Thursday, April 14, 2005

Friendly Fire: Was there a coverup? 
The New York Times is digging into a deadly fratricide incident in Iraq in 2003.

What he could not know then, but soon came to suspect, was that the explosion had not been caused by Iraqi mortars. His artillery unit had been hit by an American fighter jet and its signature weapon, a laser-guided 500-pound bomb. Three soldiers died and five were wounded, including Specialist Coyne, in one of the worst cases of "friendly fire" during the 2003 invasion - one that has drawn little public attention.

A reconstruction of that April 3 bombing from interviews and military documents - including an investigation report obtained by The New York Times that was released to families of the dead but not to the wounded - shows that a cascading chain of errors, poor judgment and miscommunication by American forces stationed in three countries contributed to the botched attack.

Specialist Coyne, now retired from the military, received a Purple Heart for his injury. But he says that at the award ceremony at Fort Sill, Okla., his superiors instructed him to keep quiet about his suspicions that he had been bombed by American forces. The Army has never given Mr. Coyne an official explanation for the accident.

It seems almost incomprehensible to me that the Army would release the investigation results to the families of the dead but not to the wounded. And unless there is some very sensitive information involved, I believe SPC Coyne ought to know what happened and how his buddies were killed.

It's not like the investigating officer wouldn't be able to find him.

That said, I was an investigating officer for another accident in which a pfc shot himself in the ankle with an M203. I contacted the soldier stateside via email, and got a statement, but I never sent him my findings, either. His unit may have - I don't know.

Until recently, some believed the explosion was caused by an Iraqi grenade, while others blamed non-American coalition forces.

Heh. Haji hand grenade, 500 pound bomb. Yeah, I can see how someone can confuse the two.

The error that led to the 2003 bombing began when an Air Force F-15E crew mistook the American artillery unit for an Iraqi missile battery largely because the crew was allowed to believe, incorrectly, that a Navy plane had been shot down that night in the same area by an Iraqi missile. The error was compounded by a decision by the artillery unit to shut off infrared strobe lights that would have identified it to the pilot. And it was sealed by confusion over who was responsible for checking the location of American troops. The Army says it has not tried to play down the accident, and is studying it and similar incidents to prevent mistakes.

Believe me, the Army obsesses over preventing tragic mistakes like this.

Inevitably, these things are the result of a combination of errors. It's rare that the blame can be pinned entirely on one person. The crew got bad information from their command. The Artillery unit shut off IR strobes (I wonder what was behind that decision?)

The confusion over checking the location of US troops? Well, whenever we had a fire mission coming in anywhere in the Brigade, the BDE would get on the net and issue a net call with the grid of the fire mission. As battle captain, I was supposed to have updated locations of all friendly elements within the battalion. But some of them were on mounted patrols and I often had no exact location for them, only a general area. Nevertheless, we called down to company level, told them the grids, and said, "Do you have anyone there?"

Only after every subordinate unit told us no would we clear the grid for fires.

But if there were a unit from out of town there, just passing through, they may not have checked into our net. In that case, they would not have gotten the fire clearance request. If they were at the grid at the time of the fire mission, they'd be in a world of hurt.

You have got to communicate laterally, as well as vertically. You have got to coordinate with units in whose sector you are operating. You can't be lazy. You can't take things for granted.

You also can't paralyze yourself, either. Perfectly reliable fire clearance methods take a long time. By the time you get them perfect, the enemy may have broken contact, and you have lost the opportunity to kill him. And so he gets away, and lives to fight another day. And you may take even more casualties for having been hesitant to pull the trigger before.

War is hell, and you cannot refine it, said William Tecumseh Sherman.

War is also tradeoffs and unintended consequences.

You don't have to court martial everyone who makes a mistake. Believe me - everyone in DCUs has screwed up at least once.

And the pilot probably feels bad enough,

Splash, out


Veteran's Day is November 11th and I hope that EVERY American will be flying the flag in honor of our troops fighting in Iraq and around the world to preserve our freedoms!

I can even tell you where to get one for free! Visit AmericanFlags.com right now and they'll send you a FREE American Flag. These flags were $19.99, but now they are FREE. You pay just for shipping/handling and they'll ship one to your door. (Actually - I've ordered more than 20 from them to give to my neighbors, as gifts, etc!)

Get your free flag now: **FREE AMERICAN FLAG**

Semper Fi!

Bill Adams
Hey, excellent website. A great Iraq resource is Deaths in Iraq. It breaks all of the casualties down by age, race, branch of the military, country, etc.
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