Bomb kills 3 U.S. soldiers, 5 Afghan fighters
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Three U.S. special forces soldiers and five Afghan opposition fighters were killed when a 2,000-pound, satellite-guided bomb from a U.S. B-52 missed its intended target north of Kandahar, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.
At least 20 other U.S. troops and 18 opposition troops, who were fighting with U.S. special forces, were wounded near Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.
The wounded U.S. troops and Afghan fighters were evacuated by U.S. Marines and taken to the Marine base near Kandahar, which is named Forward Operating Base Rhino. A combat search-and-rescue team based in Pakistan also responded.
While the Afghan soldiers remained there for treatment, the Americans were airlifted to hospitals in the region. The third U.S. soldier died en route from the base to a hospital.
The dead Americans were all senior enlisted men with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, "Green Berets," based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The three were identified as Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis, 39; Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Henry Petithory, 32; Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28.
The bombing went awry at 10 a.m. local time (12:30 a.m. EST) Wednesday, Clarke said. The bomb involved was a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), a single 2,000-pound satellite-guided bomb.
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said in a Wednesday news briefing that a U.S. forward air controller called for close-air support after opposition forces were engaged by Taliban troops. The B-52 dropped the satellite-guided bomb and it hit within 100 meters (330 yards) of the troops that were killed and wounded by the attacks.
"This mission was called in due to the fighting that was occurring between the opposition groups and those Taliban forces that were dug in," Stufflebeem said, adding that he did not know if the U.S. forces were directly engaged in the fighting.
2,000-pound bomb a 'devastating weapon'
Marine Maj. Brad Lowell, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, said the military is investigating the incident. "Any friendly fire incident is unacceptable, it'll be looked into and it's not something that's taken lightly and it's not something that we accept as part of combat," he said. "It does take place. We do everything possible to avoid that taking place."
Counting Wednesday's accident, four Americans have now been killed in combat in Afghanistan and four others have died in accidents.
The president offered his sympathy to families of those killed and injured.
"The president offers his condolences to the families and loved ones affected by this morning's accident," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters in his daily morning meeting. "He regrets the loss of life and he wishes the injured a full and speedy recovery."
Stufflebeem described the bomb as a "devastating weapon."
"As a pilot, when I would drop a 2,000-pound weapon, I wanted at least 4,000 feet of separation from that weapon when it went off," he said.
Five U.S. soldiers were seriously wounded when another JDAM bomb went astray while warplanes were helping put down last week's Taliban prisoner uprising in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.
Stufflebeem said he did not know if the U.S. forces were actively involved in the fighting between opposition and Taliban forces.
"You know, the motto of these special forces is, 'to liberate the oppressed,'" he said. "These men died as heroes and were wounded as heroes."
Close-air support a 'hazardous business'
Stufflebeem declined to say what might have gone wrong but defense sources told CNN the possibilities include the wrong coordinates were given, the wrong coordinates were entered on the plane, or the system malfunctioned.
Both Clarke and Stufflebeem cautioned reporters not to draw any conclusions about what might have gone wrong.
"It's going to take a few days to find out what happened," Stufflebeem said.
As described by Stufflebeem, a forward air controller decides to call for an airstrike and determines the coordinates of where enemy forces are as well as the coordinates of the U.S. troops. The controller then sends that information to aircraft along with when the bomb should be dropped. Personnel aboard the aircraft then enter the information into the weapon's targeting system and perform the mission, if it is possible.
The admiral said a close air support mission is "one of the potentially most hazardous type of missions" U.S. forces can undertake in combat.
"Calling in airstrikes, nearly simultaneously on your own position, on enemy forces that you're engaged in close proximity to, is a hazardous business and takes very fine control and coordination and precision," he said.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan leader who is to head the country's transitional government, was slightly wounded by shrapnel from the errant bomb.
Karzai, who suffered flesh wounds, was in the area north of Kandahar when the bombing occurred. Asked about whether Karzai was injured, Clarke said the Pentagon has received reports that "he was out, was visible and seems to be doing fine."
Karzai spoke to CNN International in the hours after the attack and made no mention of the attack or any injury.
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