Michael's Dispatches

Senator Levin on MEDEVAC

07 March 2012

Senator Carl Levin has been sending a form letter to his constituents.  Key parts of the letter seem to be have been written by the Army.  At minimum, Senator Levin’s responses are a rewrite of Army releases.   His statement perpetuates numerous myths and outright falsehoods.  Carl Levin is Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Oversight is his duty.  If Senator Levin independently researched the Army statements, he would know that they contain falsehoods.

The letter [along with my comments in brackets]:

Dear [Deleted]:
Thank you for contacting me about the U.S. Army’s medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) policy.  I appreciate hearing your views on this matter.
Following the September 18, 2011, death of Army Specialist Chazray Clark in Afghanistan, concerns were raised about the Army’s MEDEVAC helicopter policy.  The specific circumstances of Specialist Clark’s death are the subject of an ongoing investigation.  For force protection reasons, all helicopters in Afghanistan fly in pairs, and the responsible in-theater commander makes the decision to use an armed escort for the MEDEVAC helicopter based on an appropriate tactical and risk assessment of each situation.

The Red Cross markings common to MEDEVAC vehicles of all types, ground or air ambulances, are consistent with the requirements of the Geneva Conventions.  [False: there is zero requirement to wear the Red Cross.  The Air Force, Marines, British and Dutch do not use the Red Cross in Afghanistan.  Nor do Army Special Operations Forces.  Only Army Dustoff MEDEVAC are ordered to wear the Red Cross, and the manner in which they fly in Afghanistan actually violates the Geneva Conventions.  The violations occur in numerous ways.  For instance, aircraft marked with the Red Cross are not permitted to fly over the enemy.  Marked MEDEVAC also must fly over pre-agreed routes at pre-agreed times, and must land for inspection when summoned by the enemy.  We violate or do not adhere to these and other GC provisions in Afghanistan.  Most bizarre in this MEDEVAC debacle is that with his letter, Senator Levin is suborning violating Geneva Conventions, and may be encouraging the Pentagon to break the law.  Of course the normal reply to this is, “The Taliban are not signatory to the GC.”  And in rebuttal, “Agreed.  The Taliban are not signatory.  And so why did Senator Levin bring up requirements of the GC, implying that the Air Force, British, and Dutch are in violation?   If GC does not apply, why bring GC into the discussion, and why alert the enemy to unarmed helicopters by wearing the Red Cross?  If GC does apply, as Senator Levin suggests, we are in clear violation and Levin is encouraging violation.”]  Even if the enemy targets all aircraft regardless of marking, as is the case in Afghanistan, the Red Cross ensures these helicopters will not be used for any other purpose than protecting their availability for their lifesaving mission. [Air Force Pedro are used in MEDEVAC/CASEVAC/CSAR rolls in Afghanistan.  They do not wear Red Crosses and they are used for nothing but rescue.  Levin’s sentence implies that Army generals admit that they lack the command horsepower to dedicate birds to MEDEVAC missions unless the generals use the excuse of the Red Cross.] MEDEVAC is distinguished from casualty evacuation, in which any available vehicle or aircraft is used to carry the wounded, as well as the well-known combat search and rescue operations of the Air Force and Navy.  [This sentence is meaningless, and untrue; Air Force Pedro are dedicated assets with more medics aboard who on average are more highly trained than Dustoff flight medics.]

Arming MEDEVAC helicopters would require significant changes to the interior configuration of these helicopters and would reduce the space otherwise available to carry and treat wounded troops.  [This is untrue on one level, and irrelevant on another; a primary argument is that Dustoff MEDEVAC should not wear Red Crosses to alert the enemy they are unarmed.  Taking off the Red Crosses adds no weight, and might even save a few ounces in paint.  The secondary argument is about arming the helicopters.  Why not just remove the Red Cross so as not to alert the Taliban that you are unarmed?]  Improvised explosive devices detonated against a military vehicle are the most common casualty producing attack in Afghanistan.  These attacks typically injure more than one vehicle passenger, requiring evacuation of several victims.  Arming MEDEVAC helicopters reduces the number of wounded carried and therefore increases the number of helicopters required and trips into and out of the area of an attack.  [This is a statistical falsehood and also sidesteps the argument that two armed Air Force Pedros can carry more patients than one unarmed Dustoff with an Apache escort.  This answer is a herring and assumes an uneducated reader.]

According to the Army [Does Levin trust the Army to say otherwise?], there is consensus within the Department of Defense and among commanders in Afghanistan that the policies and employment practices for Army MEDEVAC are appropriate.  [False: most pilots I speak with say the system is replete with flaws far beyond those mentioned here.]  It is important to note that the 92 percent survival rate for the wounded in Afghanistan is the highest in history, an accomplishment built on sound policy and the brave work of the Army’s medical crews. [The military is unable to substantiate this 92% claim.  I have looked into this and found it demonstrably specious.  The Pentagon should publish the study that supports the 92% figure.  The Pentagon should be called before the Senate to defend its position.]  As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will keep your thoughts in mind as the Committee performs its oversight role of military operations in Afghanistan.

Thank you again for contacting me.

Carl Levin

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