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.
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.