September 13, 2006

A Failure of Initiative

This is simply unbelievable:

Taliban terror leaders who had gathered for a funeral - and were secretly being watched by an eye-in-the-sky American drone - dodged assassination because U.S. rules of engagement bar attacks in cemeteries, according to a shocking report.

U.S. intelligence officers in Afghanistan are still fuming about the recent lost opportunity for an easy kill of Taliban honchos packed in tight formation for the burial, NBC News reported.
The unmanned airplane, circling undetected high overhead, fed a continuous satellite feed of the juicy target to officers on the ground.

"We were so excited. I came rushing in with the picture," one U.S. Army officer told NBC.
But that excitement quickly turned to gut-wrenching frustration because the rules of engagement on the ground in Afghanistan blocked the U.S. from mounting a missile or bomb strike in a cemetery, according to the report.

Pentagon officials declined comment and referred The Post to Central Command officers in Afghanistan, who did not respond to a request for comment or explanation.

We had a high concentration of enemy officers exposed with little or no cover, and did not fire upon them because they were in a cemetary?


Was it like this one in a battle in Najaf, Iraq, that was so well known they made a video game out of it?


This is the single most mind-numbingly stupid "shoot/no shoot" determinations I have heard of in this entire war. This was not a situation where that was significant risk of there being collateral damage to nearby civilians. The only people present were Taliban leaders that we want dead, and those in the cemetery that were already dead.

If this story is accurate and there are no mitigating circumstances we are unaware of, then we're looking at two levels of incompetence.

The higher level incompetence of placing cemeteries off limits in the rules of engagement was most likely the decision of senior military officers, perhaps with State Department input. Whoever made such a determination should be stripped of these duties. War is not to be fought politely, and the enemy should not be give a "timeout" from the war unless civilian lives are at risk.

On the direct tactical level, the officer directly in charge of this flight should have taken the initiative and made the determination that attacking such a concentration of Taliban leaders was more important to the success of the mission that was "going by the book."

A constant advantage for U.S. military forces throughout our nation's history has been the ability of individual small unit leaders to deviate from the battle plan when necessary to accomplish the mission on a fast-changing battlefield. Battle to battle, war to war, the decision was made to train our soldiers, from boot camp onward to seize the initiative to complete the mission.

That initiative was lost here.

The officer in charge of this flight certainly followed the rules, but he failed in his larger duty. The military's primary job is to protect the nation by killing its enemies. He unwilling to take the initiative needed to ignore an arbitrary decision, and enemy leaders walked away unscathed to plot death once more.

Update Footage of an estimated 190 massed Taliban from the Hellfire-armed Predator drone (via Fox News):


Based upon how tightly they are grouped, the single drone's Hellfire missiles would have likely have terminated the terrorism careers of every single Talib in this photo.

This military is investigating the leaking of the photo to the Post (h/t Michelle Malkin).

The U.S. military said Wednesday it is looking into the unauthorized release of a photo purportedly taken by an American drone aircraft showing scores of Taliban militants at a funeral in Afghanistan.

NBC News claimed U.S. Army officers wanted to attack the ceremony with missiles carried by the Predator drone, but were prevented under rules of battlefield engagement that bar attacks on cemeteries.

I have no problem with the investigation. A leak, even one that points out such obvious incompetence, is still a leak, no matter what the motive, and needs to be dealt with.

I do hope, however, that the Army spends as much time finding out why an absurd order not to fire upon massed terrorists simply becuase of their location in a cemetery was written. I'd also like them to investigate why that order was not quickly superceded by operational imperatives once the target was clearly identified for the large concentration of enemy forces that it was.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at September 13, 2006 01:19 PM | TrackBack

As long as cemeteries aren't protected under the Geneva conventions, you really have to wonder what genius thought this limitation up...

Posted by: Allan at September 13, 2006 01:42 PM

Because if they made a mistake in inteligence (I know, it's sounds crazy but it can happen) and hit a funeral of civilians it would be bad.

Considering how many weddings have been wiped out this may not be as foolish a policy as it sounds. Hearts and minds gentlemen, still need them.

That's the problem with a remote control war; it's remote.

Posted by: salvage at September 13, 2006 02:22 PM

I have two quotes from gueys smarter than I that are directly applicable:

"[W]e have reached a point at which the rules apply only to us, while our enemies are permitted unrestricted freedom." -- Ralph Peters, 10 July 2006

"People who try to be sensitive in a war have a tendency to die, and to take their nations with them." -- Steven Den Beste, 21 Sept 2002

(Cross-posted at Wizbang!)

Posted by: ExRat at September 13, 2006 02:43 PM

How do we know that they were ALL Taliban fighters, is it even possible that innocent civilians may've been among the mourners? We wouldn't want another wedding party massacre now, would we?

Posted by: SoWhat at September 13, 2006 03:05 PM

If even one of these tals lives long enough to be responsible for one US death, the clown who halted this operation will have a lot on his head.

Posted by: jay at September 13, 2006 04:32 PM

Note to Taliban Terror Leaders: You can come out of your caves now, the cemetaries are a safe base. Be sure to bring several civilians, preferably children, with you to use as shields. Feel free to shoot and kill as many United States Soldiers as you can while hiding behind your human shields in the cemetary. Your allies here in America, with hearts and minds fully engaged, will celebrate the deaths of any soldiers you kill and use them as examples as to why we need to bring all our troops home.

A leak is a leak, find it, plug it and prosecute it. But that is a cool picture.

Next find the politician(s)/diplomate(s)/lawyer(s)/commander(s) who decided that we can't attack a confirmed hositle force because they are in a cemetary and send them home to flip burgers at McDonalds. This is a war we're fighting and wars should be fought by serious people. (Note: this automatically diqualifies all elected politicians from making command decisions. Yes, even the President. His job is to give the military an objective, then get the hell out of the way and let them do their jobs.)

Another note to the Taliban: Our last picture was a little out of focus. Would you mind meeting back there again next tuesday for a reshoot?

Oh wait, they probably won't do that will they? After all the tag team duo of leaker and the media have just let them all know that we can identify them when they attend funerals. Thanks again for once again revealing United States Military capability to the enemy.

Finally, How was this not a win/win situation. They are all gathered together in one spot - we save on ammunition. They save on transportation costs for the funerals.

Posted by: David at September 13, 2006 05:09 PM

How do we know that they were ALL Taliban fighters, is it even possible that innocent civilians may've been among the mourners?

Harry Truman definitively dictated what the answer to this question should be.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at September 13, 2006 05:13 PM

There you have it.
CY doesn't support the tropps.

CY, I knew you'd come around.

Posted by: Robert at September 13, 2006 05:22 PM

When the services were over I hope they had the presence of mind to track a few of them back to their hiding places.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at September 13, 2006 08:41 PM

I would like to find the name of the guy who said no, or who didn't have the drone on station for when the funeral broke up...

Posted by: Don Meaker at September 13, 2006 09:50 PM

The wedding party massacre story happened because the wedding parties were was a ploy by the terrorists to cover large numbers of young men coming over the border with large amounts of cash.

The wedding tactic was watched, and when the numbers increased (because the ploy was working) they figured it out, and so hit a few. The wedding parties didn't work, so then the terrorists compensated by doing something else.

Posted by: Don Meaker at September 13, 2006 09:54 PM

So, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, Commanding General of Central Command, who is in charge of the Middle East, has established rules of engagement which prevented the U.S. Army from the easy July air attack on approximately 200 Taliban soldiers drawn up in ranks at a funeral in a cemetery in Afghanistan. Well let us reflect for a moment. The General is an American of Lebanese background who speaks Arabic and would seem perfect for the job. In line with the old tradition that if you fight America, we can appoint American Generals who speak your language, understand your culture, and will crush you! In John Abizaid’s case, this has not, to say the least, happened!

Consider for a moment, the same situation with General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower, an American of German extraction. In 1942, SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard “The Beast” Heydrich, head of the Sicherheitsdienst and acting “Protector” of Czechoslovakia, was assassinated by allied agents and, after the usual Nazi atrocities, the Germans subsequently held an elaborate funeral for the Obergrupppenfuhrer. Did General Eisenhower, out of concern for German sensibilities, order the great U.S. Army Air Corp not to attack German military funerals? Do pigs fly?

It is time for John Abizaid to be assigned to a command within his level of ability. Enough is enough! John Abizaid has clearly been promoted well beyond his level of competency. Not too shocking, as it has happened many times before, and will again. Gen. Abizaid may feel that things were simpler and more basic in the days of WW II. No General, I was there, and they were not!

Pat West

Posted by: Pat at September 14, 2006 12:59 AM

This was Clinton's fault obviously! Why isn't he prosecuted for these criminal lapses in tracking down and killing terrorists? There should be a special prosecutor assigned to solve this problem!

WTF is the president thinking here?

Posted by: bob perdriau at September 14, 2006 02:04 AM

Pat you are an idiot,Gen. Eisenhower did not order the bombing of any military funeral. Sheesh.

Clearly the drone operator's superior could not be sure that everyone in the mourning party was a Taliban, so why take the risk of killing innocent civilians?

Posted by: SoWhat at September 14, 2006 11:04 AM

Anyone at a funeral with Taliban terrorists is, by definition, not innocent and cannot be used as a human shield.

Lay down with dogs.....

Posted by: iconoclast at September 14, 2006 12:18 PM