Two dead in first friendly-fire drone strike

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U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. John Sheets

NBC News reports a Marine reservist and a Navy corpsman were killed in what may be the first ever friendly-fire drone strike. The Pentagon has declined to confirm it, and the matter remains under investigation.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith and Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast were part of a Marine unit moving in to reinforce fellow Marines under heavy fire from enemy forces outside Sangin, in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

However, the Marines under fire, watching streaming video of the battlefield being fed to them by an armed Predator overhead, apparently mistook Smith and Rast for enemy fighters and called in a Hellfire missile strike from the Predator, NBC reports.

Smith, 26, 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 incident follows an in-depth article in the L.A. Times that details a deadly Predator strike on Feb. 21, 2010, that killed 15 or 16 men — none insurgents. An Army-led team ordered the strike from an Air Force-manned Predator. The report details radio chatter in which — by the Army’s investigation — downplayed evidence they were not hostile.

Some officers in the Pentagon drew another lesson from the incident: An abundance of surveillance information can lead to misplaced confidence in the ability to tell friend from foe.

“Technology can occasionally give you a false sense of security that you can see everything, that you can hear everything, that you know everything,” said Air Force Major Gen. James O. Poss, who oversaw the Air Force investigation. “I really do think we have learned from this.”

[via NBC, L.A. Times]
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