Collateral Murder: Did U.S. Apache Pilots’ Actions Violate the Rules of Engagement?

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 8 months ago

Following up from the Wikileaks release of the so-called Collateral Murder video there has been a firestorm of activity over both the internet and television.  One self-proclaimed intelligence expert claims that the actions of the Apache pilots violated the rules of engagement.

Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer … said that based on what he saw in the video, it appeared to be a violation of the military’s Rules of Engagement.

“First rule is, you may engage persons who commit hostile acts or show hostile intent by minimum force necessary,” he said. “Minimum force is necessary. If you see eight armed men, the first thing I would think as an intelligence officer is, ‘How can we take these guys and capture them?’ We don’t want to kill people arbitrarily; we want the intel take.

“Now, most importantly, when you see that van show up to take away the wounded, do not target or strike anyone who has surrendered or is out of combat due to sickness or wounds. So, the wound part of that I find disturbing, being that you clearly have people down, you have people on the way there. Speaking as an intelligence officer, my intent is to capture people, to recover them. That is the idea here. If you’re not really doing that, you’re not really doing precise combat.”

This is a misdirection play.  The former intelligence officer was first addressing the issue of violation of the ROE, then switched to the issue of what he would like to see in order to categorize this as precise combat, i.e., capture and intelligence recovery.  He offers us no evidence that the actions violated the ROE.  He says it and moves on to his pet issues.

There is ample evidence that the actions did not violate the ROE.  There are three categories under which these insurgents could have been targeted: (1) TIC (troops in contact) / self defense, (2) deliberate targeting, and finally (3) TST (time sensitive targets).

The AR 15-6 investigation into this incident points out that:

The cameraman raises the camera to sight through the viewfinder and his action appears prompts (sic) one of the pilots to remark “He’s getting ready to fire.”  Photos later recovered from the camera show a U.S. Army HMMWV sitting at an intersection, less than 100 meters away from the camera.  The digital time/date stamp on the photo indicates that these photos were the ones taken as the cameraman peered from behind the wall.  Due to the furtive nature of his movements, the cameraman gave every appearance of preparing to fire an RPG on U.S. Soldiers.

So the actions meet the definition of self defense in the ROE.  Next, there is an earlier version of the rules of engagement which has a larger list of potential targets in the deliberate targeting category.

There are six types of preplanned target sets: (1) Non-military elements of former regime command and control and associated facilities, (2) WMD storage facilities, (3) Iraqi infrastructure and Iraqi economic objects, (4) Terrorists, (5) Iraqi lines of communication, and (6) Facilities (associated with Designated Terrorists or Declared Hostile Forces).

But the 2007 revision of the ROE had at least the following list: members of designated terrorist organizations and facilities associated with DTOs.  It goes on to list certain DTOs, and as a side bar comment, it isn’t clear to me why Ansar al Sunna isn’t specifically called out.  But that has nothing per se to do with this incident, and “other groups or terrorist organizations” covers this operation.

Finally, time sensitive targets (for which there is insufficient time to gain formal authorization) covers the kills at the location of the van which showed up to recover the bodies.

To be sure, this video can be disturbing to those who do not understand that war means enacting and enforcing violence, and can be equally disturbing to those who have had to do so either in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Memories can be difficult things.  It’s always better in retrospect to learn that the targets you acquired and killed were indeed threats against U.S. forces.  This is true in this instance except for two very stupid Reuters journalists embedded with insurgents, and two unfortunate children (who, by the way, lived) who should never have been brought into combat by some very stupid – and dead – insurgents.

Prior:

Wikileaks Posts Video of U.S. Army Killings in Iraq: Collateral Murder?

Rules of Engagement Category

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Comments

  1. On April 7, 2010 at 5:43 am, davod said:

    More to the point is why release the video now?

  2. On April 7, 2010 at 6:26 am, Gary said:

    If one sees a group of armed men, obviously NOT on the Allied side, how many Allied lives is one prepared to lose to interrogate what are probably just foot soldiers with little or no valuable intel. Dead they pose no further risk.Dead men tel no tales. They also pose no risk! Gary (British Army Regular 1964 to 1971 served Aden 1967. Army reserve 1972 to 1984.)

  3. On April 7, 2010 at 9:07 am, Warbucks said:

    Davod’s 10 words are deeply thought provoking. Intuitively I respect the brilliance of short comments that open the mind. Much like Einstein’s E=MC^2, the closer we get to truth, the simpler the formula.

    Why now? We can probably think of more than one reason for the release of this video now.

    While I am not sure the following is a reason, it will, nonetheless play a role on the events that unfold, the selection of a set of applicable laws, and in a combat setting the level of tolerance for human error in the traumatic environment of self-preservation and extension of deadly force.

    Go now to the Vatican. Yes, you read that correctly. Go now to the Vatican.

    The Vatican as we all commonly accept is treated as a sovereign country. The Vatican even enjoys an advisory vote on many of the chambers within the United Nations, unlike any other organization.

    As the issue of sexual predators and the multi-generational harm caused upon so many, works its disruptive, punitive, understandably painful process of healing from the inside of the body of the church to the outside release of its boils, pocks, and cysts onto the greater community for healing, an important question is being asked: Are the bishops “employees” of the Vatican?

    The larger question in world affairs then becomes: Can I hold you accountable across boarders? If so, in what court?

    And if such a mechanism exists for enforcement am I limited in my damages to just the “employee” (the pilot), or is the organization responsible (the Pope, the President, etc.) and to what extent?

    Which all comes right back to Davod’s inciteful question, why now?

  4. On July 15, 2011 at 1:19 am, Edward Wood said:

    They were not insurgents – they were children and young men hanging out with a photographer! Did you even watch the video?! As for the van that pulled up to help the wounded there was NOTHING that even resembled a gun – not even a camera. And yet the Apache’s fired on them, too. BTW, even the US soldiers who came on the scene right afterwards were appaled at what happened, and later offered an open apology for what US gov allowed to happen. Your blog is SO far off base, that people might as well just watch a Rocky movie and blissfully think the US is always the good guy.

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You are currently reading "Collateral Murder: Did U.S. Apache Pilots’ Actions Violate the Rules of Engagement?", entry #4798 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Rules of Engagement and was published April 6th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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