KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Marines have been using the Rifle Combat Optic from Trijicon for years -- giving them a much clearer view on the battlefield.
But despite the improvements, they've still run into problems with Rules of Engagement violations and civilian casualties.
"That all ends today," said Lieutenant Colonel Todd Brogan in a press conference in Kabul.
Brogan briefed the media on a Marine Corps research project -- working alongside Trijicon and Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- to improve the current weapon sight.
The result: a laser engraving alongside the reticle with currently accepted rules of engagement, escalation of force procedures, and pre-fire checklists.
“We’re hoping that having the ROEs presented over the Marine’s field of view will allow us to ensure that every pull of the trigger is a righteous one," said Lt. Col Brogan.
The Rules of Engagement to be engraved were agreed upon by top officials at the Pentagon and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The RCO, with its tritium illuminated chevron and stadia, will also feature key ROE procedures, helping Marines make the right call.
The new rules have been highly criticized by ground troops, who claim they take away their rights to defend themselves.
“These new ROEs they’re trying to push on us is horseshit," said Cpl Stanley Alvarez. "ROE 4244 is fucking lame. I can’t fire back unless the target has verbally identified himself as Taliban, and only if he’s been enrolled into HIIDEs [biometric scanning] and popped with priors."
Afghan President Karzai has stressed the importance of protecting the Afghan people.
“There are no Taliban in Afghanistan anymore. My country is friendly to foreigners. Any fire the Americans have encountered is obviously celebratory to welcome the soldiers," said Karzai. "I question their motives by their reports of being shot at and feel the ISAF ground troops are showing signs of intense paranoia.”
Marines who have tested the new reticles have questioned the ability of troops on the ground to read and comprehend them during the heat of combat.
Staff Sergeant Rudy Harrington, of Quantico Weapons Testing, was reserved in his views.
“I think it’s a great idea on paper, but the wording of the ROEs is pretty lengthy and blocks out a lot of the field of view. The RCO already has a pretty crowded reticle, and with the addition of several paragraphs of ROEs it becomes somewhat hard to acquire [Positive Identification] targets. Some of my Marines have complained of headaches after extended periods on the firing line, and during testing debriefs it’s come up that the size of the font in the RCO as well as attempting to focus on the reticle and the ROEs as the same time may be the cause. They placed ROE 4242 quite close to the outside of the field of view in one prototype we tested, and we were noticing it gave false scope shadow.”
ROE 4242 is another of the “Karzai-Approved” ROEs and states that American forces can only return fire on individuals when they “ ... see the whites of the enemy’s eyes.” This revision is in response to stray bullets known to occasionally hit the walls of mud compounds requiring the valuable local nationals' time to repair.
ROEs have also been revised to protect the pet dogs in Afghanistan, who have been among the highest casualties since the war began in late October 2001. ROE 4244-K9 states that forces can only fire upon dogs found to be carrying illegal weapons. Since the AK-47 is a legal weapon in Afghanistan, forces must identify such illegal weapons as RPKs, PKMs, or RPGs.
Karzai has also demanded that the US military conform to California State Gun Laws, saying that “the rest of America should take lessons from their friends in Hollywood, including the American military.”
Lt. Col Brogan responded to questions relating to Karzai’s “CA legal” demands by saying, “That seems pretty severe. I would be surprised if our friends at the Pentagon decided to implement those.”
Other proposed reticle enhancements include blacking out the Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) beyond 100 meters to discourage shots from being taken beyond the range that positive identification can be reliably established.
“In addition to engraving ROEs into the reticles of our new ‘Karzai Approved’ RCOs, we are removing any compatibility with Night Vision Devices to comply with Karzai’s demand of ceasing all military operations at sundown," said Lt. Col. Brogan. “We are also phasing out guard post at night at our FOBs at COPs as a show of good-will with the Afghan people."
“We all want the same thing,” continued Brogan. “To mitigate any and all civilian deaths amongst the Afghan community. US Forces are committed to proving to the Afghan People that we have no desire to harm anyone who hasn’t proven themselves to be an enemy of America."
Headquarters Marine Corps has ordered 14,000 of the new “Karzai Approved RCOs,” and plans on issuing them within the next 3 months to Marines in the field.