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Rules of engagement in portable guide for battlefield

CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait—No ears, Sgt. 1st Class Richard Olofson warned as he drew the line between a soldier and a barbarian.

"Don't be cutting off any ears," he said. "You don't need to take home an ear or a scalp."

As one of the military police officers who delivered the rules of engagement Thursday to 9,000 troops at this Army camp near the Iraqi border, Olofson's admonition about cutting the ears off dead Iraqis began as an exaggerated point.

Then a soldier asked, "How about a pinkie?"

Olofson turned serious and said, "If you didn't cross (the border) with it, don't leave with it. Period."

Scores of MP sergeants passed out cards with the rules printed on them, a portable guide for battlefield behavior that includes when to shoot and when not to shoot. The rules are designed in part to keep U.S. service members from running roughshod over civilians or harming enemy soldiers who have surrendered.

The military bars specific public disclosure of the rules, fearing that enemies might use them to get American soldiers to drop their guard.

But the general thrust of the rules is no secret. The first aim is to make it clear that a battlefield soldier may use deadly force.

"The guys have to know they can defend themselves," said Capt. Michael Banks, a judge advocate general from San Diego attached to the 18th Military Police Brigade of the Army's V Corps.

But the rules also aim to prevent massacres, such as the one in My Lai, Vietnam, in March 1968, in which hundreds of innocent people died and for which an Army lieutenant was later court-martialed.

Indeed, the rules for a prospective war in Iraq permit the use of deadly force to protect the lives of Iraqi civilians, something that wasn't authorized in Afghanistan, military officials said.

Rules of engagement evolved slowly over the past century and sometimes brought confusion. British officers working with Indian troops in the 1920s summed up their feelings about them as "whatever you do, you'll be wrong." Later, British troops on patrol in Northern Ireland became the first to get cards with rules of engagement printed on them.

"It's not something you're going to pull out in the heat of battle," Charles Heyman, editor of the reference book Jane's World Armies, said of the rule cards. "In the battlefield it's pretty clear. You shoot. But in modern warfare, in a city where children and women are running around, it gets very complicated."

Thursday's training was designed to address some of the complexities that soldiers will face.

As Olofson explained the rules, he asked troops what they would do if they were threatened and what they would do if they realized they'd shot the wrong people. The soldiers yelled their responses and he sometimes refined their answers.

Olofson emphasized that they could be going to war and should arrive on the battlefield ready for a fight.

"Rule One," he said, "Protect yourself. Protect your unit."


(Meg Laughlin contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.