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April 11, 2011

Since posting about the situation of the rebellion in Libya, there has been a dramatic turn of events.  NATO launched air strikes against Gadaffi targets, at the same time establishing a No Fly Zone over Libya.  The attacks have been a success for the rebels and for NATO, as Gadaffi loyalists have been forced back from key military positions.  However, there have been many “friendly” deaths as a result of these strikes.  In the latest air strikes, 13 rebels have been killed by friendly fire, and 10 more were injured.

Friendly Fire is always a problem in war.  The term “Friendly fire”  means the inadvertent firing towards one’s own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from an accidental discharged is not considered friendly fire. Neither is murder, whether premeditated or in the heat of the moment, and nor is deliberate firing on one’s own troops for disciplinary reasons, as in these cases there is no intent to harm the enemy.Similarly, inadvertent harm to non-combatants or structures, usually referred to as “collateral damage” is also not considered to be friendly fire.

The primary cause of friendly fire is commonly known as the “fog of war” which attributes friendly fire incidents to the confusion inherent in warfare. Friendly fire that is the result of apparent recklessness or incompetence may fall into this category. The concept of a fog of war has come under considerable criticism, as it can be used as an excuse for poor planning, weak or compromised intelligence and incompetent command.  The term friendly fire was originally adopted by the US military. Many NATO militaries refer to these incidents as blue on blue, which derives from military exercises where NATO forces were identified by blue pennants, hence “blue”, and Warsaw Pact  forces were identified by orange pennants.

In the Iraq War of 2003, comes this horrifying video of US fighter jets mistaking British forces for enemy combatants. You hear the moment the fighters realise they have just committed a “blue on blue” attack.

It may be said that the reason that this happened was a lack of communication technology.  As heard in the video, the communication lines between the British forces and the US were cut, thereby preventing the British from notifying the US about their error.  However, human error has just as much to do with blue on blue attacks, as seen in this video of a US blue on blue attack in the Iraq War of 1991.

Perhaps the most chilling quote to come out of these videos is from Aviation Historian, Jeffrey Ethell.  “Friendly fire is a fact of war.  There is no way around it.  Technology will never solve it, even though many say it eventually will.”


From → World Politics

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