Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pentagon fuming after 'Friendly fire' video leak

The British tabloid which leaked the video © The Sun

The Sun newspaper in the UK has obtained a leaked copy of the cock-pit video from the US plane which fired upon a British convoy in Iraq. The video has been of some controversy since its existence came to light during the inquest of a British soldier who died in the ‘friendly fire’ incident. The MoD, in the UK, as well as US authorities had both resisted calls to release the tape to the court overseeing the inquest of Matty Hull. Four days ago there were strong criticisms from the court over the defence departments refusal to hand the tape over [BBC]. Now further questions are being asked as to how the sensitive video landed on the desk of the British tabloid newspaper.

Investigations and reaction

Andrew Walker, the coroner at the inquest, had adjourned the hearing in order to seek advice.
The US ambassador has been talking to MoD officials, but there was no immediate reaction. At the time of the incident US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers, apologised and said he would make it his “quest” to prevent further incidents. As he spoke investigations were underway into what events surrounded the downing of a British GR4 tornado by US Patriot missiles [BBC 2003 report]. Lance Corporal Matthew Hull was the fifth soldier to die from ‘friendly fire’ in the early days of the Iraq War. He was killed near to Basra in southern Iraq [BBC 2003 report].

According to Sky News a Pentagon official was quoted as saying, “However leaked this would be criminally responsible”. The tape had only been given to the MoD on the understanding that it would be used only for ‘internal inquiries’ and not be made available to the British public nor indeed other authorities. Even the existence of the tape was hidden from Matty Hull’s family, the court and the public.

The release of details of the ‘Blue on Blue’ or ‘Friendly Fire’ incident will create a sense of distrust between two key allies in the war on terror and may affect future cooperation and sharing of information.

"We're in jail dude"

The Sun newspaper ran with the headline “God dammit, we’re in jail dude”, the voice from one of the pilots after they realised they had targeted allied troops. A graphic in the newspaper shows the incident in further detail and the full transcript between the pilots. As the pilots engage their target one is heard saying, “Hey, I got a four ship. Looks like we got orange panels on them though. Do we have any friendlies up in this area?” After four minutes the two pilots come to the conclusion that the orange panels are “orange rockets”. With fuel running out they make the decision to open fire. “We need to think about getting home” one of the pilots says, and the other responds moments later “I think killing these damn rocket launchers, it would be great”. Three minutes later one of the jets fires on the convoy. But less than twenty seconds after the incident another transmission is received by the pilots from ground control, “Be advised that in the 3122 and 3222 group box you have friendly armour in the area. Yellow, small armoured tanks. Just be advised.” The reaction from one pilot is immediate. “Oh shit” he says. Then comes further confirmation of their mistake as another transmission is received. “You got a, looks we might have a blue on blue situation,” the voice from ground control says. After a series of expletives, one pilot asks, “Let me know how those friendlies are right now, please.” The reply is not well received. “We are getting an initial brief that there was one killed and one wounded, over,” a voice says. The pilots then utter a series of comments which indicate their shock as well as fear for their own careers. “I’m going to be sick” says one pilot, whilst the other curses, “ahh fuck!” Moments later he says “We’re in jail dude” whilst his colleague replies, “Yeah, I know that thing with the orange panels is going to screw us. They look like orange rockets on top.”

Media reaction

The story was the main headline on Sky News as well as the BBC. CNN initially ran the report as their third story but gave no detail of US reaction to the information leak. Fox News described the event as an “alleged ‘friendly fire’ incident”. France 24 and Al Jazeera headlined with child soldiers and flooding in Indonesia respectively. Al Jazeera ran with the story some twenty minutes into their lunchtime bulletin, but there was no obvious reference to the story on their website. ITN, Britain’s Independent Television News broadcaster, led with the story and put much blame at the door of the US military. In the report from Paul Davis, it was suggested that a failure to wait for confirmation and the not giving of coordinates was partly to blame.
The MoD told ITN they had not intended to deceive by denying the existence of the video. Then followed specualation that any forthcoming statement from the Pentagon would be “bland” and that they were a “law unto themselves”. ITN have a particular axe to grind. In 2003, one of their own reporters was killed by ‘friendly fire’ near Basra. The US refused to release information, including purported video evidence, to the inquiry into his death. Following the inquest, which ruled that the reporter Terry Lloyd was unlawfully killed, the solicitor for Terry Lloyd’s widow Lyn, described the Americans as being “out of control”. Speaking after the case, Louis Charalambous said, “US forces appear to have allowed their forces to behave like trigger happy cowboys”.

'Friendly fire'

ITN also gave a list of other ‘friendly fire’ incidents. In the first Gulf War, American A10 aircraft targeted a British armoured personnel carriers killing 9 soldiers (the same number as were killed by enemy fire in the whole war). In 1994 two British officers were amongst 26 NATO killed when their helicopter was downed by American fire. And in Afghanistan a British Royal Marine, Jonathan Wigley, said to have been killed by an American A10 according to some witnesses [BBC]. British have not been the only victims of US ‘friendly fire’. Bulgarians, Italians and Canadians have all been victims of US ‘Blue on Blue’ incidents. And American troops have also been the victim of mistakes made in the theatre of war. In 2004 Pat Tillman, a famous American football player, died in Afghanistan after being hit by his own side. ‘Friendly fire’ is nothing new. Historically there are many recorded instances of troops dying at the hand of their allies or comrades. It is estimated that 75,000 French troops died in such incidents throughout WW I. In WW II allied anti-aircraft fire mistakenly downed 33 allied planes resulting in over 300 casualties. Several incidents occurred during the 1982 Falkland Conflict resulting in the death of at least 10 British servicemen. The US have also lost significant numbers over many years. In WW II up to 16% of the casualty list has been attributed to ‘friendly fire’. Vietnam saw 8,000 dead due to such incidents accounting for 14% of all deaths. And during the first Gulf War, 23% of the casualty list was put down to ‘friendly fire’, though the numbers were much lower standing at 35 [Friendly fire-Incidents and persons].

Transcript sources: CNN / Sky News

Video source: The Sun


T said...

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