From Nuclear Military Strategy to a World without War: A History and a Proposal

By Roger Hilsman | Go to book overview

cans. Of the 467 wounded, friendly fire was responsible for 72. Among the Allies, nine British soldiers were killed by American A-10 warplanes. On another occasion, two more British soldiers were also killed by friendly fire. There is no information on casualties among the other Allies from friendly fire.

A 1986 Army study of earlier wars concluded that in all the wars from World War I through Vietnam the casualties from friendly fire were less than 2 percent. In the Gulf War, friendly fire was responsible for 23 percent of those killed and 15 percent of the wounded.

All the M1A1 tank casualties were caused by friendly fire. The American forces used armor-piercing ammunition made of depleted uranium. These shells leave a small but detectable trace of radioactivity, and all the U.S. tanks knocked out showed this tell-tale trace. Actually, probably none of the conventional, armorpiercing ammunition used by the Iraqi forces would have been capable of piercing the extremely thick and hard, depleted uranium armor on the M1A1s.

There were a total of twenty-eight friendly fire incidents. U.S. ground forces attacked other U.S. ground forces sixteen times, killing 24 Americans and wounding 57. American airplanes attacked American ground forces nine times, with 11 killed and 154 wounded. One American warship attacked another American warship, but there were no casualties. One American ground force unit attacked an American Navy jet, but again there were no casualties.

One explanation for the high casualties from friendly fire is that the technology for killing at a distance has outdistanced the technology for distinguishing between friend and foe. Another reason was offered by Colonel Roy Alcala, an aide to General Carl Vuono, at that time chief of staff of the Army. Colonel Alcala pointed out that the percentages in the Gulf War were skewed because "in previous wars a lot of people died from things that didn't happen in this war -- the other side fighting back." 2 If the other side does not fight back, the only casualties tend to be those inflicted by your own forces, so the percentage of total casualties caused by friendly fire is much higher.


NOTES
1
This section draws on Chapter 12, "Postmortem on the War," of Roger Hilsman, George Bush vs. Saddam Hussein: Military Success! Political Failure? ( Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1992).
2
Barton Gellman, "Gulf War's Friendly Fire Tally Triples", Washington Post, 14 August 1991, pp. 1, 26.

-122-

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