Thursday, April 8, 2010

2007, Al-Amin Iraq, Apache gunship strike

The inter tubes are all abuzz concerning this video from Iraq 2007.

Of which 17 minutes was used in a previous wiki-release:

A selection of links :

CENTCOM 15-6 Investigation Documents (Reports and supporting documents)

Two from Bill Roggio:

Wikileaks Edits Out 21 Minutes Of Baghdad Strike Video

'Collateral Murder' in Baghdad Anything But

A couple from Rusty Shackleford:

Case Closed: Weapons Clearly Seen on Video of Reuters Reporters Killed in Iraq (UPDATED)

Video Shows Reuters Camerman With Insurgents Being Killed [BUMPED/UPDATED: Vidcaps Show Weapons]

A post from Crispin over at Wings over Iraq:

Why "COIN for Aviators" is so important

And another well informed entry from Anthony Martinez:

WikiLeaks – “Collateral Murder”

And an interesting ongoing discussion on the topic at Small Wars Journal:

2007 Apache Engagement on Video: Appears Incriminating

BlackFive's take, formed after watching the full 38 minute video:

Open letter to CENTCOM PAO

which references this evaluation from Firedog lake:

My opinion of the Wikileak video

Finally, Mainstream Media takes:

NYT1 and NYT2


from the WAPO a very long book excerpt about that day, from one of their own, and embed at the time with the Army's 2-16 Infantry Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, during these early days of the Surge.

What to make of all this? I agree with the Firedog poster, you need the full context of the longer video, and you need to read the investigatory documents before you can make a reasonable judgment as to all of this. To rely only upon the 17 minute video, and the leading title, and question begging narrative structure supplied by WL is not only to remove the two attacks from context, but to actively ignore relevant factors that are apparent in the video itself. It's necessary to give an accurate narrative of the events. Here is a rough and ready freeze dried account:

Two journalists decided to 'embed' themselves with insurgents, who were carrying weaponry including RPGs. This occurred in an area that was very 'active'. Civilians had largely vacated. Two gunships were circling the area in support of infantry that was moving into the area. That force had called in the air support after taking small arms fire from the vicinity. Air support caught site of the group and following them, saw weaponry, apparently mistook one of the journos (a photographer) as placing an RPG so as to fire on infantry a Bradley vehicle (picture of which was found on the camera card afterwards). The gunship asked for permission to fire. Permission was given. Insurgents were killed, along with the two journalists, one of whom does not die immediately. He struggles off the street, the crew watch, not knowing he's a journo. Will not fire unless he picks up a weapon. He does not. They do not fire.

This is the first of two major events that have become the focus of much of the discussion. My take: justifiable use of force. Now, move on to the second portion:

An unmarked dark van drives into the scene shorty after the first engagement, a van that had been noted previously (something not apparent in the 17 minute video, but occurs at the opening of the longer video) men exit the vehicle, and attempt to carry the injured journalist into the van. The pilots believe they are also attempting to retrieve weapons, (weapons were later found scattered around the scene, and in the vehicle). The Apache crew report what they see, ask for and are given permission to fire on the vehicle. They do so. It stops. Shortly thereafter, infantry moves into the area. They see movement in the van. It is two children that had been in the van, who are injured. Obviously the gunners were not aware of the presence of the children.

My take: We need more information about this van, that had apparently been milling around the area. Had it been the vehicle from which the insurgents were disgorged, the strike would have been unproblematic. Had it been a clearly marked rescue vehicle, it would have been very problematic. If it were a van used by the journalists, and it had also transported the insurgents, by agreement with said journalists and it was now attempting to rescue the one journalist, the strike would not have been problematic, given, 1. that they were transporting combatants, and 2, that there is no way for the units that were in the area to know the vehicle was now manned by journalists only. I suspect that there may be more video relevant to clearing all this up. I do suspect that Wikileaks has an agenda (it's rather obvious actually) and might have edited out the important context, as being unnecessary to their 'case'.

Shortly thereafter infantry arrive, find the child and evacuate to a local hospital. Some minutes pass, the video shows a report of small arms fire, to which the Apache's respond. There is a fade, and we are taken to an apparently abandoned triangular building. 6 armed men have apparently entered the building, men that had been involved in an earlier engagement (couldn't be the one previously shown in the video, as there were no survivors). We also see 2 others walking in. Three hellfire missiles are fired into the building. As the first is fired, a man is walking in front of the building in the line of fire. There are others near by on the third firing.

My take: the fade out of the previous scene, and into this engagement begs for filling details. But, if there were indeed 6 insurgents in the building, which had a commanding view of the immediate area, then removal of potential threat was justified. The question is, was use of hellfires the best way to go about it? Clearly, it was not the only possible way. To send men into the building would have probably accomplished the removal of the threat, but at considerably more risk to those men. Were the men who are visible during the strike combatants? We have no way to tell. We know what wikileaks would have us believe, but unfortunately the reports I've looked at discuss the two previous engagements, not this one. One suspects that if there were some smoking gun drop dead evidence of civilian casualties in this third episode, WL would have made a big deal about it. But they did not. In short, insufficient information, but given the context of battle, my provisional assessment; justified use of the hellfires.

General observations: The transcription is unreliable at many points. Turn off the captions if you can. Secondly, It is obvious that WL wanted to create the impression that this was a Mai Lai redux. Clearly, it is not, but a typical case of the ambiguous nature of warfare, and the uncertainties that beset combat.

The language used by the personnel involved is salty at times, cold at other times, but not close to morally reprehensible, as some have painted. Men in combat have to contain their emotions to do the job, at the same time, these emotions will vent. The injured kids are a case in point. If you take the lead of WK and some other accounts; they 'coldly' say 'it's their fault' referring to the combatants who brought the kids into a war zone. What these accounts leave out is the "oh damn" that immediately preceded, and the evac effort. In fact there is a lame effort to portray the evac as cold blooded disregard, because they were evacuated to a local hospital.

Applying the principle of charity, there is a much more straightforward and realistic explanation for the episode: The men are emotionally and morally affected by the discovery, but have to keep focused on what they are doing. The "oh well" along with "it's their fault.." are actually verbal expression of a line of thought common in soldiers who end up killing civilians by accident. It is a quick nearly instantaneous surface indication of a moral emotion, and moral reasoning going on, a sign of the recognition of, and reminder to self that these sorts of accidents happen in warfare, cannot be avoided. And, they were quite right to point out that the primary moral onus for the children's fate lay with those that put them in the van. Inexcusable.

Reading the mainstream media accounts of the attack is disturbing. The NYT piece in particular does not apply a principle of charity. The men involved come out as being immoral. That is not at all fair, and sloppy journalism to boot.

Even given all this, organizations like WL, and the media arm of AQ will no doubt make use of this footage for propaganda purposes. So, you may be tempted, having COIN doctrine squarely in mind, to remind all pilots, and all miked troops that they are being recorded, so they had better watch their language, and how they describe enemy, and civilians, lest the recordings be used by people of ill intent.

This is certainly advisable, but in the heat of combat, I suspect psychologically unrealistic. Some F-bombs will inevitably be dropped, along with colorful language and callous sounding descriptions. Finally, the celebrations of combatant kills will also occur. It is the natural result of doing a job well, and removing threats to self, unit or fellow soldiers. I quite frankly don't see the reason for all the hand-waving in this regard.

Take aways - WikiLeaks isn't going anywhere, so we'd better get used to this sort of thing. Not helpful, but true.