Monday, April 5, 2010

Hustled by the East

If you've been tooling around the blogosphere today you've probably seen this: It is apparently a gun-camera picture from one of a pair of AH-64s carrying out an attack on Iraqis in 2007.

The purpose of the release of this video is to accuse the U.S. occupation troops of a war crime. And prima facie the video looks damning - the locals are casually walking around, the helos open fire, everybody dies.

The problem for me is that it's not that simple. Guerrillas trade on appearances, and there is nothing in this video that does not say to me that these guys could not have been muj making a recon of a U.S. maneuver element. Because the video identifies two man as journos I want to see what they're holding as cameras with telephoto lensese They do NOT look like RPG-7s to me, but I wasn't there. I can see how the A/C gunner, expecting to see an RPG, could see an RPG. This video is not, to me, damning in its content.

No, to me what's damning to me is the context.

I've been saying all along that the biggest problem I have with all this fiddle-fucking around in Central Asia is not the direct cost, either in blood or in treasure. The costs in both are relatively small, both for us as a Great Power and for the locals, who have experienced more and worse in the past and probably will again, given the state of local governance. My problem with these is;

Fighting foreign locals' wars is bad for both armies and nations if the nation and its army have no intention of conquest abroad.

Western armies flourished in the Third World so long as the Western nations were willing to take what they wanted and weren't too squeamish how many natives they had to kill or imprison or starve to get them.

The Europeans figured out that fighting colonial wars after the home country had given up on colonialism was a mug's game back in the Fifties and Sixties.

It was bad for their armies, which used up much of the goodwill they had built up in WW2 becoming thugs and policemen beating down locals who wanting nothing more than the foreigners out.

It was bad for the countries, which began to routinely lie and spin the colonial wars to try and prevent their home publics from shutting the wars down and forcing the troops to decamp.

There was worse; the combined failures in Indochina and Algeria broke something within the French Army, already damaged by its failure in WW2. The treason of the OAS, and the resultant purges, were an episode that stained the forces that had been the pride of France since the days of the Capets.

There's worse than that; because of the unpopularity of killing people whose only crime is that you are squatting on their home and they want you out - no matter how loathsome those people may be in themselves - the only way a democracy can do this in the long term is to erect a complex edifice of lies that consumes the soldiers, the journalists, the politicians, the bystanders, until you enter an Orwellian world where there is almost no way to establish what is truth, or what is a lie, unless you simply assume that everything said is truth (and wear it like a magnetic bumper sticker claiming that you support "our troops" because they're good, and good people cannot do bad things) or a lie (in which case you begin to wonder what ELSE is a lie, and in the end that road lies in cynicism and disbelief in ANYthing that the government says. Even commonsensical things like regulation of piratical banks and vaccinations...).

And it's actually worse than THAT...because the lands involved are the heartland of Civilization, where the arts of political dealmaking, betrayal, trickery, strategem, ruse and deception have had millenia to ripen and mature.

And into this we've sent the most American of American institutions; our military forces. Duty, Honor, Country...the United States of the bare fist, of the patriotic country song. In pursuit of our chimeric enemies we make our "Special Forces" over into glorified door-kickers, wander around performing "presence patrols"...fall victim to every bazaar rumor, and then find ourselves having to lie our way out of the simple fact that we were outsmarted by the East into a moron-grade butchery that the most childish Waziri or Black Mountain Hazara would have laughed at.

It was one thing to slaughter Germans and Japanese in job lots: global consensus was that they had brought it on themselves.

In Iraq, and now in Afghanistan we are occupying powers in places - it's almost risible to call them "nations" - that we invaded on the slimmest of pretexts (Iraq more so than A-stan) and now occupy on the most tenuous of grounds. As such, like Caesar's wife, we MUST be above reproach.

We cannot toss off dead Iraqis or Afghans as we did the dead of Dresden or Nagasaki. We MUST, if we are to avoid the consequences of being condemned as foolish and casual butchers, consider the locals innocent until proven guilty. That's a wretched way to fight a guerrilla war, but there it is.

I joined an Army that was recovering from another senseless colonial war in Asia, a war that my Army had responded to with lies and deceptions, by inflating body counts that including everything dead and Vietnamese in any grid square as "VC", with corruption and club scandals, with combat refusals and fragging. The reality was that most soldiers and Marines did none of these things, or tried to push back against them when they happened. But the entire Army was tainted by the acts that came to symbolize the war for the insulated civilians in the Land of the Big PX, and it took my service years to recover.

The 2010 Army has learned from its Vietnam candor, and is doing better at hiding checkpoint shootings and wedding strafings. The U.S. public, without skin in the game, doesn't care. The political class, concerned only about their perks and power, has no reason to interfere.

But the bill comes due eventually for trying to hustle the East. I wonder when that bill-collector will knock..?


  1. "The problem for me is that it's not that simple. Guerrillas trade on appearances, and there is nothing in this video that does not say to me that these guys could not have been muj making a recon of a U.S. maneuver element. (...) I can see how the A/C gunner, expecting to see an RPG, could see an RPG. This video is not, to me, damning in its content."

    As far as I know there's no death sentence in Iraq on carrying arms.
    The video shows several wrong weapon IDs, excessive violence, it shows that the army's excuse "they fired on us" was a blatant PR lie and it probably shows a RoE violation as well. It's furthermore good material for damages claims in a U.S. court (because the judge is likely to get the unedited official video in the trial thanks to the edited copy).

    I see this video in context of many other very questionable interpretations of "self defence" and other occasions that could justify lethal violence. You mentioned the wedding bombings; the Mach 2 aircraft pilots who did that all claimed to have acted in "self defense" - against AK bullets. Ridiculous.

    To me, it's a matter of discipline to obey RoE without stretching them to the point of ridiculousness. To me, it's a test of leadership to give RoE that are practical.
    The bad news is that Western troops (some more than others) often don't seem to pass these tests.

    "It was one thing to slaughter Germans and Japanese in job lots: global consensus was that they had brought it on themselves."

    Not exactly. The night fire bombing tactic was despised at the time because fo mmories of Guernica and Coventry; it took some serious propaganda to whietewash it. As usual, the wartime propaganda stuck for more than two generations apparently.

  2. Sven: You have no idea, and neither do I, what is happening in this video. I can tell you that there are some very likely situations where, as an FA fire direction boss I would have targeted people wandering around and called it a good shoot. You're looking at a six minute film clip and making judgements about RoE and war crimes and neither of us have any idea of what was happening all around, before, and after this.

    I'm not saying it's a good shoot. I wouldn't have done it that way. As I mention in the text of the post, the situation in Itaq and A-stan is such that this sort of "shoot-on-sight" way of thinking does more harm than good. I would have sent a patrol to see what the hell these guys were up to, ask some questions, you know, do actual occupation-type stuff.

    My point here is to point out how foolish and self-destructive the whole exercise of sending U.S. and European troops into this sort of situation is. Frankly, I think these helo pilots had no idea what was going on. They were told to see something and they saw it. Put yourself in their position and try and imagine coming up with a radically different response.

    No, the problem is that they were put into this situation at all. It's not a question of passing or failing tests of discipline. It's a question of asking soldiers who have no real understanding of where they are or what they're being asked to do to make decisions on the fly based on criminally poor intelligence.

    And I don't know who "despised" the night fire raids. Certainly my own father, looking at the prospect of heading to the Pacific to face the dead-enders defending the Home Islands, was perfectly OK with it. I think there were fewer qualms about these at the time because of 1) the sense that the fascist nations were merely reaping the whirlwind, and 2) the setting of "total war".

    But the streets of Baghdad were NOT Dresden, those AH-64 drivers weren't Bomber Command, and this video becomes a damning indictment of the sort of mentality that sees attack helicopters as appropriate weapons of a domestic civil war.

    Why the FUCK didn't they send a police patrol instead?

  3. Maybe you have no clue; I saw the 39 minute higher resolution video that's available per torrent.

    I'm extremely tired of the category of "you're no insider, so you know shit" excuses. Such excuses have a horrible rate of turning out to have been unjustified.

    I saw extremely trigger-happy troops who believed that carrying something larger than an apple is a death sentence with them being police, attorney, judge, jury and hangman in one. They behaved as if they were on a desert battlefield, not in a city.

    I cannot imagine that their behaviour can anyhow be explained well enough to wash away the guilt.

    And YES, IT I A DISCIPLINE PROBLEM. Being trigger-happy beyond the border to murder IS A DISCIPLINE PROBLEM.

    "It's a question of asking soldiers who have no real understanding of where they are or what they're being asked to do to make decisions on the fly based on criminally poor intelligence."

    Decisionmakers bear responsibility for their decisions. Did they have poor intel? OK, THEN DON'T KILL PEOPLE BASED ON POOR INTEL.
    A policeman who kills a cameraman with a shot from a helicopter based on an assumption that a camera is an AK goes to jail. These soldiers deserve no less. You cannot excuse such behaviour with "but there's a war" (for example) when the country has millions of inhabitants, yet merely thousands of active insurgents. In case of doubt there's a 1000:1 ratio of civilians:insurgents in the area!

    About WW2:
    Keep in mind the Nanking massacre, which helped to push the U.S. against Japan. It was comparable to a Tokyo bombing.
    It took both in England and in the U.S. each two years of demonizing propaganda before mass killing of civilians in cities became acceptable to the public.

  4. I'm with Sven on this one. Read a transcript of the soldier's conversation and it is very damning... that's why it's been covered up for so long. I am surprised that even here folks insist on tap-dancing around crimes like this.

    I think it shows that the near-worship of the military and deification of soldiers that the government has been promoting has worked altogether too well. Every investigation of accused war crimes seems to let the perpetrators off on technicalities or outright exonerate them...but that's what happens when it's your own people on trial. Witness the RSHA trials in Germany back in the day.

    And since the bombing of cities has been brought up.. that only stopped being a war crime when the USA and Britain started doing it. Why, if the "good guys" do it it must be ok. Killing women, children and babies is apparently only a crime if you do it face to face.. if you do it by dropping bombs then it's a "legitimate act of war". We said so.. it must be true.


    Jesus, Sven, do you read what I write?

    That's what I've been fucking saying all along.

    The video is meaningless one way or another. The point is that the moment the U.S. government sent soldiers into these places, places we don't and can't very well understand, places where layer over layer of local politics and strategems make this exact sort of thing nearly unavoidable - the stupid way we fight doesn't help, but we knew from the get-go that the U.S. Army's doctine was "send a bullet not a man" - and the result is going to be excatly this sort of disaster.

    Throw the pilot in jail. Fine. But why stop there? Their maneuver commander, theatre commander, and the national command authority put them in a place where this sort of thing was ALWAYS going to happen.

    You're straining at gnats and swallowing camels here. Eight dead Iraqis is a problem for the dead guys and their families. A war that creates a permanent cabal of military flacks, compliant journos, complacent citizens and duplicitous politicians is a problem that's going to follow you and me and everyone else within the arm's length of the U.S. government and military for a long time.

    And Sven? You should listen in on GI radio more often. You'd be gobsmacked at how casual we get about killing people. It's not just and adventure, you know. After a while it gets to be a job.

  6. Jim: Bombing cities was always an atrocity. All I'm saying is that the Allies got and get a pass on it because their enemies have been labeled "The Bad Guys". It's all part and parcel of the "...permanent cabal of military flacks, compliant journos, complacent citizens and duplicitous politicians..." I meant to call out as the point of this post.

    At least WW2 had the excuse of being an existential struggle against truly dangerous enemies. The wasting of the guys in this video is like a bunch of streetcorner yo-yos getting blown away by the local police for the "crime" of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The U.S. commanders in this case - and every other goddam checkpoint shooting, unjustified arrest, beating, torture...did you think that this was the first time someone got shot for BWI (breathing while Iraqi)? - don't even have the weak-ass excuse that they were killing innocents as part of the greater "good" of defeating the Evil Nazis.


  7. Can you imagine how Americans would react if it was our people being tortured, killed, maimed in this fashion?

  8. "
    The video is meaningless one way or another. The point is that the moment the U.S. government sent soldiers into these places, places we don't and can't very well understand, places where layer over layer of local politics and strategems make this exact sort of thing nearly unavoidable(...)"

    That's the part I disagree with. This kind of behaviour is not unavoidable. It's a symptom of failure of discipline in my opinion.
    The people on the radio were in part officers (the aircrews at least) and should thus meet very high expectations.
    They lacked discipline because they were deviating off their mission. They didn't think that they did it, but they did.

    What they did is quite comparable to the atrocities that happened in earlier centuries when a besieged city finally fell. Many historians complained about those atrocities and wrote that they were typical of taking cities after a long siege. Nevertheless, highly disciplined armies were able to avoid those atrocities if their commander insisted strongly on civil behaviour.

    The video is a symptom of insufficient discipline and leadership.

  9. The war crime of aggression is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole

    Corporals and captains don't normally launch wars of aggression. They do, however, go to jail far more often than those who do.

    The bill comes due when the shoe is on the other foot. Alas, you don't get to choose when that happens.

  10. "That's the part I disagree with. This kind of behaviour is not unavoidable. It's a symptom of failure of discipline in my opinion."

    Actually, if you listen to the voiceovers, the helo pilots are VERY disciplined. They describe what they're seeing to the maneuver unit commander (they're wrong - the camera is NOT an RPG, the guys with the AKs are probably the usual bodyguards that every journo in Iraq has to have - but they are very calm about it) and the ground commander clears them to fire. They waste the guys. They wait until the van arrives to evac the wounded, get clearance, and light it up, too. All very controlled, all very disciplined.

    THAT's the real problem.

    That wasn't a couple of whacko earthpigs capping towelheads for sport. This was the result of piling a stupid fucking pretext for war on top of piss-poor intel over complete lack of care for, interest in and understanding of the country(ies) these guys are posted in. This is the result of completely fucked up policies, plans and goals.

    Glenn Greenwald has a good post up explaining it better than I do.

    "Precisely." he says, "This incident is commonplace, not unusual, because it's what war is and it's what has been happening in our wars throughout the decade. We just don't usually see it, and this time we did. That -- and the fact that Reuters journalists were killed and it thus generated more pressure than normal -- are the only things that make it unusual."

    To call it "lack of discipline" is to throw this onto the troopers on the scene. I think the reality is WAY worse than that. These guys are doing what they believe their commanders WANT them to do. And because of that the commanders, their political masters, the PAO pricks and flacks and spinmeisters and our noble journalists all have to lie and cheat and hide to keep this truth from us.

    What an incredible Everest of bullshit it takes to insist on hanging around to fight in a foreign civil war!

  11. "Nevertheless, highly disciplined armies were able to avoid those atrocities if their commander insisted strongly on civil behaviour."

    Tell that to the citizens of Badajoz. Oh, wait, you can't. The highly disciplined British troops killed about 4,000 of them.

    If you put troops in a position to commit atrocities, especially if you surround them with policies and incentivies that encourage atrocities - force protection before civilian safety, engaging guerrillas rather than defending villagers - then you're going to get atrocities, regardless of how "disciplined" the troops are. Every army in every war in the history of humanity has committed atrocities, from Pydna to Malmedy to My Lai to Baghdad. When you get people to start killing people it's hard to get them to stop.

    And guerrilla wars are the worst. A bunch of us who remembered Vietnam said this when the idiots who got us into central Asia in the first place insisted on staying on there to "occupy" the place.

    The indiscipline and murders were going to happen as surely as the night follows the day.

    Blame the players, sure...but blame the game more. It's the kind of war and the place its fought that determine this way more than the individuals or the policies or the "discipline".

  12. Thank you FDChief for walking into the "whirlwind" . . .

    Your thread does "cover it" to a significant degree, enough to work with anyway, from a strategic theory perspective . . . don't ya think?

    Consider the "honor" or "honour" of a soldier; consider the "duty" of an officer . . .

    Consider what your eyeballs show you. Pretty blatant, which indicates a perspective of the US military after three years in Bush's war in Iraq. Not like we didn't tell ya so . . . "Anti-Iraqi forces" says it all.

    Consider the confusion as to what exactly is in play . . . how to read it?

    Consider that what we are experiencing is the result of long-term trends . . . I'm thinking specifically of Hannah Arendt's "The Origin of Totalitarianism", the part on Imperialism . . . there are soooo many quotes, but I'd have to quote pages . . . so read it for yourself, if you have not already done so. Globalization essentially.

    Dresden? I have my own experiences associated with that Saxon city, as in my trip there in February 1985 . . . to the honest and open people I spoke to, the things I saw. Later, as a screener I spoke with a German man who had been born on 14 February 1945 in Dresden. His mother, a nurse, had given birth to him in the first hour of that day and then volunteered to go into the bombed city for rescue operations. That was after the first raid . . . She never was heard from again and I was the first American he had ever spoken to . . . I'll never forget that.

    Sometimes the experiences themselves are, or the whole context is, simply too great to understand at the time . . . one only considers them fully in retrospect, and then hopefully in the light, rather than alone in the darkness.

  13. A few comments:

    First, for the record, this video sickened me and pissed me off. So if anyone is going to suggest I am being an apologist, well, let's not have that discussion. I am merely trying to add an analytical perspective.

    1. Chief, I agree with Sven, this video clearly shows undisciplined fire. Everyone knows the ROE, it is clear, and we all know that wounded are not to be targeted. We also know that anyone evacuating wounded are not to be targeted. The commander who gave the "engage" order had to rely on his "eyes on the target" which were the pilots. They were disciplined from your perspective in the cold calculating manner in which they acted, but they lacked any regard for the ROE.

    2. Chief, you are right in saying there is more to this video than what we see. It is damning, and there is no excuse. However, what I do know, having been in that part of the city a year earlier, in fact, this is part of the unit that relieved us, this unit was hammered in Sadr City. By Iraq standards, casualties were extremely high (a sister Bn of the Bn involved had a book written about them as having the honor of having the highest casualty rate of any battalion since Vietnam).

    This doesn't excuse the actions, the poor decision making and callus comments, but in does put things into perspective. You can only attend so many memorial services before you get a little pissed off. And this lends into Chief's point, as I read it, is that you can not just blame and prosecute those who conducted this act without assesses equal and greater blame to those who placed these service members in this environment in the first place. The only way to prevent acts like this in war is to stay home. Not an excuse, just reality.

    With that said, despite the "fog of war" and bad ID's, IMO the pilots clearly broke ROE when they engaged a vehicle that was serving the purpose of evacuating the wounding and posed no perceived threat. Clear ROE violation. So we should ask, why weren't they prosecuted? Well, does anyone believe that commanders/lawyers or otherwise review every gun tape from every engagement? Not likely. I guarantee you a 15-6 investigation was done, they did 15-6's for every single thing that happened in Iraq. It would be interesting to see how thorough of an investigation occurred, and if there was a cover up, at what level it happened (or was it just a shitty investigation). My bet, it never got beyond the investigating officer who was probably some poor 2LT. I will be interested to see what happens with this one.

  14. Here is the 39 minute full video:

    Any comments on the three Hellfire missiles?

  15. bg-

    I am with you 100%. "disciplined", calm egregious behavior is still egregious. That van was, in clear and simple terms, a medical evac vehicle. The pilots discussed it in those terms. They did not want the wounded to be evacuated. Red Cross (Crescent) on the vehicle or no Red Cross, the pilots knew and discussed it as the evac of a wounded person and were clearly anxious and wanted to prevent that evac with a "kill" of everyone involved.

    The visuals alone raise the specter of criminality, the audio seals the deal.

    When "target engagement" becomes an imperative, targets must be found. Chief made a reasonable point in that we shouldn't have been there in the first place. But even if it had been a justifiable war, the episode recorded by that gun camera is wrong, just plain wrong, regardless of who was the target once it became a medevac.

  16. Chief,
    In Panama there were rumors that gunships fired up civilians regularly, or so i heard by talking to 18 ABN Corps people. Nobody was prosecuted and the fact is that we did kill civilians in that little shoot em up.
    Nothing changes. SSDD.
    Now think Blackhawk Down. We did the same in Mog.

  17. War is an ugly business, and people die when the dogs of war are loosed.
    Men, women, children, combatants, non-combatants, and the family dog are all going to get a taste of it regardless of their position on whether the hostilities are rational and justified, or just plain falsefied for aggression sake.

    Personally, I really don't care what the video portends because the video is capturing a segment of an ugly truth...and I believe that is what Chief is getting at...war is hell, and we should not rush into it just because we get an itch in our taint for one.

    Which is exactly where the fault of this steaming shit pile called the Iraq war the lap of the American populace.

    I think Charles could say it more eloquently than I, but I think none of us should be surprised by the revelations of this video, other than the sterility that the particpants involved exhibited. They professionaly carved apart a group of people with little if any emotion with thirty millimeter cannons...not machineguns, cannons. I have seen the results of the left overs from that little piece of hardware, and to be perfectly's sickening.

    However, there is one thing that is clearly a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions which should land the crews of the Apache's and their controller/commander and that is the firing on the van that was acting as an ambulance.
    The men in those Choppers are soldiers, not policemen, the van was not aiding an abetting an escape rather acting in the role of non-combatant rendering medical aid.
    In the reversal of this, if that had been an American ambulatory crew performing medical services, and they were fired on by the enemy airforce...we would be screaming our heads off for justice.

    Just say'n...quid pro quo, whats good for the goose is good for the gander and if we want to keep the pretext of Lex Rex we better start acting like it means something to us...lest we abandon the whole ruse of our rule of Law bit and finally embrace what the Republicans and some of the Democrats have been studiously working towards, perhaps unwittingly, but still vigourously...a fascist state.

  18. Can't help but wonder how the soldiers involved are dealing with this internally after the fact. Evil shit like this often leads to suicide when a person gets back to "the world".

  19. What I find infuriating about this is that the evidence here shows what you have all identified; that regardless of the circumstances of the initial fire (and I agree that there is a huge likelihood that even the original order to fire was a violation of the RoE and as such punishable under the UCMJ) that the targeting of the evac vehicle is clearly in violation of the Geneva Accords (incorporated in the UCMJ) and punishable as such.

    Were I a U.S. Army JAG officer, assuming that interviews with witnesses on the ground confirmed the way this shoot LOOKS, I believe I would have immediately recommended Article 31 administration to the pilots, the air commander, the ground element commander, and the overall maneuver unit commander pursuant to bringing charges under the UCMJ. I'm not sure how any soldier or officer could have come to any other conclusion.


    Since this happened over two years ago, we can conclude that if such an investigation took place, it ended with the same result that almost every goddam one of these has produced: at best a reprimand and/or mild punishment (reduction in grade or pay, discharge below honorable conditions) for the lowest ranking soldiers involved.

    That's sickening. That suggests to me that my Army, an Army I was proud to serve, has become so paranoid, so lost to honesty, and so defensive that it cannot be trusted to investigate its own wrongdoings.

    If that's true then how are we any better than some scumilacious TV-huckster selling bogus shit to morons? How are we better than the nastiest pawnbroker in Jersey City that has to be audited by the cops every month to keep it from fencing stolen goods?

    This business makes me think that the only way to keep my fellow soldiers from doing this stuff is to have a trustworthy OUTSIDE agency investigating these shootings.

    That's completely, utterly fucked up. That's what fighting these kinds of wars do to you. As the French Army about Algiers, the British about Palestine or Kenya. Or, hell, the U.S. Army about some of the shit we did in the P.I. back in the day.


  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. If you need a rise in blood pressure, stop by the news sites and read the comments sections. The usual lunatics are portraying any questioning of the righteousness of this incident as a viscious attack by Ameria-hating leftists. It's truly incredible. I doubt any of these morons has ever worn a uniform outside of their basement.

  22. @Chief:

    A bit info on the relevant international treaties (ratified and thus afaik empowered with the force of law in the U.S.):

    The only relevant part of the GC III/IV is likely this:

    "Art 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following
    (1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
    (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (...)
    (2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for. (...)"

    Most of the GCs is inapplicable to this kind of war.
    GC III and IV both have the quoted article 3.
    Iraq and the U.S. ratified GC III and IV.

  23. Sven: Just because someone is walking around and not shooting at you does not mean that are "taking no active part in hostilities". That's what I mean about the 17 minute video not being damning in itself.

    The extended version, where the helos shoot up the van, IS damning under GC III/IV 3(2), as you point out.

    But the overarching point here is that as the Occupying Power we were supposed to be acting as, in effect, the civilian police, too. Would we here in Portland, Oregon, or the citizens of London or Berlin, say, accept the notion that a police helicopter should shoot up a bunch of guys robbing a bank? Like I said before - why the HELL didn't these guys call for a ground patrol?

    The thing is, to quote Talleyrand, this is WORSE than a crime; it is a mistake.

  24. I think it's a basic ethical requirement to give them the benefit of the doubt if the hostility is "somewhere in the neighbourhood" and you're operating in an inhabited city with very dense population.

    To simply kill people just because you believe that few of them have weapons and because they're in the same neighbourhood as some apparently minor combat is neither legitimate nor legal.

    There's a hundreds to one ratio between civilians and insurgents in Iraq, this needs to be remembered whenever there's no certainty.
    Life sucks, nobody alleged that their job was easy.

    Furthermore, keep in mind that their mission was not to take revenge on every opportunity. Their mission was to provide security. Guess to whom.
    I dare to say not just to themselves because they could do that much better at home.

    They have effectively killed the people they were supposed to protect - because they didn't bother to check what they imagined.

    It's also quite damning that the troops on the ground did not radio in time to the helicopter crews that they found no weapons. Such a correction of the helo crews' assumptions could have prevented the later medevac truck and Hellfire carnage.

    Overall, this looks like just another well-deserved PR disaster to me. Maybe it helps to heal some people of the thought that war is often a good idea.

  25. Seems like they didn't call for a ground patrol because they WANTED to open fire.

  26. Rereading this thread and the new comments I think the basic problem is that we (as in the US) see the use of military force to be applicable to this broad situation - that is at the level of national policy or ever strategic culture. You see the same sort of thinking going on in respect to the never ending debate as to whether "the surge" was a success or not, or rather how much of a success. Not that those arguing in favor of success have an interest in selling that view, given that many are at the same time promoting the COIN approach in Afghanistan . . . Just ignore that sound of money jingling.

    "Anti-Iraqi forces" says it all for me. With this label we in effect decide who is the friend of Iraq and who is the enemy. All those we kill become "good Iraqis" automatically, no longer are part of the problem. The boundless ambition behind that label, in reality remaking the Iraqi political identity, is a characteristic of a group that has lost touch with reality, sees violence as a very effective means, perhaps the only means. No wonder we have a majority in support of state-sponsered torture.

    Have we ever had a war which we had initiated with such a radical and unlimited goal? Hard to say.

    That and of course the view that the military instrument is the best way to achieve it. Having the "police" keep the peace with anti-tank weapons mounted in attack helicopters and IFVs employed against civis with smallarms, or simply looking like they may be up to no good. All "anti-Iraqis" - essentially rejectors of the bright future we offer them - are targets if we simply say so . . . all part of the bright success that lights our way forward in Afghanistan, just as it has in Iraq.

  27. Y'know what keeps gigging my memory is hearing my old platoon daddy talk about walking through areas where his company in the 173rd had calling in artillery fire on "VC". "Young guys, old guys, girl guys, baby guys...fuckin' monkeys...if it was in the impact area and it was dead, it was fuckin' VC."

    Just how exactly have we gotten so much smarter and faster and slicker and better than back in the bad old draftee Army days? Remind me again.

  28. "I dare to say not just to themselves because they could do that much better at home."

    Sven: I don't know how to communicate how completely and mindlessly ingrained the notion of "force protection" is - or at least was, when I was in - in the U.S. Army. God forbid you do something like saunter out to talk to a local without your full battle rattle on, or let a speeding car approach your checkpoint because you THINK you see a woman in labor in the back seat.

    One of the main reasons I had for opposing the idea of a long-term occupation of A-stan and Iraq was my first-hand knowledge of the reality that if they had to choose between capping a local for no reason and taking a chance that the local MIGHT be a bad guy, 99% of the officers I served under would have gone with the first option.

    The U.S. Army was never a good match for this mission. The old-time SF MIGHT have been a solution, creating a new Iraqi Army out of the ruins of the old to back up their police, but we lost those guys three generations of soldiers ago.

    Nope. The only way to have avoided this mess was never to have gotten into it.

  29. Sven,
    I think that you touched a key point.
    The PWOT is/was about revenge rather than any sensible reason. The Army used revenge as a recruiting tool.
    Sad.But true.

  30. jim- The PWOT is/was about revenge rather than any sensible reason.

    While there may have been other reasons, there is no doubt that revenge is a major reason. We went into Iraq in response to 9/11, clear and simple. Using the logic and data behind Iraq, we could have done Iceland as well.

  31. FDC,

    I'll just say, I like your wordplay:

    Bazaar rumors, indeed.

  32. Well, the one thing that can be said is that the debate over this video across the blogosphere is pretty predictable. Like most things, where one stands largely depends on where one sits.

    I'm no different. I come at this from the perspective of my current "job" working with UAV's, primarily predator and reaper. In short, I spend a lot of time looking at grainy IR and TV images of people in foreign lands doing everything from planting IEDs, to taking dumps, to buggering in ditches - and everything in between. I've helped kill about a dozen of them personally and to my knowledge they were all legitimate enemy forces killed legitimately.

    More importantly, I understand the difficulty of interpreting images seen on video. The psychology of cognition and image interpretation is also something I've studied academically, so I know it is possible - quite likely even - that people will view the same video and come to different conclusions because of context, foreknowledge and other factors.

    So, given all that and what I know of ROE and the relevant law, and given the limitations impacting those who were there at that moment in time, I think the first engagement was a completely lawful. Given the circumstances, i doubt I would have acted differently and the key word there is circumstances. The second engagement against the van was more problematic but I can't determine whether or not the decision at that time was justified or not based on what I know and what I've seen so far. For me, that is still a grey area.

  33. I do have some sympathy for the Apache crews because I have a lot of advantages with UAV's that they do not. I can, and very frequently do, have my imagery analysts (IA's) rewind the live video feed to get second look. They can pause, do slow-mo, make precise measurements, etc., all of which isextremely helpful. "Is that a weapon or isn't it?" What kind of weapon? My IA's are able to confirm or deny it because I have the tools to review the video in near-real-time and several trained IA's trained to make such judgments definitively. I also get my video feed on giant HD plasma displays in middle America where I and my IA's can dispassionately look at the video and make judgments about what we see without the stress associated with flying an aircraft and engaging in actual combat. Additionally, our video feeds are universally available on our classified networks, so the guys in command of the the ground force are seeing what we see in real time. That matters. They can decide for themselves and we can explain what we see and why we are making the assessments we're making. Army aviation, unfortunately, didn't have the capability to share gunsight video in real-time (and may not still - OPSEC and all). The callsign "Bushmaster" is the JTAC and he's probably an Air Force enlisted guy and he's probably located at the ground unit's tactical op center. Without a video feed (like my UAV's can provide) he is not in any position to second-guess those guys in the Apache because he can't see what they see. He has to rely on their judgment. He's going to get approval to engage from the unit commander (and what Commander would prevent engagement for forces reported to be about to fire on friendlies?) and relay that to the aircrew. Finally, the Apache gunner sees the video on a tiny multi-function display in his cockpit or on his head's-down display which only sends the image to one eye. Not exactly the same thing as downloading a high-resolution torrent and watching (and judging) on one's laptop with a glass of wine, is it?

    The point being, circumstances matter in decision-making. Knowing NOTHING about the circumstances before hand, I would have killed that group of men too - at least two had AK's - CONFIRMED, and they were approaching a unit that was under fire. The gunner did miss-id the RPG's (but not the AK's), but that's not surprising when he only had a couple of seconds before the photographer was terrain-masked by the building. The mis-ID is incidental - they would have been engaged on the AK's alone based on the ROE as I understand it. What would anyone expect - a group of MAM's, some of them armed, none in uniform (US or Iraqi) approach a corner that provided an avenue of fire on US forces currently engaged and the gunner sees one pull out a cylindrical object which is pointed toward the US Forces. Do you really expect him, or anyone, to say, "hey, maybe that's just a photographer hanging out with those guys with AK's who just want to check out the cool fire-fight one block over?" Not a chance - he see's a threat to his buddies on the ground and does what he was trained to do. He follows proper procedure. He reports what he thinks he sees and gets permission to engage. At no point is there any indication that he does not believe these are legitimate targets.

    Timing and circumstance matter. Anyone is free to second-guess them and their decisions but I think it's a stretch to suggest they are criminally culpable unless one can show malicious intent, which is not apparent to me. At most I think one can claim negligence, but I don't think anyone can claim that those guys intended to kill civilians. It's pretty clear, even on the edited and annotated video that they believed they were engaging combatants and for the group of MAM's that belief was completely justified due the presence of AK's.

  34. frickin' part 3 - Jesus, did I really write this much?:

    Obviously the standard caveats apply and in these situations different people are bound to see things differently, especially with the benefit of hindsight and bias. Lord knows I've seen plenty of my IA's argue over what some group of guys was doing in a grainy IR video. Fortunately we had the tools, technology and expertise to make a fully-informed judgment before making a decision to engage - that is a luxury that those tactical aviators supporting troops on the ground didn't have. While I know their decisions, three years later, were ultimately a mistake, I don't think, despite my experience, that I'm in any position to pass judgment on them given the information I presently have, much less condemn them as war criminals.


    One of my "pet peeves," if you will, is the constantly changing terminology for insurgents, enemy forces or whatever armed group you want to mention in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. "AIF" is only one of many abbreviations that's been used over the years, thought up by, most likely, by bored staff officers intent on accurately defining the various groups in the conflict and the forces we were actively fighting (which were not static over time). As I recall, "AIF" only lasted about about a year before being replaced in intel and op reports by some other vague PC acronym. Personally, I wouldn't read too deeply into it. Those acronyms don't represent any deep political meaning - rather they changed whenever a new command took over and were the next staff's attempt to reinvent the wheel and put their own "stamp" on operations. So "Anti-Iraqi Militants" became "Oppositional Militant Forces" (OMF) and so on. It doesn't suggest anything more than how shallow the staff level has really become in US armed forces, obsessed as they are with metrics and poorly-applied theory.

  35. Andy: You have all sorts of technical observations, all of which explain why what happened happened. None of which make any sense if you're a Western military trying to pacify an Islamic near-failed-state in the context of a wider war which is commonly perceived as an "us-against-the-anti-Islamic-West".

    Of course these guys took the shot, for all the reasons you cite. We all understand that. The point we're trying to understand is WHY the fuck you'd WANT to take that shot? Kill eight mooks and in the process help waste the foreign policy your own nation has spent billions and years and lives trying to build?

    In my profession I often come across engineers who are incredibly technically skilled. They tell me in great detail about the deepened footings that they have designed, the post-tensioned slab they support and the special high-strength concrete used in the foundation. And they stare uncomprehendingly at me when I ask them "You DO know that this site is in the middle of a fifty-foot deep, half mile long landslide, don't you?"

    I understand why this shoot went down the way it did. And the why tells me that we are so busy trying to figure out the technical foundations for killing muj that we have completely missed the geopolitical landslide that is carrying our military efforts downhill towards meaninglessness.

  36. You people have some very high level conversation going on here but I'm going to put in my oar anyway. I am a woman and have no military experience and so my opinions are offered with humility.

    1. An army should not be fielded if the intention is not clearly to fight and win a war.

    2. Soldiers are just that, soldiers. They are not "peace-keepers," imported policemen, politicians, etc.

    3. I find it deeply distressing that I read (newspapers, other blogs) and see on television that our troops should have waited before engaging and should not have fired until fired upon. I regret every innocent life that has been lost but I include our soldiers and Marines in that group of innocents.

    4. As someone commented much earlier, something to the effect that captains and corporals do not start wars of aggression but they go to jail for those wars, whereas the power brokers do not.

    5. I don't understand how anyone can be perfectly clear who is a danger and who is not in this "new style" war. It's nothing like WWI or WWII where the enemy was identifiable and there was no excuse for firing on a woman and an old man walking down a country lane. At least it is not clear to me how anyone can be so certain about targets. I'm appalled at suggestions that maybe our troops should wait until they receive fire before engaging.

    I apologize that my comment/opinion is not as well written, reasoned, or informed as yours but I expect you will understand my points.

    Jay in N.C.

  37. Chief,

    I was already at three posts and well lubricated with some cheap wine, but I'll say now I agree with you. I really can't fault the tactical decisions made here, but the strategic decisions? Hell yeah. I pretty much agree with what Pat Lang wrote at his site - you start a war WTF do you expect to happen? You CHOOSE to fight unconventionals WTF do you expect to happen?

  38. Jay: Welcome to the MilPub, where drinks and pride are cheap and logical rhetoric governs action.

    Your points, in order:

    1. You are speaking as though you have never seen or heard of a war fought between 1917 and 1946. Armies are fielded, and soldiers sent out, for all sorts of reasons OTHER than to "fight and win". They are sent to "show the flag", to terrorize internal enemies and external rivals. They fight holding actions, and are sent where they can serve as a casus belli when they are killed (see: South Korea). What you are saying is that IN YOUR OPINION soldiers - and I'm assuming you mean U.S. soldiers - should not be deployed other than in a stand up fight that the nation intends to "win".

    That would make things easier for us soldiers. Good luck with that...let me know how it works out.

    2. Again, read your history. Soldiers have been governors, lawyers, policemen, doctors, surveyors, politicians, tinker, tailor, spy... Soldiers are there to accomplish the political objectives their nations send them out to accomplish. If it means that we have to paint ourselves red and dance the Hully-Gully, well, the mission comes first. You mean YOU DON'T WANT our soldiers to be policemen and peacemakers/keepers. Then I recommend you write your Congressman and advise against any more of these foreign internal defense farragos. They lend themselves to imperial overstretch.

    3. Distress all you please. When you are the occupying power in a foreign country, your FIRST mission is the protection of the people you're occupying. They didn't ask you to come there- in fact, most of them probably wish you'd get the hell out, they have no legitimate government to help them against the occupying troops. Note, also, that the notion of shooting first is moron-grade counterproductive.

    Picture yourself, young Jay, demure maiden of the Tar Heel State. Suddenly, because they hate and despise your Communist Governor Perdue, the Iraqi Liberation Army invades. Suddenly they are everywhere; their checkpoints stop you every day, their helos fill the air...and you hear from your neighbors that they are shooting, just shooting, every young Durham lad they see walking in the streets.

    Wouldn't you go home to get your gun, resolved to die on your feet rather than live on your knees?

    OK. Same-same. THAT's why you make nice and wait until they shoot first.

    4. Yep. God Bless America; that's why James Polk died, and George W. Bush will die, a free man. We hold our masters to a lower standard than we hold ourselves.

    5. See #4 above.

    Sadly, I DO understand your points, and they are the same points as about 70% of the rest of the U.S. public, and one of the main reasons why we spent a gazillion dollars and managed to get in return several tens of thousands of dead raggedy-ass Asiatics in the process of replacing a Sunni kleptocrat with a coterie of Shia kleptocrats in Iraq and a Sunni theocracy with a Sunni kleptocracy in Afghanistan.

    But at least we got "Iraq and Roll" out of it, too!

  39. Andy: I can fault the hell out of the tactical decisions. This isn't liberating fucking Metz, and it's not the A Shau Valley, either. There was tons of time to snoop and poop up on these guys and find out what the hell they were doing.

    While this might have been a "valid" shoot (though the van? NOT.) but it was a stupid tactical decision that now makes us look like either callous butchers or incompetent shitheads.

    And the strategic error? Well, yeah...

  40. Andy,

    If you can justify shooting wounded from a vast distance while in zero danger as these guys in the Apache did then you can probably justify damn near anything.. and it that sort of thinking that leads to all the "no wrongdoing here, case closed" investigations of incidents like this. Seems to start with the usual premise that Americans in war can do no wrong and that anyone who suggest otherwise is guilty of giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

    Jay, if we adopt the practices you suggest then we are no better than any other brutal oppressor in history and that's not the America I believe in. We used to be, at least on paper, the "good guys".

  41. Andy-

    "Personally, I wouldn't read too deeply into it. Those acronyms don't represent any deep political meaning -"

    Disagree, well not entirely. I take your point as to constantly changing alphabet soup designators (this is nothing new), but the term "Anti-Iraqi Forces" actually reflects/reflected the strategic political purpose rather well . . .

    Radical political purpose supported by dubiously selected yet knee-jerk military means leading to deterministic consequences, esstentially pre-programmed for defeat, all this referring to the level of policy formulation.

  42. Jay-

    Welcome to the Pub. First round is on us.

    There are a few old Soldiers here. We swore to obey the lawful orders of the officers appointed over us, and some of us hung around long enough to be the issuers of such orders. However, not all lawful orders are wise, and a lot of those unwise orders over the years have been policy decisions from our elected leaders. But, if they are lawful, we offer our private objection, accept the final order, or hang up our spurs.

    The problem with unwise lawful orders, is that can easily morph, over an extended period of time into not just unwise actions, but unlawful actions. We just tend to become too wrapped up in the business of killing people and blowing things up.

    To bring the focus back on the van. The convention for marking medical evac vehicles with the universally accepted symbols arises from the agreement that the wounded will not be attacked, and the markings were agreed upon to ensure no doubt. It was never intended to be the only method of recognition, but rather an expedient one. If one sees a vehicle that simply says "ambulance", for example, it is off limits as a target. Even an ambulance being operated by the most notorious war criminal, when being used as an ambulance, remains an ambulance and is protected. You can attempt to capture the ambulance, but not attack it. In the case of the video, they clearly discussed that the activity on the ground was an attempt to evacuate a severely wounded person - they themselves defined it as a medical evacuation. Yet they made a decision to kill everyone involved. Not fire to scare the van away, or hold them in position until ground forces could capture them. The express purpose was to kill everyone involved. No other option discussed.

    That, as far as I can see, is what FDChief is addressing. We are supposedly there to foster the growth and development of peace, law, order and good government. How barbarous behavior can spawn same is beyond me.

    I would add, as a foot note, that the conventions protecting medical vehicles also preclude using them for other than medical purposes. In fact, at least in my 35 years of service, our service regulations prohibited non-medical use of medically marked vehicles, even in peacetime - to comply with international convention. And it can be awkward. In 1989, we had an exercise in the Middle East. An Under Secretary of Defense was to be present for a day or so. Our VIP helicopters were Hueys, and our Medivac helos were nice new BlackHawks. Someone said we should use the BlackHawks to chauffeur the Secretary around, as they are classier. GEN Schwartzkoff said, "Sounds good." It was my job, as the senior Aviation officer to stand in the presence some some 75 or so officers at the meeting and tell Stormin' Norman why it wasn't good, and in fact, prohibited by regulation. The gasps were numerous. His response? "Hueys it is. Glad someone retains what they read and keeps us out of trouble."

  43. Chief,

    It's only obvious there was tons of time thanks to hindsight. At the time the Apache crew believed a weapon was being aimed and about to be fired at US forces so they believed there was no time. If they hadn't been terrain-masked by the building, they would have shot even earlier.


    What does distance have to do with anything? The "danger" these guys did or did not present is also irrelevant as long as those engaged were actually combatants. The mistake was misidentifying the people in the van as combatants. Whether that mistake was legitimate or criminal is open to interpretation but so far I haven't seen anything to indicate criminal intent.

  44. Andy: Nonsense. When you have FOREsight to rememeber the mission - to "fight terror" - you know that blowing away dubiously hostile civilians AND an evacuation vehicle when there is no clear danger to US nationals is stupid and counterproductive.

    With HINDsight we can see what a stupid shoot this was.

    Give it up. man. It was a shaky shoot to begin with. Trying to spin it into solid RoE compliance makes you look like you've drunk the kool-ade.

  45. ANny:

    How does anything justify firing at the wounded?
    There once was a gloden age when we believed only evil commies and nazis did shit like that.

  46. Looks like I've been firmly put in my place but you failed to convince.

    1. Yes, in my OPINION, U.S. soldiers should not be deployed unless our nation intends to fight and win a DECLARED war. In addition, I believe a draft with no exemptions should accompany any combat engagement so that everyone in the society has some skin in the game.

    2. Yes, I know armies have engineers, doctors, surgeons, political experts, PR people, etc. I am thinking/speaking about those men who do the fighting and the dying. Yes, it is my OPINION, that sending our troops into another country as an invading army and then expecting them to be peace-keepers and follow extremely convoluted and ever shifting rules of engagement is tantamount to making them disposable targets.

    3. Yes, if a foreign power had invaded to free me of George W., although I might have disliked George W. more than I disliked the invader, I would have been shooting at the helpful foreign troops rather than at my destructive government leaders. That makes for an awfully dicey situation for the "foreign soldiers" as one can safely conclude that all the locals are enemies.

    What I'm trying to say is that while I have sympathy for the Iraqi and Afghan people, my deepest sympathy lies with that 20 year old American soldier and I want above all else for him to survive - intact. It seems to me that our displeasure with a war falls on the heads of the rank and file soldiers who had no hand in causing the war. Being of small wit, I doubt I can be talked out of that perspective.

    As distress and displeasure cost nothing and require no permission, I continue to experience both while troops' every action is parsed and criticized and Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz enjoy lives free from threat of legal action or general censure.

    I doubt that I agree with 70 percent of Americans about our war adventures. I am told our troops are protecting my freedom but I'm never told which freedoms are at risk. In fact, I cannot identify a substantive reason for invading Iraq (Mistaken identify? Confused it with Saudi, Yemen, or Iran?) and have to make a bone-cracking stretch to rationalize troops on the ground in Afghanistan. I don't have a bumper sticker on my car reading "Support Our Troops" and then feeling that I've done my part. Nor do I view our soldiers as "trained killers" and "psychos" who will be a danger to our society when they come home.

    Again, in my ignorance but doing the best I can to understand, I cannot be sure that what these troops did was egregious and I cannot be positive that I would not have made the same decision.

    As for our national reputation, I think we are brutal and as far as I can tell our reputation as the "good guys" is a relic rather than a current condition.

    Jay in N.C.

  47. Chief,

    Their mission was to support a ground unit which was engaged with with fighters armed with AK's and RPG's. The helos were providing overwatch to that unit and they thought they saw a hostile act - a person aiming a weapon at that ground force among a group of men, some of whom were clearly armed. In their minds there was nothing "dubious" about the hostility. It's only now, thanks to hindsight, that the overt hostile act appears dubious. Foresight? What do you expect soldiers to do when they believe they are witnessing a hostile act?

    How is this any different from a cop who shoots someone he/she thinks is armed only to find out later the object in the dead suspect's hand wasn't a weapon?

    The van is a different story, as I've already said.


    They weren't firing at the wounded. The fired at the van and the guys who weren't wounded. If they wanted to finish off the wounded guy they had plenty of opportunity before the van arrived. They didn't.

    And when did this "Golden age" of warfare exist, exactly? Name me one war where fuckups like this weren't commonplace. You only get to see them now thanks to the wonders of digital media.

  48. To All,
    Allowing airborne hunter/killers in an urban or COIN environment is dumb ass ignorant and ineffective. Range is a consideration since these gunships fire from a distance beyond the ability of the human eye to discern weapons accurately. Certainly they want to maintain a standoff from rpg effective range.
    I ask- would we put unobserved arty on this target? Why would we put airborne arty/gunfire on em in an uncontrolled and irresponsible manner?
    I condemn the chain of command rather than the actual shooters, these guys were dupes. These guys were hung out in the breeze.
    In reality in my day i probably would've fired em up. Sad to say, but true. A good officer in a bad situation must always give his men the benefit of the doubt.
    In closing -ARA/firepower should never be used in an unobserved, uncontrolled mode.

  49. Jan,

    A small point, but the main purpose of military training is to transform civilians into "trained killers"... that's what much of the training is about.

    I want our soldiers to come home safe yesterday... but the things they do in combat don't stay behind when they get home... holding people accountable for atrocities (yes..klling civilians from a helicopter IS an atrocity even if you "thought" they were the enemy) might make it less apparently acceptable and prevent others from doing something similar and thus sparing them the horror that will durely acrue in later years to to any but the most callous or compartmentalized. What do you imagine so many of the veterans suicides are about? A close relative of mine killed himself after serving in Viet Nam.... he never said a word about it.

    Joining the army doesn't give you a free pass on whatever actions you choose to commit for whatever reason. This notion of holding soldiers blameless for whatever they do because they were put into a very difficult situation is morally bankrupt and contrary to the UCMJ and Code of Conduct. I would love to see the bastards who got us into this mess held accountable, but unless the Chinese take over that is not going to happen.

    Years ago I saw a video posted by a soldier on You Tube that showed US troops mowing down unarmed Iraqis as they ran from a bus at least 50 meters away.. the US soldiers were so certain of their own safety that they were standing on top of their vehicles, kevlars off, like they were at a shooting gallery. It really soured my views.

  50. Ranger,

    I think you're right. Several others have suggested that allowing aircraft to independently PID is just plain dumb.

  51. Andy-

    They weren't firing at the wounded. The fired at the van and the guys who weren't wounded. If they wanted to finish off the wounded guy they had plenty of opportunity before the van arrived. They didn't.

    I don't have the patience to watch the video again, but if memory serves me they were indeed discussing "finishing off" the wounded guy, and were waiting to see if he had the ability to move on his own in order to be able to do so. Since he was already an "approved target", they didn't need clearance.

    As far as the shooting of the van and its occupants, but the time clearance was received, the van and it's occupants were indeed performing a medical evacuation. There was no discussion of whether the occupants of the van were armed. They were clearly "guilty" of being bad guys for trying to assist a previously targeted individual.

    Several others have suggested that allowing aircraft to independently PID is just plain dumb.

    Amen. Especially in this type of environment and operation.

  52. Jay-

    (And FDChief, correct me if I have misinterpreted you)

    The crowd seated at the bar here have been at it together for a few years, and the bulk of us have had our own "skin in the game". I do not see FDChief as trying to put you in your place, but rather explaining the proper status of the military. We are sworn implements of national policy, not makers of it. We may, as our position allows, try to shape policy discreetly and professionally from within, but lawful orders are our marching orders, and we must obey or resign. I feel I can speak for the bulk of the gang here and say that we would never wish to see the day when a professional military held sway over foreign policy. The results could be far worse than even the most recent congenital idiot was able to produce.

    I would also tell you that the bulk of the crew, and especially the bartenders, are not avid proponents of the All Volunteer Military, and primarily for the reason you embrace. We are equally repelled by "Support the Troops" sticker displays that are, in fact, the total amount of sacrifice the displaying person makes for his or her country - the price of the sticker.

    As far as fighting and winning a declared or non-declared war, part of the "victory" has been the re-establishment of a functioning, non-hostile government. This is called "Phase IV" in the parlance, or "Occupation" during WWII. Part and parcel to "Occupation" is ensuring peace, and in both Iraq and Afghanistan, whether or not "peace" is possible, the proper tools for attaining such were willfully never employed. That was a decision of the Executive Branch, not the uniformed military.

    As to what these troops did, the first part was questionable because it contributed little or nothing to establishing any "peace" or victory, but rather, simply contributes to the unrest we have already created by invading that country. It was both militarily questionable and sociologically questionable in terms of achieving anything other than killing. The second part (killing everyone who was trying to rescue the wounded man) went beyond military and sociological matters and became a question of a violation of the laws of our nation and international conventions. It is a blot on the very profession of arms. It may be strange to someone who has never served in combat or worn the uniform, but there are lines we just don't cross, and attacking a medical evacuation is one of them.

    And, even if you don't agree with us, please stop in regularly and tell us so. If everyone agreed with us, then we would be superfluous!

  53. "How is this any different from a cop who shoots someone he/she thinks is armed only to find out later the object in the dead suspect's hand wasn't a weapon?"

    Not at all, and if you want to see what happens when cops do that, come visit Portland and talk to both the cops and the locals here.

    Our coppers have had a bad year which started when they chased down and beat to death a whacko who was off his meds. They then messed up a stand-off situation, shooting an unarmed man who bled out while they stood around waiting for the search team to clear his body. The latest was another whacko with a boxcutter blown away in a park restroom.

    Black Portlanders are now talking openly about settling their disputes Wild West style because the option of calling the cops seems to be a sentence of immediate execution for Breathing While Black. The rest of the city is pissed off at the cops and the cops are hunkered down defensively and (I have heard) are now trying to avoid high-profile confrontations, preferring to wait until the badmashes wander away rather than make things worse for themselves.

    The difference is that Portland Police Bureau has a job here, and is responsible to the mayor, the council and (theoretically) to the citizens. If we don't like what our coppers are doing we can recall the mayor and the council, get new ones who will fire the chief and reform the bureau.

    The Iraqis only recourse is what they did: make the place so wretched that our only sensible option is to leave the place to the Shia that we made the victors and their Iranian patrons.

    THAT's why I still say that, RoE or not, this was a bad shoot, a dumb shoot. We should have sent a staff sergeant and two fire teams to slap these guys upside the head and ask them "'The fuck you doin', haji?"

    Since we all know how diplomatic most staff sergeants are.

  54. To: the readers of this thread
    From: the zombie ghost of John Paul Vann
    Subject: Reinventing the Fucking Wheel

    "This is a political war and it calls for discrimination in killing. The best weapon for killing would be a knife, but I'm afraid we can't do it that way. The worst is an airplane. The next worst is artillery. Barring a knife, the best is a rifle — you know who you're killing."

    (NB - helicopters count as airplanes)

  55. Oh, how could this happen? How could good American boys do such things? How indeed. This
    might give those who haven't been there and done that some insight into how this happens.

    As I recall this shit, it ain't a lot of fun. Not unless being nervous and frightened all of the time is your idea of fun. And when you're scared, the old thought processes do interesting things, most of them not particularly beneficial. That's why all of the training: to make you kill first. we don't want dead American soldiers. Puts a strain on the logistics and personnel systems. In a very real and personal way, it always made sense to me. You only get one time around, so when it comes right down to it and it's between me and the other guy, and I'm pumping adrenaline and scared, guess how altruistic I'm going to be. Law of the jungle.

    I'm with Ranger and the rest: dumbass tactics—aerial ID?—but I'm not about to say I wouldn't have done exactly the same thing. That's how they do things. It's called military operations in a combat zone. You don't like it, write your congressman.

    Righteous kill? I think not. But shit happens. Note to Jay in NC: Good comments and I join the others in welcoming you and asking to stop in on a regular basis. But about that brutal thing. And that good guy stuff. War is by definition brutal. And Americans can be just as brutal as the next guy. Good guys? Well, we try, but we sometimes fail. We always have. A lot more than the casual civilian observer—Mom, Dad and the rest of the folks back home—has ever realized.

    Heard an interesting story last night. Seems there was a great commotion in England at one point during WW1 when it came out that a German unit had essentially executed 40-something Tommies during one of the battles. You know, those dastardly Huns. What nobody in England learned until much later was that this atrocity was in retaliation for an earlier incident where the Scottish Coldstream Guards had executed more than 200 German soldiers.

    Ain't no good guys in war. Most especially not the politicians who in our country have now seemingly adopted war as their favored solution to any bumps in that wonderfully smooth road we Americans are always supposed to travel. I saw where Lang, the guy Andy likes, said you could blame the Bush Administration for these deaths. Works for me. The proximate cause of these deaths was the Apaches. But they wouldn't, shouldn't have been there in the first place. Don't send the troops to war if you don't want to see this shit.

    And people wonder why I become more and more of a pacifist as I grow older. Fuck, I hate war.

  56. Jay: Don't feel put-down. We're a pretty rough crew here, and I'm one of the crudest. 22 years of enlisted service will do that.

    Credit to you for sticking to your guns. However...

    1. I think most of us will agree with you about a draft. I've been less than impressed and ever less so since 2003 with our volunteer Army. Not because of their technical and tactical skills, which are solid. Rather, I think that we're falling into the trap that Machiavelli warned his Prince about mercenaries. They're expensive as hell, if they lose they'll break you, if they win they'll try and run your military policy for you (or overthrow you, which isn't a problem here yet...). This Army is also proving to be remarkable incapable of original thinking, and it's performance against unconventional enemies has not been all that much of a suchness.

    As far as a declared war?

    You can say what you like, but unless and until the governing classes inside the Beltway are changed I think the days of the declared war are pretty much done. I'd like to think that the sad last 8 years have taught us the folly of interfering in other nations' internal affairs, but I doubt it. That sort of thing defies declarations of war, I'm afraid...

    2. Of course they are. That what soldiers DO. They get killed in order to accomplish a national objective. Of course, to SUCCESSFULLY accomplish it they need to do other things, but in a game like this one it's less important that Joey comes home alive than Achmed does. If you don't like that rule, then you can't play that game. It's not an either/or situation.

    3. If, as you say, you care most about that young guy in the digital camos then, frankly, the BEST thing you can do is keep him the hell out of situations like this one. Because Rule #1 in war is Young Men Die. And Rule #1 in FID (foreign internal defense) is that it's less important that YOUR young man lives than it is that the other young man lives.

    Here's the thing; while I have no doubt you want what everyone here wants - a quick and clean conclusion to the Mess-o-potamia - you can't avoid the "parsing and criticizing" of the actions of our combat units in theatre. And this case is not an extreme example. Our theater commander in Afghanistan admits that he can't come up with a single checkpoint killing that was justified by anything but excessive force protection doctrine. There have been a whole lot of comments from guys in theatre about this saying, basically, yeah, well, this is just another day at work.

    I worry about the guys wearing the tree suit, too; I was one for a long time and still am in a lot of ways. That's WHY I get so irritated when I see stuff like this. Because other people in other lands see this and see me and my Army brothers as callous butchers, meat for the killing, and when I and they meet them another day they will START from that viewpoint.

    It makes my work and theirs harder, and makes my country lesser, as well.

    We do ourselves as soldiers and you do yourself as a citizen no favors when we excuse this sort of foolish and excessive force.

  57. Publius,

    I don't know Lang so I can say whether I like him or not. I do think his opinion is usually worth my time to read. That's about it.

    I don't have anything else to add to the comments here.