Possible friendly fire at Afghan base to be probed
Military investigators from three nations will conduct a probe into the March 29 attack on a shared base in southern Afghanistan, looking in part at whether friendly fire killed coalition troops, officials said Tuesday.
The early morning attack on Forward Operating Base Robinson — in the Sangin district of Helmand province — killed one Canadian soldier and one American soldier. Several other troops were injured in the battle, which continued into the daylight hours and reportedly killed nearly three dozen insurgents.
“After reviewing initial reports of enemy contact, the Combined Forces Command–Afghanistan commander determined that an investigation was warranted,” a military news release read. “The investigation will determine all the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident, including whether any of the casualties may have resulted from friendly fire.”
U.S., Canadian and Afghan investigators will form the team, which will issue three separate national reports, officials said.
The battle erupted around 1:30 a.m. when insurgents attacked the base with both direct and indirect fire. Afghan, U.S. and Canadian troops fought back with small-arms fire and close air support, killing 12 insurgents near the base. In the morning, coalition troops pursued and reportedly killed another 30 insurgents.
Canadian Pvt. Robert Costall and U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class John Stone were killed in the attack.
One American soldier, three Canadians and one Afghan soldier were wounded in the fighting.
“The attacks on that base came from multiple directions. It was an attack at night. There was lots of fire going on there. I am not going to speculate on the friendly-fire aspects,” Canadian Brig. Gen. David Fraser was quoted as saying from Kandahar by the Canadian Press news service.
The air support called in included British Harriers, U.S. Apache helicopters and a U.S. B-52 bomber. But Fraser said the friendly fire did not come from the air.
“It was not about bombs,” Fraser said.
At a Tuesday press briefing in Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to second Fraser’s comments.
“I’m sure he has some conviction with respect to that, but again, I think we ought not to try to parse out the direction of the fire, whether it was direct fire or indirect fire, until the investigating officer has had an opportunity to really take a look at this,” Whitman said.
In 2002, a U.S. F-16 pilot bombed and killed four Canadian troops in a friendly-fire incident in Kandahar province. The highly publicized incident resulted in the pilot being fined $5,672 and reprimanded after being found guilty of willful misconduct and dereliction of duty.
Reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this report.