Statistical review recommends death squads over air raids to save Iraqi civilians

No, not really. But that would be an exciting way to spin their results as reported by the Independent. Anyway, the actual report is careful to couch its declarations in qualifying terms. I would imagine it falls prey to the same problems that the Iraq Body Count project has a as a whole: the disconnect between what is reported, what actually is happening, and how to determine a reliable connection between the two.

Nevertheless, I’m glad someone is trying to keep track.

Would anyone care to speculate how exactly we’ve managed to cause ‘collateral damage’ (what a ridiculous fucking term that is) far more often than the insurgents have? Our weapons are supposed to be far more accurate than theirs, and yet we hit the wrong thing half the time, according to this article. The only explanation I can even come up with for that is that those weapons have been targeting civilians intentionally…but I don’t really believe that has been the case. Maybe I should?

The weapon is only as good as the intelligence used to make the target list. Further, targets may very well include a mixture of insurgents and civilians either habitating the same space or at least sharing proximity.

Bombs can be a really awful weapon to use in COIN operations for this reason.

It’s not a ridiculous term. It’s only absurd when it’s taken to mean an excuse for civilians being killed or their property destroyed, which is how it has entered common parlance and been used and abused by people with all kinds of agendas on many sides of the issue. Regardless of whether it matters to the recipients of the violence or observers in the final reckoning, the intentionality behind a death is an important factor, and that term in all of its cold specificity is very accurate in portraying that.

I think it would be a mistake to take the Iraq Body Count project as a source for the kind of implication you are drawing from it. It has what can be described as very controversial methodology, and mostly earns my notice because it is trying to do something in a field that most other people with a finger in the pie are desperately trying to ignore.

If you were to draw something from the IBC, I think it would be more about general trends than specific comparisons. It is simply impossible to keep track of many insurgent killings since they are often part of a comprehensive intimidation effort that works as well as you’d expect, or a component in a rivalry where neither side is keen to disclose losses at certain times.

So no, I don’t think civilians are being targeted intentionally. I also don’t think enough has been done in many of the areas of operation to protect civilians, and that the combination of that and the willingness of insurgents to use them as shields and obstacles leads to a staggering death toll when it collides head on with the lethality of American weaponry. The targeting module may be accurate to an absurd degree, but the explosion itself does not discriminate.

In the end, none of the deaths are excusable because so many would have been preventable had there been a coherently planned occupation from the beginning or no invasion at all. So the room for a moral judgment is certainly there if you want it, but I would not take it to mean something it doesn’t. Much like collateral damage, how much that matters to you is a very relative thing.

You can kill a lot more people with an airstrike than you can with a rifle, that’s how.

LK, where do you see that we’ve offed more people with airstrikes than insurgents have? I just see differing ratios for women and children dead.

It was interesting how suicide bombing was close in the civilian ratios, though. Well, interesting to me how intention and “front loading” the human guidance can have similar effects to billions of dollars of technology operating relatively impartially.

LK, where do you see that we’ve offed more people with airstrikes than insurgents have?

I’d say with absolute confidence that Americans have killed more people with airstrikes than insurgents have (with airstrikes).

I just see differing ratios for women and children dead.

I’ve reread my posts twice and I can’t see where I said that (unless there is some conflation between “civilian” and “people” in my posts, which is possible). If in my effort to draw broader conclusions from this without focusing on the problematic specifics I’ve implied that I had evidence for that assertion you’ve cited here, I apologize. That was definitely not my intention, nor do I think it was the intention of the writers of the report who definitely constrained the scope of their work very purposefully.
Let me know where I said that and I’ll try to figure out what the hell I mangled to give that impression.

Oh I was just looking at the title and assumed it meant something along the lines of “the death squads have killed less people than airstrikes”, which I didn’t see in the article.

It’s a bizarre bit of data to look over none the less.

That doesn’t quite explain it, though. We’ve supposedly been taking the utmost care to avoid civilian casualties. The insurgents supposedly have been killing civilians with reckless abandon. So how is it that we, on average, hit civilians by accident more often than the insurgents do?

I understand that the level of civilian casualties we’ve been causing on a day to day basis in Iraq has dropped dramatically since the first few years of the war. What I don’t understand is how air-strikes and mortars can be so much more deadly to CIVILIANS (not to people in general) than car bombs and mines/IEDs. Either US forces were way, way more willing to cause ‘collateral damage’ to civilians than I thought, or (and this just occurred to me) civilians are warned by insurgents beforehand to clear the streets prior to an attack by them on the occupation forces. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

I don’t think you’re parsing the information in a manner that is backed by the evidence at hand, but that’s your prerogative. You have to take into account where these events happen, the amount of information the deliverers of munitions have, and the relative lethality and scope of the weapons at least as much as the relative goals of the perpetrators and the tactics used in certain moves.

Civilians are warned in specific instances, but they are also often the direct targets of insurgent attacks, depending on where they happen and what their goals are. While that certainly is a factor in some of these statistics, I think you’re looking for excessively binary answers in what is a very complicated and messy pool of data.

As LK points out, we don’t really know for sure this is the case. However, I think one thing you’re not thinking of - it’s not specific to you, no one in the US media ever talks about it - is that when people talk about how “smart weapons” minimize civilian casualties they’re comparing them to 1950-1970 style carpet bombing, or the inaccurate dropping of enormous bombs for tactical targets in that era.

Sure, they’re better than having B-52s slaughter Baghdad city blocks, but that’s a really low bar to clear. Modern military munitions can kill tons of civilians in the best circumstances; in the worst, like targeting a wedding party by accident, they actually are going to kill more people, because they’re better weapons.

That’s a very good point, and one that is easy to forget in the general intellectualization of war that occurs when people debate it in terms of legality and morality exclusively.

I realized the first part (carpet bombing vs precision bombing) but I had not considered cases of accidental targeting of civilian targets (bombing of weddings and such by accident). That probably would change the numbers quite a bit.

I think you’re looking for excessively binary answers in what is a very complicated and messy pool of data.

That’s certainly possible.

In any case, talking about Iraq’s civilian casualties at this point may be purely academic. It seems we’re quickly ratcheting up the rate of civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I think one of the foundational premises of modern American interventionism is that we would be able to transition from not giving a shit about the people on the receiving end of imperial strength (call it the classical European model, although that might cause more problems than it solves) to managing the casualties via technology. Clearly, there are some serious technical problems with that mentality, which I can vouch for firsthand (again, not to the extent that I would argue that civilians are being deliberately targeted on a tactical or strategic level).

As we aggressively ostrich our way through the current phases of our wars, worried about the economy and the relative patriotism of proportional taxation, I don’t think it is a purely academic question. I think it’s an ethical choice not to talk about it, and it’s not a good one. One of the big downsides of Obama’s approach is that he’s essentially pledged to eat as many of the shit sandwiches that turn up as necessary to placate people that will never be satisfied with him. Of course, that only applies in situations where he’s actually got a different approach versus ones where he’s capitulated or reversed course entirely.

It seems we’re quickly ratcheting up the rate of civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Look on the bright side: low population density, and it’s even harder to report on than Iraq so we’ll never hear about most of it. Hooray!

Well, yes, obviously violent death caused by our military is not something we should just shove under the rug. I meant that finding the specific causes for it may no longer be our top priority, as we have to figure out why it’s happening again in Afghanistan – and hopefully put a stop to it a lot earlier than we did in Iraq.

Of course, as you pointed out, there’s potential complications there as well.

I have a difficult time feeling anything other than a profound cynicism about issues such as this, and a bitterness at the effects of America’s military adventures in both the nations where we fight these wars and also in the national psyche back home.

Not to mention a US 2000 lb high tech explosive bomb has a lot more boom than a 3 lb semtex vest.

In the first 4 ½ months of 2007, U.S. aircraft dropped 237 bombs and missiles in support of ground forces in Iraq, surpassing the 229 expended in 2006, according to U.S. Air Force figures.

That’s 1.2 thousand pounds of bomb per day in 2006.