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Friendly Fire

Friendly Fire: The Accidental Shootdown of U.S. Black Hawks over Northern Iraq

Scott A. Snook
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Friendly Fire
    Book Description:

    On April 14, 1994, two U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters accidentally shot down two U.S. Army Black Hawk Helicopters over Northern Iraq, killing all twenty-six peacekeepers onboard. In response to this disaster the complete array of military and civilian investigative and judicial procedures ran their course. After almost two years of investigation with virtually unlimited resources, no culprit emerged, no bad guy showed himself, no smoking gun was found. This book attempts to make sense of this tragedy--a tragedy that on its surface makes no sense at all.

    With almost twenty years in uniform and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior, Lieutenant Colonel Snook writes from a unique perspective. A victim of friendly fire himself, he develops individual, group, organizational, and cross-level accounts of the accident and applies a rigorous analysis based on behavioral science theory to account for critical links in the causal chain of events. By explaining separate pieces of the puzzle, and analyzing each at a different level, the author removes much of the mystery surrounding the shootdown. Based on a grounded theory analysis, Snook offers a dynamic, cross-level mechanism he calls "practical drift"--the slow, steady uncoupling of practice from written procedure--to complete his explanation.

    His conclusion is disturbing. This accident happened because, or perhaps in spite of everyone behaving just the way we would expect them to behave, just the way theory would predict. The shootdown was a normal accident in a highly reliable organization.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4097-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. 1 Introduction: How in the World Could This Happen?
    (pp. 3-25)

    On 7 April 1991, Iraq accepted United Nations (UN) cease-fire conditions and resolutions, thus officially ending Operation Desert Storm and the Persian Gulf War. On the same day, a massive multinational, multiple-agency humanitarian effort was launched to relieve the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees who fled into the hills of northern Iraq during the conflict. On 18 April, then Lieutenant General John Shalikashvili assumed command of Combined Task Force Provide Comfort. His most immediate concern was to “stop the dying and stabilize the situation” (Scales, 1994: 341). In an ironic twist of fate, almost three years later...

  2. 2 The Shootdown: A Thin Description
    (pp. 26-64)

    I want to draw the reader into a world increasingly unfamiliar to most of us, one inhabited by professional warriors. I want to invite you into the strange world of Operation Provide Comfort (OPC), a world in which tigers devour eagles while cougars, dukes, and mad dogs look on.

    What follows is primarily description—my own construction “of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to” (Geertz, 1973: 9). Descriptions come in all shapes and sizes—some are thin, while others are quite thick. I have done my best to separate the thick from the thin...

  3. Multiple Explanations: A Walk Through the Causal Map
    (pp. 65-70)

    Chapter 2 describes “what” happened; the next four examine “why.” We begin with the hard-won fruits of expert analysis. While this book is premised on the very assumption that prior investigations fail to tell the entire story, clearly there is much to learn from such laboriously generated findings. Therefore, we turn to the conclusions reported by the accident investigation team as natural points of departure for our own analysis—as practical guideposts to mark our way on an explanatory journey.¹

    What follows then is a “walk through the causal map”—a systematic stroll through a densely woven web of causality....

  4. 3 Individual-Level Account: Why Did the F-15 Pilots Misidentify the Black Hawks?
    (pp. 71-98)

    There is no denying that the pilot of the lead F-15 mistakenly identified the two friendly Black Hawks as enemy Hinds. At 1028 on 14 April, tiger 01 keyed his main radio and tried to report what he saw:

    “VID Hind—correction, Hip . . . no Hind.”

    Later, during the investigation, tiger 02 testified:

    Human error did occur. We misidentified the helicopters; we engaged them and we destroyed them. It was a tragic and fatal mistake which will never leave my thoughts, which will rob me of peace for time eternal. I can only pray the dead and the...

  5. 4 Group-Level Account: Why Did the AWACS Crew Fail to Intervene?
    (pp. 99-135)

    In an interview with ABC’s Sam Donaldson, the AWACS’s Mission Crew Commander (MCC) did his best to field this thorny question:

    MCC: I know my guys didn’t do anything wrong. We didn’t pull the trigger. We didn’t order them. We didn’t direct. We didn’t detect. We did nothing wrong.¹ We could have done—when I say “we,” I mean me and my crew—we could have done more—possibly. We could have told the F-15s that there were UH-60s down there when they first checked in.

    Donaldson: Why didn’t you?

    MCC: I don’t know. And, that’s something that we’re going...

  6. 5 Organizational-Level Account: Why Wasn’t Eagle Flight Integrated into Task Force Operations?
    (pp. 136-178)

    “Eisenhower’s experience on D-Day made him a believer in jointness.² It is a sad commentary that 52 years later, some still are not believers.” This opinion on the current state of interservice cooperation appeared in an April 1996 editorial in theArmy Times, titled “Getting it Together.” In it the author laments an astonishing lack of progress over the past fifty years in the military’s struggle to coordinate joint operations. At the broadest level, understanding this struggle is central to answering the question raised in this chapter: Why wasn’t Eagle Flight integrated into Task Force operations?

    Unfortunately, the shootdown in...

  7. 6 Cross-Levels Account: A Theory of Practical Drift
    (pp. 179-201)

    Each of the last three chapters explains a separate piece of the puzzle, each at a different level of analysis. Individuals erred; groups floundered; and organizations failed. If the F-15 pilots had not misidentified the Black Hawks; or, if the AWACS crew had effectively monitored the helicopters and intervened; or, if Eagle Flight had been better integrated into the Task Force, then there might have been no shootdown. However compelling each explanation may be in part, however logically the parts fit together as a whole, apart or together, they still don’t adequately explain the shootdown in its totality.

    While each...

  8. 7 Conclusions: There But by the Grace of God . . .
    (pp. 202-236)

    Recall Secretary Perry’s comments to the families of those who died in the shootdown: “This accident should not have happened, but these brave individuals will not have died in vainif we learn from and correct our mistakes” (emphasis added) (Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, 1994: 1). A flurry of activity followed the shootdown. We corrected many mistakes; however, what have we learned?

    Sifting through mountains of data, no smoking gun emerged. And, I admit this in spite of the fact that the hubris-driven investigative reporter in me never gave up hope. Throughout this study,...

  9. Appendix 2 Friendly Fire Applied: Lessons for Your Organization?
    (pp. 239-240)