Iraq fratricide rates too high, U.S. says
ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. military fell short of expectations to minimize fratricide during the Iraq war, but it isn’t just better technology that forces will need to mitigate future blue-on-blue killings, said Brig. Gen. Robert Cone, director of the Joint Center for Lessons Learned for U.S. Joint Forces Command.
“Any one incident of fratricide is one too many given the capabilities we have today,” Cone said during a Thursday Pentagon briefing. However, commanders and troops both observed and interviewed during the lessons learning process indicated “some [incidents] could have been prevented with training.”
New technology, such as a system called “Blue Force Tracker” that provided commanders with visual blips on a computer screen of U.S. and coalition forces, wasn’t enough if that information couldn’t be delivered to a pilot during a bombing raid.
The number of “friendly fire” incidents, however, is statistically lower than the 1991 Gulf War, said both Cone and Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., chief of Joint Forces Command, who testified Thursday morning before the House Armed Services Committee.
However, Cone said during the news conference that he “was not at liberty” to provide concrete numbers to back up their statements because several incidents in the recent conflict still are under investigation.
The incidents are exacerbated by the “complexity of the battlefield, moving targets and how we train to hit them … and understanding the power of situational awareness,” Cone said.
U.S. military leaders also fell short in adequately managing deployment planning and execution, he said. They held too steadfastly to a pre-set plan and were not flexible enough to needed changes, which resulted, in part, in longer than anticipated activation of Guard and Reserve troops and giving some units as little as a few days’ notice to mobilize.
Also, the military must improve on technology to give troops and commanders better real-time battle damage assessment, especially following bombing raids to that images and information can be “fed back to the tank … who is going to cross that same ground the next day,” Cone said.
Assessment teams were alongside fighting troops, gathering lessons learned data, “observing the war as it went down” instead of waiting for the conflict to end before begging their evaluations, he said. The revamped process made collecting data more accurate and timely, he said.
Cone also mentioned the “very favorable responses” stemming from the Pentagon’s unprecedented endeavor to embed more than 500 journalists with the fighting troops, and stated that the center will recommend to Pentagon leadership that the program continue, and even possibly expand to include embedding reporters in training to give journalists more familiarity with missions and troops.