US Servicemen Mistakenly Killed by Drone Attack in Afghanistan

April 11th, 2011 - by admin

ArzePakistan/CNN & NBC News & LA Times & The Guardian – 2011-04-11 23:53:18

Two US Troops Believed Killed by Drone in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (April 9, 2011) — The deaths of two US service members in southern Afghanistan last week is being investigated as a possible friendly-fire incident, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force told CNN.

The US military has informed relatives it is possible the men were inadvertently killed Wednesday by a missile fired from a US military drone outside Sangin in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, according to spokesman Capt. Ryan Donald.

The men were identified as Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith, assigned to the 4th Marine Division of Houston, and Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast of the 2nd Marine Division out of San Diego.

Donald strongly emphasized Monday the circumstances of the incident remain under investigation and no formal findings have been reached.

2 US Servicemen Mistakenly Killed by Drone Attack in Afghanistan
NBC: Pair died in missile airstrike in an apparent case of mistaken identity

Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent / NBC News

WASHINGTON (April 11, 2011) — A US Marine reservist and a Navy corpsman were killed in a drone airstrike in Afghanistan last week in an apparent case of friendly fire, US military officials tell NBC News.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith and Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast were reportedly killed Wednesday by a Hellfire missile fired from a US Air Force Predator in what appears to be a case of mistaken identity, NBC reported. Smith and Rast were part of a Marine unit moving in to reinforce fellow Marines under heavy fire from enemy forces outside Sangin in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan

The Marines under fire were watching streaming video of the battlefield being fed to them by an armed Predator overhead. They saw a number of “hot spots,” or infrared images, moving in their direction. Apparently believing that those “hot spots” were the enemy, they called in a Hellfire missile strike from the Predator. It’s believed that this is the first time that US service members have been killed by a Predator in a friendly fire incident.

Smith, 26, of Arlington, Texas, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division out of Houston. Rast, 23, was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division out of San Diego.

The US military is investigating the incident. Military officials say the families of both service members have been informed of the possibility this was a friendly fire incident.

(c) 2010

2 US Troops Killed by ‘Friendly Fire’ in Afghanistan
David S. Cloud / Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON (April 11, 2011) — In what appeared to be the first case of US troops being hit by “friendly fire” from a drone aircraft, two American servicemen were killed by a Hellfire missile after apparently being mistaken for insurgents moving to attack another group of Marines in southern Afghanistan.

A Predator drone fired the missile that killed a Marine and a Navy medic in Helmand province last week, according to two Pentagon officials.

Drones have been involved in airstrikes that accidentally killed Afghan and Pakistani civilians since the US began using them in the region a decade ago, becoming a flashpoint for anti-American sentiment. But until now, no US service members have been reported killed by an unmanned Air Force aircraft in error.

Dozens of Predators and more heavily armed Reaper drones fly every day over Afghanistan, operated remotely by pilots at air bases in the United States. Cameras aboard the drones also provide live video feeds to ground combat units, which have come to rely on the drones surveillance as well as for air cover.

“With increased [drone] usage, there are going to be more incidents like this,” said Louis Tucker, the former staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a Navy Seal in the reserves. “People have an expectation that because it’s automated, there won’t be mistakes, and that’s never the case in war.”

The missile strike occurred about 9:30 a.m. last Wednesday near the crossroads town of Sangin. The former insurgent stronghold has seen a resurgence of clashes in recent weeks between Marines and Taliban fighters, the officials said.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Smith of Arlington, Texas, and Seaman Benjamin D. Rast of Niles, Mich., were hit as they moved on foot in a group trying to reach other Marines who had been pinned down by insurgent gunfire.

One Pentagon official said the Marines called in the airstrike when they saw images on the video feed of unknown men heading toward them. It wasn’t immediately clear why the rescue team headed their way was not clearly identified.

The video feeds sometimes provide blurry or unclear images of conditions on the ground, making it hard for screeners responsible for searching the video for possible targets to always understand what they are seeing.

In a statement, the US-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul confirmed that two service members had been killed in a coalition strike but did not disclose the role played by the Predator.

“An ISAF Joint Command incident assessment team is looking into the incident,” the statement said. “A formal investigation will determine the circumstances that led to the incident.”

Smith and Rast were with the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, a reservist unit based in Houston that deployed to Afghanistan last month on a seven-month rotation.

Rast’s father, Robert, told a television station in South Bend, Ind. , that the Pentagon had informed him that his son had been killed by a Hellfire missile.

Rast, 23, joined the Navy about a year ago and was stationed in San Diego at the Naval Medical Center before being assigned as a medic to the Marine regiment prior to its deployment to Afghanistan last month.

Robert Rast told the Houston Chronicle that he had talked to his son about going to Afghanistan around Christmas.

“I said, ‘Son, I won’t lie to you. I’m worried about you and your deployment. What if something happens to you? What will I say to everybody.’ He said, ‘Dad, just tell them I wanted to be on the front lines covering the guy on my right and covering the guy on my left…You won’t have to say any more.'”

Smith, 26, joined the Marines in 2003 and had served three tours in Iraq. He joined the reserves after leaving active duty and was called up to Afghanistan.

In a statement to the Chronicle, Smith’s family said, “The Bible says that we are to run the race that is set before us. Jeremy did that even though it was a difficult race… As a leader with experience, he felt that he needed to go back, to ensure that his guys made it home safely. That is why he did four tours.”

Senior US Air Force officers say that mistakes involving drones are rare because special cameras and sensors enable drones to observe potential targets far longer and with more precision than conventional aircraft and other surveillance platforms.

But with an increasing number of drones flying in Afghanistan, the possibility of mistaken airstrikes also has increased.

In one instance last February in Oruzgan Province, at least 15 men were killed and 12 people were wounded, including a woman and three children, after a Predator drone crew mistook them for insurgents. In that case, the missile strikes were carried out by attack helicopters
Copyright 2011, Los Angeles Times

Two US Soldiers Killed in
Friendly-fire Drone Attack in Afghanistan

Ewen MacAskill / The Guardian

WASHINGTON (April 11, 2011) — Two members of the US military were accidentally killed last week in a drone attack, the first American victims of the unmanned aircraft, NBC has reported. The two had been on foot and were approaching Helmand province’s Sangin base, centre of some of the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan over the last decade. They were mistaken for the Taliban by marines, who were under fire at the time and who called in a missile strike from a Predator drone, NBC said.

The Pentagon is refusing to confirm or deny the story, saying that the incident is still under investigation. It reported last week that the two were killed but did not say where or how. The two killed were named by the Pentagon as Marine Staff Sergeant Jeremy Smith, 26, from Texas and Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast, 23, from Michigan.

The US has increasingly been using drones in both Afghanistan and Pakistan against suspected Taliban and al-Qaida targets, a controversial policy mainly because of the number of innocent civilians killed.

The marines under fire had been watching pictures of the battlefield being fed to them by the Predator. NBC said they saw a number of ‘hotspots’ — infra-red images — moving towards them and assumed, wrongly, they were the Taliban. The hotspots had, in fact, been Smith and Rast, part of a unit sent to reinforce those under fire.

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