Washington: A mistaken bombing in Afghanistan that killed five US soldiers and one Afghan in June was caused by a series of avoidable miscommunications among air and ground forces, according to a military investigation.
The report from US Central Command, which oversees operations in Afghanistan, cited a collective failure by soldiers, commanders and air crew members to execute the fundamentals of the mission. As a result, the five Americans and one Afghan were mistaken for enemy forces and were attacked with two laser-guided bombs.
Many details of the report were blacked out before its public release yesterday. The incident was one of the deadliest friendly fire episodes of the entire war, which began 13 years ago next month.
The crew of the Air Force B-1 bomber were executing an authorized order, but they were faulted by investigators for not taking reasonable precautions to ensure they knew where friendly forces were located. Despite discrepancies in reported US troop locations suggesting that something may have been amiss the air crew did not take necessary steps to validate its information before launching the bombs, the report said.
Unidentified members of the ground forces, which included an Army Special Forces unit, were faulted for incorrectly communicating some troops' positions and for not knowing that the B-1 bomber's targeting gear is incapable of detecting friendly marking devices of the type used by US ground forces in the June 9 operation. These failures led to the mistaken conclusion that the targeted US and Afghan soldiers were insurgents.
In response to the Central Command report, the Army said it is considering whether any tactics should be changed to minimize chances of repeating mistakes that led to this tragedy. It also forwarded the investigation report to the commander of Army Special Operations Command to decide whether any punitive action should be taken.
The Air Force said it would study the report before deciding on any disciplinary action. The June incident happened in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan at the end of an operation led by the Afghan army and supported by Army Special Forces. Their aim was to disrupt insurgents and improve security for local polling stations in the Arghandab district in advance of the June 14 Afghan presidential runoff election.
From an altitude of about 12,000 feet, the B-1 bomber was providing what the military calls close air support while US and Afghan ground troops were moving out of the area at the conclusion of their operation.