Monday, September 13, 2004


Bad Day in Baghdad, Continued-- The Case for Non-Lethal Weapons

A good summary of yesterday's fighting can be found here.

Leaving aside the political impacts of having an American helicopter fire into a crowd, I feel that there's an important tactical lesson to be learned here.

Once the Bradley was disabled, I assume that standard operating procedure would nominally involve securing the area until the vehicle could be repaired, recovered, or rendered unsalvageable. Given the threat environment emerging on the ground-- a large and growing crowd of belligerents, many unarmed but not all-- the only probable way to resolve the situation was either to send an armored convoy to secure the site, or to destroy the vehicle from the air.

The former would possibly have involved additional American casualties, as well as casualties from Iraqis actively resisting and/or innocent bystanders caught in the field of fire. The latter option, of course, is what was chosen, and a number of Iraqis, and at least one journalist, were killed and wounded as a result.

Perhaps one option may have been do nothing at all, and let the damaged Bradley fall into the insurgents hands. Whatever items of value that would be lost would probably have been insignificant when compared to the public relations damage suffered by firing on the crowd from the air. I would hope this option was considered, and rejected for good reason. The news reports I've read appear to suggest that the soldiers on the scene evacuating the wounded from the Bradley crew were the ones who called in the fire support, but they are not perfectly clear on the matter.

Now, I'm not going to debate whether the crowd posed a threat or not. I'm nearly 100% sure that some of them were armed. I'm almost as equally as sure that many were not. It's a difficult situation to face, and I am neither properly informed nor adequately trained to question the judgment of our soldiers on the ground-- they were there, they were under fire, and they called in the support they deemed necessary to resolve the situation.

What I will question is why, after years of research in labs, more non-lethal options are not available to American soldiers placed in these kind of situations.

See this Time Magazine article for a good overview of some of the systems in development. Also see this ABC News story focusing on a Humvee-mounted microwave area-denial weapon.

An operational microwave or sonic-weapon deployed from an airborne platform would have been an ideal weapon to bring to the Bradley incident. The anti-military protestors out there argue that microwave weapons, like many of the new non-lethal weapons in development, are inhumane in both their concept and operation.

Obviously, there is something viscerally disturbing in imagining invisible weapons that painfully heat your skin without burning, or emit sounds in frequencies guaranteed to make a man bend to the ground with vomiting. These are by design intended to be unpleasant experiences for their targets.

However, I would like to know how real bullets and real bombs are any less humane than weapons that at the very least offer a chance to resolve the situation without anyone getting killed.

The anti-military crowd must choose: weapons that wound and nearly always kill, or weapons that hurt and nearly never kill. No, they don't get to choose "no weapons at all"-- we deal with reality, not student union fantasies.

Many of these systems have spent over a decade in development. Hell, soldiers and Marines were lamenting their absence in Somalia. Why aren't they ready yet? Is it only a question of money, or do we need some scientific breakthroughs?

We are going to face situations similar to yesterday's fighting over and over again-- not only in Iraq, but nearly everywhere the United States military deploys. The deployment of these military options are long overdue.

umm, dead men dont sue. Propagandist dont care if you merely tortured someone instead of killed them outright. Non lethal weapons are a non-issue. if you could snap your fingers and your opponent fell asleep, they would still injure themselves falling to the ground, thereby giving your opponents a reason to fault you. And then a certain percentage of those would die from head injuries or some such, so you have the same media firestorm. The key is being justified in using force, if you are justified, then do it and let the chips fall as they may, if you arent, then you have to suffer the consequences of your poor judgement.

As you said, you were not there and dont have the information necessary to judge if the men on the ground made the right call. I trust our soldiers more than I trust the news outlets you reference.

If Iraqis or any other muslims dont want to die, dont charge our damaged vehicles looking for soldiers' bodies to desecrate, or weapons to scavenge.

Personally i have seen too many good men dragged thru the streets or had thier heads used as soccer balls to give a damn if a few "unarmed" radicals get offed when they are somewhere they shouldnt be, doing something they shouldnt be doing.

have a good life sir.
I'm at the "Screw 'em" level too. You don't want to get blown up, stay off of my truck. Cold hearted, but true. No matter what we do, we're still going to be the bad guy. We might as well make fewer of them along the way.

there are some legal reasons for not deploying these things, I think. Without doing any research and after a half bottle of cheap Shiraz, I think the difference has to do with US troops acting like soldiers v. US troops acting like police--and using non-lethal police weapons that aren't allowed by the Hague convention. Same reason our troops can't use tear gas. ( I'm pretty sure on the lawyer intervention part but not very sure at all about the reasoning.)

Which is kinda dumb, and in fact appears to promote civilian casualties. Remember back during the Clinton admin when the USN officer was ready to wax Bin Laden, but scrubbed the mission, saying "my lawyer doesn't like it"? I thought that sort of thing was done but it seems to be cramping our style in Iraq.

--See Dubya
See-Dubya, all:

Hey, I'm a shoot-first, ask questions later kind of guy myself. However, if given the chance, I'd much rather avoid unnnecessary carnage-- and with innocents, I'd do nearly everything possible to avoid killing them. We are human beings, not wanton murderers, and our soldiers have to sleep at night knowing they're the good guys, that they did the right thing.

Of course, I appreciate the reality of war, and understand that collateral damage (or whatever euphemism-of-the-day we're using at this particular time) is an unavoidable fact. However, barring a policy of total war, it's an undesirable outcome, particularly in the media age, where Haji gets a hangnail and ends up crying at the Hague.

Then again, a key point that occured to me yesterday was along the lines of See-Dub's comments: regardless of what you do, you're still going to get hammered for it. I can easily imagine a situation where CNN reports that the Marines had access to NLWs, and instead resorted to lethal force-- they may be fully justified by the rules of engagement, but now everybody and their mother will come out of the woodwork to second-guess their battlefield choices.

That all said-- I still see no valid reason to not have this technology deployed as soon as its available. If we can accomplish our tactical mission without unnecessary bloodshed, that may make our lives easier in the future. Yes, conversely, it could also make it harder-- see "Fallujah, Pussyfooting In"-- but I'd like commanders on the ground to have as many options as possible.

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