Sunday, December 04, 2005

Fall cleanup at the cabin is something of a family get together. The hunting club goes way back on the distaff side of my family and the roster includes two uncles, a cousin and the husband of a cousin.

The husband of a cousin was active duty Marine Corps for several years and then went into the reserves to pursue what has apparently been an extremely lucrative career in the financial field. He was reactivated as we pursued the war into Iraq and has spent considerable time there over the last two years. I gather that he has been involved in rebuilding Iraq's financial infrastructure. Although an active duty Marine, he spends his days wearing a business suit—but commutes by helicopter. What I didn't know was that he has prior experience in the Middle East, but I didn't get any real specifics. He's not the easiest person to relate to. A good guy, just not much of a conversationalist. But—he can hold forth when a subject comes up that pushes one of his buttons. And he knows the Middle East well.

First, torture. Personally, I'm sick to death of hearing about this. It's in no way officially sanctioned. Hell, it's against the law. And taking silly photos of naked guys with leashes is juvenile and stupid, but it's not torture. I read an article the other day where some bonehead journalist just made the bald assertion that we are torturing prisoners. Period. No maybes, no ifs, just we are. I think better of our armed forces than that, and here's the take from Lieutenant Colonel Cousin's Husband: Most of the bad guys we capture are released pretty quickly. The few that we hold on to are people who don't even communicate on the same level as the rest of us. They are seriously bad guys. They aren't reachable. They are like some movie version of a calloused, psychotic, hard-core murderer. They get sent to Gitmo, etc. For everyone, there is the process of getting caught, processed and questioned. Sometimes our guys catch someone who they know was involved in an explosion yesterday that killed one of their buddies (yes, our HUMINT is that good). Things might get a bit rough for that guy. Can I approve of that on a purely dispassionate, intellectual level? Of course not. Can I understand the human reaction? Absolutely. Would I participate? Probably. And the message for Abdul is if you don't want to get your a$$ kicked, don't blow people up. Cease and desist, and we'll stop kicking the snot out of you. Once the bad guys have been captured and processed, we want to ask them a few questions. According to LTC Cousin's Husband, they might take the bad guys out and make them do exercises until they're tired and then hose them down with water. I know first hand that sucks, because I've been through it. It was called Basic Training.

Next an uncle asked about white phosphorus. I jumped in with my limited understanding—WP is mostly used as a spotting round (it sends up a lot of smoke and marks a target), but there is also a larger ground burst round that is mainly used to generate smoke to obscure troop movements. The fact that it can also create havoc among enemy troops as an incendiary is a plus. I knew that my uncle's question was spurred by recent reports in the European press that we used chemical weapons in Iraq, and that claims were made that we actually burned up bodies without burning the clothes they were wearing.

Before we go any further, let me lay a few things out. First, a chemical weapon is defined by international law as a weapon that kills by its own toxic properties. WP will set your gluteus on fire and burn clean through you, but it's not toxic in its own right. I can make an aerosol of scotch, set it on fire and kill someone, but scotch is not a chemical weapon. Secondly, gruesome as the photos of the alleged bodies are (and no doubt they selected photos very carefully to make us look as bad as possible), they weren't killed by WP. Someone actually noted that some of the bodies were caramelized. I caramelize onions on the stove. Bodies don't get caramelized. And flaming chemicals don't cook people inside their clothing without setting the clothing on fire. The bodies in the photos are bodies that got left out in the sun too long. Pure and simple. Those photos out there which they claim are victims of WP/chemical warfare...wrong. Just plain wrong. Lies, actually, since I'm sure those international journalists are so smart and so experienced that they know better.

Now, for the one part that's true—we did use WP. Gasp. We used a weapon in the conduct of war. Imagine that.

I'd forgotten that LTC Cousin's Husband had once been an artillery officer, but he filled me in on the third type of WP round. There is an airburst round, which is what was used in the “incident” the European press is trying to create. WP is really mainly a smoke round. The airburst round contains some 115 pieces of felt, each soaked with WP. When the round bursts, the pieces float to earth, creating a more effective curtain of smoke than a ground burst. The fire mission was completely planned. There were no civilians whatsoever in the area at the time. What we were facing was dug in enemy troops, so we fired airburst WP. The rounds created a curtain of smoke that prevented them from seeing our troops as they maneuvered, and further the rounds created a psychological effect as the flaming WP streamed to earth, driving the troops from their trenches.

All of this stuff I'm talking is war. Plain and simple. It's not great, it's not fun. It's war. Certain elements have been nipping at us for years, then they finally got our attention one sunny September day. Now we've brought war to them. Too bad guys. AC-130s, WP, Predators, etc. You chose to poke us and wake us up, now you have to deal with it.

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