Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Letter of the Day | Report reckless in condemning mortar use

Published:Monday | June 20, 2016 | 6:00 AM

 

THE EDITOR, Sir:

The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry into the security force operations of May 2010 concluded that the use of mortars in the operation was, inter alia, reckless and disproportionate.

The use of mortar fire as a prelude to the troops fighting their way into Tivoli Gardens, as I understand the evidence, was to create a shock-and-awe effect, to frighten and disorientate gunmen, and to encourage women and children to remain indoors. The possibility of women and children being used as human shields would be vastly reduced.

These objectives demonstrated a clear concern for the lives of innocent civilians and, indeed, the lives of criminal gunmen who, it was hoped, in the circumstances, would be less inclined to take on the military in a firefight. It also demonstrated clear concern for the lives of the security forces.

When a commander has the awesome and weighty responsibility of sending men and women into harm's way, the major concern will be the safety of the forces, the possibility and probability of collateral damage, and, to the greatest extent possible, minimising casualties. Long gone are the days of trench warfare on the western front in World War I, where waves and waves of troops were sent over the top to be mercilessly cut down by enemy fire.

I have no knowledge of the planning of this operation, but I am intimately aware of the planning processes employed by the military. Central to this process would be the selection and maintenance of the aim and a series of steps and considerations leading to an operational plan. The planning process or appreciation would consider all relevant factors, including the what-ifs, and be subjected to the most rigorous of scrutiny by the commander and his staff. In the end, the commander makes his decision.

 

DIRE CONSEQUENCES

 

I can well imagine how much the chief of defence staff agonised over the decision that he and he alone had to make. He would have contemplated the consequences if something went horribly wrong with the employment of mortars in this somewhat unconventional way. He would have weighed this probability against that of the consequences of not using a tool that was available to him, that could effectively reduce the loss of lives and injuries to all parties, criminal gunmen, innocent civilians and soldiers.

His decision would have been swayed by the confidence he had in the training, competence and skills of his mortar teams and the detailed and careful planning regarding their employment.

Thirty-seven mortar rounds were fired, and, from the evidence of civilians, they did have the desired effect. No credible evidence was presented to suggest that any member of the community was injured or killed by mortar fire.

In all the above circumstances, the employment of mortar fire was described as 'reckless'. I do not agree with this finding.

If the commissioners had described the use of mortars as employed in the Tivoli operation as risky, I think they would have been on firmer ground.

HARDLEY M. LEWIN

Rear Admiral (Rtd)

Former Army Chief

Former Police Chief