Monday, July 28, 2008

Force Protection

In recent years military and police organisations have placed increasing emphasis on protection of the lives of their members. This includes passive measures such as improved body armour and vehicles, as well as more active measures such as electro-shock weapons and 25mm cannon:
Canadian troops have killed a two-year-old boy and his four-year-old sister by opening fire on a car they feared was about to attack their convoy in Afghanistan, the Canadian Forces announced Monday.

Facing a split-second decision about what to do when a car failed to heed repeated warnings to pull over, a gunner in a light armoured vehicle pulled the trigger on a 25-millimetre cannon.

Its giant round tore through the little girl's skull and left a gaping wound in her younger brother's chest, witnesses said.

The children's mother later frantically paced the hallways at the local hospital, shrieking and cursing foreign soldiers between sobs.

One police officer at the Kandahar city hospital said he saw the mother scream: "My innocent children have been killed by foreigners - for no reason!"

The father, believed to have been driving the vehicle, was being treated for lacerations but left the hospital without permission to attend his children's funeral.

Another hospital visitor said that if he were the children's father, he would personally strap on a suicide vest and exact vengeance on Canadian troops.

Unfortunately, this practice of reducing the risk of physical harm to the uniformed has the net effect of increasing the risk of harm to the people they interact with, particularly when active measures are used.

Furthermore, this emphasis on protection that results in harm to the oft-innocent public means, de facto, the life and limb of the police officer or soldier are regarded as being of higher value than those of the general public.

The problem, of course, is that the immediate tactical interest in protection comes at the expense of the strategic necessity of trust between the uniformed and non-uniformed.

In Winnipeg, Ottawa and Kandahar, this is either unmentionable, or its impact on the task at hand is rhetorically minimised.

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