19 February 2011

Dazzler Delay Dooms Defenseless Drivers

Did over-lawyered Pentagon weenies sit on gear that could've saved lives in Iraq? Danger Room thinks so.
Military bureaucrats needlessly blocked U.S. troops in Iraq from getting laser weapons — tools that could’ve kept civilians from getting killed. That, in a nutshell, is what the Pentagon’s Inspector General concluded after an investigation of the Marine Corps’ botched attempts to send the nonlethal lasers to the war zone.

It’s a major mea culpa, but it comes with an important caveat: Sure, the Marines’ pencil-pushers mishandled the urgent request for lasers, first issued five years ago. But that doesn’t give today’s front-line commanders an excuse for circumventing the bureaucrats.

The background to the IG’s investigation is a tragic one. During the bloodiest phase of the Iraq war, native civilians, long accustomed to barreling through traffic in their compact cars, would unwittingly speed toward U.S. military checkpoints.

They looked a lot like suicide bombers. Startled Americans would yell, flash their Humvees’ headlights and even fire warning shots — often to no effect.

Iraqi roads are too chaotic, and many warnings simply too ambiguous. Faced with a last-second decision to open fire or risk a suicide blast, the Americans often opted to shoot the driver.

There’s no telling how many Iraqis died this way. Compounding the tragedy is the possibility that it was all preventable.

As early as the spring of 2006, the Pentagon admits, an inexpensive bit of off-the-shelf technology could have given U.S. Marines at their checkpoints in western Iraq a better way of warning off approaching drivers. But the tech — a nonlethal laser gun that “dazzles” drivers and forces them off the road — ran afoul of the Marines’ weapon-developing bureaucracy.

The laser dazzlers were nine months late when they finally arrived in Iraq in late 2006. In the interim, as many as 50 innocent Iraqis were killed in checkpoint shootings, according to one Marine study.

“The lack of a nonlethal laser dazzler capability increased the risk of unwarranted escalation-of-force incidents and the difficulty of safeguarding civilians,” the Inspector General’s report (.pdf) notes.

“The decision to delay,” the report adds, “was unnecessary.”

By: Brant

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