Fratricide Incidents through Air/Ground Fire

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A serious incident occurred before OIF, during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. On April 17, 2002 near Kandahar, troops from Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were conducting a night live-fire exercise at Tarnak Farms range. Two US F-16 fighters were returning from a mission, passing south of Kandahar when the lead pilot observed fireworks, which he misidentified as surface-to-air fire (SAFIRE). Asking permission from AWACS to retaliate, but while waiting for clearance, the nervous wingman considered himself to be under threat and requested to engage with 20mm cannon. AWACS cautioned to “stand by”, requesting additional information. But the wingman declared “rolling in self defense” and released a 500lb bomb which impacted among the Canadian troops, killing four soldiers and wounding eight.

It was the worst Fratricide during the operation. An investigation followed an outrage, which indicted the two Air National Guard pilots. Initial examination of the pilots revealed that both had been prescribed “Go and No-Go Pills” for use against combat fatigue prior to their mission. Media reports identified these as amphetamines, which are potent psychomotor stimulants, releasing excitatory neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenalin, educing enhanced motivation, reducing the need for sleep, but also a sense of aroused euphoria lasting several hours, followed by mental depression and fatigue. US air force medical experts declared that the use of amphetamines appears to be regular practice among US fliers, but no clear indication was available whether this had impaired the action of the Tarnak Farm incident directly. During Operation Iraqi Freedom several air-to-ground fratricide incidents happened, involving American fliers. One of those involved a group of light armored vehicles from the Blues and Royal Regiment, patrolling northwest Basra on 6 April. A USAF A-10 Warthog tank-buster misidentified the convoy for Iraqi vehicles and launched a scathing strike with his armament, destroying two Warrior IFV, killing one and wounding 5 Brits. One of the survivors was quoted warning his comrades: “Don’t worry about the Iraqis; it’s the Americans you want to watch!” However one of the worst fratricides was still to come. Next day, a group of US Special Forces leading a convoy of Kurdish fighters, in northern Iraq, radioed two American fighter jets to take out an Iraqi tank blocking their way. The lead pilots attacked, but instead of hitting the tank dropped its armament on the convoy killing 18 Kurds and injuring three of the SOF. A following investigation revealed that the mistake was caused by a simple mix-up: the radios carried by the SOF were compatible only with USAF aircraft but not with US Navy jets which had attacked them! Moreover, the vehicles were fitted with clear fluorescent-orange markings, which, alas, could have been obscured by dust and low clouds to be identified from fast flying jets. To learn about fratricide preventing activities in selected, modern armies, please refer to the links shown below;