Tuesday, December 05, 2006

F-16 Anbar Crash Follow-Up, Pt. III: DNA Match,
Embarrassing Conflicts

Does anyone else out there think the stories about the F-16 downed in Anbar, Iraq last week didn't line up? Seems like I'm alone out here. The US Air Force listed F-16 pilot Major Troy Gilbert as KIA 12/03/06, following a DNA tissue sample match (12/01/06) following his crash in the Anbar Province six days earlier (11/27/06). The Air Force says insurgents got to the pilot's body before their forces could get there, and they couldn't find the body (video from Air Force's web site at link, the windows media download site here says 'file not found.') The pilot's body supposedly went missing despite "fighters as well as intelligence and surveillance assets" (ISR) circling overhead at the time of the crash. I'm sorry, but I'm having trouble gagging conflicting elements of this story down. And if the main story of the missing body is true, then the Air Force is as messed up as the Bush Administration. I would hope that's not the case. But consider:

An Iraqi journalist and one bystander filmed the pilot's body
You will see what appears to be the pilot's torso face-down on the ground, head pointing towards the camera at 29 seconds into the 'Live Leak' video link above. His torso appears to be tangled in the parachute with blood or human remains strewn some yards away but within the parachute's trail. You can hear the flap of clothing in the breeze, the breathing of the camera-man, low voices, and you can see one Iraqi man standing on and examining the wreckage. No insurgents. No hiss of fighters circling overhead. No thwop-thwop of incoming helicopter rescue teams. Just a silent, open field and what appears to be a dead body. The video description says: "The pilot appeared to have died after ejecting, television footage from the scene of the crash showed. A local journalist who shot the film said he was in no doubt the pilot was dead." This video directly contradicts every "official" version of the crash.

The open field
Other jets were said to be circling over the crash site, and to have spotted insurgents. Why were these insurgents not fired upon, or buzzed, in an effort to protect the pilot, thereby saving his life or body? His parachute can clearly be seen lying open on the ground (see video footage above), indicating he ejected and had a good chance of still being alive. If fighters circled as claimed, a lot of firepower went unused. Why circle above the crash site at all, but to protect the pilot? An Iraqi journalist and his companion filmed the crash site at leisure.

The F-16 is said to have been seen "flying erratically" by witnesses before it crashed
This would indicate there was time for the pilot to may-day and to warn of mechanical difficulties or a missile strike, as per training, and for other airborne assets to rapidly converge (which they supposedly did). Sending single F-16s out on ground support missions wouldn't seem to be good procedure. He didn't have a wingman? He was said to be flying close support of ground pounders, and in contact with them. They're not around.

Major Gilbert was "well-known and liked"
Ok, then why did the Air Force not confirm that he was missing for 3-4 days? He was flying out of the air base at Balad. Why were DNA tests necessary to confirm his identity? The Air Force had no problem confirming the identity of downed fighter pilots before DNA testing. Are we expected to believe the pilot took the jet out on an unauthorized ground-support joy-ride without his crew chief strapping him into the cockpit, and saying "Good luck, Major?" Did he steal the plane anonymously?

No Body
Do you mean to tell me insurgents carried Major Gilbert's body from a completely open field in broad daylight to whereabouts unknown? Fighters. Satellites. AWACs. Helicopters. Air Cav. Grunts. They could've at least tracked his body optically or visually and recovered it. Now his poor family gets to bury an empty casket. And if you were flying missions in Iraq's Anbar Province, you would probably tell your wing-mates, "If I go down, don't let them take me alive. And if I'm dead, don't let them mutilate my body."

I'm an amateur in these matters. There are a bunch of standard operating procedures and technologies the Air Force employs when a pilot is downed which I am not familiar with, so the magnitude of the screw-up or deception is probably worse than guessed at here. I realize an abundance of caution is kind when dealing with the family members of those who fall in duty. It would be understandable if the pilot's bereaved family demanded a DNA test in the absence of his recovered body. That may explain the DNA testing. But at minimum, a lack of caution and respect was shown to the dead pilot and his family, first in not protecting and locating his body, and next in not sparing his family unnecessary agony and suspense. That, or basic elements of this story are bogus, and there's a lot we're not hearing.

Three helicopters went down in the Anbar Province on the same day Major Gilbert crashed, and in the video above, the crash site has obviously not been secured, nor is it remotely close to being secured. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that United States Air Force lacked the means, the will, or the coordination to respond to one of its own as they should have wished. They must be ashamed. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion they're lying out their ass, and all of this rotten story invites speculation about vastly improved air defense capabilities on the ground in the Sunni Anbar Province.

If I am in error in any of the points above, I would enthusiastically welcome correction from qualifed searchers in the comments section below.