Wednesday, February 07, 2007

In defence of the American pilots

The news for the past couple of days has been dominated by the video and transcript of the "friendly fire" incident and the sad death of Lance Corporal Matty Hull. The video is tough viewing and must have been a nightmare for L/Cpl's widow to watch.

Much of the coverage has focused on the mistakes made by the pilots with the Sun calling them "imbeciles", and their supposed gung-ho attitude. I can't comment on that. I'm not an expert on US military operations, nor I imagine are journalists from the Sun.

I didn't come away from the video with a sense of gung-ho cowboy pilots desperate to kill hundreds of people - least of all allies. On at least two occasions they ask if there are friendlies in the area, they highlight several times that there are orange markers on the vehicles on the ground - I can't tell and wouldn't like to guess whether they are convincing themselves that the vehicles are hostile (as the Guardian insists) or whether they are looking for confirmation that they are not.

My impression was of two pilots doing a difficult job under horrendous circumstances, wanting to stop enemy combatants As is the case during war. Pilots who weren't professionals but National Guardsmen on their first tour of duty and who had never seen combat before.

To me the most moving aspect of the tape wasn't the bombing of the convoy it was the silence after the pilots were told they had hit a friendly convoy. This silence speaks a million words that muck-raking journalists refuse to hear - sorrow, guilt, horror, despair are all there. And when the pilots swear it's not the tough guy swearing of a Hollywood film, it's the desperation of two men who have carried out a deadly attack on their allies.

Perhaps there should be reviews into procedures on how allies identify one another, perhaps consideration should be given to whether reservists should fly sorties unaccompanied. I don't know - I'm not an expert. What I do know is that mistakes - dreadful, tragic, incomprehensible mistakes are made.

The two American pilots, who must live with the guilt of their actions every day, should not be made scape-goats for any deficiencies in the system nor should opponents of the war (myself included) use these two men as a convenient stick to beat the UK and US governments with. They, and L/Cpl Hull, deserve better.

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