I’m vacationing at the moment so this is just a short observation. After the Gulf War the media went crazy over the friendly fire rate. I was a preteen at the time but was already watching the news and Discovery Channel. As such I remember the reports and shows about the unbelievably high “blue on blue” incidents during the war (to think of what things were like before the internet and Fox News, *shudder*). Why, they were much higher than in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. Countless time was spent analyzing why this was the case and what should be done to fix it. As I recall the most common conclusion was that war had become to video gamey. All the thermal displays and night vision had made it too difficult for soldiers to tell who was who.
Even at the time I thought this attempt by the media to disparage whatever aspect they could of our massive victory to be silly. I thought the high friendly fire rate was merely the result of the Iraqi soldiers not doing their jobs. Had they been more competent and actually stood and fought then the friendly fire share of killed would be much lower. Thankfully the Iraqis didn’t even though that meant the friendly fire share was higher than usual. There were other peculiarities about that war that would have caused higher friendly fire casualties, it was a large and extremely aggressive mobile campaign, fought in the open desert, and fought day and night for the first time.
I was reminded of this by this article on strategypage.com about the number of friendly fire incidents in Iraq. Out of 2,100 killed in action since March 2003, only 21 have been due to friendly fire or 1%. This war, like all wars, also has its difference with past wars. Many of the killed are the result of I.E.D.’s that don’t have gunfights associated with them, engagements are mostly smaller scale with little operational maneuver that results in units unknowingly bumping into each other, and the soldiers are not dealing with a furious 24 hour tempo. Given the choice, I would prefer 21 friendly fire dead representing an absurdly high 35% of soldiers killed in action rather than 1% even if it causes the media to look down on trigger happy G.I.'s.
Nevertheless, it does show that American soldiers do not have an obsession with killing anything that moves, including fellow Americans. Unfortunately, that notion has been hammered into the minds of many around the world by this point. It is also further evidence that the media does not like the military or report fairly or intelligently about it. The military wins a conventional campaign quickly and with low casualties and the media still finds something that looks bad when incorrectly analyzed and beats the military over the head with it. Now it is ignoring the historically low friendly fire rate, once its pet cause, and instead focuses on casualty rates that are below those of the Filipino Insurrection and Vietnam (5 per 1,000 soldier-years for the Philippines vs. 20 in Vietnam vs. 4 today). Lastly, it further shows how incompetent the media is that they couldn’t figure out something an 11 year old boy could; that the high friendly fire share of the Gulf War was nothing endemic and would unfortunately not be as high when we faced an enemy who fought.