U.S. troops died heroes - comrades
LANDSTUHL, Germany -- Three U.S. special forces troops killed in a friendly fire accident in Afghanistan this week should be remembered as heroes who saved Afghan lives, a wounded comrade said.
"They were victims of an accident but they were also heroes in this war," Captain Jason Amerine, 30, from Honolulu, who commanded an 11-man team, told reporters at a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany on Saturday.
"I don't want these guys to be remembered as people who died in an accident. They saved a town from being slaughtered. They're all heroes," he said.
The 2,000 pound (908-kg) "smart" bomb was dropped by a U.S. B-52 bomber on Taliban forces making their last stand near Kandahar.
It killed five Afghans and wounded 18 others, but 20 U.S. troops were injured in the blast and three died.
Amerine, looking exhausted and shaken, described being hurled though the air by the off-target bomb.
"Out of the blue, our position exploded," he said. "The explosion came and I was thrown over the side of the hill."
A piece of shrapnel had embedded itself in his leg.
The soldiers were manning an observation post north of Kandahar, directing aircraft against Taliban troops located in caves about three km away when the bomb struck out of the blue, Amerine said.
"There was a lot of people yelling and screaming," said Army Capt. Jeff Leopold, 28, of Ottawa, Ohio. "We weren't sure if we were under attack from the Taliban or whether it was friendly fire or what."
U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Craig Musselman, 31, from San Antonio, Texas, said the explosion threw him about 15 feet straight off the top of the hill.
"Jason picked me up and carried me to the top of the hill," said Musselman, wearing civilian clothes. He had a cut on his swollen eye.
Most of the wounded suffered burst eardrums and cuts and lacerations. Thirteen of them are being treated in Landstuhl. A fourteenth wounded man has already been flown to the United States.
Asked about whether the accident had given him doubts about his job, Amerine said: "We are professional soldiers. It's our job. This is what we do."
Amerine said: "We're all pretty numb. Right now our prayers are with our wounded and with the families of those who didn't survive. All of us are feeling a lot of pain right now."
He described how his unit, in which the fallen comrades had served, had at an earlier stage in the war saved the residents of the anti-Taliban village of Tirinkot from an attacking Taliban force.
"The Taliban soldiers were ordered to slaughter women and children, to kill the men and set an example to put down the opposition," Amerine said.
Through coordination with other anti-Taliban Afghan troops and air strikes from the U.S. Air Force "we were able to destroy the Taliban that tried to come into the town to sack it," Amerine said, adding that they had saved a town and his men had died heroes.
The remains of the three Americans killed in the accident also were flown to the nearby Ramstein Air Base and brought to the hospital's mortuary. They are expected to be flown to the U.S. next week.
The coffin of the last of the three -- Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis, 39, of Tennessee -- arrived at Ramstein Saturday morning. Covered by an American flag, it was saluted by an honour detail as it was brought off a C-5 cargo plane.
The remains of the other two victims -- Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory, 32, of Massachusetts and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of California -- were brought to Ramstein late Thursday and taken to the morgue at the military's nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre.
One wounded man from the friendly fire incident is still in intensive care after being flown in on Thursday in what was described as a "very serious" condition.
Lieutenant-Colonel Dr Juan De Rojas said he was optimistic after the man, who was not named, underwent two hours of surgery on his arm on Friday. "It's still guarded but I'm optimistic, I think he'll pull through," Rojas said.
The body of Electrician's Mate Fireman Apprentice Michael J. Jakes Jr., 20, of Brooklyn, New York, also was flown to the air base. Jakes died on Tuesday after falling from his bunk bed aboard the USS Kitty Hawk on November 29. Officials said they are still investigating his death.
Including Wednesday's incident, four Americans have now been killed in combat in Afghanistan and four others have died in accidents.
Several others have been wounded, including five U.S. soldiers seriously when a similar bomb went astray while warplanes were helping put down a Taliban prisoner uprising near Mazar-e Sharif.
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