For the record, I am not an Apache pilot. However, as a Foward Observer for Infantry units, I have habitually utilized them in combat for CCA (close combat attack), recon and my "eyes" during missions, because they can observe things I cannot see. Every single time (dozens) that I have utilized Apaches and Kiowas in combat, they have done a magnificent job and have been totally professional.
I watched the video five times so that I could see everything. Truth be told, I am on the side of the pilots because I believe as Soldiers, they are good and honest people who are trying to do their jobs and keep the ground elements safe. I am trying to remain objective, though for analytical purposes.
In this context, there were ground elements in what's called a "TIC" or Troops in Contact, just down the street. When that is the case, the observer or ground leader controlling the A/C is also responsible for what is engaged, not just the pilots. "Bushmaster" and "Hotel" elements, from what I gather could not see what the pilots were looking at, due to the fact they were in a TIC close by. That is excusable. From that point, it becomes the pilot's responsibility to engage targets of opportunity. The only problem is that the pilots can't see as well as the observer on the ground.
The Iraqis in the video did not use very good judgement. There was a TIC not far from where they were, so you can assume they heard the gunfire and knew what was going on. You can also probably assume they saw the A/C monitoring their position. It was also not wise for them to band together and "run to the sound of the guns". It does appear that they are coming together as a group and it could be construed that they are preparing for an ambush or at least headed to the gunfight to participate. I'll give the pilots a pass on that.
The pilots know that this video is recording and that it can be used for a 15-6 investigation. They also know their conversations are recorded. I think that they were unprofessional at times on the radio (swearing, celebration, etc). But the point is that these weren't rogue dudes just murdering people. They knew all the events that day were recorded; one must assume they thought they were in the right.
I do see how they mistaked the long-lense camera for an RPG. It looked like an RPG to me. I didn't notice any AK-47s, though; but I understand the fog of war. In that particular area, there had been a lot of violence (this is during the bloodiest part of the The Surge, if you recall) and I am making the assumption the pilots had been in previous firefights similar to this. As for firing on the vehicle, I am not sure what the ROE is. There was no evidence of weapons coming from the van or possessed by anyone in the van; however, if they are "rescuing" percieved insurgents, then they are not good guys. How are the pilots to know that they are just good samaritans and not aiding the enemy? Also, it's probably not wise to approach a combat situation when you have your children with you. I do believe the pilots could have restrained from engaging the vehicle and could have easily tracked it's movement and reported it to the ground element. I'm not Monday morning quarterbacking, but it was an option.
I picked up on this story two days ago at a COIN message board (SWC) that I post at. Most of the posters at SWC are active duty or retired military, most of all have combat experience. Not everyone is giving the pilots a pass on this one, including me. I think things could have gone differently.
I have had many occasions in combat when I've had to hold my fire and that of my unit. It's not easy, but it's reality. I can honestly say that I have never engaged non-combatants (to my knowledge) and I can sleep at night. However, I do not find the pilots negligent in this instance. I think there were a few times when they could have used better judgement and kept the finger off the trigger; but I wasn't there. I don't know all the details, so I'm not going to claim they are guilty of anything.
These guys now have to sleep at night knowing they killed and wounded unarmed civilians, journalists and children. That is punishment enough. We ask a lot of not only pilots, but all troops in combat to make split second decisions that may or may not cost their lives, their buddies' lives or the lives of the innocent and the wicked a like. It's a tough job and I think as a society, we should always be on the side of the Soldier unless overwhelming evidence indicates otherwise.
War is Hell. People die. It sucks.
I'm not trying to make excuses. I'm just asking people to try and understand what these guys were going through.