WASHINGTON – The U.S. military on Thursday canceled the remainder of a training exercise in the Horn of Africa, and the government of Djibouti called a halt to U.S. military air operations in its country, following two U.S. Marine aircraft accidents this week in Djibouti.
Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon that the decision to cancel the remainder of an exercise called Alligator Dagger, billed by the U.S. as a combat rehearsal, was "a reasonable precaution" in light of the aviation accidents, which happened separately but within a few hours of each other on Tuesday.
A Marine AV-8B Harrier jet crashed after the pilot ejected during takeoff from Djibouti Ambouli International Airport. Officials said the pilot received medical care and was released by a medical facility at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. In the second incident about two hours after the first, a Marine CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter sustained structural damage during a landing at Arta Beach, Djibouti. The aircrew were not injured.
The U.S. aircraft conduct sensitive surveillance and counterterrorism missions from Djibouti.
The accidents were the latest in a recent series of aviation mishaps in the U.S. military, including the crash of an F-16 fighter jet in the Nevada desert that killed an Air Force Thunderbirds pilot during what the Air Force called a routine aerial demonstration training flight Wednesday. The pilot's name was being withheld pending notification of relatives.
Also, four crew members were killed when a Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed Tuesday in California during a training mission along the U.S.-Mexico border west of El Centro.
Asked whether he considered the series of accidents to be evidence of a systemic problem in U.S. military aviation, McKenzie said it would be a mistake to reach such a conclusion now and that accidents are inevitable.
"Those are mishaps that occurred. We're going to look at each one in turn," he said. "Each one is tragic. We regret each one. We'll look at them carefully. I'm certainly not prepared to say that it's a wave of mishaps or some form of crisis."
McKenzie is director of the staff that reports to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford.