Unmanned Friendly Fire

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A pair of U.S. troops was killed in Afghanistan last week when Marines, under fire, called in a drone strike that hit friendly troops by mistake, NBC reports. “It’s believed that this is the first time that U.S. service members have been killed by a Predator in a friendly-fire incident,” correspondent Jim Miklaszewski says. A Hellfire missile launched from the drone apparently killed Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith of Arlington, Tex., and Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast of Niles, Mich., last Wednesday.

Smith’s father isn’t seeking vengeance for his son’s death. “Whoever that young man or woman was, they didn’t send that drone over there to kill my son or Doc Rast,” Jerry Smith said of the drone’s unidentified human operator. “If it was a royal screw-up, it was a royal screw-up,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Make corrections because I don’t want another family to have to go through this. But trying to put a bigger burden on that person who fired the missile is not something I would do.”

There’s been a big push for drones in the U.S. military in recent years. “They don’t put a pilot at risk,” is one of their advantages, advocates says. There’s also been a big push to cut down on friendly fire — following the deaths of Pat Tillman, the 26 folks aboard the pair of UH-60s shot down by U.S. F-15s in 1994, and the downing of Iran Air 655 in 1988 by a U.S. warship, killing 290. Damn. As last week’s tragedy makes clear, those unmanned planes are getting more and more like the manned versions, every day.