WASHINGTON (AP) — The deaths of five Americans killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan stand as a fresh reminder of the dangers of friendly fire, an element of war that is older than the nation.
In 1758, during the French and Indian War, a detachment of the British Army led by Col. George Washington got into a firefight with a fellow infantry unit that had arrived to offer assistance. At dusk on a foggy day, they apparently mistook each other for French forces, and at least 13 British troops were killed.
In the Civil War, Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson died of pneumonia eight days after being hit by friendly fire during the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia.
In World War II, Army Lt. Gen. Lesley McNair died when an errant Allied bomb struck his position as the Allies struggled to break out from Normandy.
In Vietnam, helicopter gunships killed U.S. troops on Hamburger Hill.
Today, the basic challenge remains the same: distinguishing between friend and foe.
Better training and the precision of modern weapons have helped to reduce fratricide but can't completely eliminate the risk, says retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, a professor of military history at Ohio State University.
"War is a very human endeavor, and mistakes inevitably will occur," says Mansoor.
Some examples of friendly fire incidents in recent history:
2004: AFGHANISTAN-PAT TILLMAN
It was a celebrated moment when Pat Tillman turned down an NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment when he was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. The military said officers knew within hours that his death was from friendly fire but violated regulations by not telling Tillman's family or the public for five weeks.
Some of the details that later emerged: Tillman was close enough to see the men shooting at him when he was killed; his uniform was burned after his death; medical examiners' suspicions about the bullet holes in his head were ignored; and comrades were ordered not to discuss his death. Just one day after approving a medal citation claiming Tillman had been cut down by "devastating enemy fire" in Afghanistan, a high-ranking general tried to warn President George W. Bush that the story might not be true.