quiet to kinetic in half the time it takes to breathe."

In an ambush situation, just how long does it take to engage a target when your weapon isn't already loaded?

“Too long,” states Sandy Daniel, military veteran and Deputy Director of the Victory Institute. “The first couple of seconds in an ambush are critical, and when that block of time is used to load a weapon instead of firing, you are losing the time you need to stay alive. Patrolling without a chambered round is suicide.”

Smith adds, "Let's not forget the catastrophic result of not having weapons loaded on Oct. 23, 1983, when a U.S. Marine sentry barely managed to load his weapon and get off one or two hasty, ineffective shots at the speeding bomb-laden truck that crashed into the Battalion Landing Team headquarters in Beirut. The truck breached the building, the explosives were detonated, and 241 Americans perished in the largest—at that time—non-nuclear blast in history."

The ROE for our forces in Afghanistan, commonly referred to in military circles as the “Karzai 12,” appear similar to the rules for the Marine Corps “peacekeeping” force operating in Lebanon 1982-1984:

1. When on the post, mobile or foot patrol, keep loaded magazine in weapon, bolt closed, weapon on safe, no round in the chamber.
2. Do not chamber a round unless told to do so by a commissioned officer unless you must act in immediate self-defense where deadly force is authorized.

Marines were ordered to know these rules – which they carried on them at all times – as well as their name, rank, and serial number. As Smith points out, we can see just how ineffective these rules were, and how deadly they were to U.S. forces. Had our leaders allowed Marines to carry loaded weapons, perhaps the 241 Marines, sailors, and soldiers killed in the attack would still be alive today. 

Hopefully our military won't experience another preventable mass casualty incident like the 1983 Beirut Barracks bombing. But with our leaders repeating the failures of the past by not permitting our troops to carry loaded weapons, it seems we have become our own worst enemy.

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Reader Comments (16)

I have been in Afghanistan for nearly a year and I have never heard or seen the practice you describe above. Every time a unit goes outside the wire, either by convoy or dismounted (on foot), the weapons are placed in a loaded & ready condition.

It is correct that while on a base or FOB, weapon status is amber, but as soon as a person reaches the ECP (gate) the weapons are placed in a fully loaded condition.

In a time when attacks on bases are increasing daily (case in point with the recent attack on BAF), let alone contact outside the base, I cannot imagine handicapping personnel by requiring them to have a weapon that is not in a fully ready status.

May 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLance

It's time to prosecute those military commanders who get their soldiers killed with these insane Rule of Engagement.

Obviously they do NOT care about the lives that will be lost, in pursuit of some madness called political correctness...

McChrystal needs to be disciplined, relieved of duty and prosecuted under the Military Code....he is a failure as a Commander and a man in a situation way above his head.
Where is Pretraeus in this situation? Where is the hero of Iraq? Is he befuddled, or, just another military egghead...

Our troops our in Harms Way..and their commanders are idiots...how long must we put up with this?

Where is the Commander in Chief???

oh, I forgot, he's having dinner with the Mexican President and condeming his own country again !!!

May 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdadling

"McChrystal needs to be disciplined, relieved of duty and prosecuted under the Military Code....he is a failure as a Commander and a man in a situation way above his head."

Sir, we are all entitled to our opinions, but I think this statement is too harsh. General McChrystal has done his history and realizes why Afghanistan cannot be unified. The terrian, their infrastructure, their different tribes and villages all affect the unity of the country. Having foriegn soldiers engaging these people can have horrible consequences. I believe that McChrystals strategy falls in line with the presidents foriegn policy with regards to Afghanistan. The way in which he intends to fight this war is much different then how General Petreus fought Iraq, since they are two totally different countries. And with regards to the article, I dont believe for one second that a commander would issue such a policy. I think a reporter heard something or misunderstood something wrong while on a FOB or via email or a phone. The difference between life and death is .5 of a second and chambering and firing a round in that time frame is difficult. No disrespect to the author, but I do not believe this article.

"Our troops our in Harms Way..and their commanders are idiots...how long must we put up with this?"

Lastly, Yes our troops are in harms way, but their commanders are not idiots. General Petraus wrote the book on Counter Insurgency Operations and General McChrystal is qualified as a Special Forces officer and Army Ranger, so I believe that he has some insight into counter insurgency. Also, these generals are staffed by 100's of well educated officers and civilian advisors, so their decisions are made with the best intelligence and insight ever imaginable.

May 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMyers

Has anybody else noticed there is no unit mentioned in connection with this order to patrol without a round in the chamber? No unit. No officer. No indication where or when other than Afghanistan. That seems suspicious to me ... like somebody is trying to stir up controversy. How do we know this report is true? Yon says it came from an email from one soldier. Maybe we can trust Yon, but can we trust his anonymous source? I say everybody should chill out until the facts are known.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter6x6x4

And just how do you suggest the facts become known? Opsec prevents troops from discussing matters like these. The source took a huge risk by making this public. Disclosing his unit would likely lead authorities to fingering the leak, and he could spend a long time in Fort Leavenworth as a result.

What would this source stand to gain from controversy all the way over in Afghanistan? Now consider what he has to lose.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert S.

Take a deep breath. The reason for the "rule" is to reduce the number of accidental deaths. In some units more soldiers are killed by accidental fire than by enemy fire. Any soldier worth his salt can load the weapon and remove the safety in a fraction of a second. Get real guys!

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay

I am the soldier that leaked to Michael about the rule. Its just our company commander having a "not on my watch" attitude about things. for the obvious reasons all i can say is that were not far from pakistan and yes we really roll with no loaded weapons even our crew served machine guns in the turrets are on amber status.i have kids and cant afford the time in jail or getting kicked out over trying to speak up.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlow key

I call BS.

Firstly, there is no way to carry an un-cocked M-16/M-4 with the safety on. Not do-able.

Secondly: "The truck breached the building, the explosives were detonated, and 241 Americans perished in the largest—at that time—non-nuclear blast in history"

Wow... Really? Hasn't the author ever heard of the Halifax Explosion? Google that.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCavs42

"The truck breached the building, the explosives were detonated, and 241 Americans perished in the largest—at that time—non-nuclear blast in history."

Although I agree with the article in general, the largest non-nuclear blast in history was the Halifax explosion. Major oversights like that make me doubt the credibility of the author to do proper research and get the facts right.

Ray said "Take a deep breath. The reason for the "rule" is to reduce the number of accidental deaths. In some units more soldiers are killed by accidental fire than by enemy fire. Any soldier worth his salt can load the weapon and remove the safety in a fraction of a second. Get real guys!"

I disagree. The first few milliseconds in a firefight can be the most important, and when you come under fire, the adrenaline gets pumping and doing something as simple as pulling back on the charging handle becomes much more difficult. This is due to the loss of fine motor skills associated with elevated adrenaline levels.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Interenving re the article my asso. editor wrote: The author sourced comments about the explosion. The author did not express that as his opinion. The author's source may have used hyperbole or he may simply have been confining his remarks to the US, since the afore-mentioned Halifax explosion occurred in Canada.

Carry on. Interesting to see the variety of opinions on this subject. It may also be useful to point out that 'Amber' is openly discussed on social media pages by both military members and concerned members of their families.

best, KBD/Ed/TUSR

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKay B. Day

I can understand a weapon being on safe, but I cannot unserstand an order not to chamber a round. If this PC crap continues, parents will not allow their sons and daughters to enter the service!

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdoc

low key,
I have a son in Afghanistan and if what you say is true, that it is strictly your CO that is giving this order then I think you have a duty and responsibility to not only disobey this order but to report it up the chain. You claim that you cannot due to the fact that you have kids.. I understand your concern for them, but think about their feelings if/when they are told their father was KIA due to some butt-plug CO issuing such an ass wipe order while you are outside the wire. As for the Levenworth comment, not sure they could gig you that hard for disobeying such a BS order if it is not standard ROE for entire army.
We are caring for our GK's while dad is deployed. If he were in your situation I would be proud of him for standing up to such BS and very disappointed if he didn't. Don't much care if it gets him tossed out of the army for standing up to such crap. Again, if true I don't think much fallout would come of it, especially if all of your unit stood their ground in complaining about this BS. I certainly would not like to have to tell his kids that he was KIA due to some dip shit, self preserving piece of shit CO issuing such a F'ed Up order.

Having said all that, if this is just BS some spammer is posting for a reaction, go F yourself you spineless piece of rat dung. All you are doing is bringing undue worry to those of us that have sons and daughters serving their country.

If you are not just some spamming low life piece of pond scum rat bastard, then due your duty! The excuse that you have kids to worry about is twaddle. You are going to have to cinch up the ball sack and do what is the right thing here, not what you THINK will best cover your ass while having the potential to get your ass, and those of your battle buddies killed and yes this applies to each and everyone within your unit. Every one of you should be raising absolute hell about this kind of BS, if true. If you don't, then oh well, guess your just f'ing yourself.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterarmydad

low key,
I almost forgot, you say you can't "afford getting kicked out". Yep the economy is still tough here at home, but I am sure you would find a way of supporting your family should you speak out about this. If not, I am sure that you have not only the insurance covering you that the army / government supplies, but also the additional supplement that you are allowed to purchase in case you are KIA.

Well let me explain something to you son, no amount of money will ever replace my son, or the grand children their father if he losses his life due to this kind of BS order. Yes there is always that potential of being KIA when serving your country and I accept that same as he does, but your CO does not need to stack the odds against you with this type of crap!!!! Getting kicked out is better then the alternative! You will continue on with your life and be there for your kids. But can you live with the idea that you know this is BS if it should cost one of your BB's that also has kids their life and you and your unit didn't stand up and speak out about this? Or are you the type to say "well at least it wasn't me"? Or perhaps it will be you.
What as grandparents/guardians do we tell your kids, daddy knew this was BS but he didn't say a thing, now go spend the money? I think not..... Your being there for your kids is far more valuable then any amount of money that may come from your being KIA for some stupid mentality of "not while on my watch". You might even point out to your CO that talk/action by DOD and Pentagon of late is to hold CO's accountable for the lives of their troops when they make dip shit decisions that get their troops killed for no good reason!!!

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterarmydad

This is what you had for input;

"Take a deep breath. The reason for the "rule" is to reduce the number of accidental deaths. In some units more soldiers are killed by accidental fire than by enemy fire. Any soldier worth his salt can load the weapon and remove the safety in a fraction of a second. Get real guys!"

Are you f'ing kidding me? Let me give you a scenario and you tell me what the outcome will be;

You are outside the wire on patrol, you are on point rounding a mountain bend and come face to face with a Talibani, he levels his Ak and you are f'ing with chambering a round and releasing your safety. Who lives and who dies? O.K. let's say jihad jackson is a shit shot and missed with the first round, who lives and who dies? Jackson still hasn't got it right and misses with the second, third and forth rounds, who lives and who dies? My point is it took Jihad Jackson all of a fraction of a second to let loose with all those rounds because he don't have some dip shit ordering him to not chamber a round or have his AK on safety, so jihad jackson is loaded and on full auto, YOUR DEAD DIP SHIT. As to your claim of reduction in "friendly fire incidents", I have not seen a whole lot of stories about "friendly/accidental fire" deaths so as Uncle J would say STFU.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterarmydad

As a two time veteran of Iraq, this sickens me!! WHY THE HELL ARE WE THERE, IF WE'RE NOT ALLOWED TO DEFEND OURSELVES AT EVERY ADVANTAGE? If I was ordered not to chamber a round as we went outside the wire for a mission, I would refuse! I would tell my command to go take a hike. I'd rather lose rank, put in office hours, or be thrown in the brig for insubordination instead of committing possible suicide. At least then I would be safe. Oh yeah, maybe I would actually get one those medals for Couragous Restraint for refusing to do my job. President Obama would probably present it to me himself, right after he explains to the parents of a fellow marine that their son is dead because he did not have the proper means of defending himself.

May 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLane Lough

Lane, thank you for your service to our country. This article has certainly provoked a lot of debate, and that's one reason we ran it. best, KBD/editor

May 30, 2010 | Registered CommenterKay B. Day, Editor
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