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09 April 2010


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anna missed

I would agree that there are 3 main issues with this incident, as well as your conclusions. The thing is that if issue #1 is true, "in the normal course" of war,or, "but especially a three block at a time, urban COIN clear operation" - then it seems we might as well just roll up our cords and go home. Because if we're finding out that rules of engagement designed/&codified for conventional war are somehow lacking or inadequate for these wars of occupation, and so have to be liberalized to the point made clear in the video - then "winning" the war it would seem, becomes a structural impossibility.

If this mode of operation, under these rules of engagement is typical or commonplace, and judging from the video, there's no reason not to think so, then we can assume similar such incidents are indeed commonplace, then we have probably have created a scenario where our troops will encounter less immediate operational risk, at the expense of removing any possibility of ever actually winning the population over to our side in the long run.


I think most of the shock coming from this video has to do with the fact that most people worldwide don't realize that this is a normal part of war, especially COIN, three block at a time wars.

John Schwarz has a post that I think goes a good way towards explaining why this has caused such a reaction. His argument is essentially that people find this sort of thing unfair, on a gut level. The men killed didn't stand a chance. IEDs tend to feel unfair on a gut level as well, its a similar phenomenon.


Perhaps the most poignant moment in that sense was when they were daring him to pick up the weapon, so that they could shoot him.

Such things may or may not be necessary elements of modern war. But if they are, then for a good many people that means that modern war is morally wrong. I think this type of reaction is stronger internationally than in America.

The less aberrant and exceptional this sort of thing is, then the more shocking it is. If this is standard operating procedure, then many want no part of such a war.

I already knew that this sort of thing was normal. But many didn't, even though they were vaguely aware that innocents die in wars. Seeing it on video makes it much more visceral.

Additional reasons that it shocks are:

1. Those watching the video don't know there is a US patrol nearby, or that there had been prior engagements in the area.
2. They didn't know that a van of that description had been involved in hostilities.
3. The group of men looked very non-threatening, they didn't walk around the way a layman would expect a combatant to walk. They ambled around, directionless, and took no cover until they hit the corner. This was in stark contrast to the urgency of those on the radio.

I don't view this video as highly significant personally, but those are my attempts to make sense of why it has become somewhat of a phenomenon.


Now we can fire if they just look suspicious or we imagine them to be hostile, except to call indirect fire when we are under attack because we are worried about civilian casualties.

Interesting phenomenon that COIN has become.

Byron Raum


I believe that there is one further thing that you missed; if you are unarmed and are helping an always unarmed wounded person, then you are a medical person, irrespective of whether you have a large red cross painted on your back or not. To me, this would seem reasonable in a war where the simple act of picking up a weapon makes you a combatant. Hence, it seems to me that these people were not shooting at their enemy. They were shooting at unarmed people in the vain hope that they would prove themselves combatants. This is the way I read the "taunt you mention.

If these had turned out be al-Qaeda men or whatever, no one would care much. It is the fact that they didn't that makes it so horrible. It is quite right to say that Bush was ultimately responsible for these deaths, but in my opinion, for what it's worth, Bush's responsibility doesn't exonerate them.



Apologies for going off-topic, but Juan Cole has recently posted this, which I think will be of interest to regular readers:

>But there is another possible explanation for Netanyahu staying away from a summit on nuclear security issues in Washington. It is that the Israeli prime minister is protesting a new White House policy of refusing visas to Israeli scientists, engineers and technicians who work at the Dimona Reactor/ nuclear bomb factory. Up until recently they had been free to attend technical and scientific conferences and pursue advanced classes at US universities. The visa denials were reported in the Israeli newspaper Maariv by Uri Binder on Wednesday April 7: "Nuclear Reactor Workers Not Wanted in United States." It was translated by the USG Open Source Center. The article reports that Israeli workers at the Nuclear Research Center Negev (NRCN) in Dimona are complaining bitterly at the humiliation of being excluded from the US, saying the turn-downs are an "offense" against them "and their families." (???) Moreover, the Dimona bomb plant is suddenly finding it difficult to import technical components and equipment from the United States. The restrictions, they say, are unprecedented. They also claim a double standard, alleging that the Obama administration is being "lenient" toward Iran.


(Cole's site seems to be down at the moment and this is a mirror site).

anna missed

If you want to know what really bugs me about the whole thing, click my name.

Patrick Lang


whatever you are. It seems you are impervious to evidence. A helicopter kills a couple of journalists by accident and you accuse us all collectively of murder. I don't really need you here. pl


Colonel, I agree with you concerning curious.

He exhibits a peculiar brand of fake authority that glues a basically Machiavellian outlook with the occasional conventional conspiracy lore. His claimed analytical prowess/skills feel mostly like hot air.

But yes admittedly the poster was a riddle to me from the moment he appeared here. I find it very hard to understand what his intentions or interests are ...

Since I saw some agree and respond to him lately an open thread on "curious" might be interesting, what are other's impressions.

In his case "nomen" doesn't feel "omen". Would someone curious judge that fast and easily? Ignoring what others wrote? Remembering your restrictions on his posts at one point: Would someone curious not tend to listen more?


I appreciated your and Dr. Silverman's comment on context.

R Whitman

It would be good if anyone commenting on this incident would state if he/she had any military training or experience.

It is evident to anyone who has had even 8 weeks of military basic training that these are soldiers doing the job the were hired for.

Adam L Silverman

I think there is a larger point that I was trying to make, that COL Lang has been trying to make, that maybe I obscured: the problem with operating in this type of environment is the ambiguity: the hostiles that are engaging the troops, and that the troops have to engage, aren't wearing uniforms. This isn't meant to excuse bad operational outcomes or bad behavior on the part of the troops, rather it is intended to provide the context. That these things happen isn't just not surprising, rather its that the troops do as well as they have done in such a mental and physical environment. Let me give two actual examples of this:
1) The Field Artillery Battalion Command Sergeant Major from the BCT I was assigned to (4-27 FA) was a humanitarian assistance (HA) all star. He was constantly doing HA drops. Some of my team mates and I had the privilege of assisting him with a couple of these, but the one that always sticks with me is one we didn't help with, but that his soldiers would tell stories about. The 4-27 part of our Operating Environment was large, with a spread out population, and even more of in the middle of no where than the rest of the OE. As a result there were some places where the radios had dead zones or at the very least weak spots for transmitting. One day the Command Sergeant Major's element shows up stalled on the satellite tracking system used to monitor where US forces are. The battalion headquarters tries to raise him, or anyone with him - they get no reply. They then raise a patrol from one of the Companies in the Battalion, advise them that the CSM's element is not moving on the tracker and is not responding, route them to the grid coordinate, and authorize them to engage, if necessary to relieve the CSM and his troops; the assumption was that they had run into hostiles and were in trouble! So this patrol comes screaming into the zone, ready to go, and they find the CSM standing in the middle of a crowd of Iraqi kids who are jumping up and down because he's handing them honey buns he snagged from the dining facility that morning to give out as a treat. They were in no danger, but because of where they were in the OE they couldn't here the radio calls. Because the soldiers in the patrol, like the other soldiers in the battalion, and the BCT, were well trained this situation did not go from being a successful HA mission to an uncertain quick response to being a real tragedy.
2) Another, and perhaps even more revealing, example of the ambiguity that occurs actually involves a junior officer in one of the other battalions getting killed. While on patrol in another part of the OE he and his soldiers were approached by an Iraqi youth on a bicycle. The boy was known to the soldiers, they'd had positive interaction with him before, and they had interacted with his father - so they let him approach. Once he got close enough he pulled out his father's weapon and started shooting. The LT died as a result, if I recall correctly another soldier was wounded, and I believe the boy was shot and killed as well. A complete tragedy all the way around!
This is the ambiguous nature of doing COIN - the risks to the troops and the population are increased because the enemy is not clearly defined and delineated the way they would be in an interstate war.

Patrick Lang


I find you people who have never fought to be both amusing and annoying. "Walking casually down the street" with a fire fight going on a couple of blocks away. Don't you realize that this made them seem more likely to be insurgents? An illegal war! What crap! A stupid war, but, an illegal war This is a matter of opinion. "Cover-up?" You didn't read the two investigations? Ah! I see! If the Army didn't say this was murder than it was a cover-up? I lived in Germany as a kid from 1946-49. That was a peaceful occupation. There was no fighting and there was no violence. This occuapation featured an intense insurgency. I am going to ban a bunch of you as merely tendentious, argumentative and a nuisance. pl


COIN has become a Titanic War using conventional forces, when in reality our best weapons are Lighting Bolts, Tridents, and the Helm of Darkness.

So long as we continue to place conventional forces in unconventional situations, with changing Rules of Engagements, Sh*t is Going to Happen.

We really should be investigating where this tape came from and why.

I still stand by my earlier post charging the CWO's until everything was checked out and not just CYA on my part.

Adam L Silverman

Tony C: I think we may have a different definition of cover up. For me a cover up is an attempt to make something look like what it wasn't or to deny that it existed. Given that Reuters reported on this almost immediately, that the Army Public Affairs reps acknowledged what had happened, and that the incident was known about, to my mind and understanding of the term, means that there is not a cover up.

Now as to your substantive points about mistaking camera lenses or positions of the people that were fired upon or what they were doing: 1) the witness statements in the investigation indicate that the Apaches were at 800 meters, that they had positive camera and naked eye views of the Iraqis that were targeted. The issue is whether at that distance can a long lens on a camera slung over someone's shoulder be distinguished from an RPG? That I don't personally know, but everything I've read on this indicates that it is hard to distinguish. 2) The Anti-Iraqi Forces, whether insurgents or terrorists, have a history of bringing cameramen, both video and still photographers, to engagements. They use the footage for their own PsyOps and to study US and Coalition military tactics and procedures - so even having correctly identified the camera as a camera with a long lens and not a weapon, may not have made a difference as the cameraman was walking in a group of men, of which at least one was positively and correctly identified to be carrying an RPG. 3) Walking casually down the street: there is both video and still footage of the cameraman crouching down, at a corner, next to a wall and aiming what we now all know was his camera, at one of the 2/2ID vehicles down the street. We now know that he was a journalist, was trying to cover the story, and therefore trying to get a picture from a safe location. At the time, even as a silly civilian who was an advisor on the non-lethal side of things, I'm sure that would look suspicious.

Mr. Salomon: I don't disagree that invading Iraq was a mistake, and I certainly agree that how it was done was the result of what is now well documented poor planning and even worse understanding of the realities of Iraqi society, politics, economics, and history. But all of that recognition doesn't alleviate the fact that it happened and by 2007 the reality was: what obligation do we have to fix the mess? The decision was that we had one, that we would try to make good, and that the way to do it would be through a COIN strategy. I have argued here at SST, at conferences and invited lectures, and in briefing papers, that while I'm not sure a COIN strategy can really be successful in Iraq or Afghanistan, the application of the COIN concepts are more likely to get good results than anything else we might try.


I only mentioned walking to explain why civilians watching this video find it so shocking. Most who see it are unaware that there was a firefight nearby, and that a US patrol was down the street.

To observers unaware of that fact, the video seems much more shocking.

Mike C

One thing that's lamentable to me in the fallout from this footage, is seeing people who I respect a great deal going all in for Wikileaks' spin job. For example, Pierre Sprey is one of the sharpest minds in the US defense establishment in the past 50 years. He's the person most responsible for the A-10 Warthog, that system most clearly exposing the lie that we need to empty our wallets if we want to be well defended.

Sprey is as logical and thoughtful as they come, and yet this weekend he's quoted over at counterpunch.org second guessing the Apache crew and suggesting the weapons found at the scene were planted. Striking, that, because while Sprey thinks the pilots should have noticed the difference between an RPG and a telephoto camera lens, he doesn't acknowledge that an RPG and AK-47s can also clearly be seen (on the Youtube video) carried by some in that group. Sprey should also be conscious of the technical limitations those pilots face in seeing much of anything clearly on a human scale from the safe engagement distance of that helicopter.

What is in this video, is bad enough. The truth didn't need Wikileaks' narrative, and it doesn't need Monday morning quarterbacks; I'll make a minor exception for those who've been in situations like the one depicted. I think a good opportunity for a wider discussion of the real issues that video raises has been stepped on. That's another shame, because that discussion is overdue. Instead, we're wasting more energy chasing down dead ends.

I have not served in the military, I make an effort to listen to those who have.


" "Walking casually down the street" with a fire fight going on a couple of blocks away"

I don't know about Iraqis Col. but in Beirut circa summer of 1985 I happened to be walking with a cousin when a fire fight broke out within earshot. When I suggested to my cousin we leave the area his response was "don't worry its at least 2 or 3 blocks away".

Civilians seem to become quite blase about shooting when its a common occurrence.

As for this video, you and Mr Silverman may be right; This may be more failure of intelligence than failure of morality. And you have every right to defend the actions.

So why is this video garnering so much anger, because lets face it, in the pantheon of civilian killings in Iraq, in the whole "we don't do body counts" world, this would hardly make the top 50.

Even the whole Reuters angle is not as bad as the deliberate targeting and killing of Al Jazeera reporters sitting in their own offices.

So yes, lets let this video go, but we should recognize that this video is causing the anger it is causing because the US, both military and media, does need to wake up from its anesthetic induced apathy to "collateral damage", one of the most nefarious terms ever invented.

Collateral damage may be acceptable if you can not get anywhere near your enemy on the ground but when you are calling in air strikes simply to avoid casualties when you know full well that there are civilians in the vicinity - What is that other than plain old cowardice?

But even from a wholly selfish aspect, how many "hearts and minds" are lost every time a child or woman is killed? How many "civilians" become "insurgents" every time a drone takes out a wedding party?

And how many American lives have been lost to weaponry fired by someone turned to resisting the occupation of his land not as a result of the occupation but of the actions therein?


This is why we don't need to be involved in any more of these wars. This war was legal, but as the col. pointed out it was stupid, and I would argue immoral. The moral quandaries, the cynicism, and cost in life and economic opportunity is not at all counterbalanced by the dubious prospect of Iraqi democracy.
Now we have Karzai's little fit of histronics, which it seems Clinton and Gates will mollify by abandoning any pretense of criticizing the man or his drug-pushing brother. This country needs to have a very long, serious, frank, and adult conversation about our future. I am afraid, however, that the majority of the population simply aren't mature enough for such a conversation. I was listening to Andrew Bacevich the other day and he made a simple, but very effective point. The preamble to the Constitution declares that our social, communal compact is to secure the blessings of liberty for OUR posterity (not the Greater Middle East, Eretz Israel, Eastern Europe), the oath of office also demands that the president's first duty is to the American people not to secular internationalism or pseudo-Christian dispensationalist heretical ideas about how the Middle East should be run. In short, if you are a strict constitutionalist, you can't help but come to the conclusion that we owe nothing to the Afghans and the Iraqis. Insofar as Iraqi democracy goes, they've had plenty of time to carpe diem themselves. Someone please give me just one example since the time of the Sumerians when peoples inhabiting what is now Iraq have tried to develop a representative governing structure.
The left, right, and center in this country worry me. The left are too willing to make excuses for anybody non-Western, the right are a bunch of authoritarian pseudo-fascists, and the center are sheep. There is no place in this country for enlightened citizens. My question is, how can a positivist contract like the constitution, a product of the enlightenment, expect to survive in a time characterized by willful anti-intellectualism, post-modern sophistry, emotionalism, and decadence. I fear it won't.

Patrick Lang


I wasn't clear. In my experience the longer one is exposed to sustained combat the more relaxed one becomes about it. My comment was in response to someone who thought that the relaxed atmosphere of the group wandering down the street was probative of something.

I once took out a patrol on Christmas Eve to get holly for decorations. It was supposedly growing in the courtyard of an abandoned school about two miles from our lines. Insane. pl


a rather murky opinion on a clear cut event.

what is morally accepted and condoned?

why judge other nations when we cant even judge ourselves anything other than innocent by virtue of our exceptionalism.


Your story made me laugh, not because of what you did but because you did it on the fact that it was "supposedly" there.

There's a joke about intelligence requirements in there somewhere...

Patrick Lang


Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the intelligence peoples' efforts to know results in perfect knowledge. pl

Agin Cajun


"My question is, how can a positivist contract like the constitution, a product of the enlightenment, expect to survive in a time characterized by willful anti-intellectualism, post-modern sophistry, emotionalism, and decadence. I fear it won't."

I find it interesting that on this thread and others of related subject matter, there is nary a mention of the influence exerted by the Fundamentalist Christian Right. Armageddon is their, wished for, "Act Three". It has been my experience that concerning all issues, the adherents enthusiastically invoke "The ends justify the means". To ignore the influence of this movement on the DoD and Intel communities, is in my,opinion extremely dangerous.
There appeared to be a planned effort during the Bush years to purge secular thinking leaders, from top to bottom. Anyone care to comment on the possible effects of these purges?

Balint Somkuti

New rules of engagement and and Informarmation Operations approach is needed in Stability operations.

We should either stay clear out of it, or make everybody know in the contested territory that they are legal targets. No regrets no half-hearted apologies.

Charles I

Goodbye Sir. Thank you for your generosity and patience.

Byron Raum

Aside from the verbiage about the legality of the war, it seems to me that the core issue here is that an innocent man got killed.

If this soldier had shot at an armed man, no one would care. But, he knew that the man he was trying to kill was not his enemy. We know this from his own lips. Without question, different rules apply for killing when one is in a war zone. That doesn’t change the fact that an innocent man died, who was known to be innocent when he was killed. What standards are we going to hold ourselves to?

If I am doing 30 in a 35mph zone and I run over and kill a kid, I will be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter. I have no military experience, but I do not believe that having military experience changes ethics or morality.

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