Thursday, January 10, 2008

Blackwater is lying 
This is, in the grand scheme of things, a trivial incident.

The helicopter was hovering over a Baghdad checkpoint into the Green Zone, one typically crowded with cars, Iraqi civilians and United States military personnel.

Suddenly, on that May day in 2005, the copter dropped CS gas, a riot-control substance the American military in Iraq can use only under the strictest conditions and with the approval of top military commanders. An armored vehicle on the ground also released the gas, temporarily blinding drivers, passers-by and at least 10 American soldiers operating the checkpoint.

“This was decidedly uncool and very, very dangerous,” Capt. Kincy Clark of the Army, the senior officer at the scene, wrote later that day. “It’s not a good thing to cause soldiers who are standing guard against car bombs, snipers and suicide bombers to cover their faces, choke, cough and otherwise degrade our awareness.”

Both the helicopter and the vehicle involved in the incident at the Assassins’ Gate checkpoint were not from the United States military, but were part of a convoy operated by Blackwater Worldwide, the private security contractor that is under scrutiny for its role in a series of violent episodes in Iraq, including a September shooting in downtown Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead.

CS gas is extremely common in the US Army, and widely and easily available. I never saw any of it in Iraq. But CS gas has an NSN number and if a unit really wanted to have some around, I doubt it would be a problem.

I've been exposed to it more times than I can remember and I've used it in training.

The incident, in and of itself, is not a big deal.

What IS a big deal, though, to me, is I've got a bad taste in my mouth for Blackwater after reading this:

Anne Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Blackwater, said the CS gas had been released by mistake.

“Blackwater teams in the air and on the ground were preparing a secure route near a checkpoint to provide passage for a motorcade,” Ms. Tyrrell said in an e-mail message. “It seems a CS gas canister was mistaken for a smoke canister and released near an intersection and checkpoint.”

I believe Blackwater is lying. Either Anne Tyrrell is lying, or the Blackwater employees there that day lied to their higher-ups. There is simply no way a competent security professional is going to confuse a CS grenade with a smoke grenade in broad daylight.

You could easily mistake the two at night. So show me the idiot who thinks he should be clearing traffic by dropping smoke grenades into the street at night. It'll be good for a laugh. Then he needs to be fired.

No, the line that they confused a CS grenade with a smoke grenade is just not credible.

Even if it were true, it is extremely unlikely that the personnel carrier crews made exactly the same mistake! But the article states that the CS was deployed by the helicopter and by the personnel carriers on the ground.

Further, if they didn't plan to use CS, then why did they carry CS at all? They could simply carry more smoke!

A United States military spokesman in Baghdad refused to describe the current rules of engagement governing the use of riot control agents, but former Army lawyers say their use requires the approval of the military’s most senior commanders. “You never had a soldier with the authority to do it on his own,” said Thomas J. Romig, a retired major general who served as the chief judge advocate general of the United States Army from 2001 to 2005 and is now the dean of the Washburn School of Law in Topeka, Kan.

Several Army officers who have served in Iraq say they have never seen riot control agents used there by the United States military at all. Col. Robert Roth, commander of Task Force 4-64 AR of the Third Infantry Division, which was manning the Assassins’ Gate checkpoint at the time of the Blackwater incident, said that his troops were not issued any of the chemicals.

“We didn’t even possess any kind of riot control agents, and we couldn’t employ them if we wanted to,” said Colonel Roth, who is now serving in South Korea.

I can corroborate this as well. It would be easy to order the cannisters, but I can't imagine anyone employing them in anything other than a riot control context, and probably not even then. For that reason, even if you had it in stock, you wouldn't distribute it except for a specific mission (As an aside, CS an infinitely better riot control tool than, say, live ammunition.)

Blackwater and two other companies — DynCorp and Triple Canopy — that now provide security are not permitted to use CS gas under their current contracts, the State Department said.

Ok, so whatever questions were raised by the use of CS have been settled, it seems.

The State Department said that its lawyers did not believe the Blackwater incident violated any treaty agreements.

In a written statement, the State Department said the international chemical weapons convention “allows for the use of riot control agents, such as CS, where they are not used as a method of warfare. The use of a riot control agent near a checkpoint at an intersection in the circumstances described is not considered to be a method of warfare.”

I would agree.

It may be a dumb idea in a lot of ways. But a violation of the Law of Land Warfare or treaty obligation? Ridiculous.

Blackwater’s regular use of smoke canisters, which create clouds intended to impede attacks on convoys, also sets it apart from the military. While it does not raise the same legal issues as the CS gas, military officials said the practice raised policy concerns. Col. Roth said that he and other military officers frowned on the use of smoke, because it could be used for propaganda purposes to convince Iraqis that the United States was using chemical weapons.

That's just weird. Believe me, the Iraqis aren't dumb. They know what a smoke grenade is. Armored formations use smoke all the time to screen their flanks from observation. It's a standard element in a number of battle drills. It's a standard element in calling in a medevac bird. It's a standard element in countersniper operations. Officers don't just frown on the use of smoke. The officers who write our doctrine require it!

Smoke on the battlefield, properly employed, is a life saver. And the deployment of smoke in an open field between a group of buildings or other cover and a road about to have a VIP motorcade go through is an absolutely legitimate countersniper and counter IED tactic. By obscuring the vulnerable point on the road, you make it impossible for the sniper to draw a sight picture, and you make it impossible for a command-detonated IED operator to time his strike properly.

COL Roth was a task force commander. He no doubt knows this. I suspect he was misquoted or misunderstood.

Splash, out


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Ah yes. The Blackwater public relations machine. Like when they said they were using "reasonable force" in the Nisoor Square massacre in September 2007 that left 16 dead. Not surprising when you have an organization with little accountability and no loyalty to any nation involved in the ugly business of war.
"There is simply no way a competent security professional is going to confuse a CS grenade with a smoke grenade in broad daylight."

`Maybe they are not lying, maybe it's the assumption of competency that is at fault. Do we know that these people were in fact competent, and well trained?

Contractors have been know to subcontract to the lowest bidder before.
Crazy, crazy, crazy.

And I hear all the time how these guys are better trained than us? No way. Insane.
I know a guy who went to San Diego State in the early eighties. One day, one of his fraternity brothers shows up with some smoke grenades that he swiped from his Marine father. They decide to go smoke out their rival fraternity. They dropped them through the ground floor windows and then pandemonium breaks out. You've probably guessed that the 'smoke' grenades turned out to be CS. There was a big brewha about it, but the perpetrators managed to keep their identity secret.
I would have paid to see it happen.
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