JUNE 16, 2010
In a disturbing revelation made this week by a top military commander, international law is preventing U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from launching creative and usually nonviolent operations that weaken the enemy.
Commonly known as “deception operations,” the secret plans often succeed in tricking or confusing the enemy without firing a shot. For instance, earlier this year Marines in Afghanistan’s Helmand province fooled insurgents into thinking that their specially modified roadside bombs could not be detected by U.S. minesweepers by reading announcements over a loudspeaker. The insurgents didn’t bother hiding the bombs and Marines easily found them thanks to the hoax.
But these sorts of “deception operations” often violate international law and military commanders are hesitant to implement them, according to a three-star Army general in charge of a task force to counter improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq. In an interview with a national newspaper, Lieutenant General Michael Oates said that the military’s tentative approach to “deception operations” has cost many opportunities to weaken the enemy without firing a shot.
The main problem, the Lieutenant General says, is a fear of violating regulations that govern when and how the military can use deception. For example, international treaties include provisions forbidding the faking of surrender to draw out an enemy and then kill them. These kinds of rules have made the U.S. military too cautious when it comes to using creative plans to weaken insurgents, according to other commanders quoted in the news report. “There’s a Gordian knot of law, regulation, procedure and risk aversion,” Oates said. “We have got to do some due diligence on this problem.”
Battlefield deception has always been part of warfare to outwit the enemy. In World War II, for instance, the British government’s strategic deception of the German High Command exposed Germany’s heavy reliance on double agent disinformation. Who could forget the fabled horse at
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