Pentagon Launches Review of Downing of U.S. Helicopters over Iraq
WASHINGTON (AP) _ With no one facing criminal punishment in the ``friendly fire″ downing of two Army helicopters over northern Iraq, the Pentagon is launching a review that could lead to administrative action against those involved.
The review will re-examine the actions of Army and Air Force personnel involved in the April 14, 1994, incident in which 25 people, 15 of them Americans, were killed.
``The idea has never been to absolve everybody, the idea is to look at the facts and follow through with appropriate action, and that’s what is happening here,″ Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Tuesday.
Although defense officials consider the criminal side of the case closed, Bacon described ``a range of actions″ against those who may have contributed to the tragedy, including blocking promotion, reducing performance ratings, reassignment, forced retirement and revocation of past awards.
The Pentagon review comes weeks after the acquittal in a court-martial of Air Force Capt. Jim Wang, senior director on an Airborne Warning and Control System plane, who was the only officer to face criminal charges stemming from the incident.
Defense Secretary William Perry and Deputy Defense Secretary John White ordered the review because they ``felt that in a tragedy of this magnitude it was important to make sure that every aspect had been considered in terms of discipline, in terms of administrative action,″ Bacon said.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, released a memo from White to the secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff requesting the review and a report within a month on any actions taken or recommended.
``Now that the military justice process has run its course, it is appropriate that we take stock,″ White wrote.
The memo orders Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall to ``assess the adequacy of administrative actions taken″ and to ``assess the appropriateness of evaluations, decorations, subsequent assignments, promotions and retirements.″
It orders the Army to review the actions of all Army personnel involved in the incident, except those who died. Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is ordered to review preventive steps imposed by the military following the incident.
According to an earlier Pentagon investigation, the AWACS crew that was monitoring the airspace failed to properly coordinate between the two Army helicopters, which were traveling on a diplomatic mission in northern Iraq, and two Air Force F-15 fighters that were enforcing a no-fly zone over the area.
The F-15 pilots misidentified the helicopters as Iraqi and shot them down, killing everyone aboard. Wang, aboard the AWACS radar plane, was accused of failing to supervise two officers and not informing the fighter pilots that friendly helicopters were in the area.
Bacon said the White memo applies ``almost exclusively to the Air Force, obviously,″ because of the role of the AWACS plane and the fighters in the downings.
Separately Tuesday, Gen. Ronald Fogleman, the Air Force chief of staff, said he will personally review all the administrative and personnel actions taken as a result of the incident. Fogleman said the review was begun immediately after Wang was acquitted.
In a July 11 memo to all Air Force commanders, Fogleman said, ``We cannot tolerate actions which appear to condemn inappropriate conduct one moment, condone it the next, or even worse, reward it. Accountability is critically important. To do less will undermine good order and discipline of the force and destroy the trust of the American public.″
Among the steps already taken by the Air Force are:
_Recertification of all AWACS crews.
_A policy of keeping AWACS crews together on all missions.
_Visual identification training to help pilots better distinguish friendly and enemy aircraft, and development of computer-generated visual identification animation graphics.
_Theater indoctrination training before deployments.