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The Secret Iraq Files: The War
'Crazy Horse' and collateral damage
Helicopter squadron that killed two Reuters journalists in 2007 was involved in other attacks that hurt civilians.
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2010 05:52

In June 2007, a US army Apache helicopter fired missiles at two "bongo trucks" - flatbed pickups – allegedly transporting "multiple persons with weapons" south of Baghdad. It remained in the area for several hours, and went on to fire several more missiles, despite the obvious presence of civilians.

UAV observes 4X women at a house waving white sheets next to PB Dog. This is the same house that AIF were congregating at before attack run.

Continuing to observe for 10 min. then CRAYZ [sic] HORSE will engage PB Dog with rockets and Hellfire.

A total of six people were killed in the attack, with another person wounded.

The helicopter has the same call sign – "Crazy Horse 18" – as the one that killed two Reuters journalists and ten Iraqis in a shooting in July 2007. Wikileaks released a video of the incident, which clearly shows that at least some of the victims were unarmed, and that the pilots were almost indifferent to the death below.

"Well, it's their fault for bringing their kids to a battle," one of the pilots joked after hearing that a young girl was among his victims.

For reasons that are unclear, the leaked documents do not include any account of that raid. But "Crazy Horse 18" - either the same pilot, or a pilot from the same squadron - is involved in several other incidents that result in collateral damage or show an excessive use of force.

In perhaps the most egregious, the helicopter pursues and kills two militants riding in a truck who were allegedly carrying a tripod and tube used to launch mortars. The helicopter opened fire on the truck with its 30mm cannon, at which point the men got out and tried to surrender.

Crazyhorse 18 reports AIF got into a dump truck headed north, engaged and then they came out wanting to surrender. Crazyhorse 18 reports they got back into truck and are heading north. Crazyhorse 18 cleared to engage dumptruck. 1/227 lawyer states they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets. Crazyhorse 18 reports they missed with Hellfire and individuals have ran into another shack. IH6 approves Crazyhorse 18 to engage shack. Crazyhorse 18 reports engaged and destroyed shack with 2X AIF. BDA is shack/dump truck destroyed.

The helicopter, in other words, pursued a group of men who attempted to surrender, firing missiles at them not once but twice.

It is impossible to say, based on the limited evidence in the report, whether the unit's lawyer was correct that the men driving the truck "can not surrender to aircraft".

There is a precedent, though, for just such surrenders: During the Vietnam War, for example, groups of North Vietnamese soldiers would surrender to American aircraft to avoid being bombed with napalm. The aircraft would radio their location to ground troops, which then captured the soldiers and treated them as prisoners of war.

Another incident, in June 2007, has the Crazy Horse helicopter following a van through an apparently populated area.

Crazy Horse is going to engage as soon as van is in an open area. Silver van is now stopped at grid 45544 77884. Crazy Horse is inbound and shot with Hellfire. Crazy Horse is standing by due to possible colatural [sic] damage.

There is no follow-up to explain what, exactly, the "collateral damage" was.

'Total destruction'

The documents show, more generally, that the US often had spotty information about the civilian casualties - the "collateral damage" - caused by airstrikes.

The US military carried out hundreds of airstrikes against targets in Iraq during the six years covered by the leaked documents. Many of them, though, improbably logged zero casualties - despite dropping hundreds of pounds of ordnance on targets.

In August 2005, for example, coalition forces received a report that al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters were "massing in a mansion" near Husaybah, a town along the Euphrates River near the Syrian border. They called in an airstrike:

A section of FWCAS engaged the building with (4) GBU-38s, resulting in approximately 75% destruction of the target. Another section of FW CAS attacked the mansion in order to completely destroy the building. FW engaged with (1) GBU-12 at 0231D. Complete destruction had not been achieved, so the target was attacked again with (1) GBU-12 each at 0255D and 0310D, both bombs were assessed as duds. Total destruction of the building was completed with (1)LMAV at 0333D.

GBU-38s and GBU-12s are both 500-pound bombs; the LMAV is a 125-pound missile. Discounting the two duds, US airplanes dropped 2,225 pounds of ordnance on the house, achieving "total destruction" in just over an hour. But not a single casualty was recorded.

Similarly, in September 2004, an F-15 fighter jet dropped two GBU-12s on an "objective" in Fallujah. "Good hits on target, BDA unknown," the report said, and recorded no casualties.

Contemporaneous news reports told a different story: The "objective" was a house, and eight people were present, including four women and two children. All of them were killed by the blast.

The documents also reveal that the use of airstrikes increased dramatically in 2007, after General David Petraeus took over as the commander of US forces in Iraq, despite his public statements that airstrikes often "provide insurgents with a major propaganda victory." The US dropped 229 bombs in 2006, a number that surged to 1,447 in 2007.

A similar trend is happening now in Afghanistan, where airstsrikes have increased by 172 per cent since Petraeus took command.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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