A senior Air Force panel has recommended that at least four crew members of an AWACS radar plane be court-martialed for their role in the accidental downing of two American helicopters over northern Iraq in April, Air Force officials said Monday night.
All 26 people on board the helicopters, including 15 Americans, were killed.The panel's recommendations now go to Lt. Gen. Steve Croker, the senior investigating officer. If Croker, commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., accepts the recommendations, which is likely, he will order the equivalent of a grand jury inquiry.
Air Force officials said the crew members would probably be tried for dereliction of duty.
The panel's recommendation was first reported Monday night by CBS News.
Defense Secretary William J. Perry ordered the Pentagon on Friday to pay $100,000 to each of the families of the 11 foreigners killed: six officers from Britain, France and Turkey and five Kurdish workers.
A Defense Department investigation in July concluded that several avoidable errors caused one of the worst self-inflicted losses in American military history. The inquiry found the AWACS controllers knew the Blackhawk helicopters were friendly but failed to tell the F-15 pilots, who shot down the helicopters.
The F-15s were enforcing a no-flight zone that had been in effect since the end of the Persian Gulf War to protect Kurds from the Iraqi army.
The F-15 pilots misidentified the Blackhawks as Iraqi Hinds. The helicopters were ferrying leaders of a Western field office that acted as a liaison with Kurdish groups in northern Iraq.
A parallel inquiry into the culpability of the F-15 pilots and ground commanders in Turkey, where the fighter jets were based, is being handled by a senior Air Force general in Europe.
That panel's findings are expected within a week and will also probably recommend court-martial proceedings, Air Force officials said Monday night.
The investigation found that ground commanders had failed to train pilots to identify helicopters properly and had failed to ensure that all pilots were aware of friendly aircraft in their areas.