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Canada Under Fire In Afghanistan By Americans

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The United States of America pours billions of dollars each year into military spending. They have one of the most comprehensively equipped armed forces in the world with state of the art military equipment for each arm of the service. If you are in the navy you could be on an aircraft carrier or a submarine that's powered by its own nuclear power plant. If you are in the army or the marines you have at your disposal all the most sophisticated means of either defending yourself or killing others.

The air force claims that it can drop a bomb down somebody's chimney from a thousand feet in the air and has smart bombs that can be programmed to go where you want them to a good percentage of the time. They even have planes that can sneak up on people called stealth bombers because they can elude detection by radar.

It's really quite amazing what money can buy these days when it comes to military hardware, isn't it? It's just too bad so little of that money gets spent on training the troops in how to fight a war. Even kids playing with toy soldiers know that in a war the object is to kill more of the enemy's soldiers than he kills of your soldiers. At the end of the battle, the side with the most soldiers left alive usually wins.

Now I'm not a military strategist and I didn't go to a military academy, so maybe I'm unaware of some of the finer points of tactics. But it would seem to me that killing your allies and reducing their combat effectiveness would be counterproductive to achieving the goal of having the most soldiers left standing at the end of a battle.

For the second time since the beginning of the Afghanistan conflict, Canadian troops suffered injuries and fatalities from American aircraft either bombing or strafing their positions. On Tuesday, September 5, an American A-10 Thunderbolt strafed Canadian troops using its Avenger gun. Firing bullets the size of pop cans, the pilot instantly killed one soldier, former Olympian Private Mark Anthony Graham, and wounded over thirty others, five seriously enough to be evacuated out of the country for treatment.

In April, 2002, two National Guard air force officers attacked Canadian troops on exercise manoeuvres, killing four soldiers and wounding eight others. Yesterday the soldiers were just waking up, having breakfast and preparing their gear for an offensive against the Taliban when they came under attack. Canadian military officers are at a loss to explain how their LAV-3 armoured vehicles could have been mistaken for a group of insurgent Taliban.

Now I can understand how in the heat of a battle situation mistakes can be made — you come under fire, you shoot back, but you overshoot or the situation has changed in the ten seconds it took you to respond, and you end up accidentally firing upon your own troops. In theory everyone is supposed to know where everyone else is, but things on a battlefield can change so quickly that enemy and ally positions can switch in the blink of an eye.

According to Major Geoff Abthorpe of the Canadian Army "they're (pilots) supposed to make visual contact…The LAVs were out on an exposed open slope, so what actually happened is hard to say." In other words before you go firing from the hip at anything parked by the roadside you have to have visual confirmation that it's an enemy.

Canadian troops have been taking part in an offensive in the area since Saturday as part of the N.A.T.O. force trying to push the Taliban out of the area. They were preparing to launch an offensive that morning, but were forced to cancel because of the attack. As the day continued, the force came under heavier and heavier fire as word spread amongst the Taliban that the troop had been shot up before the offensive that day even began.

So not only did this pilot cause the death of a soldier, seriously injure five others, and scuttle a day's operation, he also increased the likelihood of the Canadians incurring more casualties as the Taliban knew they were temporarily stunned by the early morning attack. Fortunately they came through the rest of day unscathed and were able to regroup come nightfall.

The weekend had already been rough on the Canadian troops, as they had suffered four fatalities on Sunday. To lose another of their number to "friendly fire" in such a stupid and irresponsible manner must have been a real morale sapper. The troops had been in position there overnight so all air force personnel should have been aware of who was supposed to be where.

Air force pilots in the American armed forces are most often officers, which means the majority of them would have gone to a military academy to help prepare them for their role of leading men into battle. You'd think somewhere along the line they'd have learned not only about the importance of following the rules of engagement for specific battlefield situations but how shooting allies is detrimental to the war effort.

It's really hard to understand how mistakes like this one could happen with all the technology at a pilot's disposal and the fact they were not in a battlefield situation. It's one thing to miss a target and cause "collateral damage". It's another altogether to choose the wrong target completely and let loose with your weapons indiscriminately.

The reputation of the American military had taken a bit of a beating in Iraq with tales of torture and vengeance killings against innocent civilians. Killing your allies through carelessness isn't the right way to go about repairing your image.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • I’m a little disappointed in how quickly people, this article’s author included, are willing to come just short of implying that this incident was intentional. No enhancement of technology can eliminate human error. I’m sure it’s something that the American troops that were involved are quite distraught over, and making a mockery of their collective military’s skill is simply an irresponsible and unjust reaction. Do you think the men who died would want to find that their death opened the floodgates for more tension between people that are supposedly on the same side? Somehow I doubt it. The accident is unfortunate enough. We don’t need folks like Mr. Marcus fanning the flames.

  • Blue-on-blue or friendly fire is, unfortunately, a not unexpected byproduct of any war.

    While this is basically the nature of the beast, it is also understandable that many Canadians may view this incident with a jaundiced eye. The previous friendly fire incident that resulted in 4 Canadian dead was one that was blatently preventable and was a byproduct of an overeager, overly aggressive pilot who wanted to “get his digs in” and violated procedure in order to get off a shot. This incident and the court martial aftermath severely damaged US military credibility in many Canadian’s eyes.

    Richard’s article, while I believe it overstates the intent and doesn’t significantly take into account the genuine “fog of war” that exists on the battlefield, does highlight some of the thoughts and feelings now prevelant. With Canadian casualties in Afghanistan mounting weekly, this new incident (again with some serious procedural questions arising on who, if anyone, called for the close air support from the warthog) is an unsettling reminder of the previous incident. It will renew calls for a serious examination of the Canadian military’s involvement in Afghanistan.

    There is a sense, however unjustified it might be, that the US is careless and heedless with its allies and too quick with its firepower.