Marine killed in 2nd suspected 'friendly fire' incident

February 03, 1991|By Frank Starr | Frank Starr,Chief of The Sun's Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Military officials announced yesterday a second incident in which U.S. Marines may have been hit -- and one killed -- by friendly fire.

Maj. Gen. Robert Johnston told reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that conclusive results of the investigation of the previous incident, in which 11 Marines died last Thursday, could be expected by today.

The new incident occurred shortly after midnight yesterday when a Marine convoy was hit with cluster bombs and three of the Marines were wounded, Gen. Johnston said. One of the three later died of his injuries. None was identified.

Although the briefing officer would not say that friendly forces had dropped the cluster bombs, there have been no reports since the war began of Iraqi aircraft dropping munitions on allied forces.

General Johnston said that unlike the incident last Thursday, in which the 11 Marines who died were in the midst of a close battle with Iraqi tanks near al-Wafra, yesterday's bombing "was far enough removed from the front lines that one would make a stronger conclusion that it was, in fact, friendly fire."

He said that investigations of such incidents are conducted to determine whether "we have a procedural problem we can correct and try to minimize those kinds of occurrences in the future."

But he added, "There will be other occurrences. . . . If you look at the speed and the involvement of tanks against tanks . . . in the intensity of battle, it is not easy to tell sometimes a four-wheeled vehicle from a six-wheeled vehicle."

Pool reporters with another Marine unit near the Kuwaiti border described a third incident about 1 a.m. Friday in which two aircraft dropped four cluster bombs each on "scores of Marines" who were dug in nearby during a period of intense aerial, armored and artillery clashes. The report said there were no casualties.

"It looked like a thousand Fourth of July sparklers lit up at once," one Marine who scrambled for cover was quoted as saying.

"Someone got their longitude and latitude mixed up," said Maj. Robert Weimann, 40, of Woodbury, N.J., executive officer of the armored infantry unit.

Reporters with the unit said the planes flew in from the south, and markings on plastic canisters and other debris from the bombs indicated the munitions were American.

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