Defend Our Marines | July 23, 2007
in the sky over Haditha:
What you see is what you get
by Nathaniel R. Helms
Revelations of a ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle flying over the
site of the alleged “massacre” at Haditha, Iraq shows conclusively
that combat commanders up the chain of command from Kilo Company to
the 2nd Marine Division were able in “real time” to witness
what was unfolding on the battlefield, several career Marines said.
comments fly in the face of
charges that the battlefield commanders from company to regimental
level failed to adequately investigate or inform 2nd Marine
Division Commander Richard A. Huck what transpired at Haditha. At a
minimum his intelligence chief (G-2) and operations officer (G-3) were
receiving real time reports and live digital image downloads of the
battle as it progressed, the Marines agreed.
Currently former 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine
commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani is waiting to discover whether he
will face general courts-martial for both failing to keep his
superiors informed or investigating the circumstances of the incident
after the fact. The fight at Haditha left 24 Iraqis and one Marine
dead and more than a dozen Kilo Company Marines wounded.
wingspan of 10 feet and weighing about 33 pounds, the $100,000
light-weight composite spy plane looks more toy than military plane.
The ScanEagle can fly more than 15 hours nonstop at a speed of 50
nautical miles per hour and an elevation of 16,000 feet. It is
virtually undetectable to the naked eye at altitude. It is launched
from a portable “slingshot” launcher and recovered in a trap of sorts
that catches and slows down the little plane using bungee cords,
according to the Marine Corps.
Marine said that ScanEagle UAV missions were usually “tasked” from
higher headquarters in a complicated arrangement requiring
coordination with the air wing, the UAV squadron providing the
ScanEagle, the regimental or division G-2 (intelligence officers) and
G-3 (operations officers), as well as the unit requesting support.
ScanEagle’s primary purpose that day was to provide “eyes” for the AH
-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters and fixed wing assets that were
also orbiting the battlefield, he said.
the fight a Marine F-18 fighter bomber destroyed a house and killed
five insurgents after a Cobra called in by Chessani was unable to fire
its Hellfire missiles, according to evidence already introduced. Two
other insurgents and a large cache of arms were also captured. The
insurgents were tracked to the house from the location where
Wuterich’s squad was under attack. Both types of aircraft as well as
Chessani’s staff were receiving targeting information from the
ScanEagle operators, the Marine said.
officer who fought at Fallujah but not present at Haditha said a
battalion intelligence officer such as Capt. Jeffrey Dinsmore – the
Marine who revealed the ScanEagle's
presence in Chessani’s recent Article 32 investigation - would have to
request such a high-value asset through the chain of command. Dinsmore
testified that he called for and obtained a ScanEagle UAV less than an
hour after a squad-sized element of Kilo Company Marines was ambushed
at Haditha. The officer said Dinsmore’s request would have probably
been denied unless there was compelling reasons to believe a
full-fledged battle was in the making.
was nothing else going on that day,” an officer who was there said. “I
think we got the ScanEagle from VMU-1.”
According to public Marine Corps sources Unmanned
Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 (VMU-1) was deployed to
Al Asad “in support of Coalition forces in the Sunni
Triangle” at the time. VMU-1 uses both the older Pioneer UAV and the
more efficient ScanEagle, the press reports said. Nobody from VMU-1
has been called as a witness in the proceedings of Chessani or two of
the three enlisted Marines accused of murdering old men, woman and
children while Chessani and three other officers covered it up. The
ScanEagle is controlled by a remote pilot who can be a civilian and an
enlisted Marine camera operator called an “intelligence analyst”
working under the supervision of a senior NCO.
year Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha, fueled by
unsubstantiated reports from Time magazine, claimed the Marines
eventually charged with murder at Haditha were on a rampage when they
killed 24 “defenseless” Iraqi civilians. The Marine
began its investigation after Time reporter Tim McGirk reported
that Kilo Marines slaughtered the Iraqis in retaliation for an IED
attack that killed Lance Corporal Miguel “T.J.” Terrazas and wounded
two more Marines.
Dinsmore testified that reports of firefights were coming in from all
over the area when he called for the UAV an hour after the fighting
started. His testimony is supported by two Kilo Company infantrymen
from another platoon who were wounded in the subsequent running battle
and never called as witnesses.
Kilo Weapons Platoon members corporals
Joe Haman and
were both wounded in one of the firefights Murtha repeatedly told
reporters didn’t happen. Haman had fought with Kilo at Fallujah the
preceding year. Both men said they heard the initial ambush erupt
about 600 meters from their position, followed by a sustained
firefight that grew in intensity until they were called into action 30
minutes later. When it was over at least nine Marines in their platoon
were wounded in a series of grenade battles with insurgents fleeing
the Wuterich ambush site. Both men say it was the most intense combat
of their deployment.
April or early May 2006 Karlen told Naval Criminal Investigative
Service special agents he saw three or four Kalashnikov AK-47 assault
rifles were leaning against the white taxicab that drove into the
ambush site several hours after the IED exploded. NCIS failed to turn
over Karlen’s testimony to the defense despite being interrogated for
four hours. Five Iraqis riding in the vehicle were killed in the
opening moments of the battle. McGirk said they were innocent students
on their way to school. Marine Corps intelligence specialists later
identified them as known insurgents. Last Friday Cpl. Robert Stafford,
the former Armory Custodian for Kilo Co., testified that he believed
an AK-47 was recovered from the white car.
Marine Captain James French, once a Staff Judge Advocate as well as
the action officer in the Special Operations / Low Intensity Conflict
Branch at HQMC, said the ScanEagle UAV gave 2nd Division
commander Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck’s G-2 Section (Intelligence) and
G-3 (Operations) boss the capability to observe and respond to
intelligence gathered by the tiny spy plane when the ambush evolved
into a battle. He opined that at a minimum the 2nd MarDiv
G-2 would have been intensely interested in events at Haditha.
Situations where enemy troops are observed in the open received the
highest priority in the decade-old doctrine for using UAVs, French
Insitu Group, who developed the
aircraft in conjunction with Boeing Aircraft Corporation, says
in its promotional material that ScanEagle provides “live,
high-quality video to ground commanders to locate and eliminate enemy
ScanEagle was initially introduced as the
“SeaScan” by Insitu for tuna fisherman and other industries seeking a
high endurance aircraft that could be launched and recovered from
fishing boats. Its commercial applications include shipboard imaging
reconnaissance, corporate security on land or at sea, and other
commercial missions, the manufacturers said.
Maj. John B. Barranco, a ScanEagle
detachment commander at Camp Al Qaim, Iraq told reporters on November
15, 2005 that ScanEagle generates images while flying in a large
circular pattern above an assigned operational area. It can see
everything that goes on inside that orbit, and also hundreds of meters
outside. To chase a subject on the ground, the land-based pilots
adjust the center of the orbit to keep a target in the flight path of
Barranco offered the example of an insurgent
mortarman leisurely shelling nearby Marines in the city of Husaybah.
He said ScanEagle detected the insurgent at the window of the top
story of a three-story building, calmly placing rounds into a mortar
tube, lobbing them at a Marine base until a fast mover summoned by a
ScanEagle operator blew him to pieces with a large bomb.
Scan Eagle intercepted this truck and followed it to a rendevous
point where it was joined by ten more tankers.
Eleven tankers are photographed by a
Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
Squadron 2 ScanEagle as they rallied after siphoning oil on a
highway in Iraq. With the help of VMU-2, the suspects were taken into
custody by 1st Battalion, 4th Marines.
Such was the case four days later at Haditha.
Haman said he listened to Marine “air” reporting that insurgent’s were
fleeing from behind the houses where Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich’s
squad was under heavy attack. Moments later the same “air” asset,
which Haman can’t identify, reported that a group of three insurgents
had “peeled off” from a larger group of eight or nine insurgents and
began running in his direction. Within seconds the insurgents had been
identified and helicopters were in pursuit. At the time nobody in his
platoon had a visual sighting of the running figures, Haman said.
A Marine non-commissioned officer who worked
as an intelligence chief for a VMU squadron said intelligence chiefs
(usually senior NCOs) and mud Marines receiving the data at
intelligence shops constantly analyze the video feeds. According to
public sources 1st Marines was the predominant land force
in al Anbar Province at the time.
Current doctrine mandates a sighting from an
orbiting ScanEagle be immediately relayed to Marine infantrymen
operating in the area. Because the threat is seen in real time, ground
commanders can maneuver their men to avoid potential ambushes and plan
counter moves without endangering the grunts. The cameras provide
high-resolution pictures the remote operator can zoom in on or “slave”
(lock) the camera to so the target is followed automatically no matter
where it goes. When no ground forces are present aviation assets are
instead dispatched to deal with the enemy, the Marine said.
there were at least two and possibly three kinds of UAV’s over Haditha
that morning. One type, the Dragon Eye, is a low endurance, relatively
simple UAV belonging to the intelligence section of 3rd
Battalion, 1st Marines. It is hand launched and carries a
low-definition camera. At least one was over the battlefield all
morning. In addition to Dragon Eye and ScanEagle UAVs there are now
unconfirmed reports that theater commanders in Baghdad diverted an
orbiting RQ-1 Predator medium altitude, high endurance UAV as well.
The Predator is operated by the Air Force for the Central Intelligence
Agency, National Security Agency, and other highly classified
intelligence authorities. It allows senior commander at the Pentagon
to see what is happening in real time as well. The source said it was
unlikely confirmation will ever be forthcoming,
the revelation that the ScanEagle was recording the fight was revealed
by Dinsmore little has been reported about the ScanEagle’s
technological capabilities. The Marine Corps and its manufacturers
say the ScanEagle’s command directed cameras are so sophisticated the
UAV can detect and identify objects as small as individual weapons and
people from five miles away. The unblinking eye of ScanEagle is
integrated into an inertially-stabilized pan / tilt nose turret. The
operator can command the camera to pan back-and-forth for wide-area
search, or to remain locked onto an object while the aircraft
maneuvers, according to a Marine who helped introduce the program into
surmised that such sophistication makes it impossible for senior
commanders not to know what was happening at Haditha if they chose to
do so. ScanEagle can simultaneously transmit its data in digital
format to anyone with the equipment to receive the information.
Despite MSM reports of “grainy images” suggesting imperfect technology
the ScanEagle can record the activities going on below in sharp
detail. The notion its imagery leaves lots of wiggle room for
interpretation is simply bunk, the Marine said.
you see is what you get,” he added.
Defend Our Marines
23 July 2007
Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our
Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war
correspondent, and, most recently, author of
My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).