A U.S. Marine reservist and a Navy corpsman were killed April 6 in a drone airstrike in Afghanistan, in an apparent case of friendly fire.
Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith and Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast reportedly were killed by a Hellfire missile fired from an Air Force Predator, NBC News first reported Monday.
Smith and Rast were part of a Marine unit moving in to reinforce Marines under heavy fire from enemy forces outside Sangin in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
The Marines who were under fire saw “hot spots,” or infrared images, on streaming video relayed to them from a Predator overhead and mistakenly identified the “hot spots” as enemies, according to the NBC report.
It’s believed that this is the first time that U.S. servicemembers have been killed by a Predator in a friendly fire incident.
Smith, 26, of Arlington, Texas, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division out of Houston. Rast, 23, was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division out of San Diego.
The U.S. military is investigating the incident, but according to several reports, the families have been told that the deaths are being looked at as a “possible fratricide.”
Robert Rast told The Associated Press that he’s been given the impression his son was killed by a Hellfire.
His son joined the Navy about a year ago, and had been in Afghanistan about a month, AP reported.
In a telephone interview with the Houston Chronicle, Rast said his son was “brave beyond belief” and cared deeply about his fellow Marines and fellow sailors.
“I’m trying to be strong for him because he’d want me to be strong,” the father said.
Smith’s father, Jerry Smith, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Monday night that he was aware of the likely reason for his son’s death but didn’t know many details.
But he isn’t interested in recriminations right now.
“Whoever that young man or woman was, they didn’t send that drone over there to kill my son or Doc Rast,” Smith said. “If it was a royal screw-up, it was a royal screw-up. Make corrections, because I don’t want another family to have to go through this. But trying to put a bigger burden on that person who fired the missile is not something I would do.
“I guarantee you,” Smith told the paper, “if he was standing in front of me, he’d be asking for forgiveness, and I would give it to him.”