Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Decapitation is also beheading

Anxious eyes may be turned heavenward for infected birds in the UK, but if you live in Iraq it's US aerial bombardments you fear. For good reason. They are apt to kill innocent civilians. The recent air offensive north of Baghdad killed 11 civilians in the town of Balad in a few minutes.
“All too often civilians pay with their lives when American bombs fall in Iraq,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. “The U.S. military has in the past launched ‘decapitation’ strikes aimed at top leaders but based on bad intelligence, and also used cluster munitions in populated areas of Iraq.”

Heavy reliance on ground-launched cluster munitions and on questionable intelligence to guide air strikes caused hundreds of unnecessary civilian casualties during the 2003 assault on Iraq, Human Rights Watch said. In a comprehensive 147-page report analyzing the 2003 U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq, “Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq,”Human Rights Watch found that U.S. forces could have prevented hundreds of civilian casualties by abandoning two faulty military tactics – the use of cluster munitions and heavy reliance on “decapitation” strikes designed to kill Iraqi military and political leaders.

During the 2003 air war in Iraq, U.S. and British forces used as many as 13,000 cluster bombs, containing nearly 2 million sub-munitions, which killed or wounded more than 1,000 civilians. The Human Rights Watch study, published in December 2003, found that the use of cluster munitions in populated areas caused more civilian casualties than any other factor in the coalition’s conduct of major military operations at that stage of the conflict.

The U.S. military also carried out more than 50 “decapitation” strikes on suspected hideouts of top Iraqi leaders during the 2003 air war, but failed to kill a single one of its intended targets, the study concluded. The U.S. “decapitation” strategy relied on intercepts of senior Iraqi leaders’ satellite phone calls along with corroborating intelligence that proved inadequate. (Human Rights News)
A cluster bomb is an anti-personnel weapon. It is not a precision strike weapon but an area weapon with a "wide footprint." Cluster bombs spread sub-munitions ("bomblets"), many of which fail to go off and litter the landscape, only to be detonated later by innocent civilians.
The majority of the Coalition’s cluster bombs were CBU-103s, which had been deployed for the first time in Afghanistan. This bomb consists of a three-part green metal casing about five-and-a-half feet (1.7 meters) long with a set of four fins attached to the rear. The casing, which contains 202 bomblets packed in yellow foam, opens at a pre-set altitude or time and releases the bomblets over a large oval area. The CBU-103 adds a Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) to the rear of the unguided CBU-87, which is designed to improve accuracy by compensating for wind encountered during its fall. It also narrows the footprint to a radius of 600 feet (183 meters).

The CBU-103’s bomblets, known as BLU-97s, are soda can-sized yellow cylinders. Each one of these “combined effects munitions” represents a triple threat. The steel fragmentation core targets enemy troops with 300 jagged pieces of metal. The shaped charge, a concave copper cone that turns into a penetrating molten slug, serves as an anti-armor weapon. A zirconium wafer spreads incendiary fragments that can burn nearby vehicles. This type of bomblet was the payload for 78 percent of the reported U.S. cluster bombs; CBU-87s and CBU-103s both contain 202 BLUs. When used as cluster munitions, the AGM-154 JSOW contains 145 BLUs and the TLAM carries 166 BLUs.
(from Off Target, Human Rights Watch)
The US military has made an effort to reduce civilian casualties by a more restrained use of these weapons. But inevitably cluster bombs kill indiscriminately. War is a messy business. The use of cluster bombs makes it much messier for civilians. Cluster bombs, like land mines, are too dangerous to innocent civilians to be used in warfare.

Of course asking for kinder weapons is a bit like trying to design a safer cigarette. At some point one says it is easier and better to make it much harder to smoke. Wouldn't we all be better off if we just sent Bush and Blair to shiver off planet when they smoke whatever it is they are smoking and not endanger the rest of the world?