Libya: Six injured as US team botches rescue of downed airmen
Libyans said US helicopter came in with guns firing, creating panic and wounding onlookers after F-15E Strike Eagle crash
Ewen MacAskill in Washington, Tom Kington on USS Kearsarge and Chris McGreal on the outskirts of Ajdabiya guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 22 March 2011 21.25 GMT
Libyans inspect the remains of a US F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet that crashed due to a suspected malfunction. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian
US forces sent into Libya to rescue two downed American airmen botched the mission by shooting and wounding friendly villagers who had come to help, witnesses have said.
Libyans who went to investigate the US warplane's crash site said that a US helicopter had come in with guns firing, creating panic and wounding onlookers, some of whom had to be taken to hospital; one 20-year-old man is expected to have his leg amputated.
The villagers said they had been searching for the plane's missing airmen to welcome them and help them.
A member of the Libyan rebel forces at the site of the crash, Omar Sayid, a colonel of the military police, told Channel Four News: "We are disturbed about the shooting, because if they'd given us a chance we would have handed over both pilots. This shooting created panic."
The airmen ejected from their F-15E at 10.30am local time on Monday after what the Pentagon described as "equipment malfunction"; it had not been shot down. The airmen's parachutes opened and they landed at separate locations in rebel territory, near Bu Mariem, 24 miles east of Benghazi.
One hid in a sheep pen before being found by rebel forces, hugged, given juice and food, and taken to Benghazi. The other was picked up by US marines. Both are back in US hands, with only minor injuries.
One villager who saw the crash, Mahdi Amrani, told AP: "I saw the plane spinning round and round as it came down. It was in flames. They died away, then it burst into flames again."
Although the US military refuses to confirm or deny reports of any shooting, villagers told reporters that the American rescuers strafed the field where one airman had landed, and villagers had been injured.
Hamid Moussa el-Amruni, whose family owns the farm where the US plane's weapons officer had hid, told AP that he himself had wounds in his leg and back from shrapnel. He was using a crutch, but said he held no grudge, believing the incident to have been an accident.
A team of 12 marines was sent to rescue the two aboard two large Osprey helicopters launched from the USS Kearsarge, a large assault ship off Libya.
Channel Four's Lindsey Hilsum spoke to the villagers, and visited Jala hospital in Benghazi where some of the injured were treated. Among them was Hamad Abdul Ati, 43, who had bullet and shrapnel wounds. He said he was puzzled rather than angry, and did not understand why the Americans had been so aggressive in their rescue mission.
"We consider that whoever is shot down or a prisoner of war, we should save him and hand him over," he told Hilsum from his hospital bed. "But another plane shot at me and Hamdy, my son. I have shrapnel in my hand."Hospital staff said that Hamdy, aged 20, wa s having an operation to amputate his leg.
"Why did this happen? My car is destroyed, my home is damaged. We would have just picked the second pilot up and put him wherever he wanted in a safe place. Even the other one, we had a celebration for him," Abdul Ati said.
Reporters said the villagers had showed no animosity after the incident; instead, they expressed gratitude for the US-led coalition, which they said had saved them from massacre by Gaddafi's forces.
The downed plane is the first confirmed loss on the US side. The F-15E Strike Eagle was based at RAF Lakenheath but had been flying out of Aviano airbase in Italy; it was totally destroyed.
One board the USS Kearsarge, the commander of the US naval flotilla stationed off Libya did not respond to questions on whether civilians had been shot by US marines. "I have no knowledge of reports," said Rear Admiral Peg Klein. She said that the F-15E pilot had been picked up by one of the Osprey helicopters and brought to the USS Kearsarge.
The second member of the F-15E's crew, its weapons officer, was "recovered by the people of Libya and treated with dignity and respect", said Klein. A US officer had earlier said he was now in US hands.
Klein declined to give any furtherdetails about the crew, beyond saying: "These jets go several times the speed of sound, they eject and it is fairly traumatic.
"We are solely focused on those two crew members being cared for. It is a thorough process. We want to evaluate them to make sure they are OK."
Admiral Samuel Locklear, the US commander co-ordinating coalition operations from aboard USS Mount Whitney in the Mediterranean, declined to deny that the marines had opened fire.
He merely said that the rescue had been executed as he would have expected, "given the circumstances"; an investigation was under way.
傳F15墜毀美救人誤傷8村民 2011-03-23 11:54:00