LONDON – British deaths from American "friendly fire" in Iraq have prompted criticism of U.S. troops by British soldiers, but a British military official said Monday that the incidents won't hurt ties between the coalition partners.
Five suspected incidents of "friendly fire" deaths — involving attacks by U.S. and British troops — have accounted for as many British fatalities as enemy action in Iraq. The rash of incidents has caused mounting concern in Britain, which has lost 25 troops since the start of the war.
"In the friction of warfare there will inevitably be the occasional occasion when this happens," British military spokesman Col. Chris Vernon told British Broadcasting Corp. "It's sad, and I can understand the upset back home.
"Does it cause any rift between us if it's American on British? No, it certainly doesn't."
However, British soldiers who claim an American A-10 "tankbuster" aircraft fired on their armored vehicles Friday in southern Iraq — killing one of their comrades — have accused the pilot of reckless behavior.
"He had absolutely no regard for human life," said Lance Corp. Steven Gerrard, commander of one of the vehicles attacked.
Lance Corp. Matty Hull died in the incident near Basra, which British officials have said they are investigating as a possible case of "friendly fire."
Gerrard, one of four soldiers injured in the attack, said he could not understand how the A-10 could have mistaken the British vehicles for an enemy target.
"We can identify a friendly vehicle from 1,500 meters [5,000 feet]," Gerrard said.
"To be honest, I think they are just ignorant," said trooper Chris Finney, another survivor of the incident. "I don't know if they haven't been trained or are just trigger happy."
The Pentagon's top general, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers, has expressed regret at the deaths caused by U.S. troops and said work was under way to prevent such mistakes.
Two British airmen died earlier in the war when a U.S. Patriot missile shot down their Tornado jet near the Iraqi border with Kuwait.
Two other British soldiers have died as a result of "friendly fire" in the Iraq conflict. Their Challenger 2 tank was mistakenly fired upon Tuesday by British comrades in another tank.
Nine British soldiers died during the 1991 Gulf War when two American A-10 aircraft fired missiles at a British armored convoy.