Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Would you take the shot?

In my example of the checkpoint shooting, I made the point that, under incredible time pressure and with the highest stakes possible, a soldier has to make a decision. If he guesses right, he's a hero; if he guesses wrong, he's created a tragedy.

And, understand the incredible time constraints that the soldier's decision must happen under. Not only because the foe isn't concerned about bystanders, or in many cases, his own life, but because of a simple reality of fighting - "action beats reaction." In its simplest form, that means that if you're holding a gun leveled at my chest, and I'm holding one by my side (or, if I'm good enough, in a holster), I can kill you. Now you'll probably return fire and take me out too, but I can get the shot off, because your action beats my reaction. Why?

It's the difference between movement time and response time. If I decide to kill you with the gun I have at my side, even with your gun leveled at my chest, you don't know that. And you won't know it until I start to move. Once I start to level my weapon, you have to observe what I'm doing, figure out that its hostile and what your options are (squeeze the trigger, throw yourself to one side, what?) decide to respond, and only then start your movement to counter mine.

Even knowing that, and even within the rules of engagement, there can be vehement disagreement between soldiers about shoot / don't shoot decisions. I saw a long term friendship destroyed by the comment "I don't believe I'd have taken that shot." The army has a tradition of the AAR, the after action review. After every mission, the unit gets together, rank comes off, and everything is discussed and analyzed. Its designed to allow the team to figure out what mistakes were made, how to avoid them in the future, and how to do better. The idea is not to pin blame, but to do better, but they can still get pretty heated - especially when examining a decision that's ethical in nature, like whether or not to kill another human being. Understand, those arguments can cut both ways - it's not always about "you shouldn't have shot him because he wasn't a big enough threat" - sometimes the issue is "by not shooting him, you chose to put my life at greater risk." And sometimes the issue is, "if he get's away now, he's going to try to kill us later."

Below are some scenarios a soldier might face. I've left out the obvious "a car is speeding towards your checkpoint, and doesn't stop when signalled." So, with all the above in mind, would you take the shot:

Situation One: You're in a sniper position, and you see a patrol you're covering take fire from a clump of brush and trees on the edge of a creek. You don't have a clean shot, but a few moments later, you see three men leave the clump of trees, and move down the bank to a small boat. You don't see any weapons. Do you shoot?

Situation Two: You're providing perimeter security for a compound that's being raided. As you move into position, a man in a field next to the compound starts walking towards you. He's smiling, and holding out one hand, but the other one is hidden under his shawl. You raise your rifle and yell "Dresh" (halt) but he keeps coming - again you yell, in Pashtu "Halt, raise your hands." He doesn't comply - Hell, maybe your pronunciation is so bad he doesn't understand you. Do you shoot?

Situation Three: You're a room in the compound of a known Taliban, providing security for your buddy who's searching the room. The compound owner isn't there, but his wife is. There's a locked chest that needs to be opened. Your buddy is standing next to the chest. The interpreter is telling the woman that unless she finds the keys, the chest will be broken open. The woman is yelling and screaming. This goes on a few minutes - now the terp is yelling too, and the woman is hysterical. Suddenly, with a howl, she grabs a large knife from under a pile of cloth and advances on your buddy. Do you shoot her?

Situation Four: You're in the turret of a GMV outside of a compound being searched. Early morning fog has limited visibility to about 20 ft. Suddenly, an local appears out of the fog on the road outside the compound - he's holding a shotgun in both hands. Do you shoot?

Situation Five: It's 2am, and you're on duty on the roof of a SF compound. You see a car drive into the center of the nearby town, and see some men get out of it. One man is carrying what looks like a piece of pipe or a shovel, and the others have bags of something heavy. They disappear behind the wall of a building being constructed. You can still see the car. A few minutes later, you start taking mortar fire from the town. The Afghan sergeant of the guard wants to return fire towards the town into the building. Mortar rounds are getting closer - do you let him shoot?

Situation Six: You've been taking rocket fire from a spot to the south of your compound. Bad guys would sneak in, set up the rockets on a timer, and leave before the rockets go off. To counter that threat, you have several Afghan soldiers hidden out there in three or four man fixed position "observation posts" and a US roving patrol working the area to the south. The Afghan commander says that one of his OPs saw some men moving north through the field to the south carrying what might be weapons. You send your patrol to intercept. The OPs lose sight of the bad guys several times, but you finally get the US patrol close to where the last sighting of the bad guys was. The US patrol settles in a drainage ditch, and sees movement behind a nearby wall. They see a head and the barrel of an AK-47 pop over the wall, look around a moment, and pop back down. Do you shoot?

So, assuming that the rules of engagement allow it under the circumstances, do you shoot? Why or why not?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) No, you can't be sure they are the hostiles, and the patrol is no longer at risk from them if they are.

2) Warning shot? Maybe put a ventilation hole in his shawl? Otherwise, I think you have to practice restraint within reason. Even if your pronounciation is wrong, the tone of your voice should convey something.

3) Maybe she is going to use the knife to open the chest? If she is moving on your buddy and not the chest, I think you have to take the shot (is non-lethal an option?), or atleast try to restrain her if you don't get yourself hurt.

4) No, he might be investigating the commotion, this might be his home after-all. I think you'd have to wait to see his intention even considering what you said about reaction. Just shooting could breed serious resentment.

5) Unless it's customary to do construction work in the dead of night, I think returning fire would be the most prudent thing to do, if only to see how the mortar fire responds.

6) Hold fire, it could be an OP, the last thing you want is to friendly-fire your own guy's.

Did I make it, or were these examples rhetorical?

Tom M

12:53 AM  
Blogger Special Forces Alpha Geek said...

Hey Tom,
I'll reserve comment for a little while and see if anyone else wants to take a crack at it. Keep in mind, though, there are no right or wrong answers - at least not until its too late . . .

1:37 AM  
Blogger Lennie Briscoe said...

Situation One: If you didn't see anyone enter the bush while they were there I would shoot. By the rule book porbably no.

Situation Two: Warning Shot, then fatal shot. All the bad guy needs to do is press a button or pull a pin and do some "Allah Akbars".

Situation Three: You don't know her intentions. She could be handing the knife to open the chest. IF there is no time to react and it seems its your buddy or the woman, slot her.

Situation Four: No. Ask him to stop. Remove his hand with no sudden movements. Again warning shot then fatal if they keep advancing ?

Situation Five: Your taking fire. I would say yes.

Situation Six: No. Could be anyone. Tactically advance and challenge ?

10:25 AM  

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