FRIENDLY FIRE

“Friendly fire (fratricide or non-hostile fire) is a term originally adopted by the United States military in reference to an attack on friendly forces by other friendly forces, which may be deliberate (e.g. incorrectly identifying the target as the enemy), or accidental (e.g. missing the enemy and hitting “friendlies”). Friendly fire is contrasted with fire originating from enemy forces (“enemy fire”). In a friendly fire incident personnel may be killed, or material assets may be damaged or destroyed. Friendly fire is one kind of collateral damage.”
~ Wikipedia.

The events described below by BBC correspondent John Simpson are the events you will see on the video. If you are squeamish, it might be better to stick with the text version that I tracked down and posted for your convenience, because the video is a graphic of a very serious business. In fact, it don’t get any more serious than this.

Many of you may remember that during Operation Iraqi Freedom there was a friendly fire incident in which the Americans bombed their own Special Forces, along with Wajî Barzanî and some of his pêşmerge bodyguards. There just happened to be a BBC film crew along for what turned out to be a very wild ride. I remember seeing a commercial on the BBC World Service satellite channel in Hewlêr on this incident last year, so when I came across the video, I knew exactly what it was about.

The BBC reporter on scene was John Simpson. Check his read of the events, which he wrote down for GlobalJournalist.org:

On the morning of April 6, 2003, my team and I, working independently of the coalition forces alongside the Kurds in Northern Iraq, were in the Kurdish-held village of Pir Daoud, between Erbil and Kirkuk. We heard that the nearby town of Dibargan had fallen to the Kurdish Democratic Party forces, so we headed along the road that had recently been relinquished by the retreating Iraqi forces. It was empty, and we were worried we might have pushed a little too far ahead of the Democratic Party.

We were then overtaken by a column of Kurdish special forces commanded by Waji Barzani, brother of the Kurdish Democratic Party president. He was guarded by his own men and by three or four vehicles containing U.S. Special Forces. It seemed safer for us to tag along with them.

At a crossroads overlooking the plain that led to Dibargan, the convoy stopped so Barzani could see the action for himself. Several Iraqi tanks were driving across the plain, and one of them fired in our direction. The officer commanding the U.S. Special Forces called in an air strike to deal with the tank.

Two F-14s streaked low across the sky, only about 500 feet above us, low enough to be able to see the orange panels on the roofs of most of the 18 or so vehicles in the convoy, showing that they were from the coalition. They were also low enough to show the pilots and navigators the outsized Stars and Stripes the U.S. vehicles were flying and the separate group of American Humvees that were stationed only about 50 yards from where we had stopped.

Maybe the navigator got the coordinates wrong and fired one of his Maverick missiles at the position which the U.S. Special Forces commander gave as his own, instead of the position the commander gave for the tank. Maybe the commander got the coordinates mixed up. It obviously didn’t help that a disabled Iraqi tank lay on the side of the road close to where we had all stopped. A careless, excited navigator might have fired off a missile in the direction of the tank before taking an instant to verify whether the group of vehicles below was Iraqi or coalition.

The missile hit the precise center of the crossroads. I was standing about 30 feet away with my cameraman, assistant cameraman and translator. The producer and safety advisor had gone back to their vehicle to get the tripod so that the cameraman could get a steady shot of the two American planes as they flew unusually low overhead. I actually saw the missile leave the plane, and a brief time later, I was aware of the huge downward rush of the missile to my right. I had an infinitesimally brief impression of something white and red, a split second before it hit the ground; a Maverick missile is usually silver with a red nose-cone.

It exploded into thousands of pieces of shrapnel, many of which hit the surrounding cars. One by one the cars went up in flames, and the bullets, mortar rounds and RPG-7 rockets that they contained, began exploding. This must have gone on for a good 10 or 12 minutes, and most of the 18 deaths (the figure later rose to 22) occurred during that time. The entire area was covered with dead and dying men, some of them burning to death. In a broadcast by satellite phone from the spot, I described it as a scene from hell; and for once the cliché seemed justifiable.

Remarkably, given that we were so close to the missile as it landed, all but one of my team escaped with light injuries: the cameraman suffered a cut on his forehead that bled profusely, the assistant cameraman had a small piece of shrapnel in his leg and I was hit by 14 pieces of shrapnel. The largest of the pieces was absorbed by my flak jacket. The second largest went into my hip, but did no serious damage. All three of us suffered perforated eardrums; in my case, the eardrum virtually disappeared. The producer was hit in the foot by an inch-long piece of shrapnel, which did no serious damage. The security adviser was scarcely touched.

Our local translator, however, was hit by a large piece of shrapnel that severed his femoral artery. Another piece almost severed his right foot. The producer and security advisor did what they could for him, and then the U.S. Special Forces medics took over and worked hard to save him. But he was probably beyond any help. Within 20 minutes he was clearly dying, and we put him on the back of a vehicle to take him to the hospital. He died soon afterward.

More is at the link.

Wajî Barzanî is effectively brain dead as a result of this attack, something which was confirmed to me in South Kurdistan last year, and which John Simpson mentions in his article.

The BBC’s Kurdish translator, Kamran, died three hours after the attack.

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