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Friendly fire incidents will be investigated

WASHINGTON -- It is unfortunate when coalition forces and equipment are lost in combat, but it is particularly tragic when those losses come as a result of friendly fire, the combined forces air component commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom said April 5.

Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley said during a Pentagon teleconference from his headquarters in Saudi Arabia that every measure has been taken to avoid such "blue-on-blue" incidents, but the conditions on the battlefield are not always conducive to eliminating them altogether. His comments came in the wake of a recent incident in Iraq in which a Navy F/A-18C Hornet may have been shot down by a Patriot air defense missile.

On April 6, coalition aircraft may have engaged special operations and friendly Kurdish ground forces approximately 30 miles southeast of Mosul, Iraq. Early casualty reports indicate one civilian may have been killed, while one U.S. soldier, one Kurdish soldier and four civilians were injured. Coalition aircraft were conducting close-air support missions at the time, and were in coordination with ground forces, said officials.

"Certainly it is tragic when you lose people or an airplane, and it is particularly tragic when it is the result of 'blue on blue,'" Moseley said. "But you have to remember that this is a very complicated business we are in right now. The conditions our pilots are operating in include short-range ballistic missiles and surface-to-surface missiles being fired at them, and there is still a very real threat of chemical or biological weapons being employed. At the same time we are flying 2,000 sorties a day, with lots of varying types of people on the ground who are engaged in combat across the spectrum.

"This is not an exercise. This is real, with real bullets," he said.

Many of those conditions can be found in virtually every war, he added, and were not unexpected in Operation Iraqi Freedom. To counter their effects, the air campaign is being conducted by aircrews who are extremely familiar with conditions in the region.

"We have been involved in Operation Northern Watch for well over 4,000 days, and Operation Southern Watch for 3,800 days," he said. "So we have done some preparation in that time relative to north of the 36th (parallel) and south of the 33rd (parallel). From June of last year up until the initiation of hostilities, we increased our presence in the no-fly zones to enforce the (United Nations) Security Council resolutions."

"So we certainly had more preparation prior to the hostilities than some people realize."

All incidents that may have come as a result of friendly fire will be fully investigated, he said.

"When things like this happen, you step back and begin to investigate the process, procedures, tactics and techniques and begin to see if we have software, hardware or people issues," he said.

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