Among the many things keeping senior defense officials awake at
night are these: Images of a school, mosque or apartment building in
Baghdad blasted to pieces and shown on Al-Jazeera television all
over the Middle East. Or having to tell the family of an American
service member that their son or daughter has been accidentally
killed by US forces.
More than ever, collateral damage and friendly fire - the
downside of the likely "shock and awe" approach to war with Iraq -
is a key part of Pentagon planning these days. New technologies,
some of them untried in combat, are being deployed. The services are
training to work together better than before. And squads of "combat
lawyers" from the Judge Advocate Corps (JAG) have been deployed to
the war zone to help make sure that targets of aerial bombing are
allowed under international law and accepted rules of combat.
It's not just for humanitarian reasons, although that's
It's that keeping Iraq together and functioning after a war is
the key to success. The country's civilian population and what's
left of its armed forces and political structure, officials say,
must be willing and able to organize and rebuild under temporary
occupation by foreign (mostly US) troops. And a big part of keeping
those troops effective after any war means doing everything to avoid
what the military calls "fratricide" on the battlefield.
"Bad things will still happen on the battlefield," says a senior
defense official. "But if we are asked to use military power in
Iraq, our intent is to ensure that we keep those bad effects to the
A poor record
The history of recent conflicts in this regard is sobering.
About one-fourth of all US combat deaths in the Persian Gulf War
were the result of friendly fire. In one particularly notable
incident, 408 Iraqi civilians were killed in the bombing of what
turned out to be an air-raid shelter. More recently, there have been
friendly fire accidents in Afghanistan; some 1,300 civilians are
estimated to have been killed there.
"The unpalatable truth is that at least as many civilians as Al
Qaeda operatives [in Afghanistan] may have been killed by Western
air strikes," Jane's Intelligence Review reported recently.
Preventing - or at least limiting - collateral damage in Iraq
will involve several things.
* A much higher percentage of precision-guided weapons - up from
10 percent in the last Gulf War to 60-70 percent now. Many of these
weapons are guided by satellite coordinates, which means that they
do not need to "see" the target as laser-guided weapons do. It also
means that with a better "circular error probable" (CEP) or average
miss-distance, smaller warheads can be used.
* Use of a new computer-modeling program (nicknamed "bugsplat")
that helps mitigate bomb blast by figuring out fragmentation
patterns based on such things as the direction and angle at which
the bomb is falling.
* Choosing "target sets" that exclude some "dual-use" facilities
(such as certain power grids and bridges) that have both military
and civilian value. …