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Shepperd: 'Terrible' situations at checkpoints

Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd
Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd

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(CNN) -- U.S. military officials are investigating a shooting in which U.S. forces killed seven women and children when a van failed to stop Monday at a checkpoint near Najaf, Iraq.

U.S. Central Command said soldiers staffing the checkpoint fired only after the van failed to heed repeated warnings, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said Tuesday.

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, a CNN military analyst, discussed the rules of engagement at military checkpoints with CNN Anchor Bill Hemmer.

HEMMER: General, I've got to think right now all through the southern part of Iraq you're going to have countless numbers of military checkpoints set up by the U.S. and the British. What happens at these checkpoints if you're a civilian in Iraq trying to pass through?

SHEPPERD: Well, things have changed since [Saturday's suicide] car bombing [at another checkpoint near Najaf that killed four U.S. soldiers].

Now you have things such as rules of engagement. These are general common sense rules. You may defend yourself at any time, do not fire unless fired upon, do not engage in offensive operations unless directed by higher headquarters -- this type of thing. But the procedures at the checkpoint are something that are issued at the local level.

One of the procedures that's been issued recently is do not assume that civilians are civilians and do not assume that vehicles that approach with white flags are really surrendering as a result of the suicide [bombing]. And so what's taken place is a very unfortunate incident, which is still under investigation in which seven to 10 women and children were actually shot up after warning shots were fired and fired -- and shots were fired into the engine.

So they're going to be very, very cautious about implementing procedures, putting up barriers to slow down vehicles, etc. But this is really going to slow down movement of vehicles throughout the theater.

As we've seen in Israel, it's just impossible to check every car. But you don't want to approach those cars with large numbers of troops, sticking your head in there until you are sure there are no explosives and no malicious intent on the part of those driving, and it's really tough.

HEMMER: There was a reporter from The Washington Post who apparently witnessed a good portion of what happened [Monday]. He says at the time there were no signs written in Arabic to indicate a military checkpoint was there. But that now is changing.

Would you see something like this have a ripple effect across every military checkpoint, and why not? Doesn't it not make sense to post the signs in Arabic and have some sort of command for the Arabic language if indeed something like this is approaching a situation there?

SHEPPERD: It makes a lot of sense to do that, and I think that's the type of local procedure that you will see invoked as they gain control of these southern areas and they have more and more traffic. It makes sense to have signs in Arabic. It makes sense to have barriers up. It also makes sense to have free Iraqi forces and interpreters there to talk to people in the vehicles, so you don't get in these type of situations. These are terrible, terrible situations and everybody's on razor edge about things that are taking place.

HEMMER: The other thing ... [is] it changes the psychology of the engagement as well. I want to get a comment on that in a moment, but we're watching these pictures somewhere in northern Iraq near the town of Erbil. ... I think you see it as a bomber. What does this say to you -- broad daylight flying at a reasonably lower altitude?

SHEPPERD: ... It makes perfect sense to me. There are thick contrails, probably by a bomber. Lots of bomber operations [are] going on up north as they hit the forward areas of the Republican Guard and Iraqi army deployed in that area. They're hitting trenches; they're hitting command posts.

Some of it is dumb bombs; some of it is very smart bombs if they can get specific intelligence, but it indicates that up in that area they're not afraid of any radar-guided threat. There are probably still some radar-guided threats down in Baghdad. Anything down there will be accompanied by jamming and harm missile-shooting aircraft. ...

HEMMER: Yes, let's get back to the psychology now, the rules of engagement for the U.S. military. If you're a soldier on the ground, if you're a member of the U.S. Marines, how are you thinking right now differently than you did, say, prior to Saturday afternoon?

SHEPPERD: It really does change your psychology. Basically, U.S. forces, coalition forces have sympathy for the population there. You want them to surrender, you want to treat them nicely, you want to win their hearts and souls, and now in the back of your mind you have to assume that every one of them is unfriendly, every one of them might have a weapon, every one of them might be a human shield. And so it really works on your mind. What you want to do is embrace them and you cannot.

Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd was in the U.S. Air Force for almost 40 years and flew 247 fighter combat missions in Vietnam. He served at the Pentagon as the Air National Guard commander and was directly involved in planning the use of Air National Guard forces during the Persian Gulf War. Shepperd runs a defense consulting firm called The Shepperd Group. He is one of CNN's military analysts, along with retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Grange. Their briefings will appear daily on

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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