‘Friendly fire’ crew back on duty de­spite damn­ing re­port

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ROWAN SCARBOROUGH

The Air Force has re­turned to flight duty the four B-1B crew mem­bers who dropped two bombs that killed five U.S. sol­diers in Afghanistan in June — the dead­li­est “friendly fire” in­ci­dent in the long war.

None of the Air Force or Green Beret troops di­rectly in­volved in the ac­ci­den­tal bomb­ing has been re­lieved of duty or faced crim­i­nal charges, de­spite an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that found star­tling de­fi­cien­cies.

U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand’s of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the in­ci­dent found that the four fliers — two pi­lots and two weapons of­fi­cers — did not re­al­ize the bomber’s high-def­i­ni­tion tar­get­ing — or “SNIPER” — pod wasn’t ca­pa­ble of de­tect­ing the infrared strobes worn by the sol­diers.

The crew also tried to lo­cate the strobes us­ing a pair of night vi­sion gog­gles, the only sys­tem on the air­craft that could de­tect the “friendly” sig­nals. But the plane was fly­ing too high, be­yond the gog­gles’ range.

The crew re­ported to a ground Air Force tar­get spotter that they saw no infrared bea­cons. It be­came a false con­fir­ma­tion that the group of men be­low were the en­emy, and the crew dropped two 500-pound, satel­lite-di­rected bombs on their fel­low Amer­i­cans.

Sources within Army Spe­cial Forces, whose team was in the fire­fight that night, con­tend that the sole fault for the in­ci­dent rests with the B-1B fliers and their lack of train­ing on how their plane’s sys­tems work.

They also blame the Air Force joint ter­mi­nal attack con­troller (JTAC), the ground tar­get spotter who re­layed a wrong troop po­si­tion to the B-1B crew. He had asked the crew via ra­dio if they had the abil­ity to see the Amer­i­cans’ infrared sig­nals, and they an­swered that they did.

“All four B-1 crew mem­bers have com­pleted com­man­der-di­rected re­qual­i­fi­ca­tion pro­grams and have re­turned to fly­ing sta­tus,” Capt. An­drew Schrag, a spokesman for Air Force Air Com­bat Com­mand, told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

As for pun­ish­ment, which in­cluded the pos­si­bil­ity of crim­i­nal charges, Capt. Schrag said Lt. Gen. Tod Wolters, com­man­der of 12th Air Force at the time, re­lied on his “ex­pe­ri­enced and op­er­a­tional judg­ment” and “determined ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tions were the most ap­pro­pri­ate for this sit­u­a­tion” for the air crew.

“Ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tions are a re­source avail­able to com­man­ders to cor­rect be­hav­ior and re­ha­bil­i­tate and dis­ci­pline mem­bers,” Capt. Schrag said. “Th­ese mea­sures in­clude a broad range of ac­tions and doc­u­men­ta­tion, which may be at­tached to a mem­ber’s record.”

On the is­sue of the crew not know­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the B-1B’s sen­sors, the spokesman said: “The four crew mem­bers un­der­went ex­ten­sive re­train­ing that in­cluded night vi­sion gog­gle and SNIPER pod re­train­ing. Th­ese re­train­ing pro­grams were tai­lored to each in­di­vid­ual’s needs based upon ex­pe­ri­ence and spe­cific tasks unique to crew po­si­tions. All ground testing was re-ac­com­plished, and a fi­nal mission check was given to the air crew prior to their re­turn to fly­ing sta­tus.”

The Air Force is­sued a state­ment in Jan­uary say­ing Gen. Wolters determined that the air crew’s “pro­ce­dural mis­cues did not di­rectly cause the loss of life in this mat­ter.”

Army spe­cial op­er­a­tions sources scoff at that find­ing, ar­gu­ing that the crew’s ba­sic lack of knowl­edge about their air­craft di­rectly led to the frat­ri­cide.

The Cen­tral Com­mand in­ves­ti­ga­tion, led by Air Force Maj. Gen. Jef­frey Har­ri­gian, also faulted the doomed sol­diers’ Green Beret team cap­tain and the se­nior en­listed sol­dier for a faulty ra­dio, not enough pre-mission re­hearsal and a lack of full sit­u­a­tional aware­ness. The Army de­cided not to fire them. It is­sued a state­ment in De­cem­ber, say­ing: “Af­ter care­fully re­view­ing all of the in­for­ma­tion, the Com­mand­ing Gen­eral of U.S. Army Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand, Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleve­land, de­cided not to re­lieve the team leader and team sergeant of the Spe­cial Forces Op­er­a­tional De­tach­ment Al­pha that was in­volved in the June 9th, 2014, friendly fire in­ci­dent in Afghanistan. How­ever, steps will be taken to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the chances of this type of in­ci­dent from hap­pen­ing again.”

The Air Force JTAC, who mis­tak­enly told the air crew the Amer­i­cans were a safe dis­tance from the tar­get when they were in fact the tar­get, had a spotty ca­reer. He had been de­moted from staff sergeant to se­nior air­man for mis­con­duct. He was kicked out of a spe­cial unit be­cause he twice called in close air sup­port di­rectly over friendly po­si­tions. The Times learned that he showed a lack of ba­sic air con­troller know-how when he was in­ter­viewed by ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

The JTAC found out be­fore the mission that he would not be re­tained by the Air Force. The fir­ing re­sulted in him be­ing sep­a­rated from the ser­vice. He also re­ceived what the Air Force called “ad­min­is­tra­tive” ac­tions be­fore he left.

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