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Videotape from the gun camera of a U.S. Apache helicopter shows
two suspected Iraqi insurgents handling what the helicopter pilots believe is a
Graphic video footage from the gun camera of a U.S. Apache helicopter
provides a window into the rules of engagement that often determine life and
death in Iraq.
The video, shows images of three Iraqis on the
ground handling a long cylindrical object that the helicopter pilots believe is
The pilots, from the Army's 4th Infantry Division, ask their commanders for
permission to engage, then take the three men out one by one, using the Apache's
devastating 30 mm cannons.
The video opens with the helicopter tracking a man in a pickup truck north of
Baghdad on Dec. 1, one day after the 4th Infantry Division engaged in the
bloodiest battles with Iraqi insurgents since the end of major combat.
The pilots watch as the man pulls over and gets out to talk to another man
waiting by a larger truck.
"Uh, big truck over here," one of the pilots is heard saying. "He's having a
The pickup driver looks around, then reaches into his vehicle, takes out a
tube-shaped object that appears to be about 4 or 5 feet long, and runs away from
the road into a field. He drops the object in the field and heads back to the
"I got a guy running throwing a weapon," one of the pilots says. Retired Gen.
Jack Keane, who viewed the tape, said the object looked
like a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, "or something larger than a rifle."
The pilots check in with their operational commander, who is monitoring the
situation. When they tell him they are sure the man was carrying a weapon, he
tells them: "Engage. Smoke him."
The pilots wait as a tractor arrives on the scene, near the spot where the
pickup driver dropped the object. One of the Iraqis approaches the tractor
Then, within minutes, the Apache pilots open fire with the heavy 30 mm cannon,
killing first the Iraqi in the field, then the tractor driver. The pilots then
fire at the large truck and wait to see if they hit the last of three men.
When he rolls out from under the truck, one of the pilots says, "He's wounded."
The other pilot says, "Hit him," and the Apache opens fire again, killing the
The Apache fires nearly 100 30 mm cannon rounds in all.
Engagement Called Justified
A senior Army official who viewed the tape said the pilots had the legal right
to kill the men because they were carrying a weapon. He said there were no
ground troops in the area and if the Apache pilots had let the three Iraqis go,
the men might have gone on to kill American troops.
Keane agreed. "Those weapons were obviously not being pointed at them in
particular, but they [the three Iraqis] are using those weapons in their minds
for lethal means and they [the Apache pilots] have a right to interfere with
that," he said.
Anthony Cordesman, a defense consultant who also viewed the tape, said
the Apache pilots would have had a much clearer picture of the scene than what
was recorded on the videotape. He also said they would have had intelligence
about the identity of the men in the vehicles. "They're not getting a sort of
blurred picture. They have a combination of intelligence and much better imagery
than we can see."
As to whether the Apache pilots could have called in ground troops to apprehend
the men, Cordesman said: "In this kind of war, wherever you find organized
resistance among the insurgents, you have to act immediately. If you wait to
send in ground troops almost invariably your enemy is going to be gone."
Army officials acknowledged that the 30 mm cannons used by the Apache gunners
were far bigger than what was needed to kill the men, but said it is the
smallest weapon the Apaches have.