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Posted by Jack Heslin on 22:56:41 10/10/22

What rules govern the military use of deadly force.

Each country determines what the rules of engagement will be for their military in a conflict. There are generally accepted rules of engagement that most civilized countries follow. Most people are aware of The Geneva Conventions which provide laws or rules of conduct, especially from a humanitarian point of view.

Who and what are appropriate targets for military fire power? Are civilian populations appropriate targets? It appears that the rules of engagement differ between the Ukraine / NATO and the Russian forces. What level of destruction is permitted by the rules of engagement? One can see patterns of military action vary greatly between the two sides. There has been a great deal of media coverage asserting crimes against humanity and suggestions for international courts to condemn actions on both sides. However, most of the media accusations have been aimed at the Russian government and military forces and not the Ukraine / NATO forces.

When the civilian population is targeted as a legitimate target for Combat Power, by definition, one could argue the side targeting civilians has entered a condition of total war against their enemy. When that happens, it usually does not take much time before the other side also changes their rules of engagement to include the civilian population of their enemy.

As a combat helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, we had to adhere to rules of engagement which often limited what kind of response we could use when we were fired on. We had to clearly identify the source of fire against us and hold our fire if it was clear that civilians would be put at risk. Trying to get the appropriate clearances to fire through South Vietnamese channels, sometimes down to the Province Chief level, took time and was difficult. Conformity to those rules varied from situation to situation but for the most part, those rules of engagement were adhered to.

There were many documented cases of Communist forces, especially the Viet Cong, targeting the South Vietnamese civilian population, especially any of the leaders at the local level. It was a common occurrence, and they were often brutally killed. The Western Media rarely reported on those events, but that same Media highlighted for days any atrocities attributable to the South Vietnamese or their American allies. It was not until the Tet Offensive attacks of January February of 1968 that the Western Media started to report on the Communists atrocities, especially the large number of civilians killed in Hue. A review of the newspaper publications of the Vietnam War will clearly show the bias of the Western Media during the War.

Many American combat soldiers and commanders complained that the American rules of engagement were far too restrictive and that they sometimes cost American lives because of limiting a decisive response to actions on the battlefield. I remember feeling that frustration. Many of us felt that we were trying to fight with one hand tied behind our back and that the enemy was exploiting our self-imposed restraint. It was not until the B-52 bombing of Hanoi and other North Vietnamese cities in December of 1972 did we feel the gloves were finally taken off and the military was able to conduct the war the way they had wanted to from as early as 1965.

I believe the Russian military is struggling under similar rules of engagement and are equally frustrated as the American military was during the Vietnam War. The history of Russian combat operations, especially in WWII, was unrestrained total war, with few restrictions on their use of Combat Power. More recent combat operations in the Mid-East probably allowed less restrictions than what they have been facing in the Ukraine conflict.

It appears that with the recent events on the battlefield and the change of political status for the new regions joining the Russian Federation, we will see a change in the rules of engagement for the Russian military and a new level of Combat Power will be brought to bear by them in this conflict. I do not believe people in the West are prepared for the level of destruction that will soon happen.

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