On 03 May, a U.S. Air Force KC-135 tanker plane crashed in northern Kyrgyzstan. All the three aircrew onboard were killed. Earlier on April 27, four U.S. airmen had died when MC-12 surveillance and reconnaissance plane crashed in southern Afghanistan. On 30 April, another tragedy struck when a Boeing 747 cargo plane crashed just after take-off from the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. All seven people aboard were killed. The aircraft was operated by National Air Cargo, a subsidiary of Florida-based National Airlines.
In the current year, the tanker-accident was the eighth crash of an American war-plane engaged in Afghan operations -. Four choppers, one F-16 fighter aircraft and one MC-12 Liberty beach craft of the USAF are in the list of crashed assets.
The falling down of Helicopters is a regularly in Afghanistan and they receive routine media coverage. However, since the fixed-wing aircraft crashes are rare, they receive much wider media footage. The plane crashes are due to various reasons, but one big factor in most air crashes is aircrew fatigue and overconfidence that often sets-in during prolonged military campaigns. The US led, decade old, campaign in Afghanistan has proved to be the most challenging for the United States armed forces personnel and the ill effects are beginning to show.
KC-135 crashed near ‘Manas’, the U.S. military base just outside the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek. It is used by the U.S. military as a logistics focal point for troops and equipment movement in and out of Afghanistan. ‘Manas’ was established in 2001 and is home to a fleet of midair refueling tankers along with 1,500 U.S. personnel. ‘Manas’ has been the bone of contention between the United States and the host nation, Kyrgyzstan. In 2009, Kyrgyzstan had rented out its land to the U.S. for $60 million a year. The lease is due to expire in June 2014. Washington wants an extension of the lease, to ensure a smooth withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, but Bishkek is firm on ending the rent deal.
Losing an aircraft in a foreign land is nothing new for America that operates more than 800 overseas military bases. Since the U.S. is deeply entrenched in military operations across the globe, it is natural to lose flying machines and men. As long as the US planes both with and without pilots use international airspace, it is fine. However, the moment they violate the airspace of a sovereign nation, trouble begins.
For example, this year in the middle of March, when the US Predator MQ-1 drone on a reconnaissance mission in the Persian Gulf was intercepted by Iranian fighter jets. In the end, the issue got resolved after a verbal duel. The drone was escorted back to its base by two US military aircraft. However, in November last year the Iranians did fire at the US drones.
In December 2011, Iran displayed a captured U.S. RQ-170 reconnaissance drone, known as the ‘Beast of Kandahar. The video images of a drone with its wings and body fully intact was shown by the Iranians as a proof that it had “spoofed” the communications relay of the RQ-170 and safely guided the aircraft down to an undisclosed Iranian airfield. However, the American rubbished the Iranian claims and said that RQ-170 had crashed inside Iranian territory
The most publicized incident involving the US airplane happened on April 1, 2001 when the United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft had a mid-air collision with a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) J-8II interceptor fighter jet in the Chinese exclusive economic zone.. The South China Sea incident resulted in the killing of the Chinese pilot and forced landing for EP-3E at Hainan Island. The EP-3 had taken off from the US military Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. At the Hainan Island all the 24 crew members of EP-3 were captured by the Chinese. After negotiations and the US writing a “Letter of the two sorries” that the People’s Republic of China released the crew.
The most tragic accident in the US military history happened on the Canadian soil. On 12 December 1985, DC-8-63CF jetliner, an international charter flight carrying U.S. troops from Cairo, Egypt, to their home base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, via Cologne, Germany and Gander, Newfoundland, crashed on the runway immediately after takeoff. All the 256 passengers, who belonged to the US military and crew onboard died.
The investigation report on the current crash may locate the cause of crash in: equipment malfunction, pilot error, bird hit or enemy action. However, irrespective of the reasons for the crash, the U.S. tax payers will continue to lose money, unless, of course, the American administration decides to reduce their overseas military engagements and gives more rest and recuperation to their fatigued soldiers.
The writer is a research Scholar at School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University, and Delhi. He is an alumnus of King’s College, London He can be contacted at email@example.com
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