U.S. policy on the use of nonlethal weapons has evolved over the last decade, often as the result of the experience gained by troops deployed on peacekeeping missions.

1993: The United States becomes involved in the U.N. humanitarian mission in Somalia, which evolved into a 21-month failure to restore democracy there.

1994: The Pentagon releases a study that concludes that nonlethal weapons “could be of significant value in low-intensity conflict.”

Late 1994: Marine Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, prepares to evacuate 2,400 Pakistani and Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Somalia (Operation United Shield). He orders his Marines to be trained in nonlethal techniques, as well as crowd control, riot dynamics, and other aspects of safely handling unarmed hostile civilians in Mogadishu.

February 1995: The 1st MEF uses an experimental sticky foam to control Somali crowds. The foam fails to deter the mob as TV cameras role. Evening news broadcasts later run the footage alongside clips from the “Ghostbusters,” in which actor Bill Murray is “slimed.”

April 1996: The Marines announce that they have established a standardized set of nonlethal weapons that equips a 200-man reinforced rifle company.

July 1996: The Defense Department publishes Directive 3000.3, “Policy for Non-Lethal Weapons.” The policy defines nonlethal weapons as “weapons systems that are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or materiel, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment.”

January 1997: An interservice “memorandum of agreement” formally assigns responsibility for nonlethal technology to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Fall 1997: Defense Secretary Bill Cohen unveils “Joint Vision 2010,” which says nonlethal weapons are part of “full dimensional” protection, and allow commanders to accomplish their mission while reducing civilian causalities.

1998: The Marine Corps opens the Interservice Nonlethal Individual Weapons Instructor Course, a program to train troops how to use nonlethal technologies, at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

April 6, 2001: Mostar, Bosnia — Americans sent to a bank to inspect suspicious records are taken hostage by Croatian gang members while a mob forms outside. As the crowd impedes a NATO rescue force, the American auditors are forced to turn over all the bank’s papers to the criminals. NATO officials later realize that the criminals orchestrated the entire riot in order to protect their assets at the bank.

The entire incident, which offers near-textbook examples of mob, tactics and crowd dynamics, is adopted as a case study at the nonlethal weapons course.

Feb. 2001: Kosovo — Serbs in Pasjane begin throwing rocks and bottles at Army personnel during a demonstration. Military police from the 793rd Military Police Battalion from Baumholder, Germany, respond by firing rubber bullets at the crowd. Only 14 rounds are fired before the crowd backs off. The instigators are arrested. Neither Serbs nor U.S. personnel are injured.

Summer 2002: The Pentagon begins planning in earnest for a possible campaign in Iraq. Planners anticipate possibility of fighting in Baghdad, Iraq, which would be the first time U.S. troops engage in urban warfare since Somalia.

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