Wars continue to take their toll through Friendly Fire

Ever since man began to engage in warfare, the phenomenon bizarrely named "Friendly Fire." has become an adjunct to the practice. Accidents do, and no doubt will continue to take place at any battle scene, and service people die as a result.

Are we becoming any better at managing this unfortunate manifestation as time moves on? I seek to compare more recent experience with some earlier wars.

The deaths of 4 Canadian Servicemen through Friendly Fire in Afganistan

The deaths of 4 Canadian Servicemen through Friendly Fire in Afganistan

In casualty reporting, a casualty circumstance applicable to persons killed in action or wounded in action mistakenly or accidentally by friendly forces actively engaged with the enemy, who are directing fire at a hostile force or what is thought to be a hostile force.
 -- From the U.S. Department of Defense.

Corporal Ainsworth Dyer, one of the 4 Canadians who died in Afganistan from Friendly Fire.

Corporal Ainsworth Dyer, one of the 4 Canadians who died in Afganistan from Friendly Fire

British Military.
Whereas theAmericans tend to use the term: Friendly Fire, the British Military report such incidents as Blue on Blue, this derives its name from War Gaming where the good side is named Blue, and the enemy Red.

20th. Century Statistics for casualties caused by Friendly Fire.
In 1995, a US Army War College Study estimated that between 13 to 24 % of all casualties in the 20th. century were killed or wounded by their own forces, what a dreadful figure.

One of the problems of modern warfare is being able to distinguish between Friend and Foe. eg, in August of 1943 in the Pacific war, some 35,000 US and Canadian troops invaded the Aleutin Island of Kiska, supposedly occupied by Japanese troops, in dense fog, intensive fighting took place, 28 died, 150 were wounded. It was only the next day it was found that there were no enemy forces on the island, and the troops that had landed were fighting themselves. Oh! the vagary of war.

In their 1917-1918 engagement in this war, the US lost 53,402. I do not have statistics for deaths from Friendly Fire. But, the Allied armies in France and Belgium lost many thousands from fire emanating from their own Artillery barrages, the front line advanced but the barrage had not lifted.

In this war the United States had 291,557 dead, of whom 21,000 died at the hands of their mates, the Friendly Fire % came in at about 7%.

Two major bombing errors in Normandy killed 600 US soldiers, including Lieutenant General Leslie McNair, the highest ranking American killed in WW2.

The Korean Conflict.
On the 3rd. ofJuly 1950, Australian pilots of 77 Squadron accidentally destroyed a train carrying US and Republic of Korea troops, notwithstanding that the pilots had been assured that the area was under the control of North Korea.

The US lost 33,741 in Korea, of which 6,500 or 19% died from Friendy Fire.

Viet Nam.
This was a long drawn out affair that in the end America lost, and withdrew her forces. But 47,414, died in that arena, and 16% of those deaths, or 8,000 personnel, died through Friendly Fire, a more realistic term is Fratricide.

I ponder on how the deaths of those 8,000 service people were reported to the 8,000 families families back home in the US. Did they die honourably serving their country in a far off land ? Or were they all told the truth about how they were no longer "Coming Home."

The Gulf War.
Of the 466,985 troops employed in this 6 week campaign, 146 died, this is indeed a low number, none the less, 35 of these, or 24% of the total deaths were caused by Friendly Fire.

2,500 aircraft flew 120,000 sorties, and 33,462 of these were to attack ground targets, 10 incidents of Friendly Fire resulted in 20 deaths and another 26 wounded.

Thus 99.97% of all strikes were carried out against the enemy. 10 out of 33,462, is but a tiny %, but even so, any death is one too many.

Here, the war against terrorism has been ongoing since 2001, and 154 US Military personnel have died. It would seem as many as 47 of these which include 4 Canadian deaths can be sheeted home to Friendly Fire.

Canadians on duty in Afganistan.

Canadians on duty in Afganistan.

A US National Guard F-16 in April of 2002, missed its target and killed 4 Canadians, Corporal Ainsworth Dyer, Sergeant Marc Leger, Private Richard Green, and Private Nathan Smith, 8 others were wounded. Here is the press report about charging the two Pilots responsible, and the subsequent outcome to those charges.

Pilot will not face Court Martial.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004 - An Air Force F-16 pilot who in 2002 mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on a
group of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, killing four, will not face court-martial, the Air Force said last Thursday.

Maj. Harry Schmidt, a former TOPGUN and Air Force Fighter Weapons School (FWS) instructor, has agreed
to a nonjudicial hearing. The flier's attorney said that classified information will be presented to show that the Air Force fighter pilot acted reasonably when he mistakenly dropped a bomb.

By avoiding court-martial, Schmidt no longer faces imprisonment.

Maj. Schmidt is scheduled tomorrow to face four dereliction-of-duty charges in an administrative hearing at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. He could face up to 30 days confinement or loss of one month?s pay, about
$5,600, or a combination of those.

Pilot of F-16 Found Guilty.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004 - A U.S. F-16 pilot who mistakenly bombed a group of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in, killing four, was found guilty Tuesday of dereliction of duty and was fined $5,672 for an act that a military commander characterized as shameful.

Illinois Air National Guard pilot Major Harry Schmidt, 38, was found guilty Tuesday of dereliction of duty and was docked a month's pay after he was also reprimanded by an Air Force general.

The reprimand from Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson was unusual in its blunt criticism of the Illinois F-16 pilot. It said Schmidt should have taken evasive action rather than attack and accused him of lying about the reasons he engaged the target after he was told to hold fire.

"Your actions indicate that you used your self-defense declaration as a pretext to strike a target, which you rashly decided was an enemy firing position, and about which you had exhausted your patience in waiting for clearance from the Combined Air Operations Center to engage," Carlson wrote in the reprimand, released Tuesday. "You used the inherent right of self-defense as an excuse to wage your own war." 

"You had the right to remain silent, but not the right to lie," he wrote. 

"You acted shamefully on 17 April 2002 over Tarnak Farms, Afghanistan, exhibiting arrogance and a lack of flight discipline," Carlson also wrote. 

The general blasted Schmidt, a former Navy Top Gun instructor, for failing to heed another pilot, his ''flight lead,'' who warned "make sure it's not friendlies." Schmidt also ignored an Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft controller's direction to "stand by" and later to "hold fire," Carlson wrote.

In videotape of the mission taken from Schmidt's F-16, he can be heard telling air controllers that he and his mission commander were under attack and requesting permission to open fire with his 20 mm cannon.

"Hold fire,'' an air controller responded. Four seconds later, Schmidt said: "It looks like a piece of artillery firing at us. I'm rolling in, in self-defense.'' He released a 500-pound, laser-guided bomb 39 seconds after the "hold fire''  order.

"You flagrantly disregarded a direct order from the controlling agency, exercised a total lack of basic flight discipline over your aircraft, and blatantly ignored the applicable rules of engagement and special instructions," Gen. Carlson stated in his reprimand.

"Your willful misconduct directly caused the most egregious consequence imaginable, the deaths of four coalition soldiers and injury to eight others. The victims of your callous misbehavior were from one of our staunch allies in Operation Enduring Freedom and were your comrades in arms," the general wrote.

Charles Gittins, Maj. Schmidt's civilian attorney, reacted angrily to the reprimand, calling its language "over the top." Mr. Gittins had argued that the Air Force sought to punish the pilot solely to soothe a NATO ally. He contends that no pilot was treated so harshly in other "friendly fire" deaths in the war on terror.

The general also criticized Schmidt for failing to express remorse about the deaths of the Canadians: "In your  personal presentation before me on 1 July 2004, I was astounded that you portrayed yourself as a victim of the
disciplinary process without expressing heartfelt remorse over the deaths and injuries you caused to members of the Canadian Forces."

Schmidt's mission commander, Maj. William Umbach, who was in a second F-16, also was charged with assault and manslaughter. Those charges were dismissed last summer, and he was reprimanded for command failures and allowed to retire.

Since the inception of the invasion of Iraq by the coalition forces, the US contingent has suffered some 1,146 deaths, but I do not have any statistics on the Friendly Fire deaths.

Early in the Iraq war, a US Patriot missile shot down a British Tornado Fighter-Bomber, and then a British Challenger Tank accounted for a fellow tank through mistaken identity.

William Bodie, a US Airforce spokesman stated:" This campaign ( Iraq ) has yielded fewer Friendly Fire deaths in Military History, given the intensity of the war, and the intertwining of coalition forces."

That is good news, that Friendly Fire deaths are declining, but it is of little consolation for any victim.

There is little doubt that as long as mankind engages in war, Departments of Defence, around the world will continue to despatch communications to bereaved families in Departmental Speak communication, reporting a service person's death.

But will it be caused by Enemy or Friendly Fire?

When looking at any Friendly Fire stats, be careful not to just take the percentage figures as the important ones, or you may gain the wrong impression. It is important to study the numbers of FF deaths as they relate to the total deaths from a particular conflict. eg, in figures from the Vietnam war, 47,414 died, and 16% of those, to come in at 8,000, were from Friendly Fire, in Desert Storm, 24% of deaths resulted from Friendly Fire, but the number of dead in total was only 146. The 16% for Vietnam as against the 24% for Desert Storm could give one the wrong slant.

The WW2 Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial France. Any Service man or woman suffering a Friendly Fire death, may be buried in a cemetery such as this one.

The WW2 Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial France. Any Service man or woman suffering a Friendly Fire death, may be buried in a cemetery such as this one.


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