June 02, 2006

Haditha: A Few Bad Apples... Again

So far there has only been a preliminary military inquiry, which found Marines lied. But if this WaPo article is to be believed, the results of the Haditha investigation are already a foregone conclusion:
THE US military investigation into the handling of events in Haditha, where marines allegedly killed 24 Iraqi civilians in November, will conclude that some officers gave false information to their superiors, who then failed to adequately scrutinise reports.

The three-month inquiry, led by Major-General Eldon Bargewell, is expected to demand changes in training US troops for duty in Iraq.

But even before the final report is delivered, the senior US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, is expected to order all coalition troops undergo new "core values" training in how to operate professionally and humanely. Not only will leaders discuss how to treat civilians under the rules of engagement, but small units will act out training scenarios to gauge their understanding of those rules...

One of General Bargewell's conclusions is that troop training is flawed, with too much emphasis on traditional warfighting skills and insufficient focus on learning how to wage a counter-insurgency campaign...

The first will say that Sergeant Frank Wuterich, a squad leader alleged to have been centrally involved in the shootings, made a false statement to his superiors. He reported that 15 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the roadside bombing that killed a marine and touched off the incident. Marines initially reported that the other nine dead were insurgent fighters but now they are believed to have been civilians.

A second and more serious failure occurred later in the day, when a marine human exploitation team, which helped collect the dead, should have observed that the Iraqis were killed by gunshot, not by a bomb. Had this second unit reported accurately what it witnessed that would have set off alarms and prodded commanders to investigate.
If the Post has already been told all this, why do we need a 3 month enquiry? PR purposes?

Meanwhile, the UK Telegraph has some details of the Kilo Company troops involved, who underwent three tours in Iraq in 2½ years and led the major assault on Falluja (why am I not surprised at that link?):
None of the troops wanted to talk, but even a short stay with the men of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, in their camp at Haditha Dam on the town's outskirts, made clear it was a place where institutional discipline had frayed, and was even approaching breakdown.

Normally, US camps in Iraq are almost suburban, with their coffee shops and polite soldiers who idle away their rest hours playing computer games and discussing girls back home.

Haditha was shockingly different - a feral place where the marines hardly washed.

A number had abandoned their official living quarters to set up separate encampments with signs ordering outsiders to keep out. The dam is one of Iraq's largest hydro-electric power stations. A US special operations unit secured it during the invasion and US troops have been there ever since. Now they are spread across the dozen or so levels where Iraqi engineers once lived. The lifts are smashed, the lighting gloomy.

The day before a soldier had shot himself in the head with his M-16. No one would discuss why.

The washing facilities are at the top of the dam and the main toilets at the base. With 800 steps between them, many soldiers did not bother to use the official facilities. Instead, some soldiers had moved into small encampments around the dam's entrances that resembled something from Lord of the Flies.

In one, a marine was pulling apart planks of wood with his dirt-encrusted hands to feed a fire. A skull and crossbones had been etched on the entrance to the shack. The only soldiers willing to speak at length were those from the small contingent from Azerbaijan tasked with marshalling the band of Iraqi engineers at the dam.

The US troops liked them. "They have looser rules of engagement," one said admiringly in a rare, snatched conversation.

The battalion has undergone three tours in Iraq in 2½ years.

More than 30 of its members had died in the last, most of them when the unit led the major attack on Falluja, then the heart of the insurgency.

Now they were in Haditha, one of the most dangerous settlements in Iraq, after only seven months away.

At the dam was one American civilian, an engineer dispatched by the US Government with instructions to keep the machinery operating.

The troops he was quartered with terrified him, so much so he would not let his name be quoted for fear of reprisal.

"Marines are good at killing. Nothing else," he said.

"They like it."


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