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British Fighter Downed by American Patriot Missile

BY Admin  March 23, 2003 at 5:30 PM EDT

The Royal Air Force Tornado, returning from a raid in Iraq, was reportedly hit close to the Kuwaiti border.

“We can confirm that a Tornado GR4 aircraft from RAF Marham returning from an operational mission was engaged near the Kuwaiti border by a Patriot missile battery,” British military spokesman Captain Al Lockwood told reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar.

“This is a tragedy and we are taking rapid steps to find out the reason and to ensure that there is no repetition,” Lockwood said.

A statement from the Royal Air Force base at Marham, in Britain, confirmed the two crewmembers aboard the Tornado were killed. They were not identified.

Wing Commander Mike Oldham of Britain’s RAF Marham said in a statement, “They were returning from one of many successful and professionally conducted missions in Iraq, and I would like to pay tribute to their expertise and dedication.”

Oldham said the crew’s families had been notified and an investigation into the cause of the incident was underway.

U.S. and British officials expressed their condolences to the family members of the downed crew.

The Tornado loss is the third deadly incident for British forces since the war began, with a death count now at 16. None of the losses have resulted from enemy fire.

Officials have said that U.S. and British forces are working closely on combined operations. U.S. Marine air controllers have been assigned to British air units to coordinate attack missions.

“We are conducting urgent reviews, both of the operation of missile batteries as well as of our own aircraft to ensure that this cannot happen again,” British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the BBC.

The Patriot missile system is designed to defend against enemy attacks by intercepting and destroying incoming missiles.

Coalition leaders said joint operations are ongoing and will continue until the end of the conflict.

“This is a sad moment but we will put it behind us as quickly as we can in a military sense and carry on to our objective,” British Air Marshall Burridge told the BBC.

American officials coordinating the air strikes in Iraq said the accident would be reviewed and procedures changed if necessary, but added air operations would not be suspended.

“We cannot afford a pause,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Daniel Leaf told CNN.