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Operation Provide Comfort: Review of U.S. Air Force Investigation of Black Hawk Fratricide Incident

 (Testimony, 06/18/98, GAO/T-OSI-98-13).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed whether: (1) the Air
Force's Aircraft Accident Investigation Board investigation of the Black
Hawk fratricide incident had met its objectives; (2) the resulting
Uniform Code of Military Justice investigations had followed established
guidelines; and (3) military officials had improperly or unlawfully
influenced these investigations.

GAO noted that: (1) the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board was
properly convened and met the objective as set forth in Air Force
Regulation 110-14 of conducting an extensive investigation that
preserved evidence of the facts surrounding the incident; (2) GAO found
that the Board report focused on, among other matters, command and
control problems, including individuals' lack of knowledge of specific
procedures; (3) the report, however: (a) did not discuss the F-15
pilots' responsibility, under the Airspace Control Order, to report to
the Airborne Command Element when encountering an unknown aircraft in
the tactical area of responsibility (TAOR), which the pilots did not do;
and (b) cited a Combined Forces Air Component Commander's statement that
inaccurately portrayed the Airborne Command Element as not having
authority to stop the incident, even though evidence that the Airborne
Command Element had the authority was available to the Board; (4)
further, the Board President erroneously concluded that the Black Hawks'
use of an incorrect electronic identification code in the TAOR resulted
in the F-15 pilots not receiving an electronic response when they
attempted to interrogate the helicopters; (5) additionally, the Board
report and opinion did not discuss a perceived general lack of
discipline in the F-15 pilot community in Operation Provide Comfort and
a perceived urgency by the F-15 pilots to engage during the shootdown,
both of which had been raised by family members and others; (6) while an
examination of these issues was not required under Air Force Regulation
110-14, the regulation did not preclude it; and GAO found the issues
relevant to its review; (7) in response to GAO's inquiries, Operation
Provide Comfort officials stated that the pilots' failure on April 14,
1994, to contact the Airborne Command Element was the result of a lack
of F-15 mission discipline in Operation Provide Comfort at the time of
the incident; (8) in addition, Operation Provide Comfort officials
stated that, in their view, there was no reason for the F-15 pilots'
urgency to engage; (9) these issues are not inconsistent with the Board
President's conclusion regarding the chain of events that led to the
misidentification and shootdown of the Black Hawks; and (10) including
them in the Board's report, however, may have raised additional
questions about the actions and inactions of the F-15 pilots and the
Airborne Command Element that could have been useful in subsequent
administrative and disciplinary actions.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  T-OSI-98-13
     TITLE:  Operation Provide Comfort: Review of U.S. Air Force 
             Investigation of Black Hawk Fratricide Incident
      DATE:  06/18/98
   SUBJECT:  Military personnel
             Military courts
             Military aircraft
             Military intervention
             Air warfare
             Aircraft pilots
IDENTIFIER:  Black Hawk Helicopter
             F-15 Aircraft
             AWACS
             Iraq
             DOD Operation Provide Comfort
             Airborne Warning and Control System
             
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Cover
================================================================ COVER


Before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims,
Committee on the Judiciary,
House of Representatives

For Release on
Delivery Expected
at 9:30 a.m., EDT
Thursday
June 18, 1998

OPERATION PROVIDE COMFORT - REVIEW
OF U.S.  AIR FORCE INVESTIGATION
OF BLACK HAWK FRATRICIDE INCIDENT

Statement of Eljay B.  Bowron
Assistant Comptroller General for Special Investigations
Office of Special Investigations

GAO/T-OSI-98-13

GAO/OSI-98-13T


600483


Abbreviations
=============================================================== ABBREV


============================================================ Chapter 0

Mr.  Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on our
review of the military investigations of what has become known as the
Black Hawk fratricide incident.  My testimony this morning is a brief
summary of the work we reported on in November 1997, and I would ask
that that report\1 be inserted into the record.  As you know, our
work did not address victim compensation issues.  The Subcommittee on
Military Personnel, House Committee on National Security asked us to
determine if the Air Force's Aircraft Accident Investigation Board
investigation of the fratricide had met its objectives and if the
resulting Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) investigations had
followed established guidelines.  We were also asked to determine
whether military officials had improperly or unlawfully influenced
these investigations. 

Mr.  Chairman, this morning I will briefly discuss some background
information on the incident and the subsequent military
investigations and then discuss the results of our review. 


--------------------
\1 See Operation Provide Comfort:  Review of U.S.  Air Force
Investigation of Black Hawk Fratricide Incident (GAO/OSI-98-4, Nov. 
5, 1997). 


   BACKGROUND
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:1

On April 14, 1994, two U.S.  Army Black Hawk helicopters and their
crews assigned to Operation Provide Comfort were transporting U.S.,
United Kingdom, French, and Turkish military officers; Kurdish
representatives; and a U.S.  political advisor in northern Iraq. 
Concurrently, a U.S.  Air Force Airborne Warning and Control Systems
(AWACS) aircraft was flying over Turkey to provide airborne threat
warning and control for Operation Provide Comfort aircraft, including
the Black Hawk helicopters.  The pilots of two U.S.  F-15 fighters
patrolling the area misidentified the Black Hawks as Iraqi Hind
helicopters and shot them down, killing all 26 individuals aboard. 

Later that day, the U.S.  Secretary of Defense ordered an
investigation that resulted in the convening of an Aircraft Accident
Investigation Board,\2 which made information more readily available
to the public than would a Safety Board Investigation.\3 The Aircraft
Accident Investigation Board report and the required Board
President's opinion, issued May 27, 1994, identified "a chain of
events" as the incident's cause:  beginning with the Combined Task
Force's failure to provide clear guidance to its component
organizations, the components' misunderstanding of their
responsibilities, Operation Provide Comfort's failure to integrate
Army helicopter and Air Force operations, AWACS crew mistakes, and
ending with the F-15 lead pilot's misidentification of the
helicopters and the wingman's failure to notify the lead pilot of his
inability to positively identify the helicopters. 

On the basis of the Board report, the Secretary of Defense directed
applicable military commands to determine if UCMJ\4 violations had
occurred.  Subsequently, the commands appointed Inquiry Officers and
Investigating Officers to investigate 14 officers.  The UCMJ process
resulted in the following:  one officer was tried by court-martial,
resulting in an acquittal; one officer received nonjudicial
punishment under Article 15,\5 consisting of a letter of reprimand;
and nine others received administrative letters of either reprimand,
admonition, or counseling.  No adverse action was taken against the
remaining three officers. 


--------------------
\2 A primary purpose of an Aircraft Accident Investigation Board, in
accordance with Air Force Regulation 110-14 (since replaced by Air
Force Instruction 51-503), is to gather and preserve evidence for
claims, litigations, and disciplinary and administrative needs. 

\3 Under a Safety Board Investigation, a promise of confidentiality
is given to all witnesses; and privileged information is protected
from disclosure outside the Air Force Safety Board Investigation
community.  Therefore, restrictions are placed on the dissemination
of the information obtained and the resulting report. 

\4 UCMJ, 10 USC  801 et seq., governs the conduct of military
personnel.  It contains both substantive and procedural law
applicable to the military justice process and administration.  It
also describes the system of military courts, defines offenses,
authorizes punishment, and provides statutory due-process safeguards. 

\5 Nonjudicial punishment under Article 15 is generally appropriate
when administrative corrective actions are inadequate and a trial by
court-martial is not necessary. 


   RESULTS OF GAO REVIEW OF THE
   AIR FORCE INVESTIGATION
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:2

The Aircraft Accident Investigation Board was properly convened and
met the objective as set forth in Air Force Regulation 110-14 of
conducting an extensive investigation that preserved evidence of the
facts surrounding the incident.  We found that the Board report
focused on, among other matters, command and control problems,
including individuals' lack of knowledge of specific procedures.  The
report, however, (1) did not discuss the F-15 pilots' responsibility,
under the Airspace Control Order,\6 to report to the Airborne Command
Element\7 when encountering an unknown aircraft in the tactical area
of responsibility (TAOR),\8 which the pilots did not do, and (2)
cited a Combined Forces Air Component Commander's statement that
inaccurately portrayed the Airborne Command Element as not having
authority to stop the incident, even though evidence that the
Airborne Command Element had the authority was available to the
Board.  Further, the Board President erroneously concluded that the
Black Hawks' use of an incorrect electronic identification code in
the TAOR resulted in the F-15 pilots not receiving an electronic
response when they attempted to interrogate the helicopters. 

Additionally, the Board report and opinion did not discuss a
perceived general lack of discipline in the F-15 pilot community in
Operation Provide Comfort and a perceived urgency by the F-15 pilots
to engage during the shootdown, both of which had been raised by
family members and others.  While an examination of these issues was
not required under Air Force Regulation 110-14, the regulation did
not preclude it; and we found the issues relevant to our review. 

In response to our inquiries, Operation Provide Comfort officials
stated that the pilots' failure on April 14, 1994, to contact the
Airborne Command Element was the result of a lack of F-15 mission
discipline in Operation Provide Comfort at the time of the incident. 
In addition, Operation Provide Comfort officials stated that, in
their view, there was no reason for the F-15 pilots' urgency to
engage.  These issues are not inconsistent with the Board President's
conclusion regarding the chain of events that led to the
misidentification and shootdown of the Black Hawks.  Including them
in the Board's report, however, may have raised additional questions
about the actions and inactions of the F-15 pilots and the Airborne
Command Element that could have been useful in subsequent
administrative and disciplinary actions. 

During our review of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board
process, we found no evidence of improper or unlawful command
influence.  That review included access to, among others, Board
members, technical advisers, and investigative staff as well as
investigative documents. 

Regarding the questions concerning the subsequent UCMJ process and
improper or unlawful command influence during that process, we
determined the following.  UCMJ investigations complied with
provisions of the UCMJ and the Manual for Courts-Martial.  Based on a
review of the summary reports of investigation, a statement by the
AWACS Investigating Officer, and stipulations by several of the
officials involved in UCMJ investigations, we found no evidence of
improper or unlawful command influence. 

However, we were unable to obtain confirmation from applicable UCMJ
Convening Authorities, Inquiry Officers, and Investigating Officers
about whether the consideration and disposition of suspected offenses
under the UCMJ were the result of improper or unlawful command
influence.  This occurred because the Department of Defense,
concerned about any congressional intrusion into the deliberative
process, denied our request to interview these officials. 

Finally, immediately following the accident and as the result of
additional reviews and analyses, the Department of Defense and the
Air Force took hundreds of corrective actions, including insertion of
Black Hawk flight times on the daily Air Tasking Order,\9 to help
prevent a similar shootdown.  The Air Force Chief of Staff also took
additional personnel actions, including issuing letters of
evaluation.  He took these actions after finding that a number of
individuals' performance evaluations had not reflected previous
administrative actions taken as a result of the individuals' failure
to meet Air Force standards. 


--------------------
\6 The Airspace Control Order provided rules and procedures for all
aircrews. 

\7 The Airborne Command Element on board the AWACS acted as the eyes
and ears of the Combined Forces Air Component Director of Operations
and operated in a reactive mode. 

\8 The TAOR was the air space north of 36 degrees north latitude in
Iraq from which Iraqi aircraft were prohibited. 

\9 The Combined Task Force flying operations for all aircraft were
scheduled on a daily Air Tasking Order, which listed information
pertinent to each day's flight operations, or "mission package," such
as flying times.  In the case of the Black Hawk helicopters, the
notation "as required" was included rather than specific flying times
due to the uncertainty of their schedules. 


-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:2.1

Mr.  Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement.  I would be
pleased to respond to any questions that you and other members of the
Subcommittee may have. 


*** End of document. ***