Officials investigating the bombing of a military observation post are reportedly focusing on the actions of a ground controller as they seek a cause for Monday’s accident.
Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters it appeared two of the three bombs released during the exercise went astray, killing five American servicemen and a New Zealand Army major and seriously injuring three additional American soldiers.
Officials would not confirm reports that a controller mistakenly cleared the pilot to attack. It is also not clear whether the U.S. serviceman directing the exercise was among those killed.
Quigley said the accident came near the end of a large-scale training exercise at the Udairi bombing range near Kuwait’s border with Iraq. The exercise included 85 sorties, or flights, and the use of bombs without navigational or self-guidance systems.
U.S. officials, including President Bush, have expressed regret for the accident. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the military would conduct a thorough investigation.
“Tragedies such as this occur without warning and for reasons that are difficult to understand,” Rumsfeld said in a statement. “We will work hard to take care of the families involved and to find out how such an accident could occur.”
The U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Persian Gulf from its base in Tampa, Florida, told Reuters a team would leave Wednesday to begin a full investigation into the incident.