An important BBC story out today on a June 22 report by the American military in Iraq that Apache attack helicopters killed 17 Al Qaeda gun men north of Baghdad. Local villagers and survivors of the attack say the dead and wounded were not Al Qaeda terrorists, but part of a village defense force, that had just searched a suspect house with the Iraqi police when they were attacked. The Iraqi police were alerted by radio of the inbound Aaches and left the scene before the attack.
The military's press release says the group was trying to infiltrate the village, and were observed by the Apaches and "ground forces." A key question here is whether the ground troops actually had eyes on, and could confirm they were Al Qaeda, and not the typical village militia carrying AKs, as most everyone does over there.
A big problem with the military's side of the story is that the BBC report says that all but two of the victimes were Shia; the dead were taken to the Shiite holy city of Najaf for burial. Al Qaeda is a Sunni outfit at war with the Shia.
The bigger implication of this story, apart from increasing the never ending spiral of hatred and revenge on the part of Iraqis against the American occupation. But it highlights the dangers of fighting irregular warfare by video. Remote cameras cannot distinguish an innocent civilian from the enemy. Just because an Iraqi man is carrying an AK does not make him an Al Qaeda terrorists. But bigger body counts is now driving operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with the same results we've seen in past wars: a lot of innocents get killed.