Tuesday, April 03, 2007

POWs and MIAs: Very Few and Far, Far Between

Something to contemplate since the British sailors were taken captive: in this war, unlike any war before (including Gulf War I), we have no known, classified POWs and only one known MIA: Spc Matt Maupin.

Official POWs from the invasion include 7 soldiers from a maintenace company later rescued , Jessica Lynch and two Apache helicopter pilots.

The reasons that there are few POWS or MIAs may vary.

It has not been for lack of attempts by one faction or another. Questions regarding the fate of certain crews and passengers of helicopters shot down or "crash landing" have abounded, aided by the propaganda of the enemy. Were they executed after they were shot down? Some. Were the bodies of the dead shot to give that illusion? Some.

But, for the men and women on the ground doing patrols, CAPs (civil affairs patrols), embedded with the police or army (MiTTs - Military Transition Teams; PiTTs - Police Transition Teams), etc, it is extremely rare.

The few stories regarding attempts have ended with death for either our service men and women or with death for the would be kidnappers. In some instances, the "kidnapping" turned out to be a hoax.

In January 2007, 5 US Soldiers were captured and later executed. They had been attending a planning meeting in Karbala to provide protection for worshippers. Why and how they were kidnapped is mostly speculation as is why the kidnappers decided to execute them and dump all of the vehicles, clothes, etc.

One soldier foolishly left the base alone to visit his Iraqi wife. He was captured by an arm of the al Mahdi militia (Sadr's militia) called Ahl al Bayat (people of Bayat or "faithful"). He was shown on a video after four months of being captured.

Two US soldiers were captured by insurgents in June 2006. They were both later found dead and terribly mutilated. In was unclear whether they were alive at the time of "capture" or dead and the bodies taken away.

Either way, it was egregious, though not unexpected.

In all of the reports written regarding these captures, the word "kidnapped" or "kidnapping" was used instead of "captured". This is an interesting use of words. Why is it "kidnapped" instead of "captured"? Because the enemy are "terrorists" and "insurgents", thus not legitimate armed forces that could be described as taking "POWs"? It seems that the word "kidnap" connotates something that occurs in civilian life, not in a military operation or war, by any other word. But, in an information war, it also connotates "illegitimate" or "criminal" which is used to continue to beat the idea that these forces are in fack "illegitimate" or "criminal".

In any event, the attempts may be many, but the successes are rare and the end is 99.9% certain: death and possible torture.

This last may be a contributing factor in why there are no POWs and few MIAs. During the Vietnam war, many soldiers reported that they were prepared to fight to the death or kill themselves (and hopefully the enemy) because they knew what would happen to them if they were taken. This same mentallity is probably prevalent in US forces at this time. It is no secret that civilians and many Iraqi police were captured and beheaded, if not tortured before hand.

Part of the reason for this lack of captured forces from US or Coalition is the SOP or "standard operating procedure" which drills in team security, sets up QRFs (quick reaction forces) and other procedures to track and maintain the security of forces "outside the wire".

Another reason is the mantra "no man left behind" which has turned into more than just words or a special idea for certain special forces, but for all of the armed forces. Even, sometimes, to the point of sacrificing more lives. For some there is a happy ending, but few and far between and at a great price.

This idea, though, may be why the insurgents do end up taking and keeping so few POWs. It is a very high risk situation for groups that want to operate in the shadows and need to maintain anonymity. In the case of the US soldier taken by the Ahl al Bayat and the two soldiers taken by al Qaeda and later found dead, a massive search was underway immediately. In the case of the Ahl al Bayat, the only reason they were able to keep him for so long was because speculation that the solider, of Iraqi decent, may have participated in his own "kidnapping", but also because they had retreated into one of the few enclaves that US forces did not routinely enter and was guarded by Sadr's Shi'ite al Mahdi Army.

In the case of the two soldiers taken by al Qaeda, the search was so massive and instantaneous, they had little time, little space and little egress to take and maintain any captives. This is an overall problem for non-indegenous forces like al Qaeda that do not enjoy protection in large sectors of the society and are easily noted by their "foreigness" (ie, accent, clothing, religion, politics, etc - neighbors know when someone does not belong).

On the otherhand, three other issues may direct the al Qaeda terrorists and indegenous insurgents from taking captives. One, they don't want to. They want to kill as many as possible. Aside from logistical issues, al Qaeda's religio/politico views maintain that all enemy forces are "infidel invaders" and should be put to the sword. Two, the US does not negotiate with terrorists. In the case of the two soldiers found tortured and killed, al Qaeda had demanded the release of "Sunni women being held in American prisons". The US refused and the soldiers were later found dead. It is unclear whether they were killed before or after the refusal. In any case, for al Qaeda and other insurgents, the value of such live captives is significantly lower when weighed against the benefits and possible outcomes of being hunted. In al Qaeda's and many other combatant's eyes, the propganda value of dead and mutilated soldiers is much higher.

Finally, the tactics of self-preservation that Al Qaeda and the indegenous forces use to attack US and Coalition forces. These tactics are, by necessity, "stand off" attacks using snipers or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Because of the SOP for patrolling, soldiers could not be taken accept by another overwhelming force. Since AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) and the indegenous forces are killed en masse when they do mass for an attack, the probability of such an overwhelming force is unlikely.

In perspective, it is likely both the US and Coalition SOPs and the "stand off" tactics of the enemy that contribute to the lack of POWs and MIAs.

ROE and SOP for British: Change or No Change?

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