'Friendly fire' probe as two US soldiers killed by drone
Published 13/04/2011 | 05:00
An investigation was under way last night into a suspected drone strike that killed two American soldiers in Afghanistan, military officials confirmed last night.
The incident represents a rare example of a 'friendly fire' killing of US forces by a pilotless aircraft. The victims were identified as Marine Staff Sergeant Jeremy Smith (26) and Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast (23).
The Pentagon declined to comment, merely stating that the deaths of Smith and Rast were under investigation.
However, the military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initial information indicated that they were killed during a Hellfire missile strike in southern Afghanistan.
The official stressed that the investigation into the cause of the deaths had not been concluded.
The soldiers had been conducting operations in Helmand province, which has been a focal point for US efforts to regain control of territory from Taliban insurgents. More than 1,500 US troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began nearly a decade ago.
Violence in Afghanistan has hit its highest levels since the war began. US drones are frequently deployed to target suspected militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But critics claim that hundreds of civilians have also been killed in such strikes.
The two US soldiers who lost their lives were reportedly part of a unit sent to reinforce marines coming under heavy fire from insurgents outside the town of Sangin.
The marines, who were watching a video feed from the armed Predator drone overhead, may have concluded that there were insurgents moving towards them, rather than fellow marines, NBC reported.