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An Old Army Myth That Went Unchallenged for Too Long

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For some United States Army leaders, the imagery was intoxicating: Iraqi troopers cowering in concern as dozens of American rockets and artillery shells broke open above them. Thousands of explosive grenades streamed down onto their positions, destroying lives and gear and forcing surrenders en masse. “Please save us from this ‘steel rain,’” the Iraqi troopers supposedly implored their American adversaries.

Though the narrative has differed a bit relying on the storyteller, the meat of the story was principally the identical: During Operation Desert Storm, the Army’s new second-generation cluster weapons — referred to as dual-purpose improved typical munitions, or DPICMs — broke the Iraqis’ will to combat, and it was Iraqi prisoners of battle who named them “steel rain,” as a result of the grenades have been made from that metallic they usually fell in thickets over massive areas of the desert.

I got here throughout this tall story again and again in recent times whereas learning how dud American cluster munitions typically killed American and allied troops throughout Desert Storm. Some of these allied troopers have been killed by unexploded DPICM grenades, however rising from Desert Storm was a hero narrative round these little submunitions — and one with none official documentation to again it up.

Digging into the archives confirmed how such a narrative entered the Army’s consciousness unchallenged. We printed that story this week in At War.

This was not the primary time the army overhyped new artillery weapons. The Army’s first era of artillery cluster shells was born out of the service’s bitter expertise going through human wave assaults within the Korean War. A top-secret postwar program at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey raced to create a brand new era of weapons it referred to as COFRAM, for Controlled Fragmentation Munition. The concept was to design artillery shells that broke open in midair, meting out little grenades that exploded in additional uniformly sized items than earlier munitions did. The key, they discovered, was to attain the within partitions of the grenade physique in a crosshatch sort of design. (The M67 fragmentation hand grenade nonetheless in use as we speak is a direct descendant of the COFRAM program.) By blanketing massive areas with smaller munitions, they hoped human wave assaults may very well be defeated.

These COFRAM munitions stayed largely below wraps till early 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson panicked over the potential for North Vietnamese forces overrunning the Marine base at Khe Sanh. The president mentioned the potential for utilizing small nuclear weapons with Pentagon management to defend the bottom, however his commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, recommended that nukes wouldn’t be obligatory. In January, the Pentagon agreed with Westmoreland’s request to declassify COFRAM for use in Vietnam.

The Marine Corps’ official historical past of the battle reveals that lower than a month later, a brigadier basic flew to Khe Sanh with the primary pallets of 105-millimeter cluster artillery rounds, and a warrant officer delivered handwritten directions on their use. On Feb. 7, 1968, Marine howitzers fired the primary artillery cluster rounds in assist of the Special Forces camp close by at Lang Vei. The Marine artillery commander who was ordered to make use of the brand new top-secret ammunition solely fired a number of rounds and “doubted very a lot their effectiveness.” He went again to firing regular high-explosive rounds however saved reporting to his superiors that he was utilizing the brand new cluster munitions.

These weapons continued to trigger issues at any time when and wherever they have been used, forsaking quite a few duds that the Viet Cong typically harvested and integrated into mines and booby traps that they used towards American troops.

The failures of the cheaply made and mass-produced artillery submunitions in Vietnam evidently have been forgotten, or have been presumed to have been mounted within the Army’s second-generation weapons they debuted in Desert Storm. Although the enemy in 1991 didn’t flip these duds towards American floor forces as they’d in Vietnam, a minimum of 16 American troops ended up useless and wounded anyway from choosing them up by hand, typically pondering they have been innocent souvenirs.

But the Army nonetheless holds quick to the parable of their effectiveness. Today, a portray titled “Steel Rain” depicting National Guard troopers firing rockets containing DPICM grenades throughout Desert Storm hangs within the Pentagon. Reporters like me who enter the constructing from the Metro entrance move it on our solution to the press operations workplace, together with work depicting different tales.

That is the approximate variety of plaintiffs in a 2016 lawsuit filed in federal courtroom by wounded veterans and the households of useless service members towards the Iranian authorities, which they argue aided a collection of assaults that killed or maimed American troops. The incidents are mentioned to have been bolstered by the assist of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, an elite paramilitary unit led by Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani till his dying two weeks in the past. The lawsuit claims that Suleimani offered Iraqi militias with the weaponry obligatory to hold out the assaults towards American service members in the course of the peak of the Iraq battle. In August, a choose dominated that proof gathered by investigators and intelligence officers clearly confirmed that “material support” for the seven assaults she examined had “flowed through” Suleimani’s Quds Force. It’s unlikely that Iran may very well be made to pay up instantly. Read the complete Times report on the lawsuit right here.

— Jake Nevins, Times Magazine editorial fellow


Here are 5 articles from The Times you may need missed.

“ISIS has begun to reorganize and plan invasions and attacks.” The determination to restart army operations in Iraq got here lower than two weeks after Iraq’s Parliament voted to expel all American forces from Iraq. [Read the story.]

“Peace for our people means the end of violence.” Reducing violence ranges in Afghanistan is seen as essential to paving manner for finalizing a peace settlement the United States and Taliban have been negotiating over the previous yr. [Read the story.]

“Neither I nor my staff told you or anyone else at the department that the allegations were unsubstantiated.” A cupboard secretary, a House committee chairman and an inspector basic are at odds after a congressional workers member mentioned she was sexually assaulted at a V.A. hospital in Washington. [Read the story.]

“There are no happy endings here.” “Race of Aces,” John Bruning’s action-fueled World War II narrative, follows the elite fighter pilots who competed to shoot down essentially the most enemy planes. [Read the assessment.]

“The harm of the base now is not worth it being there.” Bagram’s economic system is tightly sure to the American army, however what as soon as made it a growth city as we speak leaves it extra a goal. [Read the story.]


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About Alfred Jackson

Alfred R. Jackson writes for Technology section in AmericaRichest.

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