The Pentagon’s civilian leadership has ordered the military to review the accidental 1994 shooting down of two U.S. Army helicopters by a pair of Air Force F-15C fighters to make sure that all those responsible have been held fully accountable, officials said Tuesday.
In an unusual step, Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White directed the secretaries of the Air Force and the Army to check over what has been done so far and recommend additional punishments--in the form of administrative actions--if they believe them necessary.
The order appeared to be designed to fulfill promises made by Defense Secretary William J. Perry at the time of the tragedy that the department ultimately would hold everyone responsible for the tragedy “fully accountable” no matter what their rank.
The Pentagon has come under criticism recently because, despite a year of legal proceedings, only one person has been court-martialed and he was acquitted, while a handful of others received light administrative punishments.
Kenneth H. Bacon, the Pentagon’s spokesman, said that the Defense Department leadership had wanted to wait until the military legal process had run its course and was moving to ensure that other kinds of disciplinary action now would be taken if warranted.
“The secretary wants to make sure that the system . . . that deals with performance reviews [and] evaluations is in sync with the rest of the [military justice] system,” he told reporters.
The tragic accident, which apparently occurred after the F-15Cs mistook the U.S. Black Hawk helicopters for Soviet-made Iraqi Hinds in the “no-fly” zone established over northern Iraq after the Persian Gulf War, resulted in the deaths of 26 military and diplomatic officials, including 15 Americans.
The helicopters were hit by air-to-air missiles fired by the F-15Cs. Perry and Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said initial investigations showed that the incident stemmed from mistakes at all levels, including those of top commanders.
The Pentagon also made public a message to all commanders sent by Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, the Air Force chief of staff, warning that “we cannot tolerate actions which appear to condemn inappropriate conduct . . . or even worse, reward it.”
“Accountability is critically important,” Fogleman wrote in his message. “To do less will undermine good order and discipline of the force and destroy the trust of the American public.”