- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

KUWAIT A U.S. Patriot anti-aircraft battery mistakenly shot down a British fighter jet over northern Kuwait last night, in the most serious "friendly fire" incident of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The two crew members on board the Tornado GR4 were killed, according to British officials, who promised that the incident would not lead to hard feelings or disrupt the close cooperation between the coalition allies. The names of the dead were not released.
"The incident will be thoroughly reviewed," U.S. Maj. Gen. Daniel Leaf told reporters in Kuwait yesterday. "It will be sorted out quite quickly."
The announcement of the loss was made last night in a statement from the Royal Air Force base at Marham in Britain. But British commanders in Kuwait were careful to portray the incident as an accident, and vowed that it would not affect morale.
"It's worth emphasizing that when something happens it doesn't do anything to the coalition," Capt. Jon Fynes, spokesman for Royal Air Force operations in the Persian Gulf region, said yesterday. "The coalition will be strengthened, we will learn some lessons, and we'll carry on."
Asked how a U.S. missile could have brought down the coalition plane near the Iraq-Kuwait border, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC's "This Week" that "procedures and electronic means to identify friendly aircraft and to identify adversary aircraft … broke down somewhere."
"Central Command is looking into that as we speak," Gen. Myers said. "Again, it's a terrible tragedy."
Coalition forces have flown about 6,000 sorties, creating what Capt. Fynes and Gen. Leaf characterized as a very busy and sometimes chaotic airspace.
The Tornado was returning from an operational mission, according to British officials, and somehow failed to register as a coalition plane in the Patriot's complex identification system.
The Patriot system is designed to lock onto and target any missile or aircraft hurtling through its airspace unless it displays a combination of accepted signals.
Accepted aircraft are supposed to transmit an approved radar signature, fly in a specific lane and carry a four-digit identity code.
Some portion of that system failed to function yesterday, U.S. officials said.
The Patriot acquired a bad reputation during the first Gulf war in 1991, when batteries failed to halt three dozen Iraqi scuds from firing into Israel.
But Maj. Leaf credited them yesterday with downing three Iraqi missiles launched into Kuwait this week.
Iraqi forces have not used planes or helicopters in this war, now in its fifth day. They, however, have been targeting coalition planes with significant anti-aircraft artillery and ground-to-air missiles.
Britain has lost 16 soldiers and airmen in the war's opening days, placing inevitable strains on the U.S.-British alliance and prompting some differences in the way the two choose to describe their war aims.
"Shock and awe is not our preliminary aim," said Capt. Fynes, who repeatedly stressed that British pilots were dropping only "precision" bombs designed to minimize civilian casualties.
Unlike in the 1991 war, "we can be precise, we can be selective and only attack those targets we need to," he told reporters yesterday.

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