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January 25, 2007

Haifa Street
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:47 PM * 115 comments

Nearly four years on, we still don’t have Baghdad. If we have any city at all in the entire country, it should be Baghdad, the capital. How many times did Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their parrots tell us that Baghdad has been secured? How many new operations have there been to secure the already secured city?

Yesterday a US helicopter operated by mercenaries from Blackwater was shot down in central Baghdad.

Four of the five men on board survived the crash. Someone—either civilians, or insurgents in civiilian clothing (and how do you tell the difference?)—took the survivors, lined them up, and shot them in the backs of their heads. Either the insurgents knew where the helicopter would come down, the insurgents are everywhere, or the locals really, really don’t like Blackwater.

Meanwhile (via The Agonist):

Here’s what TV isn’t showing you.

“This is day twelve of the battle between Iraqi forces and Sunni gunmen at war in Haifa Street in the center of Baghdad. It’s only a mile and a half away from the heavily fortified Green Zone….”

A mile and a half from the Green Zone. You’d think that we could take and hold one street. Provide security for the residents. Allow them to go about their peaceful business.

As reported at Media Channel Dot Org:

There has been much heated debate over the past few years over media coverage of the Iraq War. The Bush administration has repeatedly attacked the ‘liberal bias’ of the mainstream news industry, claiming that it doesn’t report enough of the “good news” from Iraq, and focuses instead on the sensational and violent.

Those critical of the war and the occupation say just the opposite; that the mainstream news media has ignored much of the ‘bad news’ coming out of Iraq, leaving Americans with an impression of the war based more on a desire to follow the official White House narrative than facts on the ground. MediaChannel has long been in the latter camp, sponsoring (for example) last year’s ‘Show Us the War’ project, which published video pieces showing an Iraq overrun with violence and chaos—and an administration that seemed more intent on faith and ’spin’ than reality. We at MediaChannel believe that an informed citizenry is necessary to keep our democracy viable, and we have been strong advocates of the call for all news outlets—mainstream or independent—to produce and distribute accurate stories on the situation in Iraq.

Laura Logan, a CBS chief foreign correspondent, embedded with US troops, made a report. CBS hasn’t aired it. At least they didn’t totally spike it, but they buried it on their website.

The segment in question—”Battle for Haifa Street”—is a piece of first-rate journalism but one that only appears on the CBS News website—and has never been broadcast. It is a gritty, realistic look at life on the very mean streets of Baghdad, and includes interviews with civilians who complain that the US military presence is only making their lives worse and the situation more deadly.

“They told us they would bring democracy, they promised life would be better than it was under Saddam,” one told Logan. “But they brought us nothing but death and killing. They brought mass destruction to Baghdad.”

Several bodies are shown in the two-minute segment—”some with obvious signs of torture,” as Logan points out. She also notes that her crew had to flee for their lives when they we were warned of an impending attack. While fleeing, another civilian was killed before their eyes.

Help get the video—and the word—out. Ms. Logan has asked the bloggers of the world for aid in getting this shown on TV.

Nearly four years on, is it too much to ask that we have one street in Baghdad?

The video itself.

Comments on Haifa Street:
#1 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 01:06 AM:

The Iraqi Resistance in Baghdad took down a Blackhawk on Saturday, and then a little Defender on Tuesday.

If they've really figured out how to shoot down helicopters, then our Occupation is in a LOT of trouble.

#2 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 01:15 AM:

I think it may be too much to expect to control Haifa street which - presumably - used to be the route to Haifa, one of the main seaports of the Palestine coast. Somehow, things related to Palestine and occupation don't work out very well (with the exception of the Ottoman empire, I suppose).

#3 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 01:20 AM:

Bob #1: With all due respect, I think it's an error to capitalize the words "Iraqi Resistance". There are dozens of factions in Iraq, and we do ourselves no favors by labeling them as a single entity, even casually.

Hell, it's probably a mistake to speak of Iraqis right now. There's not much in the way of national identity there there.

Grumble. Sorry for picking on you.

#4 ::: Sven ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 01:20 AM:

Here's another video from BBC4 - accompanied by patriotic commentary explaining how blind sectarian rage : justice :: nutrasweet : sugar.

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 01:25 AM:

There was a post on Global Guerillas the other day breaking the attack down into steps, showing how sophisticated the resistance(s) is/are.

#6 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 01:38 AM:

From one of the comments at Global Guerillas:

>"The surge" looks like its going to be very exciting to watch. Preferably from a distance.

#8 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 02:12 AM:

Not only do "we" not have Baghdad, I don't think "we" have a clue what "we" would do with it if "we" had.

#9 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 02:18 AM:

A.J. at #2 no offense taken, dozens of factions, sure.

But the easiest shorthand way to characterize people who shoot at the helicopters of "the Occupation" is to call that the actions of "the Resistance". Sure, if we weren't in their sights, they'd probably be shooting at each other....

But in these particular choices of target: from the perspective of the Occupying Power, that looks a whole lot like a Resistance-with-a-capital-R.

#10 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 05:08 AM:

Bob Oldendorf: you might find War Nerd over at The Exile.ru interesting on the subject of RPG7s and what merry hell you can raise with them.

Helicopters are vulnerable, too. Turns out that RPG7s have a safety mechanism -- the warhead detonates about 950 metres after launch, when the rocket motor flames out. This generates a spray of white-hot copper, pointing straight forward along whatever ballistic arc the rocket is flying on .So they've apparently been learning to fire the RPG indirectly, so they go "pop" above the rotor disks of choppers. Helicopter rotors don't like being sprayed with white-hot copper. And RPGs are cheap. So smart helicopter pilots in Iraq don't loiter below 3000 feet AGL in areas where there might be insurgents.

#11 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 06:01 AM:

This may make me a horrible person, but while I I sympathese for US soldiers killedor wounded in Iraq, not so much with these mercenaries.

You don't want to get killed in Baghdad? Don't become a soldier for hire.

#12 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 06:48 AM:

Here's another video from BBC4 - accompanied by patriotic commentary explaining how blind sectarian rage : justice :: nutrasweet : sugar.

Actually that's from Channel 4 News. Channel 4 is not part of the BBC.

#13 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 07:09 AM:

Charlie @ #10 - am I the only one who wonders at a "safety mechanism" that makes it explode?

(It may actaully be safer than letting it carry on, but, still...)

#14 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 07:16 AM:

Just how many civil wars are going on simultaneously in Iraq?

#15 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 07:25 AM:

Yes, that "safety mechanism" puzzled me a bit. In things like anti-aircraft guns, the idea was to make sure the shell exploded in midair rather than going up, missing the (for example) German bomber, describing a parabola, falling back to earth and blowing up a bit of London instead. But the RPG's an anti-tank weapon. I suppose the safety thing is just "it's safer not to have live unexploded munitions lying around the place".

#16 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 07:46 AM:

Ajay - Thinking for a couple of minutes, if it's designed for infantry squads advancing into (West) Germany, then it probably is slightly safer: it explodes somewhere in the direction of the enemy rather than lie around and be trod on when your invincible red army overruns NATO.

(Except I always thought you should use light anti-tank weapons from close range, cover and to the flank or rear, so your round might well be heading towards your own side. That's probably enough of me trying to reconstruct the thought process of a soviet weapon design bureau.)

#17 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 08:25 AM:

Actually, it was based on a German WW2 design -- the Panzerfaust -- but it was the post-war Soviet developments that got it right, much as they looked at the Sturmgewehr 44 and developed the concept into the AK47.

Neil, the latest light infantry anti-tank rockets, like the Russian RPG-29 can penetrate the frontal armour of some modern main battle tanks. The main drawback is, they're not accurate at long range.

#18 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 08:37 AM:

#14 Fragano - how many civil wars in Iraq? At a guess, take the total population and divide by about 100. What we get over here is a picture of Bagdhad with govt/insurgency; govt/sunni; sunni/shia; extremists/not quite so extremists; police/anyone they please and then there are the numerous criminal gangs just lining their pockets.

Chaos, anarchy, civil war(s) - take your pick. Its all of them and more.

And they're going to be blaming us for a long, long time (something biblical, probably, unto the seventh generation, if we're lucky)

Can somebody please tell me what a helicopter operated by mercenaries was doing in a warzone? Unless this is another example of the Administration prosecuting policy by unattributable private enterprise. Anyone know who would have been paying them?

As for putting them up against a wall and shooting them, well, in that situation, what would you do?

#19 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 09:12 AM:

The RPG-2 was almost a Panzerfaust copy, with the same over-calibre warhead and using a black-powder charge almost like a recoilless gun. The RPG-7 adds a sustainer rocket which greatly extends the range.

I have seen one report of the "safety" fuse being used by African troops in the seventies to frighten off jet aircraft: what weapons produce explosions in mid-air when you're in an aircaft? It's heavy flak and brown flight-suit time.

One effect of the rocket is to make the round drift into a crosswind, until it burns out at 500m.

RPG-7 User's Manual [PDF]

"Of all the Soviet antitank weapons, the RPG-7 is probablt the best known to U.S. commanders. In Vietnam its efficiency in all types of combat, including fire at helicopters, was well established after its introduction in 1967."

Now, why am I thinking Blackhawk Down?

#20 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 09:49 AM:

Can somebody please tell me what a helicopter operated by mercenaries was doing in a warzone? ... Anyone know who would have been paying them?

They were providing security to a US State Department official. They would have been paid by middle-class US taxpayers.

#21 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 09:51 AM:

13: I don't know how much of a "safety" mechanism it is, as opposed to a deliberate alternative mode of operation.

18: Calm down. They've been there since 2003. These ones were escorting a State Department official's car.

#22 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 10:01 AM:

"It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

-- Donald Rumsfeld, 07 February 2003

#23 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 10:48 AM:

#22: Well, he got the first part of the statement right. Pity he was too stupid to listen to Colin Powell...

#24 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 10:59 AM:

Can somebody please tell me what a helicopter operated by mercenaries was doing in a warzone?

They were providing security to a US State Department official. They would have been paid by middle-class US taxpayers.

I know PMC's have been around for a while, but when I read stuff like this, it's just wrong in so many ways. Merc's make for bad international policy. Of course, there is political benefit for plausible deniability and all that, but that's exactly what makes them so bad for foreign policy.

#25 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:00 AM:

There was the UH60 with an assortment of senior officers, too, a bit earlier this month. Two colonels, at least one lt colonel, two command sergeant majors, a staff sgt, a major, a captain, a couple of others. Why were they all on the same chopper, I hear you asking? I haven't heard that. But that's going to hurt us.

#26 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:18 AM:

Martyn Taylor #18: That's roughly the picture we get here, which is what made me raise the question in the first place.

#27 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:22 AM:

Oh, come on, Jim. Why don't you buck up, straighten your spine, and look on the bright side.

After all:

Haifa Street is better than none.

You liberal media types just slay me.

#28 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:27 AM:

#25 P J Evans, because nobody learns lessons from Star Trek (never put all your command personel in the same shuttle craft).

#29 ::: David Dvorkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:30 AM:

One street in a city of five million ...

Now we know where the surge needs to go: into Haifa Street. Once we have that fully under control, and have solved the problem of getting helicopters in and out of there safely, we can send in additional troops to expand the area under control until the entire city has been pacified.

That should take no more than three million men and ten years. We can do it.

#30 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:37 AM:

What's the Geneva Convention requirement for mercenaries like this? Was shooting the mercenaries technically a war crime, or just shooting some unauthorized people who landed in the wrong neighborhood? (It's not like the people who shot them down would care one way or the other.)

The morality of using the PMC soldiers seems much nicer than normal soldiers, since they're overtly choosing to be there (not just people who joined the national guard and then found out they'd be going to Iraq soon), they're paid much better than normal soldiers. I'm pretty sure there's no legal power for the PMC to force them to stick around if they want to leave, though it would probably cost the former-mercenary money and might keep him from ever working again. Anyone know more about this?

#31 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:37 AM:

All that the surge will mean is that the Mehdi Army snipers won't have to commute to work.

#32 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:40 AM:

If they weren't first tried by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples, yes, shooting the mercenaries was a warcrime.

#33 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:41 AM:

The true cost of this defeat: Some French Jonah Goldberg clone is going to start calling us Velveeta-eating surrender monkeys.

#34 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:49 AM:

I don't suppose that this is the time to remark that the US Army, from what I have observed of them, are pretty much of the same mind as Count Cambronne on the subject of surrender. And he was a Frenchman, to boot.

#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:56 AM:

Fragano, we've been using mercenaries in quantity all along. They get paid far more than our regular forces. Some of them behave badly, of course, because one of the uses of mercenaries is to do things the regular military won't do. There's been more vindictiveness than usual in the killing of some of them.

Early in the war, some of them got ambushed, after which their bodies were burned by locals. Photos of the corpses made the national news. I believe it was at that point that Kos got pilloried for saying unkind things about mercenaries as a class. Since Kos is ex-military and grew up in El Salvador, and since Jim (who's also acquainted with the species) was saying nearly identical things to me about the incident, I figured the two of them knew what they were talking about.

#36 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 12:05 PM:

#32 James D. Macdonald, "war crimes."

I'm not so sure, and I am willing to be corrected on this point. I don't see that Blackwater has standardized uniforms (on the videos they have some mash-up US Desert equipment, chinos, and civi shirts). They have individual contracts with their clients (that is, they aren't under contract or control of the DoD). So, from the Iraqi's viewpoint, aren't these people "non-state actors" (aka "enemy combatants")? So while it maybe a crime (street justice, murder), I'm not sure it would be a war crime.

This is one of those problems with using mercs/contractors. I share the old military prejudice against them.

#37 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 12:09 PM:

Just as an FYI, Blackwater is the only merc/contractor group we hear about here in the US. I do know that the South African "Executive Solutions" are also operating there. I think there's three other US based companies, and soem Asian groups.

#38 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 12:15 PM:

What are the implications of our insecure hold on Baghdad, both in terms of the way the war's been conducted to date, and its probable consequences in the future?

#39 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 12:24 PM:

So while it maybe a crime (street justice, murder), I'm not sure it would be a war crime.

If we go by Bush definitions the Blackwater guys are unlawful combatants, but that isn't the way Geneva is written.

Depends on whether the folks who killed them are themselves military under command, or random civilians, or something else.

If the Mehdi Army killed them, it's a war crime. If Mohammed Who Runs the Fruit Stand killed them, that's murder (or perhaps manslaughter), but not a war crime.

#40 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 12:27 PM:

Teresa #35: I am not Martyn Taylor, nor was meant to be. I know mercenaries, excuse me, private security contractors have been in Iraq from the beginning to provide security to a variety of US interests.

#41 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 12:51 PM:

That's Lara Logan --- who's not just a CBS reporter, but a hot rising star there who is (among other things) one of the current featured correspondents on 60 Minutes. This isn't quite the equivalent of CBS owner Bill Paley spiking Cronkite's reporting on Watergate --- but it's uncomfortably close.

#42 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 01:09 PM:

What I've read, this looks like a well-organised operation by the insurgents.

First they ambush the State Department official and exscort, who happened to be contractors.

Then they ambushed the reaction force. Who also happened to be mercenaries. This is where, for me, it definitely crosses the line from bodyguarding to private army. Either the contractors have lousy security, or the insurgents are running a very good intel operation, watching what their enemy is doing and collating details. And there might have been ambuushes which weren't triggered, bacuse the reaction force didn't take that route.

And, in all this, two helicopters operated by contractors were shot at. One was damaged, one shot down.

This all needs a fair bit of command-and-control discipline--fighters who do what they're told in battle.

And it doesn't need a great military genius to do any of this. It's the sort of thing that could have happened to the Germans almost anywhere in occupied Europe in 1944. Ambushing the reaction force, that takes a bit more low cunning.

You don't need to be a Dorsai.

But these mercenaries, these Private Military Contractors, have a weakness. They don't have the depth of the US Army. They don't have the resources to handle a Blackhawk Down scenario. They don't have dozens of helicopters and a whole battalion of Rangers and the systems to handle the tactical command and control.

And so I suspect they got hammered in the time while they were out-matched, and the "proper" military got moving. It was like calling 911 for Police or Fire services. You have to know when to run away.

That's my feeling about the situation. These private armies are too big to just be bodyguards and escorts, but they're no longer big enough to face down the insurgents.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 01:34 PM:

Beep! Sorry, Fragano. Too many things on my mind this morning. I should have paid more attention to the one that murmured, "But surely Fragano knows about that."

#44 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 01:37 PM:

My landlord is a Vietnam veteran, and one of his recollections of his time there may help show how the insurgents know when and how to hit things:

"There were always plenty of Vietnamese who worked on the base. They did all sorts of things there, from translating and coordinating with the ARVN to laundry, and some of them were VC spies. Some did it because they believed in what the VC was doing. Some did it because they were getting paid, and some did it because they were afraid not to. We could never be sure they were, but we were surrounded by people who were willing to collect and deliver information to other people who knew how to put it together and make plans using that information."

No one person had to pick up all the information; it was a bit here and a bit there. But would any of you bet against there being Iraqis working inside the Green Zone who will do anything from picking up a cell phone, sending an e-mail,or copying a document for someone who wants to know what they have? Whether they do it from fear of the people they're spying for, hatred of the US, hatred of the mercs, need for money or protection, or whatever, doesn't matter. What matters is that details about the movements of personnel and supplies are not secure information, and making sure that they are is pretty much Not Possible in the current circumstances.
For anyone who's studied guerilla warfare, the history of resistance to occupations, or just lived through Vietnam this is pretty obvious. However, none of this appears to apply to anyone in this administration. As one of the great scholars and practitioners of guerilla warfare inn the 20th century observed, "The people are the sea, and the guerilla fighter is a fish that swims in the sea."
We are not fish, and the sea water is not on our side. It is foolish to assume that the water will side with us instead of the fish, especially when we are ignorant of both the sea and the fish.

#45 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 02:10 PM:

albatross @ 30: What's the Geneva Convention requirement for mercenaries like this?

Well, as in so many other things, it all depends.

First off, I think Blackwater USA's armed operators in Iraq are mercenaries, using the quacking duck test. They act like mercenaries, and do the work that you would hire mercenaries for. My guess, based on the limited number of interviews with BUSA operators, is that as individuals, they may well think of themselves as mercenaries.

Here is the standard definition of a mercenary in international law:

For the purposes of the present Convention,

1. A mercenary is any person who:

( a ) Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;

( b ) Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar rank and functions in the armed forces of that party;

( c ) Is neither a national of a party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a party to the conflict;

( d ) Is not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict; and

( e ) Has not been sent by a State which is not a party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.


It is fairly clear that, legally speaking, they were not mercenaries up to the handover of power to the Iraqi government. Before that point such a person would be considered a "national of a party to the conflict" who is "not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict". In my untrained opinion, these armed operators in this situation would be considered combatants -- but it is not clear as international law does not explicitly cover armed personnel who are nationals of a party, but not members of the armed forces. Unarmed employees of private military companies (PMC's), both before and after the handover should be considered noncombatants and therefore are "protected persons" under relevant international law.

It is after Paul Bremer handed over control to the new Iraqi government that things get interesting. As this is an legally an insurgency or civil war (I can think of a few other choice terms) and therefore an internal affair, the US is not legally a party to the conflict, and the PMC's are, to my understanding, under contract to US agencies (the State Department in this case, apparently). I think you could make a good argument that these armed operators fit the definition rather well, and could be considered mercenaries, and therefore not afforded the protection of international law either as prisoners of war or protected noncombatants. As mentioned before, you can try them and if found guilty by a competent tribunal, imprison or execute them. In this case, I think you would actually consider these murders under local criminal law, not war crimes as such.

I have seen some reference to PMC's asserting that a regulation promulgated by Paul Bremer legitimizes their continued presence -- perhaps some type of status-of-forces agreement. I have not yet been able to find the text of such a measure, if it exists, and therefore can't check their claim.

There is an interesting War College master's thesis on the current mess concerning legitimacy of PMC's and RJ Hillhouse's blog, The Spy Who Billed Me is often interesting.

Take with grain of salt, of course as IANAILNDIPOOCT.

#46 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 02:12 PM:

Back in 1989 I got ejected from defense contracting--the defense industry contracted, massively, similarly perhaps in size percentagewise to the contract that hit at the end of the 1960s.

There was a big difference this time around, though... Robert S. McNamara's revenant came back, more reprehensibly than ever apparently.

Once upon a time there were military specification and military standards, and what happened to them? Answer, they were excised, replaced by nothing or "commercial practice." Free MIL-SPECs and MIL-STDs that were freely available for use and not copyrighted, disappeared from having legal imposition, and what replaced them included IEEE publications costing sometimes $300 or more each, so obscure and ignored that even MIT, which the last time I was paying attention was supposed to be getting ALL IEEE publications, doesn't even have a copy of the one which applies to software testing! (My relative who's been permanent MIT research staff longer than I've been alive, looked for it on-line in MIT's internal databases while on the phone with me, and could find no copy of it in MIT's library system at all--and MIT has a LOT of libraries, with overlapping holdings in them)

I have been getting more and more of a comprehension of just how deep the rot and cuts hit and why Stark's War is so negative...

#47 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 02:39 PM:

Found it.

Apparently the Iraqi interim government agreed to abide by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order Number 17 as revised at the time of the 2004 handover. This measure is acting in lieu of a formal status of forces agreement (SOFA) as we have with a number of other countries that we have military units stationed in. Under this order, all coalition military, diplomatic and development personnel, as well as their contractors, are exempted from Iraqi legal jurisdiction. In particular (see sec. 1, para. 14 on page 3 of the order) "private security companies" providing security services to any of these otherwise exempted groups are also exempt from Iraqi legal jurisdiction. This has not yet been replaced by a formal SOFA with Iraq.

Basing your legal status on an occupation order imposed on an interim government which has been suceeded by a permanent government has its issues, as noted in this article from the American Society of International Law. It appears that this has become a concern in Congress as well.

#48 ::: Adrienne Travis ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 04:19 PM:

#36 : AAAARGH. I am *so tired* of people bringing up this "but they weren't wearing uniforms!" crap!

Their uniforms only matter under the THIRD Geneva Convention -- and even then, only barely, because if there is "any doubt" about whether a person is entitled to the protections of the Third Geneva Convention, you have to ACT AS IF THEY ARE SO ENTITLED until you KNOW THEY AREN'T. Which means, since they were acting in most other respects as declared combatants, you really have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

REGARDLESS of which, even if they AREN'T "regular combatants", and despite the mockery GWB and his crowd want to make of international Law, they're pretty unequivocally protected by the FOURTH Geneva Convention. I quote below articles 4, 5, and 13 of the Fourth Geneva Convention:

Article 4

Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.

Nationals of a State which is not bound by the Convention are not protected by it. Nationals of a neutral State who find themselves in the territory of a belligerent State, and nationals of a co-belligerent State, shall not be regarded as protected persons while the State of which they are nationals has normal diplomatic representation in the State in whose hands they are.

The provisions of Part II are, however, wider in application, as defined in Article 13.

Persons protected by the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1949, or by the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea of 12 August 1949, or by the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 12 August 1949, shall not be considered as protected persons within the meaning of the present Convention.

Article 5

Where in the territory of a Party to the conflict, the latter is satisfied that an individual protected person is definitely suspected of or engaged in activities hostile to the security of the State, such individual person shall not be entitled to claim such rights and privileges under the present Convention as would, if exercised in the favour of such individual person, be prejudicial to the security of such State.

Where in occupied territory an individual protected person is detained as a spy or saboteur, or as a person under definite suspicion of activity hostile to the security of the Occupying Power, such person shall, in those cases where absolute military security so requires, be regarded as having forfeited rights of communication under the present Convention.

In each case, such persons shall nevertheless be treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed by the present Convention. They shall also be granted the full rights and privileges of a protected person under the present Convention at the earliest date consistent with the security of the State or Occupying Power, as the case may be.

...

Article 13

The provisions of Part II cover the whole of the populations of the countries in conflict, without any adverse distinction based, in particular, on race, nationality, religion or political opinion, and are intended to alleviate the sufferings caused by war.

Which is to say, it DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER WHAT THEIR "COMBATANT STATUS" WAS, it's still a WAR CRIME to shoot them in the head without a trial. The only privilege of the Conventions you can legitimately deprive them of is the privilege of "communication", if they're a "spy or saboteur". There's that handwaving about "prejudicial to the security of the State" stuff in there, that's what the Bushies are using to make up this whole "unlawful combatants" thing, but i think it's pretty GODDAMN clear what it means in context--you don't have to let them jerk you around, but you DO have to observe their rights as well as you can.

#49 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 04:51 PM:

Adrienne, most of us have been though that part of the argument before. Somewhere on my hard drive I have the (old) US Army manual on the subject, and, as you say, it's pretty damn clear.

But in this particular thread, the main argument seems to be about the status of the PMCs. Killing a prisoner out of hand is murder, plain and simple. And it doesn't matter who does it, or where they do it. In this, there's no difference between Oradour-sur-Glane and Baghdad.

But I don't think this can be seen as a spin-off from Guantanamo. All that is no help, but it's an emergent characteristic of guerilla war.

And check on the raids the British Army did in Basra, a few weeks ago, rooting out sectarian death squads in the Iraqi Police.

"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier."

#50 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 06:27 PM:

Dave Bell,

Thanks for the cite; i had seen a different article on the subject but it hadn't really registered yet. :)

And Kipling is *always* appreciated.

I think my point is more that there seems to be a lot of confusion, engendered and encouraged by the Bushies, as to "who is a protected person under the Geneva Conventions" and "what is a war crime". And the answer seems pretty clear to me -- just about ANYBODY belonging to a nation involved in a conflict, when held by or in the territory of another party to the conflict, is protected under at least ONE of the Conventions (including mercenaries, most likely), and doing just about ANYTHING you wouldn't do to one of your own citizens accused of a crime is a war crime.

--Adrienne

#51 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 06:34 PM:

Imagine if... Bush Sr. had made good on his promise to the anti-Saddam insurgents in the early 1990s, and actually gone into Baghdad and dethroned Saddam Hussein back then?

Would the situation today have been different?

#52 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 06:49 PM:

R J Hillhouse is the blogger you should be reading for all your rent-a-trooper news.

#53 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 06:55 PM:

As I recall, Bush the Elder promised to "support" the insurgents, not actually storm the palace for them. Maybe give them the same no-fly protection that was given the Kurds.

If that had happened, we might still have Saddam around, but he'd be much more isolated. What might have become of the Shi'a? Not shafting them might have resulted in a less radical south. Just guessing.

#54 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 07:29 PM:

Adrienne @ 48 -- Good stuff, but there is a problem.

When the four principal Geneva instruments were drafted, the intention was to regulate warfare between states, classicly referred to as "armed confict with an international character". (It was intentionally phrased broadly.) These measures included the responsibilities of an occupying power and provided minimal protection to all persons involved in armed conflict without such international character. (The provisions you cited include some of those provisions.) As best as I can tell, up until the 2004 handover of power from the CPA these measures were in full force. Violations would be prosecutable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) as it specifically refers to these documents, as codified in FM 27-10 The Law of Land Warfare and sucessor measures.

The problem, as I understand it, comes after that handover, when the conflict lost much of that "international character" in international humanitarian law. The most, if not all the members of each of the two (or more) primary combatant parties claim to be Iraqi nationals. There is a recognized sovereign government of Iraq (I would not go so far as to call it completely independent) and legally we are there subsequent to a formal agreement between two states -- which includes the aforementioned CPA Order Number 17. Under GCI to GCIV, most of the specific protections for prisoners of war, and other persons, are not in effect.

That's not just my opinion. Representatives of the signatories to the original four Conventions drafted two Additional Protocols (I and II) in 1977, to specifically cover the kind of situation we are now in. They were accepted by almost every country, and are now generally considered customary international law. Protocol I considerably changes the rules on lawful combatants and prisoners of war, specifically removing almost all requirements concerning the wearing of uniforms (or other "distinctive sign"), requiring only that arms be openly carried. Obviously almost all participants in the current Morris dance in Iraq would be covered by Protocol I.

But that brings up a new problem. US representatives did sign both of the Additional Protocols. However, as far as I know, the Senate never ratified either one, and the US does not consider either to be formally binding. We do refer to them for certain purposes, such as the definition of a mercenary, which comes from Article 47 of Protocol I. Which means that as far as we are concerned, we are playing under the 1949 and not the 1977 rules. (Ironically, most of our allies in Iraq have ratified both Protocols.) We do not recognize members of the insurgency, or most foreign fighters in Iraq, legitimate combatants under the Geneva regime, and much of GCI to GCIV applies only in the most limited sense. If captured, they must be treated humanely, but they are not considered prisoners of war. Since there is a sovereign government in place that we have working agreements with, these acts today come under Iraqi criminal law, not military law as, presumably, the perpetrators were not members of the Multinational Force or a contractor to it. We don't recognize this as a war, in the strict legal sense of that term. Therefore it is difficult for us to consider these actions war crimes.

Of course, if you consider some of the other dangerously crackpot notions that have been presented as competent legal opinions, anything seems possible from the current administration.

#55 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 07:33 PM:

#41 (and OP) - I saw that Lara Logan report on CBS Evening News this week. It wasn't spiked.

#56 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 07:46 PM:

Does the Geneva Convention have a good Hucksters Room?

#57 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 07:58 PM:

#48, #50 Adrienne, I'm not a "Bushie." And my only allusion to Gitmo is to say, "if we say They are this(enemy combatant), this is a Bad Thing(tm), because we don't have to wait for 'future conflicts' to see if this could be applied to 'us'." Here it is.

Secondly, I am really interested in how we qualify the "Independent Contractors." As I remember, and IANAL, it is illegal for the US Government to hire "mercenaries," although this may have been a Presidential Directive, and not legislative law. But I believe this is why the companies and people are not referred to as "mercenaries" in any official capacity. I haven't read reports of this action, yet, but from the little cited here it sounds like these "armed guards" went from a defensive standing (get the package/client to safety) to an offensive operation. Are they then covered by our signing Geneva (while American's they aren't acting in an "official capacity" to engage in war activities)? If so, are the foreign nationals who are sending IC/PMCs under contract also covered? Are they "outlaw" in a classic definition? The can of worms that the administration was ignoring just got another kick and threatens to spill over.

This is why we shouldn't hire mercenaries. It's bad policy.

So, when I heard, I bowed my head and thought of their families, and I mourned the passing of another US Soldier (as the majority of Blackwater Agents are former US Military). I hope this isn't going to spark another Fallujah (political trigger to change war plans already in place with the problematic result) or give momentum for those that wish to expand this war in Iraq. If they were still in the US Forces, I would be one of those voices pushing to find the perpetrators. But they are mercenaries. Mercenaries not under the employ of the DoD. That may seem to be a hair-line difference to some, but for me there is a clear line there.

#58 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 08:06 PM:

After listening to Cheney the other day, and Richard Gates *right now* on the NPR news wrap-up, I'm thinking:

The assholes haven't learned anything, or changed their thinking in any way. Not one iota.

#59 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 08:19 PM:

j h woodyat @ 52: I completely agree.

The posts Blackwater Fever and For God, Country and that Bass Boat: The Contractor's Creed are priceless and I just cast my vote in the Get Smart Award for Exceptional Buffoonery in Espionage poll.

#60 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 08:20 PM:

Whoops. Sorry about mispelling your name, jh.

#61 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 08:27 PM:

The difference, the way I see it, between war crime and non-war crime isn't in the nature or status of the person killed, but in the nature or status of the person doing the killing.

Were the shooters members of an organized military force? Were they a mob? Was the shooter an individual acting alone?

Were the shooters in this case the local equivalent of the National Guard, the local equivalent of Focus on the Family, the local equivalent of the Crips, or the local equivalent of Bernard Goetz? The same deaths could either be, or not be, war crimes depending on the shooter.

#62 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 09:06 PM:

Stefan @ 56: Boooo; Hissss.

#63 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 09:40 PM:

James @ 61: Just so.

One also should consider just what type of mission that person is involved in, and the status of that mission under international law. If a military unit is part of a relief effort in a foreign country, as is common for some airlift and engineer units, an unlawful killing by a properly identified and uniformed soldier would, I think, not be covered by Geneva. In such a case either UCMJ or local law would be controlling.

Were the shooters in this case the local equivalent of the National Guard, the local equivalent of Focus on the Family, the local equivalent of the Crips, or the local equivalent of Bernard Goetz?

This is where the difference in what we recognize as binding versus what our allies (and for that, just about everybody else) recognize is important. As I read it, GCI through GCIV (as codified in the UCMJ and measures such as FM 27-10) would indicate that only the local National Guard would be recognized as a legitimate military force, subject to the full rigors of international humanitarian law on war crimes, and eligible to be recognized as prisoners of war.

However, if we had ratified the two Additional Protocols, it might be different. Bernard Goetz is handled the same either way -- he is handled by the local police and judiciary. But the case of the local version of the Crips intrigues me. Insurgent and organized crime groups are hard to distinguish from each other in many places. There might be cases, if the groups followed some basic guidelines such as bearing arms openly on a consistent basis and having a clear central command, where you might recognize them as legitimate combatants, and under the proper circumstances, their actions could be seen as war crimes. I think this is the kind of possibility that made ratification difficult -- many believe that Protocol I should have been more carefully worded.

As for Focus on the Family, well . . . I don't think they could have conceived of an outfit like that bunch.

#64 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2007, 11:48 PM:

Whether or not Blackwater is a legitimate force in bagdhad or acting in violation of the Geneva convention is irrelevant to the fact that the execution-style killing of four Blackwater employees is (1) wrong and (2) done by people who will never be brought to a court of law, civilian or military.

Iraq could be described as nothing more than a sequence of American and Iraqi deaths most of which will never be resolved by any legal sense of the term "justice".

#65 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 12:39 AM:

I'm wondering about the statements that the helicopter downings and subsequent actions represent some well-armed and -coordinated behavior. At least one report I've seen suggested the helicopter was brought down by "massive small-arms fire", noting that it wasn't clear whether the fire killed/injured enough of the flight crew to make them lose control or made the helicopter itself unflyable -- but it sounded like the copter was trying to do support closer than was safe for something of its armor class. (What I heard suggested it was a lightweight/agile machine rather than a heavy-combat craft.) Can anyone more knowledgeable comment?

The case of the ground response is even more interesting; I wonder whether there was any plan rather than simply a whitecell/antibody-style reaction, given the widespread arms and militia and the growing dislike of the U.S. (I've seen quotes of >70% want us out and >60% feel killing U.S. forces is appropriate.) We may have gotten to the point where any ]Westerner[ without heavy cover will be attacked by whoever is on hand, regardless of local affiliation.

#66 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 05:48 AM:

CHip: you might want to read this if you want to get some insight into what's going on at street level in Baghdad.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about this incident. There's a large part of me that feels that foreign mercenaries flying helicopter gunships over a city that's been illegally invaded and where there's a strong resistance movement deserve everything they get, up to and including a bullet in the back of the neck. Especially given the reputation they've been getting for doing the brute squad work that the US military won't undertake (after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke). These guys include thugs and serial killers who signed up for a job where one of the perks is killing foreigners without retribution. My heart doesn't bleed for them, other than in the most generic killing-is-wrong sense.

And then I look at the other side and their happy fun habit of murder and ethnic cleansing for profit, and I wouldn't give them the time of day either.

#67 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 11:12 AM:

Re #10 and #25 way above, about the UH-60 that went down on Jan. 20 in Diyala province, east of Baquba, killing 12 military aboard: This is from the LA Times article [emphasis mine] -

U.S. forces had cordoned off a vast area of farmland and sheep pasture to search for survivors.

The cause of the crash was under investigation and the names of the victims were being withheld pending notification of next of kin. But one Iraqi witness who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed the chopper was felled by ground fire. The U.S. military could not confirm that account.

"I'm not sure if it was a rocket or other projectiles," said the man, a farmer. "After the helicopter was fired upon it was obvious that it was losing control. Then it crashed with an explosion and the smoke started."

The farmer said he and others dared not approach the wreckage to rescue survivors for fear that arriving U.S. forces would open fire on them.

The U.S. military has come to increasingly rely on helicopters to transport troops between bases as roadside bombs target military vehicle convoys. The aircraft fly low to avoid ground-fire. "There are helicopters flying over the area all the time," said the farmer.

When I read the sentence in bold, I thought "wha? flying low seems to invite ground fire."

Did the reporter mean to say 'fly high', or, erm, 'fly at a high altitude'?

#68 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 11:50 AM:

#67 Nell, could be an arc of fire issue. If you fly high, the opposing force on the ground can both hear and see you coming and they have a longer window of opportunity to fire. Ground effect flying leaves only a little window for the ground force to prepare (advanced warning), and then the craft is in and out of the arc of fire faster (buildings and foliage get in the way).

#69 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 12:20 PM:

Nell --

You fly low and fast to have a low volume of observation -- the space from which you can be seen and brought under fire -- on the theory that, along with not flying straight courses, this gives you a situation in which, even if you do fly into the volume of observation of something that can shoot you down, you're probably not in that volume long enough for the folks controlling it to aim and fire.

Like everything else, this doesn't always work.

The higher you are flying, the further away you can be seen, and the more opportunities for your opponents to prepare a reception, since you do eventually have to come down to a lower altitude to land.

It sounds like areas of Iraq may be starting to involve no-safe-altitude conditions for helicopters.

#70 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 12:22 PM:

Re low flying choppers, something I know too much about since I live under the North Fort Lewis to Weir Prairie flight path: low-flying helicopter noise is disorienting. It's very hard to determine distance, direction, or location until the noise source is right over you (at which time, if they're less than a thousand feet up, it's a lot like getting beat with heavy sticks). There might also be an advantage in spotting ground movement from that height. I know they could see me when I flipped them the bird for coming over at 500 feet while I was hanging out laundry.

#71 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 01:32 PM:

it sounded like the copter was trying to do support closer than was safe for something of its armor class. (What I heard suggested it was a lightweight/agile machine rather than a heavy-combat craft.) Can anyone more knowledgeable comment?

I believe it was a Loach or "Little Bird". A Hughs 500, four seater. Magnum PI flew one, I believe. You may have also seen them in "Blackhawk Down".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hughes_H-6

The thing about helicopters is this: There aint nothing that can make em bullet proof. The Apache is the only US helicopter I know of that has armor that makes it bullet resistent, but if you were to deck it out like an A10, it would weigh too much. And I don't think Blackwater can qualify for an Apache. and if they did, they probably couldn't afford it.

The idea instead is that offensive weapons are cheaper and lighter than defensive armor, and you need a weapon anyway so its a sunk cost, so just load it up with guns and try to shoot anyone before they shoot you.

The other thing is that escort work probably benefits from being able to fly in and drop off some operators in case things go south. If the guy you're supposed to be protecting gets ambushed and grabbed by some bad guys, a minigun won't help you. You need some people who can go down, go one on on, and pull the good guy back out.

I think Blackwater operates the little birds by having pilot/copilot and two ops in the back, probably with a belt fed machine gun or worst case their own personal weapon and a whole lot of ammo. Then if they really need people on the ground they can drop off the two guys in back.


#72 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 04:37 PM:

Note: the Apache's reputation for survivability has been downgraded by Iraq. In retrospect, it would probably have been an extinct bird by the end of the first few days of conventional NATO-USSR combat.

#73 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 04:52 PM:

Claude,

My mistake. I hadn't realized we hadn't actually *ratified* the 1977 Protocols. *sigh*

Thanks for the clarifications, too, everyone. I'm just a bit hair-triggered on this issue, since it's fairly clear that the administration is doing a fairly good job of controlling the discourse on "who is a protected person", even among people who *know better*.

But i didn't mean to imply that anyone here is stupid or misguided; just that it's HARD to have any kind of correct info on the subject. Especially given that *i* didn't even have completely correct info, and thought i did!

--A

#74 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 07:00 PM:

If NATO vs. USSR had happened, the loss rates on both sides would have been horrendous.

A lot of NATO equipment was designed on the principle that you had to be able to kill a lot of enemy beforen their weapons got in range of you. That's why the Apache has the Hellfire missile, to kill tanks (and their crews) at long range. The gun is there for the same sorts of reason as the machinegun on a tank: it's not the primary weapon.

But Iraq doesn't have the relatively safe, friendly, ground that the Apache would have been lurking over as it fired missiles at those advancing tanks. And it doesn't have many targets worth a Hellfire. So the helicopters end up getting close to the enemy.

They're not fighting the war they were designed for. Nothing is. At least the infantry can change tactics.

#75 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 07:02 PM:

#72:

Wikipedia's explanation is that the apache was built for fighting WW3, engaging soviet tanks from a long distance. At which point, they would likely survive just fine. Distant, easy to identify and shoot targets. tanks or anti aircraft positions or missile sites all of which show up nicely on radar.

Iraq has shown that when you loiter over an urban environment where attacks could come from anywhere, the apache loses some of its advantages.

The article suggests that you're actually better off with something like a little bird or some transport ship and a number of door gunners to suppress any fire. Where as the apache can only engage a single target at a time.

The apache is armored, though, while most other helicopters are not. The apache cockpit is supposed to be able to be safe against 20 mm threats. and the entire ship is supposed to be able to take a 50 cal round. The engines/drivetrain is supposed to be able to take a 20 mm hit. If you're engaging soviet tanks in WW3, they'll probably be miles away while you shoot them with your hellfires. which means if someone shoots at you from taht distance, maybe you can duck, hopefully you're still moving, and maybe you only take a couple rounds of hits.

Hover over or orbit near the same spot in an urban environment where people can shoot at you from anywhere all the time and the rules are a little different.

So, multiple offensive weapons in an unarmored transport may be better than a single gunner/copilot in a heavily armored attack gunship.

#76 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 08:57 PM:

So, multiple offensive weapons in an unarmored transport may be better than a single gunner/copilot in a heavily armored attack gunship.

I suspect that depends on circumstances; get enough people mad enough at you, and "suppressive fire" can't suppress them all. Being in an urban environment would make matters even worse -- how do you know where to fire and have a chance of killing somebody dangerous instead of a would-have-stayed-peaceful civilian? Just another case where Shrub's ]clear vision[ (i.e., assuming separating white hats from black hats is easy) causes even more trouble.

Charlie: the Grauniad story is surprising only in acknowledgement of control of the police -- and that probably includes some boasting. At this point, I'm thinking that the main difference between Iraq and Somalia is that in Somalia the U.S. walked into the middle of a war instead of clearing away controls so the worst elements could flourish.

#77 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2007, 03:56 PM:

We've just lost another helicopter, this time at Najaf.

It looks very much like the Iraqis may have discovered the general solution to the helicopter problem: When there's a helicopter in the air, everyone on the ground shoot at it. Even if your weapon isn't accurate enough, long-enough range, or powerful enough to hit and do damage.

That worked in WWII for the Soviets against fixed wing aircraft from the Luftwaffe, and it looks like it's working again against US rotary wing aircraft.

The natural state of a helicopter is "falling out of the sky." If anything happens to the rotors or engine they don't glide well at all.

#78 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2007, 09:00 PM:

#77 - The rotor is a pretty big target that can only stand so much damage. And so much isn't all that much, as damage to the rotor tends to become worse due to the effects of an unbalanced rotor. And it's the weak spot in the design - you can't make it very heavy or cover it in something, for aerodynamic reasons.

#79 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2007, 11:17 PM:

Wasn't the insurgency (aka, then, the Taliban) in Afghanistan shooting down Soviet Hinds, which are well-armoured, using Stingers, certainly, but also RPG 7's?

The thing about choppers is that they are largish targets, are up there in the plain sight of God and everyone, are slow as aircraft go, (stationary when engaged in their employment), have precious little cover, and have vital working parts that can't be properly armoured, any failure of which will usually be catastrophic.

This would appear to imply that choppers should not be used in any situation where they might attract close-in ground fire of any sort. Like over any part of Baghdad, other than the Green Zone, or anywhere in Iraq where you might encounter such fire, which is to say, anywhere. Unless, that is, you consider the chopper expendible, have a large back-up of area ordnance and a FFZ, and you wish to inform those who shoot at choppers that to do so is to lose the entire neighbourhood. I am not stupid enough to think this is a Good Plan.

#80 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2007, 11:19 PM:

Henry Troup, you said what I said, and I'm sorry to have repeated you.

#81 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2007, 11:49 PM:

I have a large contingent of friends that are fixed-wing airplane buffs/pillots/whatever.

They pretty much don't like helicopters for that very reason. If you have a failure in a fixed wing aircraft, unless it's really bad, you can often just glide to the ground. A wounded helicopter is a stone in the air...

#82 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 12:49 AM:

Re #139:


If Mohammed Who Runs the Fruit Stand killed them, that's murder (or perhaps manslaughter), but not a war crime.

Quite possibly self-defense. A group of people, working together, come into your house or down your street armed to the teeth and pointing those weapons at you and your neighbors, it's about as clear a case as you can find for when self-defense is appropriate. Particularly if they've been showing up and attacking people in the neighborhod on a regular basis, and have made it clear they're going to keep doing this.

Right now we only have the word of "US officials" that they were shot in the back, and US officials there have a pretty strong motive to make US folks look good and everyone else look bad in this situation. It was also "US officials" of various sorts who said Saddam was linked to 9/11 and had WMD, so we know they might lie with sufficient motive.

Also an unnamed Iraqi official - but not knowing who this person is, or, more importantly, how he or she fits into the various factions of Iraqi politics and fighting, it's pretty hard to gauge the accuracy of what they're saying.

A group of Iraqi insurgents claims credit, but they have a pretty strong motive to do so, even if they aren't responsible, because it would demonstrate their power and improve their position within the internal Iraqi military-political sphere.

Given the known biases of the witnesses we've heard from, I don't think we know much more than that the helicopters went down and the people on it died in a way in some way related to the helicopter coming down. There are various accusations and claims from different parties involved. But each available point of view has plenty of credibility issues.

#83 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 10:03 AM:

OK. Having spent a little bit of time flying helicopters, I feel my favorite aircraft is getting unduly maligned.

Helicopters can fly without an engine. If you lose power, you can autorotate and do the equivalent of "gliding" to the ground. Your glide ratio is pretty bad, but that is compensated for by teh fact that you can land in a parking lot or street, whereas a fixed wing aircraft for the military have an engine out procedure that's basically "point at something harmless, ride it down, then eject".

Now, there are some failure modes where you get into trouble. losing your tail rotor sucks. This can happen if you lose the gearbox that connects the main rotor to the tail rotor. Maybe it gets shot. Maybe it leaks oil/grease and burns itself out.

Losing a rotor blade sucks too. I don't think they're as fragile as people tend to believe, though. I seem to recall an instructor had me fly into an opening between trees one time. I was concerned about hitting the brush. He said don't hit it if I can, but the stuff was small enough that it wouldn't kill us.

The fact of the matter is the thing that's killing choppers in Iraq is their missions, not their construction. operating at a couple hundred feet, flying around 50 to 150 knots, having to stay over the same position for an extended period of time, would kill an A-10. The "Blackhawk Down" incident had a sky full of RPGs, probably thousands of them being shot in the air. Put an A10 just above stall speed, at 300 feet, and have it circle over a position, and you'll probably see a few A10's getting shot down.

speed is life. But so is altitude/distance and time over target.

I don't think there is a technical solution to the problem, cause I don't think you can armor up anything so that it can survive a hornet's nest of RPG's, 7.62 mm and 50 cal's. Even M1 tanks need infantry screens when operating in an urban environment.


#84 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 10:59 AM:

ISTR that early on a reporter interviewed the "man in the street" after Baghdad was "occupied" by the US, and he confirmed that the helicopters drew fire from everyone. If you shoot enough RPG's into the air, chances are one will hit, and one is all you need to bring down a copter

#85 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 02:19 PM:

#74 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2007, 07:00 PM:

"If NATO vs. USSR had happened, the loss rates on both sides would have been horrendous."

(part snipped, about long-range engagements) "But Iraq doesn't have the relatively safe, friendly, ground that the Apache would have been lurking over as it fired missiles at those advancing tanks. And it doesn't have many targets worth a Hellfire. So the helicopters end up getting close to the enemy."

"They're not fighting the war they were designed for. Nothing is. At least the infantry can change tactics."


Long-range engagement of the enemy is nice, don't get me wrong. However, in a fast-moving, high-density war on mixed terrain of hills, woods, buildings and rivers, long range engagement is lucky. Throw in vast amounts of radio traffic, large amounts of jamming, zillions of radar sets operating, and (literally) thousands of jets shooting at anything flying which might be the enemy, plus soviet+US+European AAA missiles and guns. Radar is nice, but given the number of abandoned civilian cars, destroyed armored vehicles, and buildings around, there should be no shortage of hiding places and false echoes - what do you do if you scan a valley and you get a screen full of blips on the ground?

At that point my money is on catch as catch can engagements, with surprise being the norm.

Now, that Apache unit which got shot up was hit by what was (IMHO) perhaps the equivalent of a motorized third-echelon Soviet unit - no armored vehicles, no automatic cannon or dedicated AAA equipment, just rifles, LMG's and a few heavy machine guns. Probably nobody with AAA training, either; just learning by shooting.

Compare that with a first or second echelon armored unit, with a far higher density of HMG's and LMG's, much more ammo, and a number of dedicated AAA vehicles (auto cannon and missile units). That should be able to inflict far more losses than those Iraqis did.

This, to my mind, suggests that the Apaches were far more fragile than was thought; only good for situations where they could engage the enemy strictly on the terms of the Apache unit. First time they have a meeting engagement, and the unit is probably toast.

#86 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 02:26 PM:

BTW, please forgive me for playing the NATO VS WARPAC 'nostalgia' game. As the War Nerd says, it's not shop class, it's social studies. Politics is the dominant factor here.

I've actually been pleasantly surprised by the lack of massive helicopter casualties in this was, after Nov 2003. I don't believe that there's been a month yet where more than a single helicopter has been shot down by missiles. If Saddam has stockpiled a bunch of shoulder-launched SAM's, life would have been a lot rougher.

#87 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 02:34 PM:

Barry, it's even worse than you think. I did some reading around the SA-27 Strela that the Iraqis were using early on (they seem to have run out). The thing was not only as good as a Stinger, it was designed to be deployed in a battalion sized mesh network with a radio backbone -- if an SA-27 gunner spotted an enemy aircraft too late to shoot it, he could alert his neighbour a kilometre away and pass them a vector to the target. The idea was to create a lethal low altitude pincushion with MANPADs every few hundred metres, and force the choppers to fly up high where the serious AA or the air defense force interceptors can nail them.

Remember the USSR used to have five armed forces -- a navy, an army, and an air force (like everyone else); and also the ballistic missile force, and a dedicated air defense force (which operated everything from flak guns and MANPADs to ground-directed interceptors). I suspect the experience of flying Apaches against The Real McCoy™ would be very much worse than what the US army is currently getting at the hands of a bunch of irregulars with monkey-model knock-offs twenty years past their sell-by date.

#88 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 03:04 PM:

Barry, I'm open to correction here, but according to my tally the US has lost THREE helicopters in Iraq the last two weeks, which doesn't fit the "one per month" pattern.

#89 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 04:31 PM:

The number of you shall count to shall be three, and three shall be the number.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070129/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_helicopters

Since May 2003, the U.S. military has lost 54 helicopters in Iraq, about half of them to hostile fire,

#90 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 04:34 PM:

(also from the link)

After a series of attacks in 2003, the military issued new instructions to helicopter pilots, ordering them to fly lower and faster, measures which experts say makes if difficult for insurgent gunners to site in on the aircraft. Pilots were also ordered to vary their routes during trips between military bases.

During the 2003 invasion, more than 30 Apache Longbows had to break off an attack after suffering heavy damage in fighting with the Iraqi Republican Guard. One helicopter crashed but the two crew members survived.

(30 heavily damaged but only 1 crashed. not shabby)

#91 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 06:40 PM:

Dave Luckett said (#79):
Wasn't the insurgency (aka, then, the Taliban) in Afghanistan shooting down Soviet Hinds, which are well-armoured, using Stingers, certainly, but also RPG 7's?

Minor correction: the Taliban didn't emerge until several years after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan; the people they defeated to take over (most of) Afghanistan were the actual insurgents (aka mujahideen) who had fought the Soviets.

This Wikipedia list of Soviet aircraft downed in Afghanistan includes several example of Mi-24 Hinds "shot down" prior to 1986, which was when the US started sending Stingers. So it certainly does look like the mujahideen were able to shoot down Hinds with something other than Stingers.

#92 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2007, 10:42 PM:

Bumpersticker seen today:

If you kill one person, it's murder.
If you kill lots, it's foreign policy.

#93 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2007, 03:41 AM:

I seem to remember that it was Josef Stalin who remarked that one death was a tragedy, but a million was a statistic. I can't confirm it, though.

#94 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2007, 09:18 AM:

Barry #85:
I thought that the NATO heli tactics were to use pre-ranged and sighted lookout points and attack positions to slow down the armoured brigades, specifically targeting the AAA and command units, and leaving the jet mud-movers to hit the rest. The TOW missile was constantly being uprated to have an effective range greater than that of the portable air defences for this reason.
I may be wrong, but I always assumed that the intention was to hit the enemy armour on the move, so that you don't have a battalion's worth of MANPADS pointing at you. If you're coming in nap-of-the-earth, you can fall back from meeting engagements and take the long-range shots without exposing yourself for too long.

This isn't to say that NATO helis would have lasted any longer than a week, just that they'd have chewed up a lot of Soviet armour in the process - something that the Apaches haven't been able to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Dave Bell said, wrong mission.

Charlie #87:
How did the PVO operate outside the USSR? Were they attached organically to army units, or did they have dedicated air defence outfits?

#95 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2007, 10:04 AM:

The Soviet Army had its own air defence units attached to divisions and higher-level formations. In, for example, Group Soviet Forces Germany (there's a blast from the past for some of us!) PVO missile and interceptor aircraft units were part of the 16th Air Army, the air force component of GSFG. PVO missile units were longer-ranged than the Army's units, as you might expect.

And you can indeed kill Hind with RPG, but it's tricky, because RPG is unguided and not very accurate, and leaves a nastily visible backblast and smoke trail. (Important in Afghanistan, where engagement ranges were much longer.) As soon as you fire, the target (if you miss or he dodges) or his wingman (if you hit) is going to fire right back down that smoke trail with everything he has, which, in the case of Hind, is an impressive amount of stuff. Plus, unlike Blackhawk or Little Bird, Hind is actually very difficult to kill. For anything short of a very lucky RPG or a guided SAM, it's basically Mongo - "shooting him just makes him mad".

Jakob: remarks like "This isn't to say that NATO helis would have lasted any longer than a week" always tend to remind me that, in basically every wargame we ran, NATO ended up going tactical nuclear after 72 hours, and escalating to strategic exchange within another 48.

#96 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2007, 10:20 AM:

Ajay: I was ignoring the nuclear option, simply because any discussion of tactics becomes somewhat pointless after that threshold's been passed. That's scarily quick though - how close to the French border was the Red Team at the 72-hour mark?
I seem to recall reading that the best chance the WarPac had of winning a conventional war was in the 70s; by the early 80s NATO defences had been beefed up to the point where the only way to force it would have been to go mushroom-shaped.
I also recall a bunch of NATO air force people getting a nasty shock after the wall came down when they realised how much trouble they'd have been in in the event of a war; IIRC, they had the technical advantage over the WarPac, but had severely underestimated the numbers of aircraft in the Frontal Aviation units.

#97 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2007, 10:22 AM:

I seem to recall that there was a simple rule covering strategic nukes in one of the hex-mapsheet games. I can't remember which one. It said, approximately: "The first player to go nuclear must signal his intention by taking the mapsheet out into the yard and setting fire to it. Now buy a whole new game."

#98 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2007, 11:09 AM:

Dave Luckett (#97):
That sounds vaguely like part of the rules for "Pond War," a not-exactly-serious game by Allen Varney in an old, old issue of The Space Gamer. The scenario (if I remember correctly) was one or more gleefully bloodthirsty young boys trying to stomp on all the frogs in a pond. I think the frogs were the ones with nuclear weapons.

#99 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2007, 11:27 AM:

#97: A strange game. The only way to win is not to play. ++ XA034 OUT OF CHEESE ERROR REDO FROM START ++

#96: generally Bremen, or thereabouts, if I remember correctly. And, to be honest, one always got the feeling that when ten thousand tanks are heading your way, command and control and air superiority are rather secondary. The Red tank crews all knew which way west was, and all the Red tanks and AFVs could swim, and most carried enough spare fuel to get from startline to French border without having to replen.

And Germany isn't the desert - there's cover there, and mist, and smoke, and hills, and treelines, and villages. Having 4000m-range sights (on the M1) doesn't do much good when the opposition and his fifteen buddies have just appeared over a ridge two hundred metres away.


#100 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2007, 12:01 PM:

please let sleeping russian bears lie.

#101 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2007, 09:01 PM:

Thanks all for filling me in on the helicopter casualties in Iraq. 54 total over (45?) months is a bit over 1/month, which is still pretty good. ISTR that the US lost ~1/day in Vietnam. One-tenth of that would be ~3/month.

Greg, that rather miserable performance by the Apaches were what started me off on this tangent. Given that Soviet forces should have had much more sheer bullet-throwing ability, plus real AAA assets, anything which can get a whole unit spanked in Iraq was not really fit for high-intensity warfare, IMHO.

Jakob: "I thought that the NATO heli tactics were to use pre-ranged and sighted lookout points and attack positions to slow down the armoured brigades, specifically targeting the AAA and command units, and leaving the jet mud-movers to hit the rest."

That was sorta my point; that relies on the enemy units being where you expect when you expect, and also on not being interfered with (e.g., flying to the prearranged firing position to hit unit #1, and finding out the hard way that this puts you right in the sights of unit #2's AAA weapons). That's why I figured that this plan relied on a low-chaos battlefield.

"The TOW missile was constantly being uprated to have an effective range greater than that of the portable air defences for this reason."

The areas of Germany which I saw (not the N. German plains) tended not to give 3km shots much.

Ah, well. Back to Iraq, so to speak.

#102 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2007, 03:23 PM:

#91 - I don't think that's completely correct. The CFR primer on the Taliban says that they're a mix of anti-Soviet mujahadeen with Pashtun tribemen who'd studied in Pakistani madrassas.

There were definitely mujahadeen in the Northern Alliance as well. From what I understand, there was a post-Soviet conflict between the mujhadeen factions, and the Taliban came out on top.

Loyalties tended to be flexible - Ted Rall writes about one particular commander who changed allegiances depending on the weather (rebels in the mountains in the summer, loyalists in the cities in the winter). Afghan politics haven't gotten any less complex since the US got involved.

#103 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 10:51 AM:

Another helicopter shootdown today:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. Apache helicopter went down in Iraq on Friday, Pentagon officials said, the fourth helicopter to crash in two weeks.

The U.S. officials could not say whether the AH-64 crashed or was brought down by insurgent fire or whether there were casualties.

An official with Iraq's Interior Ministry, however, said earlier Friday that Iraqi soldiers in Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad, reported a U.S. helicopter was seen going down after coming under insurgent fire.

#104 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 03:38 PM:

From that same CNN story:

Death squad is a term commonly used to describe Shiite militias.

Oh, for heaven's sake, no it isn't. "Shiite militia" is a term commonly used to describe Shiite militias. Death squads are usually off-duty regular army or police forces, using extra-judicial means to carry out state policy and state-sponsored terrorism.

#105 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 05:41 PM:

That's not that bad, though. It carries the point.

#106 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2007, 01:35 AM:

What would be a good book to read on the NATO/Soviet capabilities, possibly sketching out a few possible ways that an engagement could've gone?

Note: Good book = readable, as well as accurate.

#107 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2007, 12:10 PM:

Keir: a good place to start is General Sir John Hackett's "The Third World War".

#108 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 08:07 AM:

Today (Wednesday the 7th): Yet another helicopter shot down in Iraq.

#109 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2007, 12:36 PM:

report says all 7 aboard were killed. Also say it may have been a mechanical failure, not ground fire. nothing definite yet, though.

#110 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 11:59 AM:

This morning's NYT makes passing mention of a sixth helicopter - a private helicopter that went down Jan. 31st - that they weren't going to tell us about, until yesterday's crash reminded them.

#111 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 12:11 PM:

Bob @ 110:

I understand that everyone on the private chopper was rescued.

#112 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2007, 02:43 PM:

Thanks ajay.

#113 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 04:57 PM:

The US has confirmed the Sea Knight shot down on February 7 was brought down by hostile fire.

#114 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:10 PM:

Over at Digby's place there's a piece about this sort of 'it was mechanical failure' followed some days later by 'oh, no, it was actually shot down'.

This kind of announcement's becoming very predictable, and it's looking like just another tactic to keep people from getting out the pitchforks and torches.

#115 ::: P J Evans sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2014, 01:38 AM:

Invasion time?

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