Third U.S. Service Member Succumbs to 'Friendly Fire' Wounds
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2001 Another service member has died from wounds received in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan today, bringing U.S. casualty totals to three killed and 19 injured.
A B-52 bomber dropped a 2,000-pound precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition about 100 meters from the troops' position at about 12:30 a.m. EST, Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said. He estimated the blast radius of the weapon to be about 4,000 feet.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said two service members died immediately and the third died on a plane while being evacuated from Afghanistan. She and Stufflebeem, a Joint Staff spokesman, briefed Pentagon reporters together this afternoon.
Five Afghan opposition fighters died in the incident and several others were wounded, Clarke said. All the injured were immediately evacuated to a U.S. base in southern Afghanistan. Some have been sent on to other regional medical facilities. Clarke provided no other details.
She said the deaths and injuries underscored the everyday danger involved in military life. "Every day the men and women of the military put their lives at risk defending our freedoms and our way of life," she said. "For that we are very grateful."
Stufflebeem called the dead and wounded service members heroes. "The motto of these special (operations) forces is to liberate the oppressed," he said, indicating that is what they were doing in Afghanistan. "These men died as heroes and were wounded as heroes, and our prayers are with them and their families."
He said a U.S. forward air controller had called for an air strike after fighting erupted between Taliban and opposition forces in an area north of Kandahar. The admiral could not confirm that U.S. forces were involved in the fighting.
"I don't know what casualties may have occurred on the other side," Stufflebeem said. "We're focusing now on the fratricide aspect."
He said the U.S. troops were employing a dangerous tactic of calling for strikes on enemy forces near their own position.
"It takes very fine control and coordination and precision," the admiral explained. U.S. Central Command officials are investigating the cause of the accident. It's not known at this time, for instance, whether the ground troops or air crew used the wrong attack coordinates or the munition went awry, he said.
Clarke updated reporters on the status of a service member shot in the shoulder Dec. 4 in a separate incident. She said the troop was wounded by enemy fire, a fact not confirmed previously.
DoD officials earlier said the wounded man was evacuated to a U.S. medical facility in Oman. No other details were provided.
U.S. aircraft Dec. 4 flew roughly 100 strike missions. Three C-17 missions dropped more than 44,000 humanitarian ration packs, and Commando Solo broadcasts and leaflet drops continued as well, Stufflebeem said.
He said Marines continued to interrupt communications lines in southern Afghanistan but haven't engaged any Al Qaeda or Taliban forces yet.
U.S. forces operating around the Tora Bora mountain cave complex are trying to locate Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders, who are reported to be hiding in that region.
"We're working to determine where these bad guys are and then to bring strikes on them," Stufflebeem said.