U.S. soldiers die in Kuwait
WASHINGTON (AP) – A U.S. Navy warplane mistakenly dropped a bomb on soldiers during a training exercise Monday in Kuwait, killing five Americans and one New Zealander, Pentagon officials said.
The Navy F/A-18 Hornet was practicing ”close air support” for ground troops at the Udairi bombing range, 45 miles northwest of Kuwait City, when it dropped explosive ordnance on or near an observation post, the U.S. Central Command said.
The command said in a statement the six were confirmed dead and five American military personnel were taken to hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening. Two of them were released.
For hours after the accident the Pentagon made no official statement confirming the number of casualties.
Pentagon officials who discussed the matter only on condition of anonymity said initially that five people had been killed. They later raised the figure to six, a figure confirmed by the command in its statement.
The command said other military personnel hurt in the accident were treated at the scene. It did not say how many.
Two of the Americans killed were from the Army and two were from the Air Force, said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One Pentagon official said an estimated 10 people were injured. A second official said no civilians were involved.
President Bush, traveling in Panama City, Fla., opened a speech on his budget proposals and military spending with a brief mention of the accident.
”I’m reminded today of how dangerous service can be,” Bush said. ”We lost some servicemen today in Kuwait in a training accident.” He led a moment of silence for the soldiers and their families.
Bush was receiving regular updates, including one on the flight back to Washington from Florida, said Ari Fleischer, his spokesman.
A leading Democrat on military issues, Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, said, ”We cannot take for granted the hazards that our men and women in uniform face on a daily basis, in times of war as well as in times of peace.”
The accident happened at about 7 p.m. Monday in Kuwait, or 11 a.m. EST, about 28 miles from the Iraqi border, during a multinational training exercise in which ground forces direct strike aircraft to specific targets. It was not clear what went wrong Monday.
The Navy plane was flying from the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. An official said the plane dropped what was believed to be a 500-pound gravity bomb. It was not clear whether the pilot erred or whether those on the ground directed the Hornet to the wrong area on the bombing range.
”The F/A-18 aircraft was participating in a routine close air support training exercise involving joint and Coalition forces,” the command said in its statement. ”This exercise involved both day and night training.
”Such exercises are held quarterly for the purpose of practicing air operations against hostile ground targets in close proximity to friendly forces. The exercises involve friendly ground and airborne forces pointing out targets to friendly fighter aircraft orbiting overhead. The fighter aircraft then deliver weapons on the targets.”
An accident investigation board has been appointed and will arrive in Kuwait this week, the command said.
The United States military has operated regularly from airfields and an Army base in Kuwait since the 1991 Gulf War, when a U.S.-led coalition expelled the occupying Iraqi army from the tiny Persian Gulf nation. The continuing presence of U.S. forces in Kuwait is meant as a deterrent to Iraq.
Aircraft from the Harry S. Truman battle group, such as the Hornet involved in Monday’s accident, participated in a joint U.S.-British bombing of Iraqi air defense installations around Baghdad last month.
On the Net:
U.S. Central Command: http://www.centcom.mil
USS Harry S. Truman: http://www.ncts.navy.mil/homepages/cvn75/
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