- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

A U.S. satellite-guided bomb missed its target yesterday and killed three Special Forces commandos, as bombing raids intensified on Taliban forces in Kandahar and caves near Jalalabad.
The three commandos were killed when a 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bomb exploded within 300 feet of their position near Kandahar, the Pentagon said.
The errant bombing caused the first confirmed U.S. military combat deaths of the conflict in Afghanistan. A civilian CIA officer was killed last week.
The Pentagon identified the three as Master Sgt. Jefferson Davis, 39, of Tennessee; Sgt. 1st Class Daniel H. Petithory, 32, of Massachusetts; and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of California. They served in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., defense officials said.
Heavy bombing strikes were carried out yesterday on Taliban forces in Kandahar and in northeast Afghanistan, according to news agency reports from the region.
More than 1,000 anti-Taliban fighters converged on caves in the area of Tora Bora, south of Jalalabad, in an effort to find Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader blamed for the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The U.S. government is offering a reward of up to $25 million for anyone who captures or kills bin Laden.
Alim Shah, an opposition tribal leader, told Reuters his Afghan fighters were chasing Arab and foreign al Qaeda fighters using mortars, rocket launchers and assault rifles aimed at positions above caves in the region. "We are trying our best to capture them alive," Mr. Shah said. "They are surrounded by us, but they are not surrendering."
In southern Afghanistan, Marines based near Kandahar began heavily armed patrols closer to the city yesterday, according to news pool reports.
The Marines are monitoring roads that fleeing Taliban and al Qaeda forces might use.
"We stepped off into a new phase of this campaign, and that's participating in offensive operations," said Maj. James R. Parrington, executive officer of the battalion landing team of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
"Our operations are really in support of what the opposition groups are doing."
In yesterday's "friendly fire" mishap, at least 19 other fighters were injured. Five anti-Taliban fighters were killed.
Among the Afghan wounded was Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun leader who had just been named to head a post-Taliban interim government. Pentagon officials said Mr. Karzai, who had been meeting with U.S. forces near the site of the bomb mishap, was injured slightly by debris. In a later interview with British television, however, Mr. Karzai denied having been injured.
The dead and injured were moved to the Marine base located about 70 miles south of Kandahar. Some of the injured were evacuated out of the country by C-130 transports.
President Bush said the soldiers "died for a noble and just cause," the U.S. battle against international terrorism. "I, along with all the rest of America, grieve for the loss of life in Afghanistan," Mr. Bush said.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters an investigation was under way to determine how the bomb went astray. The JDAM bomb uses guidance and propulsion systems that rely on satellite signals for navigation.
In an appearance last night on CNN's "Larry King Live," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the deaths could have been the result of a number of causes.
"Well, the coordinates could have been wrong in the first instance. They could have been transmitted incorrectly. They could have been received incorrectly. They could have been put into the fire-control system incorrectly," he said.
"And many other things that could also have happened. There could be a bent fin on the weapon. The weapon could be one of the weapons that didn't work right."
Mr. Rumsfeld said soldiers understand the risks of friendly fire.
Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, said at the Pentagon that the JDAM bomb was dropped on Taliban forces that were engaged in a firefight with opposition forces. Two teams of U.S. Army Green Berets were acting as targeters for the opposition forces.
"The motto of the Special Forces is to liberate the oppressed," Adm. Stufflebeem said of the soldiers. "These men died as heroes and were wounded as heroes, and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families."
Some military aviators privately questioned the use of high-altitude precision bombing by B-52s against positions so close to friendly forces. High-altitude bombing strikes are more difficult to target precisely than dropping guided bombs from lower-altitude fighter-bombers.
Adm. Stufflebeem said a B-52, rather than some other type of jet or gunship, may have been "on station" to provide close air support. The B-52 has "very long endurance" compared with other warplanes used in Afghanistan, he said.
Adm. Stufflebeem said two teams of Green Berets were in the same location at the time of the accident because two groups of opposition forces had been massing for an attack.
To request a bombing raid, a forward controller one of the Green Berets radios an aircraft and provides geographic coordinates for the strike, Adm. Stufflebeem said. The aircraft's crew then programs the bomb with the coordinates. When the aircraft is within seven to 15 miles from the target, the bomb is fired.
"There was a forward air controller who called in a close air-support mission," Adm. Stufflebeem said. "A B-52 responded with JDAM munitions. One of those JDAM weapons landed somewhere in the vicinity of 100 meters from where our troops were at, and that's what has obviously caused the casualties and injuries."
The accident, he said, shows the danger and difficulty that Special Forces face.
"Calling in air strikes, nearly simultaneously on your own position on enemy forces that you're engaged in close proximity to, is a hazardous business and takes very fine control and coordination and precision," Adm. Stufflebeem said. "And this is, I think, illustrative of what we have seen in training when sometimes things just don't work out perfectly."
Two of the U.S. soldiers were killed at the scene and a third died on an aircraft on his way to receive medical care, Mrs. Clarke said.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide