- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

A U.S. Navy jet accidentally dropped a 500-pound bomb on a group of forward controllers yesterday at a training range in Kuwait, killing five American service members and one New Zealander.

U.S. Central Command, which overseas operations in the Persian Gulf, said an F-18 Hornet was participating in a close-air support exercise when its bomb hit on or near an observation post manned by personnel designating targets on the Udairi range, 45 miles northwest of Kuwait City.
A Pentagon official said the supersonic fighter dropped a "dumb" bomb a munition not directed by precision guidance such as a laser or satellites.
The Hornet took off from the carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Persian Gulf and was flying over the desert bombing range shortly after 7 p.m. local time (11 a.m. EST).
Five American service members were injured. Three remained hospitalized last night with "non-life-threatening injuries," the military said. Two were treated and released from a military hospital. The U.S. Central Command last night had not released the identities of the dead or injured.
In a statement, the command, based in Tampa, Fla., said, "The F-18 aircraft was participating in a routine close air support training exercise involving joint and coalition forces. This exercise involved both day and night training. Such exercises are held quarterly for the purpose of practicing air operations against hostile ground targets in close proximity to friendly forces. The exercises involve friendly ground and airborne forces pointing out targets to friendly fighter aircraft orbiting overhead. The fighter aircraft then deliver weapons on the targets."
The statement said an accident investigation board has been appointed to determine the cause and will arrive in Kuwait later this week.
A command spokesman said he did not know whether the Navy pilot mistook the observation post for his target, or whether the bomb went astray, or was launched inadvertently.
A Reuters dispatch from Kuwait quoted an Arab defense source as saying, "The Americans missed their target during the air bombing exercise and killed probably six soldiers on the ground."
President Bush, touting his tax-cut plan in Panama City, Fla., put aside domestic politics to pay homage to the dead service members.
"I'm reminded today of how dangerous service can be. We lost some servicemen today in Kuwait in a training accident," Mr. Bush said. "I hope you'll join me in a moment of silence for those soldiers and their families. God bless."
The bombing range is 30 miles from Iraq, which invaded Kuwait in 1990, triggering the 1991 Gulf war and the subsequent open-ended deployment of U.S. forces in the small oil emirate.
The misfire was the second embarrassing training accident for the Navy in six weeks. On Feb. 9, the attack submarine USS Greeneville, while executing an emergency surfacing drill, crashed into a Japanese fishing vessel. Nine of 36 Japanese passengers and crew were killed.
The Navy says its aviation accident rate is declining. Still, naval aviators have committed major in-flight blunders overseas, straining relations with the local populaces.
In April 1998, a Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler, an electronic jamming aircraft, sliced through a cable supporting a ski gondola in northern Italy, killing 20 persons.
A year later, two Marine jets dropped bombs on a post at the Vieques bombing range in Puerto Rico, killing a security guard. That accident stirred up continuing civilian protests against the "live-fire" bombing range used by Navy carrier battle groups before deploying overseas.
The United States has forged close military ties with Kuwait since coalition forces expelled Iraqi troops from that country and reinstated the emir to power. Central Command maintains in Kuwait a contingent of Army and Air Force troops on a rotating basis who train with the Kuwaiti military.
Last month, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Kuwait City on the 10th anniversary of Kuwait's liberation. Former President George Bush, who ordered the deployment of more than 500,000 U.S. troops to defeat Saddam Hussein's army, also visited the country and toured the Udairi range.
The Pentagon had released scant information last night on why the bomb hit spectators. Military pilots said an investigation will center on whether the controllers were at the proper location and whether the bomb went off course.
"There are a whole host of things that could have gone wrong," said a Marine pilot. "The aircraft's systems could have been in error, or the pilot may have entered incorrect data before launch or while in flight."


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