U.S. Failed to Limit 'Friendly Fire' in Iraq
Thu October 2, 2003 06:33 PM ET
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon failed to do enough to prevent incidents of "friendly fire" in the Iraq war despite acute concern about the same problem after the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. military said on Thursday.
A "lessons learned" report, compiled by the military and aimed at correcting mistakes made during the war, also criticized the way the Pentagon notified, mobilized and trained reservists and the slowness of assessing the amount of damage inflicted on Iraqi targets.
Two generals testified before Congress and briefed reporters about the findings, but declined to release the report.
The Pentagon did not take the needed steps to prevent friendly fire incidents -- accidental attacks by U.S. forces on other Americans or allied troops, said Adm. Edmund Giambastiani Jr., head of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, responsible for the report. The military calls such incidents fratricide.
"In the area of capabilities that fell short of our expectations where we needed substantial improvement, in our view, fratricide prevention is the first one that I list," Giambastiani told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
Giambastiani testified that "statistically, we did better" in the Iraq war than in the Gulf War, but neither he nor Maj. Gen. Robert Cone, who directed the report, revealed how many friendly fire incidents occurred in the Iraq war or how many casualties resulted.
Known friendly fire incidents during the Iraq war included a U.S. Patriot missile downing a British Tornado jet, a U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle bombing an American artillery position, and a U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt strafing a convoy of British armored vehicles.
The U.S. military viewed the rates of friendly fire deaths in the Gulf War as unacceptable. Of the 147 U.S. troops killed in battle in the Gulf War, 35 died in friendly fire incidents.
But the Pentagon in 2001 terminated as too costly an Army program to equip tanks and other military vehicles with electronic devices enabling troops to distinguish U.S. vehicles from those of the enemy amid the chaos of war.
As a result, pilots in U.S. warplanes and troops manning guns in tanks did not instantly have a way to identify before pulling the trigger that a target was not, in fact, a friend rather than a foe.
"In terms of combat ID (identification), I don't think we've made a lot of progress in the last 10 years," Cone told reporters at the Pentagon.
In the absence of such a system, U.S. officials scrambled to place combat identification panels, which have a distinctive signature when viewed with infrared technology, on tanks and other vehicles. U.S. forces also used a "blue force tracker" system showing the location of friendly forces on the battlefield, but Cone said, "We rushed that stuff" into actual use in a war.
Regarding Reserve and National Guard troops, Cone said there were problems in giving reservists called to active duty for the war sufficient notice of mobilization. He added that the inability to get battle-damage assessments more quickly sometimes left U.S. forces in the dark about how much harm they had inflicted on Iraqi targets.
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