Monday, April 5, 2010

War via Wikileaks

It's become a cliche to describe the media as an ever-present factor in modern military operations that can confer strategic importance on tactical actions, but Wikileaks is driving the phenomenon to new heights. As both the BBC and the New York Times have reported, the organization has posted video from an incident in 2007 when American Apaches fired on two groups of individuals on a street in Baghdad, killing twelve. The video is from the Apaches themselves, and thus provides more insight into the situation than is typical because it includes the communications between the two helos, and between the Apaches and US troops on the ground. Watch for yourselves, and please note that if I knew the first thing about video editing, I'd get rid of Wikileaks' inflammatory comments. But I don't, so try to ignore them.

The group that was targeted in the first instance included two people that appear to be armed, but it also includes two Reuters reporters carrying cameras that the pilots mistakenly identify as weapons. In fact, when one of the reporters crouches down and pokes his camera around a corner, the pilots report seeing an RPG. Partially mistaken or not, the Apaches opened fire on a group that did in fact include armed men. As tragic as the reporters' deaths are, this seems to me part of the risk assumed by journalists who embed (however informally or momentarily) with combatants on either side. Notably, this seems to be Reuters' position as well, who characterized it as a tragedy, rather than murder as Wikileaks alleges.

A couple of issues do seem to bear consideration. First, these pilots seem awfully eager to engage, and one has to wonder if that eagerness led them to mis-identify the cameras as RPGs. I could be wrong (and I'd welcome correction), but I'd imagine that the pilots may have felt a greater urgency to engage if they believed they were in the threat envelope of RPGs. Eagerness by pilots to engage has led to tragic mistakes elsewhere, and therefore might constitute a problem unto itself.

Nonetheless, there were two guys with weapons there, so it seems reasonable to have engaged. However, I am genuinely at a loss to understand the rationale for firing on the people who arrive in a van following the attack to help the wounded. None were armed. They weren't spotters for other combatants. Their only actions were picking up one of the wounded reporters and moving him towards the van. Am I missing something here? What would the justification have been to engage? I'm not leaping to judgment, but on the face of it this seems outside the line.

Whatever the reality was, whatever events led up to this incident (note that 38 minutes of video were released, of which Wikileaks posted 17), this is an info ops failure. The pilots come across as awfully cavalier, particularly when told there were small children in the van they demolished with 30mm fire. We may be missing a lot of context here, but revelling in the carnage when they weren't under threat seems likely to make that context irrelevant for a lot of people.

So, what do you all think? Were they justified in opening fire on the van? More broadly, is this incident symptomatic of the new pervasiveness of media scrutiny? If so, what are the implications for how we manage our communications?


UPDATE: So as usual I'm behind the curve on this one. Schmedlap started a thread at SWJ that's drawn some informed comments, and Starbuck is all over it. And the report of the Army's investigation ca be found here. Go read those smart people and then come back here and discuss further. H/T to Schmedlap, and thanks to the other insomniacs who've already weighed in.

UPDATE II: Schmedlap has a great post you should all read, especially the section entitled 'Positive Identificaiton (PID) and Basic Human Decency' .

UPDATE III: Foreign Policy has just put out an article about this issue. Remarkably, it manages to radically misquote Anthony Martinez' analysis of the incident in the second paragraph. My contempt for FP deepens.

43 comments:

  1. There is a lot in that video that, when I watched it (the full video below), I thought, "that's iffy; I probably wouldn't have done that." Tough to say without knowing the full context. That said, I can't imagine a situation where shooting that van was justified - and that was my opinion before learning of the kids inside.

    Full 38-minute clip here

    Other Links Here

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  2. Thanks, Schmedlap - glad to see this getting lots of discussion.

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  3. There's definitely moments in the video where, in hindsight, it is clear they are holding cameras. But it is understandable that the pilots were expecting something else and made the decision that they were armed.

    Opening fire on the van, which clearly had no hostile intent, and the attitude of the pilots of "come on come on pick up a gun (so I can blow you to pieces)" is pretty disturbing though. I'd be interested to know under what circumstances that request was approved.

    It's also not clear why the children were handed off to the Iraqi Police instead of going to a US base hospital, but that might be normal.

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  4. I was just reading the following:

    "The risks of making decisions with incomplete knowledge (there being no other kind) are part of the tragedy of the human condition. However, that has not stopped intellectuals from criticizing the inherent risks that turn out badly in everything from pharmaceutical drugs to military operations - nor does it stop them from helping create a general atmosphere of unfulfillable ecpectations in which "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" become a thousand bases for lawsuits." - Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society.

    Let me make this VERY clear: I am not defending or criticizing any actions, mainly because I lack the knowledge to do so. My reason for providing the excerpt above is to talk about laypersons, the military, and the knowledge problem.

    A clip like the above looks bad, and a bad thing happened - the outcome was terrible. However, I have no specialized knowledge of the subject, have never been in the military, and understand - as a physician - that things that look bad to outsiders may very well be inside the range of the acceptable when viewed by practitioners.


    I don't know what to do about the knowledge problem. I haven't a clue. And I agree MK: whatever the real circumstances, this is an ops failure and those wishing that aspect of it away are barking up the wrong tree. People tend to trust what they see with their very own eyes. How can they not?

    And finally, I will now do that thing which I hate - I will channel my inner bureaucrat: did the pilots follow the procedures as they were meant to? And how, as a layperson, would I know or understand that.

    Like I said: the knowledge problem.

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  5. correction: info ops failure.

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  6. Madhu - follow Schmedlap's link to a discussion of exactly that issue at SWJ. And read this for Starbuck's (a helo pilot) perspective as well:

    http://wingsoveriraq.blogspot.com/2010/04/why-coin-for-aviators-is-so-important.html

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  7. The first response that I got at SWJ was the best, imo. I think he nailed it. I had one unsatisfying experience with allowing pilots to PID a "threat" and after that I decided never again. The aircraft is there in support of me. If I don't perceive the threat, and the AWT is not firing in self-defense, then too bad. You'll get your chance to shoot something some other day. It's tough enough to understand everything that is going one when you see it with your own eyes. Watching through black and white from afar seems a bit too fuzzy to be making hazy life and death decisions on your own.

    And to clarify, I'm not an insomniac. I just put lengthy papers off until the last minute.

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  8. The outrage over at reddit is utter fucking bullshit.

    "OMFG THEY KILLED ALL THOSE INNOCENT CIVILIANS AND THE LITTLE CHILDREN WITH GLEE AND BLA BLA BLA!!1one"

    I cannot blame a pilot for engaging combatants who appeared to have been firing upon soldiers on the ground only minutes before.

    I would probably be less supportive of the pilot + gunner (especially in their later actions) if the whole world wasn't responding so irrationally and with such clueless vitriol. Seriously, www.reddit.com. It's a very popular site, and just read the comments.
    Not one comment is along the lines of "hold on guys, maybe the apache simply wanted to make sure no US lives were lost because they didn't act fast enough to a potential RPG."

    -Deus Ex

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  9. @Schmedlap - that was my first thought as well: even the first group looked like such a low threat I didn't understand why they wouldn't just alert the guys on the ground and let them make the call as to how to deal with them. Your point about the fuzzy video feeds is well-taken too, and raises some interesting questions about drone strikes when there's no one on the ground to verify (like the Germans in Kunduz, and even granting that the longer dwell time makes a difference).

    With you on the papers, too, but my 5 hr energy is petering out and I need some sleep.

    @Deus Ex

    Hold on a sec - first, surely you're not surprised? Most people have no clue that this is what war looks like: if you've never really thought about it before you see that kind of footage, any strike on an enemy not engaged in fighting in the momemnt is going to be pretty shocking.

    Secondly, even if the first engagement was entirely justified, these pilots don't sound to me like they're just pumped up on adrenalin: they sound like callous idiots. They sound like the pilots who killed four Canadian soldiers at Tarnak farms. They sound more concerned about getting a kill than getting the right kill.

    I find the whole 'mistaking the camera for an RPG' bit pretty dubious based on the film, but there were other guys clearly carrying weapons so first engagement seems a judgment call that would be highly context dependent. But don't let the idiocy and/or ignorance of some people (or for that matter Wikileaks itself) push you to defend something you shouldn't, namely the second engagement. How could hitting the van have made coalition (or Iraqi, hmmm?) lives safer? Aid to the injured does not a combatant make you. See Solferino, Battle of, and the entire development of the contemporary laws of armed conflict.

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  10. Well, isn't this really an issue of the letter and spirit of the laws of war conflicting with the brutal reality of following them?

    Yes, it's true that Bushmaster and his support pilots can justify -- legally -- engaging the 2xEKIA because they had PID and it seemed likely that they were planning to ambush or at least survey a mounted patrol nearby.

    But it doesn't always mean that it's the best thing to do, especially if there's a strategic loss that radiates from the tactical victory.

    Of course none of this actually happened, however, because then it would dispute the notion of the so-called "Surge" as some huggy-wuggy, living amongst the people, cuddly-wuddly love-fest of instant legitimacy.

    Ricks probably pooped himself when he saw the footage. Petraeus will need to arrive to blather some platitudes to make it all right. Like warm milk for a cranky tot, we so need his calming lies at times like these.

    Confusing lenses for RPG rockets actually is more common than people think. We had the same problem with tank scopes. Perhaps it puts some question into how "PID" PID often is.

    For those of us who pounded ground, I can live with my PIDs, but I know others who FUBARd it including a Brad gunner, two snipers, several checkpoint guys and no few Abrams.

    It depends on one's battlefield perspective, of course, but people screw up. Does that rise to the level of criminality?

    I'm not sure in this case, but I'm also not convinced that it matters. The ultimate strategic damage that arises from first slaying two journalists, covering it up and then having it all come out might be more vital than the initial tactical gains.

    Or, it might not really matter even there. We blasted into dots four times as many civilians through airstrikes in 2007 as we did in 2006. None of this was unknown to the regional satellite media, which iteratively showed the carnage, even if not much was seen in the US.

    And pacification nevertheless arrived, perhaps because of the brutality.

    SNLII

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  11. "How could hitting the van have made coalition (or Iraqi, hmmm?) lives safer?"

    We seem to be forgetting that a TIC had been declared. During a TIC, all sorts of things that wouldn't normally be considered PID become pretty effin' PID, especially when you've got a disabled HMMWV about 150m away.

    Frankly, it's not unusual to pour suppressive fire into structures if you've got TIC, FWIAs and a dismounted patrol on the way.

    It's always easy to second guess (and it's required through AAR anyway), and even if I'm thinking "iffy" on the van, I'm also not the one being asked to live with the decision to let possible enemy combatants in a kill zone 150m away from the unit that declared TIC get away, perhaps to regroup and redistribute those weapons and return to fight.

    As a ground pounder and based on the camera angles and resolution I saw from the lead bird, I could not have said they had 1xRPG, but that doesn't necessarily matter; I could say that they had 2x ready to unleash SAF close to the unit in TIC (that mattered); and that the follow-on vehicle had retrieved enemy weapons.

    Not a decision I would've made on the van, but it can be defended based on the moment.

    SNLII

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  12. I'm not going to pass judgment on what happened, or try to speculate about the ROE, or how the pilots justified their decision to fire, or any of that. My opinion on the subject is entirely uninformed by experience or a real understanding of the law, so I'll leave it to the experts.

    What I will say is that when I sat down to watch the video (having read all of these comments), I was fully prepared to witness some egregious stepping-over-the-line and be completely outraged. Turns out that's not what happened.

    One of the real weaknesses of this presentation, for me, is that it totally lacks context. If you're paying attention and interested in figuring out what's going on, you can tell that there was a mounted American element nearby and this Apache was flying in support of that element. This wasn't just a helo cruising around looking for someone to shoot, which is how the video (and the quotes at the end) pitches it: a guy with a camera starts taking picures, a crowd gathers, and the Americans start shooting. Except not. It makes a lot more sense when you consider that these actions were taken in direct support of a U.S. unit on the ground. SNLII makes good points here.

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  13. I'm having some problems with Starbuck's exegesis of COIN at his site, too.

    He seems to believe that infantry eyes on the ground are somehow better than the optics that Apaches bring to the game. I'm NOT sure about that.

    The Apache pilots seems to have had much better eyes on the target than the mounted patrol about 150m away, much better than what our snipers often enjoy, much better than we would have with suppressing fire from 60mm or heavier mortars, should we choose to use organic fires to knock back the oncoming enemies (building restrictions likely would toss that out).

    Most certainly the eyes on the ground wouldn't be able to move around to get the angles the birds had, to zoom in and out from above, and to ask the same from another mounted platform zipping above.

    "News flash: picking up wounded bodies is not a hostile act. "

    News flash: Picking up weapons is.

    "gain, read FM 3-24, Appendix F. Another obvious COIN failure."

    FM 3-24 is a big fucking COIN failure. It's why a movement is trying to rewrite the worthless thing. One of our fears is that it would be used pedantically by practitioners to plan combat ops and judge success or failure for small unit commanders, much as Starbuck apparently does here to kibbitz.

    "The same thing happens as they fire a second missile into the building--as figures are seen walking into the burning structure"

    If I'm in a TIC, and I have enemies moving into a building, and I'm in a TIC guarding a downed vehicle with EWIA, I don't care what McChrystal, Starbuck or George Effing Washington says on the subject, I'm going to put rounds into that building.

    We get so caught up in the COIN bromides that we forget combat is still combat. This isn't a table top exercise.

    You had a TIC. You had enemies moving toward them. You had birds in support.

    I'm effing using those birds. I'm sorry, but that's what I'm going to do and I'll sleep pretty well at night if my patrol gets back.

    SNLII

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  14. SNLII, aside from persisting in your huggy-wuggy COIN-fest strawman argument, you're obscuring the fact that the pilots reported once that the van was 'possibly picking up bodies and weapons', and then never mentioned picking up weapons again. Why? Because in the video (and there don't seem to be continuity issues over this portion) the people who got out of the van did not at any point pick up weapons. The only thing they touched was the wounded reporter. If they'd been collecting weapons, it'd be a whole different thing.

    Second, are you seriously arguing that anyone in the streets within 150m of TIC in a densely populated urban environment is a 'possible enemy combatant' and can legitimately be engaged?

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  15. Second, are you seriously arguing that anyone in the streets within 150m of TIC in a densely populated urban environment is a 'possible enemy combatant' and can legitimately be engaged?

    Far be it from me to speak on SNLII's behalf, but it seems certain that this is not his argument.

    The Geneva Convention (on treatment of the wounded) says that the wounded and sick are not able to forego their status, which would suggest that once you're wounded, you can't re-expose yourself to hostile action by trying to get back in the fight, or aiding those who are not wounded. This strikes me as a crazy provision.

    Answers on a postcard, please: what is the legal status of an unarmed individual aiding wounded personnel on the battlefield? Does this status change if that person can be said to be facilitating the wounded individual's return to the fight?

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  16. I just went back and watched for a fourth time, and more inconsistencies jump out at me:

    - I can understand mistaking the camera lens for an RPG when the reported was poking it around the corner, but when the helo comes back around and has the group in full sight again they've got their best look at the guys yet and there are clearly no RPG tubes there. Where did they think those tubes had disappeared to? It looked like 2 guys were carrying AK-47s, but they keep inflating how many in the group are armed and what they're armed with.

    - With regard to the van, the pilots report the van is picking up weapons and bodies before it had even come to a stop.

    - When they finally directly ask for and receive permission to engage, it's only on the basis that the bongo truck is picking up bodies. No mention of picking up weapons.

    Unless the video has been altered, some of the PIDs seem like mistakes, some seem to creative, and in the final instance their reason to open fire is because the guys on the ground are helping an EWIA.

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  17. I can understand mistaking the camera lens for an RPG when the reported was poking it around the corner, but when the helo comes back around and has the group in full sight again they've got their best look at the guys yet and there are clearly no RPG tubes there.

    I think we're getting a bit too hung up on the whole RPG thing here. For one thing, the 15-6 reports note that there WAS in fact at least one RPG present. (It was pinned under the body of one of the enemy wounded when the dismounted troops arrive.) And secondly, the cameraman's allegedly pointing an RPG around the corner is not the only thing that would justify engaging the group. The helo pilots thought he had an RPG, and they were wrong. But there's an argument to be made that engaging a dude taking pictures of American movements from amidst a group carrying weapons (and possibly moving towards the U.S. ground element) -- a guy who is not clearly identified as media, but could simply be documenting insurgent activity for propaganda purposes or whatever -- is just as legitimate as if he were pointing a weapon.

    The fact of the matter is that obviously everyone wishes these two media dudes had not been killed (well, except the Blackfive guys and their ilk), but it's not at all clear that anyone acted inappropriately.

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  18. Actually, Gulliver, if you watch the full unedited video the pilots explicitly state that the reason they engaged was that they thought the cameraman was about to fire on the TIC with an RPG. The rest of your points are absolutely valid, and I'll reiterate that I've got no problem with the first engagement. I haven't read the 15-6 yet - had trouble loading it.

    Although I'm open to being convinced otherwise, I still don't buy that there was any justification for killing the people in the van.

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  19. Actually, Gulliver, if you watch the full unedited video the pilots explicitly state that the reason they engaged was that they thought the cameraman was about to fire on the TIC with an RPG.

    Yeah, I know. But I'm not sure this matters. They were mistaken, obviously, but that doesn't necessarily make their actions unlawful or inappropriate. We can Monday morning quarterback it and say "well look, he didn't have an RPG!" But really, is that any better than saying in hindsight "it doesn't matter how things looked at the time, or who they were hanging out with, or what they were doing -- those dudes worked for REUTERS!"?

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  20. I think the fact that they worked for Reuters throws their status as "journalists" into serious question. Reuters hired more insurgent stringers than AQI.

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  21. Gulliver - I don't know how to be clearer about this: I agree with you on this point!

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  22. Gulliver - I don't know how to be clearer about this: I agree with you on this point!

    Ok. My teachers think I might be illiterate, I'm just saying.

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  23. You're just not used to me agreeing with you.

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  24. MK and Gulliver--you're freaking me out. This is weird. Oh and Gulliver, I'm now saying "I'm just saying" all the time and it's your fault.

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  25. MK and Gulliver--you're freaking me out. This is weird.

    We actually used to agree all the time, before we had a blog together!

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  26. We still do, but having gotten all that agreement out of the way we focus on all the contentious points. More fun that way.

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  27. MK, you're bringing an almost Jesuitical analysis of radio reports and video analysis of the pilots' actions, as if they weren't supporting units in a TIC.

    Yes, you say, there was an RPG present, but that wasn't being pointed at the unit in the TIC when they engaged, only a long lens that might or might not have looked like an RPG-7.

    Come on.

    The easiest means for the Reuters photographer and his driver to avoid the problem was to mark "TV" on their jackets with reflective tape. This is a common measure reporters use in Gaza, Baghdad and other nasty parts of the world to avoid getting hit by all sides in a conflict.

    The relative youth of the photographer might have explained why he didn't do this. I suggest that the Fire Coordinator would've hesitated lighting up two unknowns who were marked as "TV." This would've shown up on the surveillance optics, too.

    It's very easy in hindsight to judge bad kills. I, too, might have hesitated with the van. But if I'm the FAC and I'm told that insurgents had returned to retrieve weapons, they become fair game UNLESS I have other disqualifiers known to me, such as the fact that they were carrying kids in the back.

    I've seen unmarked Bongos lit up for a lot less than entering the place where we just engaged known, armed PID'd insurgents a whopping 150m from an ongoing TIC.

    I probably wouldn't have made the kill until I saw a little more, but the pilots seemed to have thought they saw two enemies in an unmarked vehicle roll up and start to retrieve the dead (or wounded) and their weapons.

    They had friendlies bound for there and their job was to shepherd the unit in a TIC, making sure to the best of their knowledge that they didn't nix any civilians in the area.

    It's very easy later to say that you woudn't have taken out the Bongo, but in the moment I'm not convinced you wouldn't have made the same choice. I'm not sure that I wouldn't have done it, and I had about the toughest PID standards of anyone I knew in my particularly hot AO.

    SNLII

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  28. SNLII - let me be crystal clear: whatever errors may have been made with regard to mis-identifying the cameras as RPGs, I think the pilots were fully justified in opening fire on the group that included the reporters. There were armed guys there. End of story.

    Here's where I think our difference lies on this: the way the pilots are talking, and their repeated exaggerations (when they were talking to each other, they didn't talk about 5-6 Iraqis with AK-47s, but that's what they reported over the net) suggest to me that it wasn't a good faith mistake as to whether the guys from the van were picking up weapons or not. It suggests to me that the pilots were looking to rack up some kills and were tailoring their reports to the FAC in order to secure permission to engage.

    I'm not ignoring the fog of war, or the uncertainty inherent in this kind of situation, but it seems like you're essentially eliminating the requirement for discrimination between combatant and civilian in cases of TIC - that mere presence is enough to imply hostile intent. I agree it's easy to pass judgment in hindsight, but the rules can't be endlessly malleable if they're to be meaningful.

    I could be wrong. I'm hoping I can get the 15-6 to download properly so I can read it and get more context. But on the basis of what I've seen in the longer video and what you seem to be arguing, if the bar is this low, almost any civilian within 150m of the TIC is fair game.

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  29. I don't think there is enough information to make even a rough guess at whether the first shot was justified. The van shooting doesn't look good. At risk of pimping my blog: long, rambling comment.

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  30. Well, it depends what civilians are doing. What I noticed (and which wasn't unexpected) was that there were no civilians in sight during that engagement, most probably because they knew the patrol was going to be attacked long before it happened, and they scooted.

    I actually talked today to (REDACTED) who (REDACTED) the (REDACTED) feeds for the unit in the TIC -- there are some things that haven't been mentioned, such as a BOLO on a vehicle like that, some HUMINT and SIGINT that would be known to the FAC but not the pilots, et al.

    The question about the Bongo really becomes one of timing. At what time would you have determined it was a good target? When you (and not the pilots) thought you saw him retrieving weapons?

    If the van picked up the dead and their weapons and stuck around to survey the patrol 150m away?

    If one of the insurgents began to communicate on a cellphone about what he saw and what they had done?

    If the Bongo moved toward the patrol in TIC, suggesting it might be a VBIED?

    At which point in this projected narrative would you have engaged? Or would you never have engaged?

    I'm certainly NOT saying that I would have engaged the Bongo based on the video I saw. But I also don't have all the information, nor am I making that call minutes after lawfully shredding some insurgents armed with an RPG and AKs as they moved toward a unit in TIC.


    SNLII

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  31. The pilots didn't see them retrieving weapons. That wasn't part of their request to the FAC to open fire.

    In answer to your question, I'd have lit up the guys in/from the van had they picked up the weapons, moved towards to the TIC, moved into a position to covertly observe the TIC...done anything that suggested hostile intent. Don't think talking on a cellphone would be enough unless they were observing at the same time- pretty hard to infer hostile intent without lip reading. And I notice you're working on the assumption that they were in fact insurgents. That's not evident from the video, though maybe you have other info.

    I agree - there may be context missing that could radically change the interpretation of the video. I'm not suggesting the pilots should be convicted on the basis of this clip: that's what investigations and courts are for. But like Schmedlap, this doesn't look good.

    Again, I look forward to reading the 15-6 report.

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  32. "Today he might shoot at you and tomorrow he might sell you a can of soda. "

    Oh, come on, Schmedlap. If you're bringing me a soda while I'm in a TIC, I probably won't shoot you. I might think that you're batsh** crazy, but I won't blow you to dots.

    If you're coming 150m from my disabled vehicle and I'm in a TIC and you're bringing AK-47s and an RPG-7, I'm probably not going to show you the same amount of human decency.

    Come on, dude.

    SNLII

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  33. "The pilots didn't see them retrieving weapons. That wasn't part of their request to the FAC to open fire."

    Actually, it was. They said that they thought the van driver and the other chap were retrieving bodies AND weapons. THey used "weapons" specifically.

    Did I see on the video that anyone retrieved weapons? No. Which is why I said it became a point of timing.

    Let's say that picking up the weapons, placing them in the truck, and then driving off might allow for the lawful firing on them, based on the traditional limitations on proportionality -- bullets against a vehicle, the projectiles unlikely in that environment to cause collateral human casualties (in other words, to kill civilians).

    Again, it's not a marked ambulance, but a Bongo. Was there a BOLO on a similar vehicle? Was their SIGINT on any cellphone intercepts in the area that might have suggested something other than a medical mission?

    That information might be known to the FAC but not the pilots.

    I can think of several situations wherein they not only could but SHOULD fire on that vehicle:

    1. If it began to show conduct similar to that of a VBIED, prowling toward the patrol calling TIC before speeding up;

    2. If a driver begins to signal to enemies the whereabouts of the patrol for the purpose of calling in indirect fire (such as mortars) or setting up other ambushes along the route for the TIC unit or the relieving patrol. Again, this is a tough call, but it's been done, especially if there's an intercepted cell call or he's talking to a known hot number;

    3. If the driver and his compatriot begin to stack the weapons in the Bongo, I think one would need to seriously consider engaging him before he left the immediate area because those armaments could be used elsewhere. This is a tough call because if I think that he has wounded inside his cab, I have to weigh their right to no longer be considered enemy combatants on their way to medical care with the obvious use of the truck to ferry contraband weapons that will kill other US soldiers eventually.

    Yes, the pilots seemed eager to engage. But I would rather have some guys happy to eliminate the enemies moving toward my pos than I would be some disinterested party in the sky who wanted to go home. There's a reason that they were parked.

    Ultimately, these issues should be resolved by the FAC, who relies on a number of factors to give permission to engage.

    It seemed to me from watching the video that the FAC was pretty quick to give permission for the Bongo strike. Maybe we need to ask why.

    SNLII

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  34. "Oh, come on, Schmedlap. If you're bringing me a soda while I'm in a TIC, I probably won't shoot you. I might think that you're batsh** crazy, but I won't blow you to dots."

    SNLII,

    The quote that you responded to was pulled from a passage that does not discuss this incident. It was from two paragraphs that, in general terms, contrast fighting against uniformed versus non-uniformed combatants.

    That said, good tip regarding the soda. Soldiers in firefights are likely an untapped niche in the market for carbonated beverages.

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  35. "Untapped" is a strange term to use for those applying the double tap, and trying to avoid the same, Schmedlap.

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  36. SNLII - Let's be clear about what the pilots told the FAC. The Times has conveniently provided a transcript (that I checked against the video). It's pretty clear that the FAC didn't hear and/or respond to the the pilot's initial request that mentioned picking up weapons. The FAC authorized engagement on the basis of the second request that only mentioned picking up bodies. I agree - we need to ask why.

    07:07 Yeah Bushmaster, we have a van that's approaching and picking up the bodies.

    07:14 Where's that van at?

    07:15 Right down there by the bodies.

    07:16 Okay, yeah.

    07:18 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse. We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly uh picking up bodies and weapons.

    07:25 Let me engage.

    07:28 Can I shoot?

    07:31 Roger. Break. Uh Crazyhorse One-Eight request permission to uh engage.

    07:36 Picking up the wounded?

    07:38 Yeah, we're trying to get permission to engage.

    07:41 Come on, let us shoot!

    07:44 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse One-Eight.

    07:49 They're taking him.

    07:51 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse One-Eight.

    07:56 This is Bushmaster Seven, go ahead.

    07:59 Roger. We have a black SUV-uh Bongo truck [van] picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.

    08:02 Fuck.

    08:06 This is Bushmaster Seven, roger. This is Bushmaster Seven, roger. Engage.

    08:12 One-Eight, engage.

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  37. Wow. Knowledge problem, indeed.

    Thomas Sowell makes the important distinction between "expert" knowledge versus "mundane" knowledge. Take for example the Titanic (which is one example he uses in the book I mentioned above): those in charge had more knowledge of seafaring than most, but it didn't prevent a piece of "mundane" knowledge (the presence and location of an iceberg) from, well, sinking the ship.

    I'm rambling.

    Anyway, random observations from a layperson: oddly enough, the conversation MK excerpts makes a different impression on me. I don't mean that I now am okay with everything, or that what happened was correct, or that the eagerness doesn't sort of freak me out a little, but that as a layperson I didn't know a pilot went through all that! S

    So, it seems more careful to me than I had envisioned. Hey, it's important to keep in mind that when you look at the data, and when I look at it, our backgrounds and expertise - or lack of - will alter what we "see."

    Isn't it funny how knowledge, or lack of it, or the twists and turns of it, change your perception of an event? How expert knowledge and mundane knowledge bump up against each other? You all have expert knowledge compared to me, but none of us has all the mundane knowledge because we weren't there. Again, not saying you can't judge or criticize if you weren't there, but that the best you can do is a thorough investigation. The truth will out, and as publically as possible.

    Does anyone get what I am trying to say :)

    Really am rambling today.

    Back to the reading....

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  38. Travis, for the record, the 15-6 says the injured kids were taken to a U.S. facility, and transferred to an Iraqi facility the next day. Wikileaks got that wrong.

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  39. Exactly, they reported to the FAC that they thought the Bongo driver and compatriot had come to retrieve bodies and weapons.

    Whether that transpired or not is important, but it was interesting (to me) that the FAC was willing to so quickly grant them permission to engage. What did he know, or think that he knew, before the description of the Bongo and the activities of its occupants arrived?

    I suggest that there might have been some previous info about that vehicle or a similar one (BOLO?) that led to such a quick decision about its identity and intent.

    The real key to this for me is NOT the pilot but rather the FAC.

    SNLII

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  40. SNLII, I'm beginning to worry about your reading comprehension. The FAC didn't acknowledge or respond to the report that the van was collecting bodies and weapons at 07:18. After getting no response to their first attempt, the pilots had to issue the request a second time (07:59), at which point they didn't mention picking up weapons.

    Not sure what to make of your suggestion, as even a BOLO on such a generic vehicle doesn't sound like a basis to open fire without evident hostile intent. But if your point is that we don't have all the info, point taken.

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  41. I think you're missing the parlance, MK.


    07:18 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse. We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly uh picking up bodies and weapons.

    (...)

    07:56 This is Bushmaster Seven, go ahead.

    Picking up bodies would not have meant much. Picking up weapons would.

    Bushmaster gave authority to engage ("go ahead"), which Crazyhorse first mistook as granting him permission to speak, so Bushmater reiterated with a "roger" (yes) and then another one, and then the order "engage," but everything from "go ahead."

    Indeed, he was kind of exasperated that Crazyhorse did NOT engage when he gave him the "go ahead."

    I can't believe I would be the only one who heard it this way.

    SNLII

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  42. SNLII - I read the 'go ahead' as Bushmaster's response to Crazyhorse's attempts to get his attention at 07:44 and 07:51. That's how it sounded to me on the video, too.

    So there are two possibilities: either the FAC authorized engagement on the basis of reports that the guys from the van were 'possibly picking up bodies and weapons', or were 'picking up bodies'. I realize these are judgment calls in the heat of battle, but neither of those seem like a basis for authorizing engagement. While I agree ultimate responsibility lies with the FAC, the pilots didn't help by reporting that the people from the van were 'possibly picking up weapons' before the vehicle had even come to a stop (one guy was already on foot, helping the wounded reporter, but it's not clear whether he was from the van or not). And I reiterate that I can't see any point where anyone from the van looks like they're picking up weapons - just helping one of the injured reporters.

    I really need to read the damn 15-6 reports. Haven't been able to get them to download properly so far.

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  43. Naw. I've been on both ends of that conversation too many times.

    "Go ahead" meant "engage" in that context, not "say again" (which is the right term to have used to get the pilot to retell his narrative).

    Should the FAC have asked for more information? In hindsight, one would say, "Roger." But in the heat of battle, time matters, so it gets kind of murky.

    There might be information that we don't know (and when I read the redacted 15-6 reports, they didn't exactly wow me with their insightful clues about what normally would be classified SIGINT; I learned about that from another party who did NOT give any statement in this matter).

    I have no doubt that the pilots were authorized to engage by the FAC and that he gave his consent really before they even described much of the sitrep.

    If you want to contend that they overstated their case, I won't fight it (although they didn't exactly detail how or even if the van driver and his helper were retrieving weapons). I'm just curious about why the FAC was so quick to permit it.

    I have some theories -- one is that after you've crossed one hurdle (lighting up several confirmed armed insurgents advancing toward a disabled patrol), it's pretty easy psychologically to do the FAC equivalent of "repeat" (hit 'em again).

    But I wouldn't have authorized the strike on the van until I had seen more (you got a sense of this sort of ROE-induced drama when one pilot was saying "just pick up the weapon. Just pick up the weapon," or something like that).

    I suspect that there was a BOLO out on that vehicle or one that looked like it, or that two of what cops call "actors" inside were suspected of doing something elsewhere and became viable threats to the FAC but might have been unknown otherwise to the pilots (on the video and in the stills, there actually were other potential targets being tracked and we don't know what happened to them).

    The 15-6s didn't really explain a lot of that to me, but that's not unusual.

    SNLII

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