Sunday, February 25, 2007

Trained killers or police officers?

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - I've received several questions in response to the "Blue Bongo Battle" story about the goals of American soldiers in Iraq. Apparently, some people read the story and came away with the impression that the primary goal of the coalition forces in Iraq is to kill insurgents.

I can say from multiple first hand experiences while in Iraq that American soldiers genuinely view and actively train for deadly force as a last resort. Every time soldiers head outside the wire there is a mission briefing, and every mission briefing starts with a review of the rules of engagement. The rules of engagement are an explicit set of standards for how and when force may be used. A soldier must of have clear justification to fire his weapon.

Every soldier carries plastic "flex cuff" handcuffs, and in the past six months Bravo Company soldiers have captured twice as many insurgents as they have killed. Soldiers may not fire unless they are directly threatened. For instance they aren't allowed to shoot somebody just because they are holding a weapon, the weapon would have to be pointed at a soldier first. The standards seem pretty much the same as those that police officers in the US operate under.

Car bombs are a serious threat in Iraq, but there is a clear chain of escalation of force for stopping a suspicious vehicle:

1. Wave an orange flag or flashlight.
2. Fire a flare or orange chalk grenade.
3. Fire tracer bullets into the road in front of the vehicle.
4. Fire into the engine and wheels to disable the vehicle.
5. Fire at the driver.

I saw this happen multiple times, and it never got past step 2.

It is also important to note that a captured insurgent may reveal the names of other insurgents, or the locations of weapons caches. A dead insurgent doesn't talk. Soldiers understand this, and recognize that actionable intelligence is much more likely to save their life in the future than one more dead insurgent.

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Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)

Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: