Use of HIMARs suspended after 12 civilians killed in Marja


Two days into the offensive to clear the city of Marja in Helmand province, the Coalition suffered its first public relations setback after two guided rockets went off target and accidentally killed 12 Afghan civilians. From the ISAF press release:

Two rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launched at insurgents firing upon Afghan and ISAF forces impacted approximately 300 meters off their intended target, killing 12 civilians in Nad Ali district, Helmand Province today.

ISAF Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal conveyed his apologies to President Hamid Karzai for this unfortunate incident. “We deeply regret this tragic loss of life,” said McChrystal. “The current operation in Central Helmand is aimed at restoring security and stability to this vital area of Afghanistan. It’s regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost. We extend our heartfelt sympathies and will ensure we do all we can to avoid future incidents.”

Marja is a city with an estimated population of 100,000. More than 15,000 troops are involved in the assault; civilian casualties are inevitable. ISAF’s response isn’t to just apologize, but to deprive the assault force of the use of the HIMARs:

The use of the HIMARS has been suspended until a thorough review of this incident has been conducted. The original target of the two rockets was a compound where insurgents were delivering accurate, direct fire on an Afghan-ISAF joint team. An Afghan National Army soldier and ISAF service member had been injured by the insurgent fire.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • m3fd2002 says:

    If it was two missiles that hit the wrong target, it would strongly indicate that incorrect coordinates were keyed in at the launcher or supplied by forward observers. I haven’t heard of any abhrams involved. These would be very useful in MOUT operations. Anyone know if heavy armor is being utilized?

  • James says:

    Someone lased the wrong building…

  • Armchair Warlord says:

    I don’t seem to recall suspensions on the use of a given weapons system happening after other civilian casualty incidents in the past, even after General McChrystal came in and ISAF became (rightly) much more averse to civilian deaths.
    Given that GMLRS rockets were probably fired in this case I would think that if user error has been ruled out suspending the use of the weapon has more to do with making sure there isn’t some kind of error in the guidance system or failure in maintenance. With how far off the intended target the rockets landed friendly troops could have been killed as easily as civilians – and they certainly didn’t help the troops in contact.
    Of course if ISAF wants to phrase their press releases to give the impression a stand-down on technical grounds was actually because Afghan civilians were killed, that’s just being PR-savvy.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    CNN:”A senior ISAF official, however, said the rocket was not off target at all. The official said troops hit the building they were aiming for but did not know that civilians were inside.”

  • Render says:

    There are no M-1 Abrams MBT’s in Afghanistan, with the exception of the USMC’s heavily modified Breacher vehicles.
    At last check the Coalition MBT’s are a handful of Leopard 1’s and 2’s (one company of each) belonging to the Canadians and a smaller handful of Leopard 2’s (one platoon+) belonging to the Dutch. Together with whatever T-62’s the Afghan Army has cobbled together out of the scrap yards of their history.
    At least one of the Canadian Leopard 2’s was seen recently in video operating alongside of the USMC Breachers in their debut at Now Zad.
    HIMARS may have been responsible for at least one friendly fire incident in the Marjah operation prior to the two civilian hits (as m3fd2002 notes at least one of those civilian hits was not a mistake, they just didn’t know there were civilians acting as Talib shields in the target building). There is video…
    General McChrystal essentially ordered the stand down of the entire Coalition air support prior to the stolen fuel tanker hit in Konduz. USAF General Gilmary Hostage confirmed that in August of last year.
    The Rules of Engagement themselves are a mandatory stand down of various individual weapons systems. Including cluster warheads and apparently white phosphorus as well.
    Even if we went in there with nothing but swords, spears, and black powder muzzle-loaders somebody would still complain that it was unfair, because the USMC would still be kicking Talib tail.

  • Armchair Warlord says:

    According to Danger Room, use of HIMARS has been reinstated. Apparently they actually hit what they were aiming at but it was full of civilians as well as Taliban fighters. Just like the Taliban to be throwing civilians into the crossfire.

  • Victor says:

    There is a WSJ story about marines facing very accurate sniper fire during the campaign.
    Is this a new capability or did the Taleban use trained snipers earlier too?
    It takes specialized training, experience and good equipment to field an effective sniper. Where did that come from?

  • Render says:

    Long range shooting has always been a point of pride amongst the Afghan men. Both Kipling and the fictional Sherlock Holmes noted it long ago.
    Afghan and Tribal Pakistani boys learn shooting the same way American kids learn video games, so in that sense the Talib have always fielded trained snipers as just about every Talib gunman is a potential sniper.
    There is no lack of Moisin-Nagant and Lee-Enfield type bolt-actions available in the region and knock-off Dragunov SVD copies are/were fairly popular in the FATA arms shops after the 1980’s. Even the venerable 19th century Martini-Henry (usually in a slightly more modern caliber) has been re-produced in large numbers and had been seen in the hands of some of the poorer Talib units circa 2002-03 and earlier. All are for sale in the FATA arms shops, even PPsH-41 sub machine guns for the Talib that needs glasses.
    Now if the sniper in question is cracking off aimed single shots from an RPK or PKM LMG at 1,000 meters or more, that would be different. That might very well point to advanced training and/or a professional at work.
    But how many of those highly trained professionals and their relatively expensive weapons would the Talib command leave behind to be ground up by the USMC Machine that they know full well is coming and is not stoppable? And how many Talib didn’t get their orders to leave because Baradar got busted by the Pakistanis before he could pass those orders?

  • wallbangr says:

    More obfuscation from The Danger Room:
    American military investigators immediately began looking into the incident. At first, they concluded that the rockets veered off target. Then, they concluded that the system had functioned properly; the Marines were simply unaware that the house was filled with innocents. Afghan authorities immediately came to a different conclusion.
    The Afghan interior minister  said that only 9 of the 12 dead in the house were civilians, and that the other 3 were Taliban insurgents who had forced their way into the house and used it as a fighting position 
    The Afghan government’s account seemed at best debatable  For one thing, if there had been weapons in the house, the Marines would most likely have found them.


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