March 31, 2003

Air Force A-10 kills British soldier in ‘friendly fire’ incident

By Jill Lawless
Associated Press

LONDON — A British soldier was killed after armored vehicles came under attack in a possible “friendly fire” incident in southern Iraq, defense officials said Saturday. Five other soldiers were injured.

The Ministry of Defense said it was investigating reports that soldiers of the Household Cavalry Regiment had been fired on by U.S. warplanes Friday.

“There is a suggestion this was a blue-on-blue incident,” a spokeswoman said, using the military’s term for accidental attacks on allied troops.

Group Capt. Al Lockwood, a spokesman at coalition military headquarters in Qatar, confirmed the death and injuries in a “friendly fire” incident north of Basra.

Lockwood said the incident occurred at a time when British forces were engaging Iraqi troops, and a “large number” of coalition forces were in the area.

“We’re trying now to clearly identify what happened,” he said.

Lockwood added that a report that several British soldiers had been kidnapped in Basra had proved incorrect. “We have checked and there are no soldiers missing,” he said.

Britain’s Press Association news agency, citing defense sources, said an American A-10 “tankbuster” plane targeted two British armored vehicles near Basra, where British troops have been battling forces loyal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

On Friday, British troops fired on Iraqi paramilitary forces who turned machine guns and mortars on about 1,000 civilians trying to leave the besieged city, military officials and witnesses said.

British and American military officials at Central Command in Doha, Qatar, also said they were investigating the incident.

The A-10 is designed to fly low in support of ground troops, swooping in to knock out tanks and deflect artillery fire. In the 1991 Gulf War, a U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt _ predecessor of the current A-10 “Warthog” — fire on a British armored convoy, killing nine servicemen.

Britain has 45,000 personnel, including 26,000 soldiers, involved in the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

The death would bring to five the number of British servicemen killed by “friendly fire” since the conflict began. Four have been killed in combat and 14 in accidents.

A military cargo plane returned 10 bodies to the Brize Norton Royal Air Force Base Saturday, the first of Britain’s combat victims to be returned home.

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon and Prince Andrew, a British navy veteran, joined in ceremonies as the coffins were unloaded.

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