Precision Munitions Provide 'Great Capability,' Carry 'Great Responsibility'
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 3, 2003 Precision munitions and careful targeting have enabled Operation Iraqi Freedom planners to maximize the effects of missiles and bombs and minimize unintended Iraqi civilian casualties and collateral damage.
"I believe that we have proven, to date, that we have waged a very precise -- and very focused -- targeting process against the regime," Army Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal told reporters today during a press briefing held at the State Department's Foreign Press Center here.
"In fact, it has been probably unprecedented in history our willingness to only target certain regime-oriented elements" for attack, McChrystal, the Joint Staff's vice director for operations, pointed out.
The target of ongoing U.S.-coalition military operations in Iraq "is the regime of Saddam Hussein it's not the Iraqi people," the two-star general emphasized.
Consequently, he continued, it's important that targets of U.S. and coalition missiles and bombs in Iraq contribute to the liberation of the Iraqi people through the removal of Hussein's government.
And the capabilities of today's laser- and global- positioning-system-guided munitions, McChrystal explained, have provided the U.S. military with previously unheard of levels of striking precision.
"We have the ability to hit, in most cases, exactly what we try to hit and scale the munition appropriately to the task," the general declared.
McChrystal noted it's morally imperative that such a precise and lethal military capability be used with great care.
"Because we can be more discriminating in the use of force, it gives us a responsibility to be more discriminating" in the selection of targets, McChrystal emphasized.
"International law draws a clear distinction between combatants and civilians in any war," he remarked. He pointed out the principle that civilians are to be protected during military operations "lies at the heart of the International Law of Armed Conflict."
This line of separation between combatants and civilians, McChrystal said, is well-understood and adhered to among the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.
However, he continued, the requirement to protect civilians on the battlefield is evidently not judged as important by members of Hussein's regime, who routinely employ human shields to ward off attacks on legitimate military targets.
Operation Iraqi Freedom military planners use a vetting process in selecting targets. That reduces the likelihood of killing innocent civilians, McChrystal pointed out, and takes great care to identify mosques, schools, hospitals, embassies, and other structures that shouldn't be attacked.
He noted another method planners use to limit civilian casualties and unintended collateral damage involves the selection of munitions to be used against a particular target.
For example, in taking out a structure with minimal damage to civilians and other buildings, a Hellfire missile could be used in lieu of a 2,000-pound bomb because the bomb has much more destructive power, the general noted.
Adjusting ordnance fuse times can be also be employed in this regard, he remarked. McChrystal noted that a delayed fuse could be used to allow a bomb to burrow itself into a building before exploding, thus avoiding a potential civilian-killing airburst.
Much thought is also put into planning how to deal with Iraqi dual-use facilities, he said. Such a facility could have a civilian use, and consequently, "might be something we don't want to target, but at the same time has a military use," such as communications facilities, he explained.
To minimize civilian casualties in such circumstances, McChrystal noted that military planners might bomb out a road leading to the facility, thereby preventing workers from entering. Or information operations may be employed to warn civilians not to go to the facility.
The general stated that even the timing of attacks can reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, such as a night bombing run when civilians are at home and not at a targeted facility.
Modern military "technology has given us a great capability and a great responsibility," McChrystal reiterated.
"But it has not made us perfect," he acknowledged, noting that unintended casualties and collateral damage have occurred in Iraq.
"We've seen it already," the general declared. "There will be unintended casualties and that will happen when technological systems malfunction -- weapons break.
"It's going to happen when human beings make mistakes simple human error," he continued, "and that will happen in every war and on a daily basis."
Nonetheless, U.S. and coalition military planners continue to do their utmost to limit the likelihood of civilian casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom, McChrystal concluded. Their intent is to help the people of Iraq and to protect them from Saddam Hussein's regime, as opposed to hurting them in the process.