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Military issues rules for tank battalions operating checkpoints

FORT RILEY, Kan.—Tank battalion officers bound for Iraq are reassessing procedures for one of the most difficult and dangerous missions: operating a checkpoint.

"What we don't want happening is what happened to those four soldiers," Lt. Col. Frank Sherman, commander of 1st Battalion, 13th Armor, of 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said earlier this week. The battalion is deploying to Kuwait on its way to Iraq.

Sherman was referring to the four Army soldiers who died last Saturday when a suicide bomber exploded a car bomb at a checkpoint near Najaf, Iraq, but there have been numerous other deaths and injuries at checkpoints this week, including Iraqi civilians.

Running a checkpoint is one of the tasks the Kansas-based tank battalion will do, Sherman said. Tanks are used for checkpoints because they provide intimidating firepower and can block vehicles.

Sherman and his assistants reminded the officers that operating a checkpoint is no simple affair, then ran down the list of procedures:

_ Pick a spot that the enemy—sometimes disguised in civilian clothes and vehicles—can't easily see in advance and bypass.

_ Set up obstacles to slow down vehicles and channel them.

_ Use Arabic-speaking interpreters and warning signs in simple, understandable Arabic.

_ Have female soldiers available to search women.

_ Have medics to treat and evacuate wounded people, who are bound to pass through.

_ Have a mullah to calm and comfort people.

The officers then went over procedures for when a vehicle doesn't stop:

_ First, shout a warning and point your weapon. Sherman reminded the officers of the Arabic word for "halt!," which he said sounds like a cross between "cough" and "cuff."

_ Then fire a warning shot.

_ Then shoot to disable the vehicle.

_ Lastly, the outline on an overhead screen spelled out, "Shoot to kill/destroy."

If a civilian dies, Sherman said, the platoon leader will be investigated as part of standard procedure. But, he cautioned the officers, "Don't let that make you hesitate to pull the trigger" if threatened. Soldiers must have a right to defend themselves, he said.

Those are only the latest basic "rules of engagement." Once the unit reaches the Iraqi theater, Sherman said, it will receive specific rules, which should never be disclosed publicly, so the enemy won't find a way to use them against U.S. soldiers, he said.


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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ+CHECKPOINT