“Precision Guided Munitions” Kill Children, Other Civilians in Marjah, Afghanistan

Posted: February 15, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

A few days ago a commenter on my blog took issue with my post, “Fallujah, New Orleans and Marjah“. Part of our disagreement focused on whether the Marines could precisely target their munitions. The commenter said in part:

What do you know about Marine Corps military operations? What do you know about the accuracy of any of the weapons in their arsenal? We are not talking about the CIA lobbing missiles at some Taliban bad guys from a UAV. We are talking about precision guided weapons.

I don’t often call out commenters like this, but at least 10 people including 5 children were butchered today because someone bought this kind of thinking in Marjah, Afghanistan:

An errant American rocket strike on Sunday hit a compound crowded with Afghan civilians in the last Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, killing at least 10 people, including 5 children, military officials said.

…Officers said the barrage had been fired from Camp Bastion, a large British and American base to the northeast, by a weapons system known as Himars, an acronym for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Its munitions are GPS-guided and advertised as being accurate enough to strike within a yard of their intended targets.

The hype surrounding so-called “smart bombs” and “precision guided munitions” is one of the reasons Americans feel so free to go to war in civilian areas, and it’s one of the most pernicious pieces of misinformation spread by the pro-war crowd. These devices may be more precise than, say, a World-War-II-era blockbuster, but, as February 14th’s outrage shows, they are anything but foolproof. In fact, of the first 50 “precision” air strikes launched at the opening of the Iraq War, “All were unsuccessful.”

The public’s mistaken perception that the U.S. military can fire munitions into a civilian area without harming noncombatants makes many Americans much more willing to back the use of military force. For example, this war-industry hype helped convince the Society of Christian Ethics to declare the Afghanistan war a “just war” in 2002.

There is no such thing as a humane war, and our inability to admit this to ourselves just butchered more than 10 noncombatants, including 5 children.

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Comments
  1. […] jump over it when it does happen. Of course our sources our always wrong and children seem to be be involved. Does not do well since half of the footage used is from Al Jazeera does not make me want to watch […]

  2. Sporkmaster says:

    It should be noted that civilian casualties just like friendly fire does happen despite our best efforts. How it is handed is what determines if a crime happened.

    http://thisainthell.us/blog/?p=17518

    • dcrowe says:

      Hey Sporkmaster:

      I’m not quite down with folks who are shouting “War crime!” (Partially, well, because when you’re a pacifist, that’s a redundancy…) “War crime” refers to a specific category of atrocity, as you imply above. What I’m hearing now is that initial reports were wrong, that the munition when exactly where it was aimed, and that the troops violated the rules of engagement by firing on the compound before they ascertained who was inside. If that’s the case, what are your thoughts on the incident?

      Also, what are your thoughts on troops complaining in the press about the rules of engagement?

      • Sporkmaster says:

        Well with the case of the missile strike what I would advise people to wait to find out all the details on what happened here. Consider Pat Tillman who everyone made the rush to say that he died from enemy fire but as the dust settled that he died from friendly fire. Because from what I was reading it sounded like a portable rocket launcher that missed it’s target. Then it became a indirect missile strike, so I am not sure where the truth ends and begins on this one yet.

        Well I would have to see the comments, but I do remember hearing how the rules in Iraq against Afghanistan where miles apart. Seems Afghanistan requires a lot more to get approval to open/return fire. So if you have been on several tours in Iraq and this is the first time you have been to Afghanistan then you would be frustrated and also Afghanistan is a lot hotter then Iraq is now.

        I know you are looking for a answer on this but the best I can offer is that if the evidence shows that soldiers killed civilians deliberately then throw the book at him. As far as accidents pull the soldiers off the line in the same way that they do police officers that fire their weapons and try to find out what happened before the rumor mill went into full steam.

        One of the things that our commander said was that he would support the choices of the gunners but be ready to support your actions. “Better judged bhttp://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/y 12 then carried by 6” was a common phrase.

        Oh did you see the photos of the girl who claimed sheris a CO but had no problems posing with two handguns?

  3. bob w says:

    DC,
    Cheers! I am still lurking, but have been too busy on my site to post or to comment (I am learning to speak Dari!)

    Let me throw out two points, for what it’s worth:

    You wrote above: “The hype surrounding so-called “smart bombs” and “precision guided munitions” is one of the reasons Americans feel so free to go to war in civilian areas”. Do you think after 4000 + Americans killed in 8 years, not to mention Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, Fallujah, Danial Pearl’s televised beheadings etc., that the American people are under some illusion about the nature of how we are fighting? I don’t. And the Europeans definitely aren’t. These civilian casualties, for instance, are on every newscast and newpaper. Three weeks ago, Lara Logan had a 60 minutes piece that showed two young boys accidentally shot by a Special Forces soldier. I’m not being callous, believe me I take this stuff stone cold serious, but I think you’re wrong if you believe people are under some illusion at this point about the brutality of this war.

    I agree that the capabilities of so-called smart weapons get oversold by all comers. But that’s not the reason why a HIMARS killed civilians the other day. Americans (and everyone else, for that matter) find themselves fighting somewhere else besides barren deserts or lonely forests is because more and more of the world’s population is in urban, built-up areas. If and when nations, non-state actors, etc., fight, more often they will do so in cities and towns and villages, and more often than not, there will be civilians there, smart weapons or not.

    Precision munitions are not a panacea; they malfunction, and they are subject to human error as well; many a precision guided bomb landed where it was supposed to, only to kill or wound the wrong person/people.

    And when you are fighting an enemy who is mixed in with the populace and exploits that populace to shield itself the risk of civilian casualties increases as well.

    But if all you are going to do is write a “grim milestone” every time there is casualties, you are grabbing for low-hanging fruit, and to little effect. This operation is under way, it’s not going to stop, and more American forces are on their way to Afghanistan. You are missing a broader (and more salient, in my opinion) point: according to ISAF, they’re conducting this operation to rid Helmand province of its last major Taliban stronghold. Once the combat phase of this action is over (and it will end), are the people worse off than when the Taliban were there? Does the district/province/central government establish itself there, provide real security, rule of law, etc? What is the follow-thru for the poppy farmers who, presumably losing their cash crops, now cannot pay off their crop loans to Taliban “banks”? Are the ANA and police who come in providing real security, or are they corrupt and incompetent?

    This operation, if deemed successful, will likely be a template for how the additional troops are employed in Afghanistan in other places once they arrive. Watching the inevitable follow-through with a critical eye as the dust settles will be important.

    I suspect part of your response is that it is an unjust war and we shouldn’t be there, yes, tracking. . .beyond that, for my part, I have seen over 8 years of large, named operations in all corners of Afghanistan, none of which had a significant, lasting impact over there. I know that you take a nuanced look at these things as well. I suspect that this one will be different, based on the leadership.

    So as you continue to believe that the war is unjust, must get out, etc, also keep an eye out for what’s happening in Helmand. . .

    By the way, I followed your link to that FB page; I know any open group that gets started is going to have its share of , ahem, eccentric people, but, so many? Did you advertise at Arkham asylum or something? check out my man Greg Meggs on your site; the Megger says “I look forward to military casualties, American and allied. If you invade a country you have to expect people to fight back.” Awesome, he’s really into the whole unjust war spirit of things! I bet he gets along well with the guys hoping the Taliban win, and with all the rethinkers concerned enough to write about the impending, New World Order!

    Please send pics of your first Rethink Afghanistan” beer call; better yet, send me a damn invite! I’ll behave, I promise, and I think I live in the same city as you!
    Bob

    • dcrowe says:

      Hey Bob W, glad to see you.

      I’m not being callous, believe me I take this stuff stone cold serious, but I think you’re wrong if you believe people are under some illusion at this point about the brutality of this war

      I would just refer you to the commenter lambasted at the top of this post. I don’t think it’s illusion about brutality, per se, but rather a misplaced faith in technology and a swallowing of war-industry advertising. Not two days before this casualty event, I get harangued by a very well-educated author for asserting that we’ll kill civilians in Marjah. Like you, I would think that we wouldn’t still be debating this sort of thing.

      f and when nations, non-state actors, etc., fight, more often they will do so in cities and towns and villages, and more often than not, there will be civilians there, smart weapons or not.

      I agree with this, which is another reason I think we should not be fighting wars in general. But assuming the rest of the U.S. is a little slow in coming around to agree with me, I think we should stop and think about this more before we just fumble ahead into the era of urban warfare. Sarajevo everywhere? No thank you.

      You are missing a broader (and more salient, in my opinion) point: according to ISAF, they’re conducting this operation to rid Helmand province of its last major Taliban stronghold. Once the combat phase of this action is over (and it will end), are the people worse off than when the Taliban were there? Does the district/province/central government establish itself there, provide real security, rule of law, etc? What is the follow-thru for the poppy farmers who, presumably losing their cash crops, now cannot pay off their crop loans to Taliban “banks”? Are the ANA and police who come in providing real security, or are they corrupt and incompetent?

      I agree with this totally. I’ll be walking and chewing bubblegum at the same time, though. An “administration in a box” complete with support from a Tajik-dominated police/ANA…I take it none of the light bulbs that thought of this were from the American South. If so, they should be asked to describe the connotations of “carpetbaggers.”

      I suspect that this one will be different, based on the leadership.

      I’ll forgo commentary on this, since we can just watch and see. I suspect that the reason we’re in non-strategic Marjah (last year, some other place was the “last” holdout of the Taliban, but hey whatevs) is to do a test run, possibly for Kandahar. The dynamic of a fight in Kandahar, though, will be totally different due to its importance to the Taliban and the Pashtuns generally. So there’s a danger in approving a Marjah-based template for Kandahar.

      Honestly, I think we’re on the way out. With the high-profile capture, the repeated attempts at reconciliation talks, the President’s statements about 2011, etc., I am cautiously optimistic that whatever the situation, two years from today we’ll have far fewer troops there. Admittedly, that puts those of us in the anti-war crowd in a weird place, strategically and message-wise. In my opinion that makes the “low-hanging fruit” job of holding the government accountable for major screw-ups even more important…because if we are leaving, then the major question is how.

      “I look forward to military casualties, American and allied. If you invade a country you have to expect people to fight back.”

      Note the distinction between a “Fan” and a “member of a group.” God bless Facebook for making Fan pages. 🙂 I do not hope for anyone’s death, ever.

      If we do a beer call, you’re invited. P.S. I’m in Austin now.

  4. […] really think that things like that would not be noticed much less ignored the Press. Also because of the dateless event you can be […]

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