View Full Version : Gulf veteran warns of Iraq "friendly fire" risks

01-16-03, 02:15 PM
By Andrew Cawthorne

LONDON, Jan 6 (Reuters) - A retired British army officer who lost nine men to "friendly fire" from U.S. jets during the Gulf War said on Monday that London military bosses had not done enough to prevent repeats in a possible Iraqi war.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Larpent -- whose unit also suffered 12 serious injuries in the 1991 incident -- accused the Ministry of Defence of "serious negligence" by failing to develop some sort of electronic tagging system.

"Why is it that our soldiers again will have nothing better to protect them than some very rudimentary system that we used without success back then?" he asked.

He was referring to fluorescent markers on vehicles that failed to stop U.S. air force pilots bombing two vehicles of his 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers during the 1991 war to oust President Saddam Hussein's troops from Kuwait.

The jets mistook Larpent's unit for an Iraqi column.

Larpent said a simple device could be attached to vehicles allowing planes to check their identity electronically.

"It's not complicated these days," he told Reuters. "Friendly fire remains one of the most serious threats to our servicemen's safety."

The MOD countered that it was doing everything possible to minimise the risk of future friendly fire deaths or injuries.

"This is an issue we take very seriously," an MOD spokesman said. "But there is no one answer, no golden bullet that will give us the solution. It is a lot of different measures."

Among those, the spokesman said, were the increased experience of troops from different countries working together in joint operations, better intelligence-sharing, improved imagery technology and more sophisticated command control.


"We do not have the final answer. And sadly you can never rule it (friendly fire) out," he said. "But we are moving towards a better understanding of what is going on in the battlefield."

Friendly fire has been a historic military problem -- scores of Allied troops died that way during the 1944 landing on Normandy in World War Two.

But it has come more to the fore in recent conflicts because overall Western casualties have been much lower than in past wars, meaning the percentage killed by friendly fire has been far higher, alarming the public and generals alike.

Thirty five of the 148 U.S. fatalities in the Gulf War, for example, were accidentally killed by their own comrades -- a fratricide rate of 24 percent that shocked Americans.

Larpent said recent incidents such as a U.S. fighter pilot's accidental killing of four Canadian servicemen in Afghanistan last year showed how real the problem still was.

"It is increasingly inevitable that in the future we are going to be working in coalition situations, so identification is an absolutely crucial issue," Larpent said.

Larpent said he was particularly concerned because various soldiers who served under him in the Gulf are now on standby in Germany for deployment if Britain takes part in a land invasion of Iraq.

British media said at the weekend Britain was set to announce this week the deployment of around 20,000 troops and the mobilisation of 7,000 reservists in preparation for a possibly imminent war against Iraq.

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