9 years, 10 months ago
CAMP PENDLETON — A Marine lieutenant testified Wednesday that he had never considered that Marines might have done anything wrong in killing 24 people in the Iraqi town of Haditha, even as he found the bodies of two women and six children huddled on a bed.
Lt. Max Frank, who had been ordered to take the bodies to the city morgue, said he assumed that the Marines had “cleared” three houses of suspected insurgents according to their standing orders — by throwing in fragmentation grenades and entering with blasts of M-16 fire.
The smoke from the grenades, Frank said, would have kept the Marines from seeing that they were firing on women and children.
How can Murtha behave so hysterically, with Lt. Frank testifying that he never considered that anything wrong was done by the Marines under his charge? Context is everything, and most discussions about the events of Haditha lack the proper context.
The events of Haditha occurred at the end of what we should consider Operation Iraqi Freedom 2: heavily kinetic operations against insurgents, with most of these operations involving military operations on urban terrain (MOUT). The events that most poignantly mark OIF2 occurred in Fallujah, i.e., the first and second battles of Fallujah. It is important to understand these battles.
Military doctrine can be simply described as a core set of beliefs, or a way of thinking about problems and framing military planning. Military strategy involves the planning and conduct of war. The two go hand in hand, with each informing the other. Military tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) are the lowest level conduct of war, and should be seen as a function of doctrine and strategy.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 (or the initial stages of the war when heavily conventional TTPs were employed), large population centers such as Fallujah were bypassed. This strategy led to the rapid overthrow of the regime, but the congregation of insurgents in urban areas. The battle for Fallujah in 2004 had as its strategy to force out the noncombatants, thus leaving the insurgents the (presumed) only persons left in the urban area. This assumption was essentially correct.
At the doctrinal and strategic level, the decision could have been made, for example, to starve the insurgents out of the city. Since there were displaced residents, there wasn’t time for this. From the standpoint of TTPs, the decision was made to engage the insurgents in heavily kinetic operations, relying most heavily on room clearing operations. In room clearing, the presupposition is that the room is inhabited by the enemy, and that the enemy is lying in wait to kill Marines.
The specific procedure, which will not be explained in detail here, involves first the use of a fragmentation grenade followed by fire from the firearms of the fire team (M16A2 or M4, and SAW). This is true with the exception that the Marine cannot carry enough grenades to use on all rooms in a city the size of Fallujah, and eventually, the TTP in the battle for Fallujah involved only firing, i.e., no use of a grenade. Firing is immediate and aimed at all inhabitants of the room, under the assumption, once again, that all inhabitants are the enemy.
Cordon and knock and other ‘softer’ approaches to counterinsurgency came later (so-called Operation Iraqi Freedom 3), but for the time periods marked by Fallujah (and in 2005 Haditha), room clearing was the TTP relied upon when fire was taken from a location in Anbar. It is also important to know that many veterans of the battle for Fallujah who left the theater after this battle went into the drill instructor ranks (for boot camp) or trainers for SOI (School of Infantry). Room clearing was taught to new Marines, and is still taught to this day.
On that fateful day in Haditha, the Marines were engaging in room clearing tactics. It isn’t any more complicated than that. It was an approved method of battling insurgents, it was ordered, and given that fire was coming from the location of the rooms that were cleared, it was justified. As we observed in Haditha Events Coming to a Head:
The one who led the stack into the room that day had previously been engaged in the battle for Fallujah. The protocol was to toss in a fragmentation grenade, and follow with a stack of four Marines (a “fire team