Poor Communications, JTAC’s Mistake Led to Friendly Fire Deaths

Miscommunication among the US ground forces and an Air Force joint terminal attack controller’s mistake about the targeting capability of a B-1B providing close air support led to the “friendly fire” incident that killed five US soldiers and one Afghan June 9 in eastern Afghanistan, a US Central Command investigation concluded. “The key members executing the close air support mission collectively failed to effectively execute the fundamentals, which resulted in poor situational awareness and improper target identification,” the investigating officer, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, said in the report released Thursday. “While this complex combat situation presented a challenging set of circumstances, had the team understood their system’s capabilities,” executed standard tactics, and communicated effectively, “this tragic incident was avoidable.” The fratricide occurred when a US-Afghan ground force took fire from insurgents and the six soldiers moved to higher ground without informing their commander. The JTAC airman and the US ground commander mistook that group’s muzzle flashes for insurgents and directed the B-1 to drop two bombs on that spot, after the Lancer crew told the controller it did not detect infrared strobes, which would have identified friendlies. But the B-1’s Sniper targeting pod cannot see the strobes. (Redacted report, part one, part two; Caution, large-sized files)