For the Army, this is a public relations nightmare. We have a cliche in the military which says that "unlike fine wine, bad news does not get better over time". Such is the case here. In retrospect, it would have been best that the military been first with the video an at least offered an explanation. That would have at least played better than a "leaked" video, with a decidedly anti-war group editing the video to point out the civilians in the frame and not the insurgents. (H/T Schmedlap)
A few of my regular blog buddies have been leading the discussion at the Small Wars Council. Not too surprisingly, I tend to fall in line with the users "Schmedlap" and "Cavguy"--the screen name of Major Niel Smith. There's a general consensus that the first engagement--namely, the mistaking of the camera lens for an RPG--was regrettable, but just another tragic instance of the "fog of war". It's really the subsequent episodes--the van and the Hellfire strike on the building--that seemed to raise a number of questions.
I'm not sure I'll ever really figure out the real deal with the Hellfire strike, which occupies the last ten minutes of the video. I hadn't seen it mentioned in the official investigation, so I don't have a corroborating narrative (although the website keeps going down, so I'll admit I hadn't read the whole thing yet). There also appears to be critical footage cut from this section, which is necessary to reconstruct the event. From what I can gather, the ground element reports the sound of small arms fire coming from around 200 meters away. We see the footage cut to a shot of the Apache tracking a man walking along the street, looking as if he's carrying a rifle. The Apache crew tracks him to an abandoned building, and reports that around six insurgents fled the initial engagement and took shelter in a building. We, the viewer, can't determine if this really is true, based on the Youtube video. For the time being, however, let's assume it is.
The Apache reports the situation to the ground unit, who clears the Apache to engage. The troops in contact hadn't actually seen anyone enter the building--only the Apache crew seems to have seen the insurgents. The Apache gets some distance and makes a pass at the building with its Hellfire missile. Right before the missile is fired, you can see figures walking about the building. The Apache crew actually does notice these men as they begin their missile run, but the crew seems to ignore them.
After the missile hits, the Apache turns around for two more missile runs. On the second attack, we see men walking back into the building. It would be unusual for insurgents to go back into a building which was struck with a missile just moments prior. I'm curious as to who they were and whether or not anyone acknowledged these people going back into the building.
Again, a number of things about the Hellfire strike puzzle me, but it's difficult to really put this in context--vital portions of the recording seem to have been cut.
Anyway, a number of really great people have been weighing in on the issue. The highlights:
Greyhawk (as always) has the roundup
Voo Tatico (English Translation)
Anyway, I'm off to the Milblog conference in Washington, DC shortly. Hopefully, I can meet up with the CNAS crew and we can discuss some more peculiarities of Aviation and COIN. I'll be sure to keep you posted.