This newsletter is going to be just a bit different, especially for a piece so close to Christmas. But it’s about a topic of particular concern, and one that deserves more attention. It’s about our war on terror, how we fought, and why—despite all of our mistakes—our enemies bear the moral responsibility even for most of the innocent civilians who fell to American arms.
I still vividly remember the night I was almost responsible for the deaths of several young boys. It was a terrible night relatively early in my deployment. One of our soldiers had been killed in an IED attack, other soldiers were wounded, and medevac helicopters were on their way.
There was one problem. According to drone footage, a small collection of what appeared to be men were lying in a prone position in a ditch, directly under the flight path of the incoming choppers. We couldn’t see any weapons, but the footage wasn’t sharp, and weapons were easy to hide.
Leave the men alone, and you risked turning a tragedy into a catastrophe, with helicopters shot down and multiple new casualties. Fire on the men with partial information, and you risked killing civilians—but how much risk was there, really? Why would a small collection of men be lying down in a ditch in a prone position after midnight? That looked more like “TTPs” (the military acronym for tactics, techniques, and procedures that mark military activity) than innocent behavior.