May 23, 2008

Hairballs and Hellfires

In what I think is a fairly well-balanced article about the significant increase in the use of U.S. Hellfire missiles during the recent campaign against Shiite militiamen in Baghdad's Sadr City came this utterly bizarre claim:

One of Zahara's uncles, Dhia Rahi Shaie al-Koreishi, 34, a taxi driver, and her grandmother, Um Fadhil al-Koreishi, were killed by the blast.

"The heart of this family has been ripped out," said Alaa Rahi Shaie, 29, another uncle, who was stoic in describing the death of his brother. "This is his blood," he said, indicating red splotches in front of his home. "And the remains of his head are over there."

He pointed at a large mound of dirt. A group of young boys dug out the remains and then showed visitors a black bag filled with clumps of hair and scalp.

Family members and neighbors said they didn't see anyone in the area fire rockets. Two black funeral banners hung outside the battered home to honor the dead.

I'm sure some of my readers are more familiar with Muslim burial rites than I (just about anyone would be), but I've always been under the impression that Muslims were very careful to respect the dead and bury them as intact as possible shortly after their demise. Banners honoring the dead are nice. Not treating their remains like kabob scraps is nicer.

Does the claim here of the remains of Dhia Rahi Shaie al-Koreishi's head being unceremoniously dumped in a sack and buried by the family in a dirt pile where children perform ad-hoc exhumations strike anyone else as being odd, even for what we've heard of Iraq?

As for the apparent premise of the article that AGM-114M Hellfire II missiles take an inordinate number of civilian lives... well, I'm not sure what to tell you.

Hellfires are preferred for being one of the most accurate missiles currently deployed, and it has the added benefit of having a smallish explosive warhead, making it somewhat less dangerous than some other weapons systems that we could deploy.

The Post does not make any attempt to distinguish how many of the 251 Iraqis killed by Hellfire missiles were Shiite militiamen, Iranian-trained " Special Groups" operatives, and how many were real non-combatant civilians.

While the Post article was less than clear on this point, it seemed possible that Uncle brains-in-a-bag could have been one of the two men loading rockets into a vehicle who were watched for hours before being killed, and grandma might have simply had the misfortune of having her son followed home by a missile. Or they could have been innocent bystanders... we simply don't know.

We do know that the video accompanying the article shows several strikes on obviously armed fighters (including a large group caught red-handed firing rockets), with no obvious civilians nearby. Still, in urban combat civilians will always run the risk of being casualties, and we are making attempts to minimize that possibility now through tactical decisions made, and in the future via new weapons systems. The 5.3 lbs Spike missile, at just over two-feet long will hopefully provide just as much precision with less collateral fragmentation than the Hellfire in future urban conflicts.

Even then, the best advice for civilian in urban conflict areas is simple: don't stand to close militiamen and terrorists.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 23, 2008 01:03 PM

I ran across a You Tube site that had videos from US military action mostly in Iraq. Much of it was aerial footage from drones or bombers or helicopters but also some ground units. The aerial footage often had the radio traffic with it and showed things like camera crews going through the process of asking permission to launch a drone's missiles or clearance for a bomber or helicopter to fire.

The spread of the Internet and broadban access is giving us more and more opportunity to bypass our "trustworthy" media to get around how they filter things.

For example, how often have you see the press quote the US president or CIA chief or some 4 star general as the article quotes family members on the street in Iraq?

How often does the press simply relay the words that come out of the US government's mouth ---

--- without some qualifier????

It's BS.

But, more and more, the media is becoming irrelevant....

Posted by: usinkorea at May 23, 2008 02:07 PM

As odd as it may sound, there are strict rule in war. Rule one is to protect non-combatants - civilians, wounded and prisoners of war. Rule two is to make combatants easily distinguishable from non-combatants. That is why members of the military wear uniforms. French Partisans attacking Nazis in Paris wore arm bands. Combatants must carry their arms openly and not conceal them. Military organizations are required to have a chain of command who may be held responsible for enforcing these rules. These measures are not there to save soldiers, but to protect civilians.

Al Sadr's Mahdi Army respect none of these rules. They do not evacuate their civilians; they use them as human shields. They wear civilian clothes and hide their weapons. They launch rockets, detonate IEDs and fire mortars from residential areas full of civilians. All of these violations are war crimes. I hope the "rogue elements" of the Mahdi Army are held accountable.

Our armed forces have rules of engagement that require a target be clearly identified before they receive authorization to strike. If you are firing a mortar and run into a nearby house, do not be surprised if an AGM-114 is right behind you. As for the collateral damage from a Hellfire, it is a relatively small precision guided weapon that weighs about 100 lbs and will usually hit its target.

Finally, our opponents have excellent media exploitation capabilities. In fact, our media are willing accomplices in this propaganda campaign. Why should we believe anything the MSM media releases? I do not.

Posted by: arch at May 24, 2008 07:30 AM

As I remember, we were not allowed to exhume bodies of the dead in, I think Hadditha, because of Islamic burial requirements.

But now they just throw the head in a bag, bury it in the backyard, and dig it up to show any reporters that just happen by?

Something smells funny here.

Posted by: Scott at May 24, 2008 08:01 PM

I do not find civilian casualties funny and I don't take their deaths lightly, but....

No armed force, past or present, has taken better care to avoid killing innocents than the US, Israel, and British today. The US alone has taken 4,000 deaths and some 40,000 wounded in combat that sees innocents killed by those same troops as an exception not the rule. Gone are the days of Dresden or the fire bombing of Japan.

Posted by: mekan at May 25, 2008 09:45 PM

Isn't disseminating enemy propaganda during a time of war treason?

Posted by: Smarty at May 26, 2008 12:41 PM

Yeah well, its only the WaPO after all.

Posted by: grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr at May 26, 2008 04:35 PM

While it is certainly possible that utterly uninvolved people mightbe injured or killed in one of these strikes, we know that the jihadis are explicitly trained to a) deny their involvement, of course and b) fabricate slanders against whomever as a strategic attack on the opponents will. This is nothing new at all. But could we hope, a bit, that the press might ask for a smidge of corroboration? The head in the bag... Come on. It's not quite as ridiculous as the unfired bullets hitting the lady's house but close enough.

Posted by: megapotamus at May 27, 2008 11:16 AM