Blue On Blue
U.S Troops Are Useless
US troops get training to avoid friendly-fire attacks on British
By Laura Peek and Michael Evans, Defence Editor
AMERICAN soldiers in Iraq are being given “anti-fratricide” training to reduce the number of friendly fire attacks against British and other coalition troops, The Times has learnt.
Thirty-two “blue-on-blue” attacks on British and other coalition vehicles have been logged in the past twelve months in southern Iraq, Britain’s area of responsibility.
The training was revealed as Washington and Rome announced a joint inquiry into the killing last week of an Italian secret agent when US troops opened fire on the car in which he was accompanying a freed hostage to Baghdad airport.
The inquiry was announced by General George Casey, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, after Gianfranco Fini, the Italian Foreign Minister, had highlighted differences between the American and Italian versions of the incident.
Nicola Calipari, an experienced hostage negotiator, was killed as he protected Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist, who had been held for a month.
On the same day, a 30-year-old Bulgarian machinegunner was shot and killed in a second friendly fire incident, for which US forces were also blamed.
The vast majority of the 32 reported incidents involved American troops opening fire at night-time against suspected insurgents who turned out to be friendly forces, on or near the main route through southern Iraq used by US convoys.
Military officials in Basra, where the British-controlled Multinational Division (Southeast) is based, said that the “vehicle blue-on-blue incidents” in the period from February last year had resulted in ten minor injuries. “There have been no fatalities,” one said.
The officials declined to spell out the injuries received or whether they were all British soldiers, but they confirmed that most of the “firing nationalities” were American. A small number of incidents involved Romanian and Bulgarian troops opening fire.
US commanders were so worried that their men were shooting at the British because they failed to recognise the Union Jack or other distinguishing military markings that, in an unprecedented move, they asked the British Army to supply vehicles, men and flags to teach their soldiers what their allies looked like.
It is understood that the British supplied several “snatch” armoured Land Rovers, the most common vehicle used by British troops on patrol and senior non-commissioned officers, with Union Jacks, to instruct the Americans.
This was in addition to a detailed presentation already provided by the British for all incoming US troops, which outlines what a British soldier looks like, what type of vehicle he drives and what other coalition troops in southern Iraq drive around in.
When asked by The Times about the special anti-fratricide training, which was requested in January, a spokesman for US Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia, said: “It is understandable we are doing this. We all want to reduce the number of friendly fire incidents. Checkpoints are very dangerous places. It has come into the headlines with the Italian and Bulgarian, but there are more incidents that do not get publicity and probably do not end so badly.”
British troops have been given warning against approaching American convoys because of the risk of being shot at. They are ordered to slow down to a snail’s pace as they pull alongside a convoy. They are told to display the Union Jack and shout that they are British. “The problem is that most of these incidents happen in the dark,” a military source said.
A British officer in Basra said: “The Americans can be pretty pumped-up. Sometimes they fire in broad daylight when we are travelling at two miles per hour, shouting that we are British out of the window and waving the Union Jack. If they shoot, our drill is to slam on the brakes and race in the opposite direction.”
Ronnie On Tour 22nd Cheshire Regiment
Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West) (Lab): As the Member for Dunfermline, which is the Black Watch's largest recruitment area, I had hoped, as had many of its families, that it would not be committed to an even more dangerous aspect of its current operations, especially as our US allies, despite having 121,000 more in their armed forces than we do, seem incapable or unwilling to deal with the situation. What commitment can the Secretary of State give to assure us that all the vital support and equipment will be provided and that those soldiers will return to their homes for Christmas?
Mr. Hoon: I have set out the reason for this deployment. I am absolutely confident that the Black Watch and all those, including our US allies, who will work so hard to ensure that the deployment is able to take place will do so successfully and satisfactorily.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend expresses those views about the United States, which will be engaged in the deployment. I have explained to the House in some detail why this particular capability is necessary in order to allow wider operations against terrorists and kidnappers to take place.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Is it not the case that the US forces place considerably greater reliance on the use of offensive air power against urban terrorist targets than we do, and that time and again, most regrettably, so-called precision US air strikes have resulted in significant Iraqi civilian casualties, including women and children? Assuming that that pattern continues, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the risk that not only the Black Watch, but British forces generally, may, quite unjustifiably, be associated in the Iraqi public mind with having caused significant civilian casualties?
Mr. Hoon: I do not accept the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, not least because the capability of modern precision-guided weapons is now such that they can be precisely targeted in a way that he does not give credit for. The question also concerns whether it is right to try to deal with terrorists. I assure him that Iraqi
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public opinion wants the threats to security in Iraq and to the Iraqi people dealt with just as badly as the United States or the United Kingdom does. If he reflects on what he said, I am sure that he will realise that the sorts of terrorists operating in places such as Falluja are killing far more Iraqis than they are killing coalition forces. That is why the Interim Government are so determined to see them dealt with.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West) (Lab): In view of the tawdry and rather irresponsible comments to the effect that Black Watch families have not been properly briefed up to now, will the Secretary of State confirm that they have been properly briefed and that that will continue?
Mr. Hoon: The commanding officers have been at great pains to provide information to the families of those men currently deployed in Iraq. That is why I took such exception to the ignorant comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames).
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): Of course we must see the job through in Iraq, but is it not unfair to ask regiments such as the Black Watch, or my local regiment, the Cheshires, to serve with such bravery and distinction in Iraq, and then face them with abolition on their return?
Mr. Hoon: It is not a question of abolition; the hon. Gentleman knows full well that it is a reorganisation. We will have the opportunity to debate that in a few minutes, but there has been a long process of reorganising infantry battalions throughout the history of the British Army. He knows that full well, so why does he come to the House making such foolish assertions?
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab): In the light of my right hon. Friend's remarkable statement that only a third of US troops are combat-capable, would he agree with the US chiefs of staff when they warned Donald Rumsfeld that he was not sending enough US troops to Iraq in the first place? What assurances has he received from the US in return for this redeployment that, this time, it will listen to us as good and reliable allies when we advise it to minimise civilian casualties in Falluja, especially since, as a result of today's decision, we are much more likely to be held responsible for those casualties?
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend and I worked closely together on Iraq and have discussed on many occasions the organisation of our armed forces. He knows full well that in any force there are front-line combat forces and support forces. That was my point, which is self-evident, as I am sure he would accept. Inevitably, a certain proportion of the US forces deployed in Iraq will be front-line combat forces, and a smaller proportion still will be armoured capable. That is why this particular deployment is necessary.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): May I take the Secretary of State back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne)? He will understand the importance of morale
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to soldiers about to deploy on active service. Given that the Black Watch has already served with distinction during the war, and is now on a second and dangerous tour of duty, can he give it any reassurance whatever that its reward for that distinguished service will not be amalgamation or reorganisation?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman, who generally speaks knowledgeably on these matters from his personal experience, knows full well the history of the British Army and of the need to reorganise to deal with modern reality. We will debate that issue in the debate that follows. Consistent with the recommendation of the Scottish colonels, for example, what we are looking to preserve is the identity of single battalion regiments within a larger amalgamated structure. That is something that has happened in the past and can happen in the future.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): I apologise for returning to a theme on which we have already touched, but in the past 24 hours I have received a great many messages from right across my constituency expressing concern about the proposed deployment. Apart from a theme of cynicism about timing—which I do not share, but which I believe must be understood and responded to—which runs through virtually all those messages, the single major theme is a concern about the impact on civilian casualties of an assault on Falluja. I ask my right hon. Friend to acknowledge the profound concern of my constituents about the impact on civilian casualties and the enhanced risk, as it is perceived, to British troops as a result of association with any excessive casualties.