Two American airmen were safely rescued in Libya last week after their F-16s crashed near Benghazi (read article here), but the United States Marine Corps dropped two 500-pound bombs during the recovery and faced questions about whether Marines had fired on villagers.
The United States military said that an equipment malfunction rather than enemy fire brought down the F-16 plane. A Marine Corps officer in the Mediterranean strongly denied that any shots were fired at civilians during the rescue.
The weapons officer was found on the ground by “the people of Libya,” said Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the tactical commander of the United States-led effort in the country.
At a Pentagon briefing, Admiral Locklear did not describe them as rebels but made clear that they were not forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
United States military officers said the F-16 fighter plane took off from Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy late Monday on an airstrike mission to Libya. At some point over Benghazi, the jet experienced what military officials called an “equipment malfunction,” and at about 11:30 p.m. local time on Monday (about 5:30 p.m. Eastern time on Monday), both the pilot and the weapons officer ejected. Although details remained unclear on Tuesday, the Marine Corps said a rescue team that took off from the Kearsarge quickly located the pilot.
A Marine Corps officer said that the grounded pilot, who was in contact with rescue crews in the air, asked for bombs to be dropped as a precaution before the crews landed to pick him up.
In response, two Harrier attack jets that were part of the rescue team dropped two 500-pound bombs before a Marine Osprey helicopter landed to pick up the pilot, at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday local time.
“No shots were fired,” said Capt. Richard Ulsh, a Marine spokesman aboard the Kearsarge. “The Osprey is not armed, and the Marines barely got off the aircraft. I was in the landing center the whole time, where we were monitoring what was going on, and firing was never reported.”
Original article from The New York Times
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