Wednesday, July 27, 2005

U.S. Army soldiers have used “excessive” and “unauthorized deadly force” in Iraq to defend supply convoys because they did not have the proper weapons, according to a commander’s secret internal memorandum.

The memo says soldiers need precision-guided pistols, in addition to heavy-fire machine guns, to ensure that innocent people are not killed.

The memo was written by Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Chaves, who commands an Army National Guard brigade that performs the perilous job of guarding convoys that move in and out of Camp Anaconda, a sprawling logistics base near Balad, north of Baghdad. Such convoys have been the targets of numerous attacks by terrorists using suicide car bombs and other types of ambushes.

In the March 15 memo, Gen. Chaves tells top commanders in Baghdad that he does not have the right mix of weapons to fire from the turrets of armored Humvees and other vehicles that guard supply trucks.

“Previously, reports indicated that excessive use of force, to include unauthorized deadly force, was employed by some convoy escorts,” Gen. Chaves writes to the commander of all multinational forces in Iraq in a memo stamped “secret.” A copy of the memo was obtained by The Washington Times.

“While defending combat logistics convoys, soldiers manning heavy crew-served weapons in turrets of gun trucks are challenged to use the appropriate elevation of force toward hostile acts of demonstrated hostile intents,” he wrote.

The memo does not provide details of excessive-force incidents.

The Times this week supplied copies of the memo to the Pentagon, the command headquarters in Baghdad and Camp Anaconda. A Pentagon spokesman said its policy is not to comment on classified documents. Spokesmen in Baghdad and at the camp had no comment.

Gen. Chaves blames the deaths on escorts being forced to use M-2 machine guns and MK-19 grenade launchers, which apparently killed unintended targets.

He said soldiers, when attacked, have no time to reach down inside their armored vehicles to retrieve more accurate weapons.

“The speed of our convoys and oncoming threats allow no time for soldiers to alternately reach down to grab an M-16 or M-4 [rifles] in order to ensure that proportionate force is utilized to ensure innocent civilians are not engaged,” he said.

Gen. Chaves, who commands the Hawaii Army National Guard 29th Separate Infantry Brigade, said the answer was to equip soldiers with laser-guided 9 mm Beretta pistols.

That way, a soldier could lase the person he wants to target before pulling the trigger.

“The M-9 9 mm Beretta pistol will allow the gunner to elect to use the smaller caliber weapon vice the crew-served weapon to ensure proper elevation of force,” Gen. Chaves said. “The hip holster will allow the gunner quick and easy access to the lighter weapon.”

Gen. Chaves also wrote of a second benefit.

“A soldier wielding a pistol is viewed by local nationals as a token of authority,” he said. “Historically, Iraqi soldiers in positions of authority carried pistols and were known to not hesitate to shoot alleged criminals.”

Camp Anaconda, with a large airstrip, is a major supply hub for 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Truck convoys regularly leave and enter the base and are spied on by insurgents for any opening to launch an attack. Commanders use a variety of tactics to foil their plans.

“We use speed, evasive driving, our best intelligence to change routes and then rely on air cover and armor plating,” said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army combat officer and a military analyst.

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