Col. Tom Entwistle heads a team assessing damage done by precision weapons during the war in Iraq.

Col. Tom Entwistle heads a team assessing damage done by precision weapons during the war in Iraq. (Kent Harris / S&S)

BAGHDAD, Iraq — During a conflict involving precision weapons, it has become commonplace for U.S. military officials to show film clips featuring the pilot’s views of the damage.

Some might say that such clips provide more public relations value than actual military analysis because, many times, someone needs to be on the ground to really assess the damage.

That’s happening now in Iraq, with a team headed by an Air Force officer who normally works at the Pentagon making visits to hundreds of sites across the country.

The mission, said Col. Tom Entwistle, is to assess “not only how well the kill mechanism worked against the intended target,” but several other factors: Was the target correctly identified? Were there other effects that weren’t planned? Did the attack accomplish what it intended?

The goal, Entwistle said, is not only to evaluate the effectiveness of the air campaign against Iraq, but provide information that will help make American, British and Australian efforts more effective.

“It’s about improving warfare in the future,” he said. All three countries, as well as the four branches in the American military, are represented on the Combined Weapons Effectiveness Assessment Team. A British officer heads one group, a U.S. Marine leads another and a U.S. Army officer runs a third. Each group of about two dozen personnel has been visiting sites, most recently around the greater Baghdad area, and will do so for a few more weeks.

The groups are comprised of people who are experts in their field, including engineering, intelligence and weapons specialists.

“My expertise is the weapon itself,” said Air Force Capt. Brendan Devine, who’s assigned to one of the teams. He knows how the weapon works and what it’s supposed to do.

Entwistle said the sites were chosen for evaluation mainly by a consensus of all the parties involved. A few more sites were added to address specific requests of the individual countries and services.

“We’re generally interested in going to the sites that we know least about,” he said.

So, when teams visit a site, they gather all the evidence they can, getting measurements, examining what’s left and taking pictures.

Much of what they are finding is classified, at least until the team compiles its report and sends it along the chain of the command.

But Master Sgt. Douglas Frickey, another airman assigned to the team, said he’s been impressed by how accurate many of the attacks seem to have been.

Frickey’s expertise is in computer simulation. He said the programs the military uses to estimate such factors as how much firepower is needed to take out a target and how much collateral damage will occur appear to be pretty accurate.

He said he’ll take some valuable insight — both from visiting the sites and from working with those from other services and countries — with him when he returns to his job at U.S. Central Command.

Before then, though, the team has a lot of ground to cover. And, while members said they’ve mostly seen success stories, that’s not always the case.

Entwistle related one incident: A team group visited a site where it was thought a coalition weapon took out an Iraqi air defense battery. But through talks with local residents, they found the battery had been moved a day before the attack and it wasn’t damaged at all.

At some sites, team members have seen the effects of weapons designed to explode only after they’ve penetrated through a programmed number of floors in a building. Such attacks are designed to take out specific targets while keeping the loss of life to a minimum, Entwistle said.

But not all weapons appear to achieved the desired aim.

“Do we have some that have fallen short?” Devine asked. “Yes. Are we trying to find out why? Absolutely.”

Entwistle said the team is not charged with counting the number of Iraqis who were killed in the attacks and doesn’t have the expertise to do so. But he said most of the attacks appear to have achieved their objectives – and targeting civilians was never a goal.

In fact, he said, the study should help the military reduce the number of unintended casualties in future conflicts by helping it understand exactly what its weapons will do.

Forcing people to leave a specific building, for instance, without blowing it up with everyone still inside, is an achievable goal, he said.

“If your object is to get that guy to give up, you’ve achieved your objective.”

Entwistle admitted that visiting only a few hundred of the thousands and thousands of sites around Iraq might not provide a scientific look at the campaign.

“My answer is, I don’t know and I really don’t care,” he said. “You make an honest attempt to find out what you can about the point of attack and you do a thorough job.

“The people who I’m reporting this to have to have thick skins,” he said. “Because we’re reporting the truth.”

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now