Escalation of Force
I have written on this topic many times before; most of you have by now seen this article from the New York Times: Tighter Rules Fail to Stem Deaths of Innocent Afghans at Checkpoints. Here are the first two paragraphs:
American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.
We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat, said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.
As usual the reporting or at least the title is deceptive. There may be Afghans shot at checkpoints but that seems to be a very rare occurrence. Most of these shootings occur in escalation of force incidents involving rear vehicle turret gunners. To the best of my knowledge a VBIED has never been prevented from ramming home by a rear turret gunner although at least one died trying to stop one. That brave soldier would have most likely survived had he ducked down inside the MRAP.
There is a problem with the concept that a turret gunner can identify, and identify as friend or foe, a potential Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) in time to stop it with machinegun fire. That problem is the OODA Loop which I discussed at length in this post. There is another problem and that is with the rules that American military units most conform to. There is a standing order that every vehicle convoy leaving a FOB must have four MRAP’s and 16 soldiers at a minimum. If the Commanding General wants to preach about getting off the FOBs to protect the population on one hand, but declares that four MRAP’s and 16 riflemen, at minimum, for “force protection” is necessary, then there is a rhetorical disconnect. Is the local environment safe enough to conduct COIN operations or are the atmospherics such that it is reasonable to anticipate a determined IED followed by SAF (small arms fire) complex attack in all areas at all times in Afghanistan? I believe that in the vast majority of this nation ISAF vehicles (especially MRAP’s) can travel without any concern from IED or SAF attack. I would further stipulate that even if they were attacked, a two vehicle MRAP convoy could easily hold its own against the dozen to two dozen Taliban who comprise your average shoot and scoot squad.
There is another aspect of the article which I find hard to believe – from the article linked above:
The people are tired of all these cruel actions by the foreigners, and we can’t suffer it anymore, said Naqibullah Samim, a village elder from Hodkail, where Mr. Yonus lived. The people do not have any other choice, they will rise against the government and fight them and the foreigners. There are a lot of cases of killing of innocent people.
The Taliban kill many more innocent civilians than does ISAF. That being the case why have we not seen an increase in ANA recruitment from the families who have had innocents killed by the Taliban? Pashtunwali is supposed to work both ways when it comes to things like blood debt.
Finally the article ends, as these things must do, with a shot at the boogeymen of whatever the War on Terror is now called; security contractors.
“A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemary Bashary, said private security contractors sometimes killed civilians during escalation of force episodes, but he said he did not know the number of instances.”
Let me help the good minister out. There was a fatal shooting last spring by two Blackwater guys (they were working for a subcontractor so technically not BW guys in the eyes of the law) in Kabul and both of them are facing 2 counts of murder each back in America. There was an Aussie national from Four Horsemen who shot and killed what he thought to be a legitimate threat and he has been sentenced to death by hanging by an Afghan court and is currently sitting in Poli Charki. Yesterday a Global team out of Lashka Gar was hit by an IED/SAF attack outside of Marjah. They took 3 KIA and 1 WIA claiming to have killed seven villains as they fought to free up their mates hit in the IED blast. That claim is, as these things normally are, inconceivable. The villains tend to stay behind cover and blast away from around 500 to 600 meters after an IED attack knowing that PSD teams will leave as soon as they have recovered their injured or dead. There is no way the Global team would know how many guys (if any) they hit in a quick, fierce engagement of that nature. Those three examples cover all the shootings I know about in the last three years for Afghan contractors.
The reason that contractors do not get involved in that many shootings is that they do not ride around with machinegunners in turrets who think that they can stop a VBIED by shooting at it in time. That is the way to solve the entire “shoot the civilians” problem for ISAF – remove turret gunners. They have never stopped a VBIED, have killed over 600 innocent Afghans (and a few internationals) and started at least one riot. When force protection policy matches the COIN population centric rhetoric from on high, the numbers of innocent Afghans killed by “escalation of force” incidents will dramatically decrease.