Blue on Blue ground incidents during Operation Iraqi Freedom

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The first reported ground fratricide incident during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) occurred shortly after midnight on March 24, when a British Challenger II tank fired on another near Basra. This incident is of particular interest. The two tanks, Britain’s most advanced MBT types, were part of a squadron of the Queen’s Royal Lancers attached to the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusliers Battlegroup of the 7th Armoured Brigade. The tanks were engaging pockets of Iraqi soldiers near a bridge over the Qanat Shat Al Basra canal which runs along the western edge of the city. In a nearby sector, a troop of CR2 of 2RTR was tracking a group of enemy personnel through their thermal sights, which had been reported by the battle group HQ. The ‘target’ was indicated as an enemy bunker position. The QDL Challenger was, unfortunately, in turret-down position, below the skyline, its crew working on the turret top, visible to the 2 RTR crew as the reported “enemy” troops.


The RTR TC requested clearance to shoot, which was granted. Firing two shots of HESH at 4000 yards blew the turret off the QDL Challenger, killing two of the crew and seriously wounding the two others. Both tanks were fitted with visual identification systems in working order, but could not render clear visual contact, due to the hull-down positioned tank.

According to reports, tanks in OIF were issued bolted-on identification panels, including those emitting thermal signature which can be seen at long distance using IR observation devices. However there seemed to remain also some of the older fluorescent sheets, used during Desert Storm on some of the AFVs.

On March 27 another ground B+B incident caused 37 casualties among the US marines of 2nd Battalion 8th Marines. Although the Marines had some of the most sophisticated equipment to prevent such a tragic accident, including thermal imaging, night vision gear and computers, to keep track of each other’s movements, even this hi-tech equipment failed to prevent such a tragic event. The 2nd Battalion command post called for artillery support near An Nasiriyah Bridge, but the shots fell short, exploding among the Marines with devastating results. Just then a communication break happened, while radio operators were frantically trying to call off the fire in vain. In the midst of the chaos, shells kept exploding for 90(!) minutes, until finally contact was re-established, but the damage was already done.

Friendly fire destroyed at least one US Army M1A2 Abrams MBT in OIF. According to a briefing by Lt Colonel Bob Lovett, prepared for the US Armor Center Ft Knox Kentucky, a tank of B Troop 3rd Squadron 7th Cavalry Regiment was knocked out at night 24/25 March near Najaf. First investigation in the field suspected the ‘kill’ as result of enemy action firing

the new Russian Kornet ATGW, but further examination revealed that the damage was from a 25mm Bushmaster cannon, firing eight AP-DU rounds into the rear engine compartment penetrating the engine grills. The same report mentioned another M1A2 Abrams damaged by unidentified source, possibly another US tank firing a 120mm round.

This other incident reminds of a similar one during the final stages of Desert Storm. On February 27, 1991, 3rd Brigade 2nd US Armored Division was engaged in a night battle in southern Iraq against the Republican Guard, when two rocket propelled grenades hit a M1A1 Abrams, inflicting no damage. The crew of another tank mistook the impacting flashes in their thermal sights, for enemy gun fire and immediately targeted the source. The 120mm DU round penetrated the tank with catastrophic fire results, killing the crew. This incident, among others, triggered instant Pentagon action to solve the problem and the result was the development of the (alas unfortunate) Battlefield Combat Identification System, (BCIS).

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