WASHINGTON (AP) — A "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan that killed five U.S. soldiers and one Afghan in June was caused by a series of avoidable miscommunications among air and ground forces, according to a military investigation report released Thursday.
The report from U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in Afghanistan, cited a collective failure to execute the fundamentals of the mission. As a result, two bombs dropped by an Air Force B-1 bomber stuck friendly forces; the five Americans and one Afghan killed were mistaken for enemy forces.
The incident happened in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan at the end of an operation performed jointly by Afghan and American forces to disrupt insurgent activity and improve security for local polling stations in the Arghandab district in advance of the Afghan presidential runoff election.
The B-1 bomber was providing what the military calls close air support while U.S. and Afghan ground troops were moving out of the area at the conclusion of their operation.
The six soldiers who were killed had moved from their group's main position in a valley to higher ground on a ridgeline in order to maneuver on insurgent forces. Muzzle flashes seen at their position on the ridgeline were mistaken for signs of rifle fire from insurgents, in part because the movement of the six was not properly communicated to those coordinating with the B-1 crew.
"While this complex combat situation presented a challenging set of circumstances, had the team understood their system's capabilities, executed standard tactics, techniques and procedures and communicated effectively, this tragic incident was avoidable," the partially censored report concluded.
The five Americans killed were Staff Sgt. Jason A. McDonald, 28, of Butler, Georgia; Staff Sgt. Scott R. Studenmund, 24, of Pasadena, California; Spc. Justin R. Helton, 25, of Beaver, Ohio; Cpl. Justin R. Clouse, 22, of Sprague, Washington, and Pvt. Aaron S. Toppen, 19, of Mokena, Illinois.
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