Infantry: January 11, 2004


A little known, but lifesaving, decision made early on in the 2001 Afghanistan campaign, was to prohibit American bombers from hitting moving targets on the ground unless ordered to do so by someone on the ground (Special Forces troops, or one of the air force controllers working with the Special Forces). The air force and navy didn't like this, as pilots had long gone after "targets of opportunity." But as the Special Forces pointed out to the brass that, in Afghanistan, everyone (Taliban, Northern Alliance and Special Forces) where wearing the same kind of brownish, loose fitting, clothes. Although the air force resisted the policy, it was agreed to go along. 

This policy is thought have avoided at least fifty cases of friendly fire. In one of the cases where pilots disregarded the rule, U.S. F-16s bombed and killed Canadian troops who were carrying out a live fire exercise below. The pilots thought it was hostile Afghans firing at them from far below in the night darkness. 

The Special Forces wants to make this rule a standard policy when Special Forces are involved (because the Special Forces often dress like the locals they are working with) and perhaps in fast moving operations (as in Iraq), where there were several friendly fire incidents involving aircraft. This won't be easy to do, as there were cases in Iraq where large enemy units, not in contact with friendly ground troops, were hammered by A-10s and smart bombs. 


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