Friday, July 27, 2007

IraqSlogger: Fighting an Insurgency With F-16s

IraqSlogger has a great post entitled 'Fighting an Insurgency with F-16s: Need to Minimize Collateral Damage Leads to Tough Choices'. It gives some real insight on how limiting collateral damages and respecting IHL can in fact 'complicate' war-fighting. Have copied out the text from Michael Yon's observatino of watching an F-16 and a Shadow circling a house where an insurgent ran after shooting a gun at US forces:

'The F-16 and Shadow both beamed down live images of the house where the terrorists had hidden after firing on US forces. Now was option time. Which weapon to use? There were so many choices: mortars, missiles, and cannons of various sorts, among others. With the enemy hiding in the building, an F-16 and a Shadow orbiting in the black above, both peering down on thermal mode, the Battle Captain asked the Air Force experts,(the JTACs) what weapons the F-16 was carrying. As a JTAC started ticking off a long list, I was thinking, “How in the world to do those little jets carry all that?” In fact, I believe they were reading down the list for two jets flying in the same package. They carry a mixture of weapons cross loaded between the jets so that they will have the black magic needed for a likely situation.
In addition to the F-16’s bombs of various sorts, there was the MLRS rocket system dozens of miles away that had been precisely punching rockets through Baqubah rooftops for days. The MLRS had been flattening buildings that were rigged as giant bombs. There were the 155mm cannons on this base that can hit and flatten anything in Baqubah and beyond. The Apache helicopters could spin up with their rockets and cannons. Infantrymen could just roll in. Or tanks. Or Bradleys. Or Strykers. Even Humvees. The idea was to use just the amount of force to kill the enemy fighters, but leave everyone in the surrounds unscathed, if possible. If that was not possible, often they would simply not fire, but other times they would. Judgment call.

By about 0400, the Battle Captain had decided to use 120mm mortars. As a reference, if a 120mm were to land on a car, the car would be obliterated, but a 120mm would not be enough to flatten a decent house. The first round was shot, and the explosion left a black-hot thermal cloud on the two video screens. The impact looked hundreds of yards off target. Successive shots did not hone it, but got worse. It was starting to look like a turkey shoot, so the Battle Captain ordered the mortars to cease fire and refused to consider using the mortars again for that mission.

They discussed dropping a JDAM (a special type of bomb from one of the jets), but were worried about CD (collateral damage). The idea of a strafe run came up but that would likely cause even more CD, and so that idea was also nixed. Things sure look different from the comfort and safety of the TOC, even though the TOC is still so close to the battlefield that often the explosions can be felt from there. Still it’s like being a thousand miles away by comparison to being with the infantry in the dark and danger. (TOCs do get hit by rockets or mortars sometimes.)

The MLRS rockets and JDAMs were good enough to actually hit buried IEDs, and could easily take the house. The F-16 was carrying at least one concrete bomb—literally, just a bomb made from concrete, like throwing boulders at people—but a JTAC said, “We are not dropping a concrete bomb.” For some reason he didn’t want to just throw a rock. Personally, I don’t like to see bombs explode because it means we are still at war. But a strange feeling came over me: I wanted to see the F-16 drop a boulder on the people that shot at our guys. I knew if the rock hit them, the neighbors would be fine.

While they were discussing how best to kill the guys, the F-16 was running low on fuel. The jets flew low in a show of force and rumbled away. I walked to breakfast at 0515 while they were still plotting. I have no idea if they killed them and if they did, what method they finally settled on. But I know that when there is that kind of careful deliberation in the TOC, combined with excellent combat soldiers on the streets, (the low number of civilian casualties) that otherwise would seem unbelievable are believable.'