Brits Condemn US Tactics

The Telegraph: US tactics condemned by British officers

Senior British commanders have condemned American military tactics in Iraq as heavy-handed and disproportionate.

One senior Army officer told The Telegraph that America’s aggressive methods were causing friction among allied commanders and that there was a growing sense of “unease and frustration” among the British high command.

The officer, who agreed to the interview on the condition of anonymity, said that part of the problem was that American troops viewed Iraqis as untermenschen – the Nazi expression for “sub-humans”.

Speaking from his base in southern Iraq, the officer said: “My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don’t see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it’s awful.

“The US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn’t in Iraq. It’s easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them.”

A very bizarre story on one that would could hardly be less in line with facts on the ground. U.S. restraint in its retalliation against a vicious coalition of insurgents and terrrorists has been remarkable.

My guess is this represents a small minority of British military opinion, if not just that of the one person that confirmed the reporter’s preconceived notions. It is true, however, that the Brits and Canadians have long believed that the American concern for force protection, which has soldiers in peacekeeping mode in full “battle rattle” rather than the Commonwealth-preferred berets or soft caps, is counterproductive. And there may well be something to that; they certainly have more experience with peacekeeping than do Americans. On the other hand, American soldiers are the prime target for these people, given the symbolic value of killing them.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Art Keon says:

    Seems to me that the Brits are commenting not just on how the US is handling the current uprising, but the American attitude all along. If the British Commander is correct in his assesment then what he is saying is that we have played in to the hands of the extremists who want the us to blow it. Well as he sees it, we have.

    It would be refreshing if just once we took what the critics of our Iraqi action said at face value. There is the possibility we could learn something. But for now the mantra of see no evil, hear no evil reigns supreme. BTW the Brits who are in the heart of Shite terrotory have lost all of eight (8) soldiers. WE lose that many in an afternoon while our CIC (Shrub) hosts a barby for his friends at the NRA. He’s right on top of things though, or at least as on top as he ever gets. Listen, look, learn, rather than refute, ignore, and hope everyone else does too, might be to much for the Shrubbies to undertake, given their limited intellectual abilities.


    Art Keon

  2. Eddie Thomas says:


    I was giving thought to your comment until I got to the self-satisfying barbs at Bush. Is it really remarkable that Bush would be working on fundraising for his campaign? Is this unusual, or wrong? And what does any of it have to do with our military approach to Iraq?

  3. Gerry Owen says:

    The Brits have a valid point- however, it must be noted that they are in more friendly areas of the country. However, losing the Battle rattle and getting out among the locals is the best way to increase familiarity and ease the nervous tensions that are associated with any occupation situation. Our soldiers then appear as human rather than “Infidels in Tanks who shouldn’t be here”.

    I think the American military’s concern for force protection stems in part from the American Left’s penchant to scream “Vietnam!” or “Quagmire!” whenever a soldier as much as stubs his toe in a foreign land.

  4. akim says:

    I thought this part of the article was more to the point (especially in light of the overkill in Fallujah):

    [ The officer explained that, under British military rules of war, British troops would never be given clearance to carry out attacks similar to those being conducted by the US military, in which helicopter gunships have been used to fire on targets in urban areas.

    British rules of engagement only allow troops to open fire when attacked, using the minimum force necessary and only at identified targets.

    The American approach was markedly different: “When US troops are attacked with mortars in Baghdad, they use mortar-locating radar to find the firing point and then attack the general area with artillery, even though the area they are attacking may be in the middle of a densely populated residential area.

    “They may well kill the terrorists in the barrage but they will also kill and maim innocent civilians. That has been their response on a number of occasions. It is trite, but American troops do shoot first and ask questions later. They are very concerned about taking casualties and have even trained their guns on British troops, which has led to some confrontations between soldiers. ]

  5. Hal says:

    I find this post humourous, considering the post that proceeds this recommends that we “drop the hammer”.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Akim: ROEs which allow firing only when fired upon are appropriate to peacekeeping. They’re positively idiotic if applied to counter-insurgency/ counter-terrorism.

    Hal: Peters advocates coming down hard on Sadr’s thugs, not indiscriminate killing of civilians. The precision with which American forces can make that distinction, while far from perfect, is amazing by any historical standard.

  7. Art Keon says:

    Hi Eddie:

    Well I thought it was relevant. The fact that GWB spent the bloodiest week since the War in Iraq ended, on his ranch having a good ole time tells me a lot about him.

    How would Clinton or Reagan or Bush Sr. reacted? They’d have cut short their vacation/fundraising to be in the White House acting as the Commander- In-Chief. If they hadn’t done so, they’d have been roundly critisized in the media and by the populace in general. It’s called acting and looking Presidential. GWB’s answer is to pray for fewer causalties. It is a judgement call and I think Bush’s judgement is way off on this one. Is fundraising more important than appearing to be in charge and caring about those whose lives are lost? More than anything it offensive to every family or person who has lost a loved one in Iraq. It is offensive to the wounded and their families, and it is offensive to those serving their nation in Iraq. GWB just makes himself such any easy target. My own guess is that DC is running everything from Asia.

    Hope this answers your question.


  8. Boyd says:

    Art said:

    More than anything it offensive to every family or person who has lost a loved one in Iraq. It is offensive to the wounded and their families, and it is offensive to those serving their nation in Iraq.

    Just curious, Art. You know this because you’re a member of one or more of these groups and are offended? Or because you’ve read or, even better, conducted your own survey among these groups on how offended they are?

    Sorry, but this smells like another one of those pseudo-facts that folks like to use to tar the President.

    I believe an honest representation would be that it offends you that the President is in Crawford rather than DC. If so, that’s fine. But please don’t project your own attitudes onto others. That’s not really what I’d call intellectually honest.

  9. lex says:

    Well, I say!

    Pardon me, old chap, but is this coming from the Britsh? The ones that burned the great bazaar in Kabul? The ones that razed Old Summer Palace in China?

    These chaps want to lecture us on heavy handed retaliation?

    Well, I say!

  10. Fred Boness says:

    Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.

    Don’t believe everyone who agrees with you or your agenda, either.

  11. Boyd says:

    That’s a truism, Fred.

  12. Jim says:

    How would Clinton have reacted to the bloodiest week since the war in Iraq ended? It’s a little hard to say, since I don’t think Clinton would have had troops in Iraq. What he did in other instances in which Americans or American troops were killed was make a speech promising that those reponsible would be punished. That was it. He didn’t do anything to fulfill the promise. George W. Bush doesn’t make the speech, but he takes the action to make sure that those responsible are punished.

  13. Art Keon says:

    Howdy Boyd:

    Wasn’t projecting my feeling on everyone. Just those believe we have a war on our hands. BTW what would have happened if Clinton had pulled a stunt like this, or GWHB or Ronald Reagan? Want to answer that one?

    In case you don’t think GWB is worried, check out this article. He’s not holding a prime-time press conference because his polling is telling him good things do you think?



  14. Boyd says:


    1) You presume to speak for those who believe we have a war on our hands? You’re sadly mistaken, my friend. Off the top of my head, I could hand you 50 names of veterans and active duty military, my son included, who would laugh at what you tell us they think.

    2) All politicians are scum. We just each have to choose which scum we support, or opt out of having a say in the direction of our country completely. That being said, I fail to see why anyone would be surprised that a politician would give a political speech, especially during his reelection campaign. You’ve got me scratching my head over why you don’t think he should be giving a political speech tomorrow, when his presumptive opponent is giving speeches every day, day in, day out.

  15. fxm says:

    How quickly the British forget! Their conduct during the height of the Troubles in the bandit country of South Armagh was little different from that of the Americans in Iraq . They might also remember Operation Motorman. They might also remember the Force Research Unit and their other clandestine operations. Some have argued that the British military enjoyed having the North to use as a proving ground for both tactics and leadership training.

  16. akim says:

    Yeah, there is a “venting” aspect to this British outcry – it’s not like they’re as white as lily either. However it is still kinda striking that instead of spreading to Basra, as it appeared to happen in the very first days of Al-Sadr’s appeal to arms, the insurgency so quickly died down in the most-southern cities.
    And why is it that a Brit hostage is let go and not the American ones? Aren’t Brits part of the coalition?

    The war in Iraq right now is not a war on terror – it is an occupation of a very foreign country, and you can’t just hammer all “bad guys” out of existence with guns and bombs and hope to be alright. It is not a war, it is an occupation – and yeah, that most definitely requires blending in peacekeeping approach. That Brit, for all his intemperance, pointed out that there are ongoing problems with this on the US side – and ultimately it is the US and the Coalition who are made to pay the price.

    To just keep blaming everything on an endless series of “bad guys” is hardly a great solution to similar problems in the future. I hope this will sink in at some point or other – where it counts.