07 April 2010

Hopefully, the last post on the Apache video

This Apache video is quickly spiraling out of control. Some final thoughts.

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.


El Goyito said...

Fine handling and assessment of this situation, Starbuck. A good reminder that war is not a game.

Andy Kravetz said...

Echo what he said. And remember to shoot back some vignettes from the conference for those of us without travel orders. :)

Jessica Siegel said...


Firstly let me say, thanks for writing such a great blog! I've really enjoyed reading it.

I am writing my MSc dissertation on milblogs and I am writing to you because I would be honoured to interview you for my work.

I am originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I have been reading milblogs for more than a year now because I find the narratives about life and experiences of war to be very interesting.

You can learn more about my project on my blog at: http://londonmilblogresearchproject.wordpress.com/

Thank you so much for your time, and again, thank you for running an excellent blog.

Yours sincerely,
Jessica Siegel

PS You can contact me directly at j.siegel (at) lse.ac.uk

Mike said...

As an Infantryman (3BCT, 10th Mountain Division) who has been faced with this situation I think the ground element and the AWT acted well. Sure, shadowing the insurgents could have turn something else up, or just as likely the birds would have run out of play time and no other assets would have been pushed down to the troopers. End results: a dry hole, an ambush or lose the bad guys.

Not all insurgents carry rifles, machine guns or RPG's. Radios or cell phones can call for fire, detonate IED's (regardless of ECM's), or maneuver additional enemy forces. Do you hesitate to engage a group of 10 people because only 3 or 4 are armed? If the people are acting relaxed around the armed insurgents does this not suggest, if not collusion, at least some level of aid or support?

What do you do if you are moving through an area and a military age male on a rooftop is observing you with binoculars from 200m away and talking on a radio or cell phone? That is a situation my platoon dealt with in Afghanistan in 2009. We came under heavy indirect fire (6 x airburst RPG's and at least 4 82mm mortar rounds) followed by a complex ambush as we maneuvered towards a village.

Speaking strictly as an Infantryman we could have assumed (correctly) that he was an insurgent Forward Observer and therefor a legitimate military target. Instead, our Platoon Leader decided that since he did not have a visible "weapon" we could do nothing. Result, one seriously wounded US troop and one seriously wounded Afghani child.

Yes there is a fog of war on the battlefield but we must take a step back, even in COIN, to realize that the life of US and Coalition soldiers is first in our minds. When you forget that you may as well use them for cannon fodder.

Starbuck said...

Mike--these are some very excellent points and highlight the very real complexities of dealing with counterinsurgency. Thank you for your input.

Climb to Glory!
Fly to Glory!

Schmedlap said...

FYI - You and I are now intercontinental.

Starbuck said...

Schmedlap, I wonder if I should put this on my OER support form or not :)