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Dropped Weapons, Dropped Opportunities

When we invaded Iraq, America and the Army did not understand counter-insurgency. Our soldiers -- lacking proper guidance -- developed tactics, techniques and procedures that don’t work. The upper levels of command do not condone or talk openly about these tactics yet they exist. 

We fail to deal with these tactics because admitting that soldiers use them means soldiers have committed immoral acts. Indeed, the majority of soldiers have never used the tactics described below, and the use of these tactics occurred much more in the initial invasion and first few years of the Iraqi occupation. But they have been used and we need to discuss that reality. These acts are tactically ineffective and more importantly, morally wrong. We need to do more than eliminate them; soldiers and the Army need to know, and understand why, they are ineffective.

Drop weapons: A drop weapon is a spare AK-47, RPG or other stock weapon of the insurgency, confiscated on the battle field that U.S. soldiers or Marines keep in their vehicles. After making contact with a suspected enemy who turns out to be innocent or unarmed, the soldiers place the weapons on the victim. The weapon becomes the stated “hostile intent” of the dead civilian. While no manual dictates this policy and U.S. regulations expressly prohibit it, many Sergeants in the Army will admit they use drop weapons. Many Lieutenants and Captains in our Army know of the policy, have used it, and support it. Again, this practice occurred more frequently during the beginning of the invasion into Iraq.

Baiting: Another variant on this theme is the process of baiting victims. A common practice reported in The Army Times and The Washington Post, snipers place illegal weapons, explosives or other material in a controlled location and observe them. When someone goes to pick them up, labeling himself as an “insurgent”, a sniper kills him.

Military Age Males: The U.S. Army uses the phrase "military age male" to determine who it searches during operations. The use of this term expanded to the point that during operations if a unit came under fire and could not locate the source but then found "military age males," they would engage as legitimate targets. The soldiers discount the fact that they are unarmed under the belief that they abandoned their weapons.

Positive Identification at a Distance: The key to most encounters with the enemy is gaining Positive Identification--in Army lingo PID--where a soldier identifies a hostile target. Once identified as hostile, soldiers may engage. Soldiers often abuse PID, declaring persons to be combatants at distances where accurate positive identification is impossible. This occurs frequently in Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain.

In 4th Generation Warfare (4GW), the positive support of the population determines victory. Drop weapons, the "baiting tactic" and the use of terms like "military age male" ensure the military will kill innocent civilians. When a civilian dies, the population knows and reacts, a reaction rarely favoring foreign forces. It is much easier to blame an invading, high-tech military for the death of your brother than your fellow countrymen.

U.S. soldiers and Marines believe that they protect themselves by using these methods. They do lower the risks to U.S. soldiers in the short term, but raise them for innocent Iraqis in the long term. They provide soldiers more opportunities to fire their weapons and, by extension, kill more of the "enemy." The U.S. Army values American lives more then Iraqi lives. Agree or disagree with that point on its moral terms, but in 4GW it will keep us from winning.