Understanding the Events of Haditha

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 10 months ago

With regards to the events of Haditha, on the one hand we have John Murtha’s histrionics; on the other, the forthright, deadpan observation in recent testimony at Camp Pendleton:

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

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  1. On June 4, 2007 at 9:47 am, Dominique R. Poirier said:

    to my knowledge, the recourse to these cleaning techniques, as described in your post, is a corollary to technical innovations in weaponry and explosives, which happened mainly during the XXth century, to be precise. In most cases they were imagined and improvised by soldiers on battlefields in order to adapt to new trends and tactics in warfare.
    Also, cleaning techniques and others practices always raise the same questions relevant to ethical considerations and morality, and even to law as you shall see.

    As a way to justify my statement and to bring my contribution to the matter at hand I explain how and when.

    The main purpose of the flashbang grenade is to make one or more hypothetic opponents blind and deaf for a lapse long enough to provide its user with an advantage over his oppenent, while entering a room, usually.
    Adapted versions of the British Gammon grenade
    see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gammon_grenade
    were first used as flashbang grenades during WWII.

    The concussion or overpressure grenade, also called offensive grenade has been purposefully invented for house and “hole

  2. On June 4, 2007 at 7:39 pm, David Mullins said:

    It would not appear to be a room clearing exercise when
    women and children are shot in the head execution style at close range. Room clearing results in multiple body wounds and are not directly aimed at the head. Head shots are to finish off or execute.

    Saturday, Jun 02, 2007, Page 7
    Many of the 24 Iraqi civilians killed by Marine infantrymen in Haditha in 2005 died from close-range gunshot wounds, a military prosecutor said on Thursday. At least five Iraqis, two women and three men, were shot in the head.

  3. On June 4, 2007 at 11:27 pm, clazy said:

    David, You’re not very self-aware, are you? Take a look at what you wrote and compare it with what you quoted. If you’ve got a better quote, by all means supply it, but this one says nothing about “execution style”, it doesn’t define “close-range” so that you could reasonably extrapolate “execution style”, it doesn’t even describe the head wounds (not every head wound is the result of an execution), and it doesn’t mention children.

  4. On June 4, 2007 at 11:43 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Glad that you could drop by Dave. Prosecutors say a lot of things. Especially ones who weren’t there that day.

    I would have been surprised if room clearing had occurred and shots had NOT been taken to the head. This is what happens. The SAW gunner led them in that day. His weapon fires in nine round bursts. M16A2s/M4s fire in three round bursts (or single shot, but I would strongly suspect that they were on three round that day). It is all over in 3-5 seconds. The stack goes in furiously through the doorway with weapons going, firing at everything that moves, through the smoke of the grenade. I suspect that within 3 seconds, 50-60 rounds had been discharged — that is, after the fragmentation grenade had been used.

    Fire was taken from the room, and this is not in dispute. Not a shred of evidence exists to suggest otherwise, and no testimony of which I am aware denies this. Next, the CO had given the order to clear the room. In order to believe your sequence of events, you would have to hold that in spite of the order, the Marines put themselves and their brothers in mortal peril by entering a home from which they had taken shots (and behind which walls they believed insurgents to reside) in order to do what? Hesitate, and then take them out of the room in order to shoot them? And gain what, in comparison to simply clearing the room by the method described above?

    How much ever you might want to believe something like that, no Marine puts himself and his brothers in the way of harm, disobeying an order, in order to gain absolutely nothing (shooting the inhabitants of the room outside rather than inside). Or worse, waiting until they saw that they were not insurgents (thereby again putting themselves in mortal danger because they hesitated) and then deciding to shoot them anyway. In either case, the Marines hesitate. Hesitation means death. Read the ROE posts I have made.

    Hesitation is NOT part of the procedure. You can question the use of the procedure. But once the procedure is underway, you cannot stop it.

  5. On June 5, 2007 at 10:08 am, David Mullins said:

    Herschel thanks for the correction to my post as to article not supporting the statement. I certainly hope that this was truly a room clearing incident. After reviewing more of the info available on the internet I see Time’s article and facts on Haditha are much contested and mostly a year old. I did see this http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/military/20070601-9999-1m1chessan.html that seems to give more details of the prosecution’s evidence of recent date. Specifically, “At least five Iraqis were killed at close range by bullets fired into their head or face, Lt. Col. Paul Atterbury said in a Camp Pendleton courtroom. Powder burns on some of the bodies gave that indication, he said.
    Atterbury cited the example of a young woman who was shot at the base of her skull. Marine officers later found her body in a cowering position. Wrapped in one of her arms was a boy who was shot in the head.”

    And this testimony, ” Atterbury then looked at photos of some of the civilians killed in Haditha. He asked Parks whether the fatal shootings of men, women and children, some of them shot in the head, would amount to an incident that merited investigation.

    “The substantial number of head shots suggests to me that you have a nonresisting force. … (It) raises issues,

  6. On June 10, 2007 at 11:21 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Here are some good links that discuss and describe the collapse of the Haditha case against the Marines:

    Dinocrat: Fruit of the Poisoned Tree

    Newsmax: Bombshell Cripples Case Against Haditha Marines

    Democracy Project: Haditha Cases Continue to Crumble

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You are currently reading "Understanding the Events of Haditha", entry #517 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Haditha Roundup and was published June 3rd, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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