Fratricide a problem in Iraq, general says
By DALE EISMAN, The Virginian-Pilot
May 31, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military should redouble efforts to field an electronic identification system for its tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment so that friendly forces aren't mistakenly targeted in battle, the top Marine Corps commander during this spring's war in Iraq said Friday.
``It's really something that we've got to stop,'' Lt. Gen. James T. Conway said of the repeated cases of fratricide that marred the U.S. advance on Baghdad in March and early April.

At least a dozen U.S. and British troops were killed by friendly fire, and many more wounded. Those losses represented some improvement from the 1991 Persian Gulf War, where fratricide accounted for about one-fourth of all U.S. casualties.

In the worst ``blue-on-blue'' incident of the war, a pair of U.S. aircraft bombed a convoy of Kurdish fighters and American special forces troops in northern Iraq, killing 19 Kurds and wounding three Americans. And during a firefight between groups of Marines near Nasiriyah, 31 were wounded.

In a video teleconference from Baghdad, Conway said fratricide was ``probably my biggest disappointment of the war.''

``Our weapons are so accurate, are so deadly, that when it goes off the rail or it goes out the tube, it's probably going to kill something,'' he said. ``And so you've got to make certain that what you're shooting at is indeed the enemy.''

Despite such admonitions, analysts said troops who come under fire too often return it before being certain of the identify of their targets. During a rapid advance like the U.S. drive to Baghdad this spring -- when many troops go for days with little or no sleep -- the likelihood of tragic mistakes increases, theanalysts add.

Conway said a ``Blue Force Tracker'' system developed since the 1991 war ``gave us position locations and identification on major units. It helped some, I think, with location and identification of friendly forces.

``But what we truly need is something that can identify a friendly vehicle; it either squawks or beeps or emits some sort of power source that tells a shooter -- an airplane or a tank or whatever -- that they're looking at a friendly piece of equipment,'' he said.



Reach Dale Eisman at icemandc@msn.com or 703-913-9872.



Sempers,

Roger