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U.S. pilot may be disciplined in Kuwait bomb accident

The head of the U.S. military's Central Command will recommend...

The head of the U.S. military's Central Command will recommend that a Navy fighter pilot be disciplined for his part in a deadly March 12 bombing range accident in Kuwait, defense officials said yesterday.

The officials, who asked not to be identified, said Army Gen. Tommy Franks would make the recommendation early next week based on an investigation of the accident at the Udairi Bombing Range in Kuwait, which killed five U.S. troops and a New Zealander.

Two other American servicemen - an Air Force traffic controller and a Navy air traffic controller who helped guide the pilot - could also face punishment, the officials told Reuters.
"I think you can expect to see something as early as Monday," said one official. "The general will recommend that the Navy and Air Force take disciplinary action. The extent of that action will be up to them."

For Navy Cmdr. David O. Zimmerman, the Navy F/A-18 pilot who accidentally dropped three bombs on an observation post at the Udairi bombing range during a military exercise, the punishment could range from being stripped of his command, forced into retirement or being reprimanded, officials said.

An investigation of the mishap determined that much of the fault for the errant bombs should be placed on Zimmerman, the head of an F/A-18 squadron, who was supposed to be guided to a target at the range but lined his jet up on the wrong path.

But the report, which has not yet been released, also assigned some blame for the bombing to the two air traffic controllers who helped guide the F/A-18 pilot toward the observation post and then authorized him to release his bombs, the officials said.

The report probably will not include specific recommendations on how the three men should be disciplined, the officials said, leaving that decision to their commanders in the Navy and Air Force.

Zimmerman, the son of a former naval aviator, is a native of Orange Park, Florida. He joined the service in 1982 and has been flying F/A-18s for eight years. The U.S. Central Command, based in Tampa, Florida, oversees American military operations in the Gulf and Middle East region.

The accident investigation was handled by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Mike DeLong, deputy commander of the Central Command. Seven others were injured in the incident at the Udairi bombing range -- four U.S. soldiers, one American airman and two Kuwaiti troops. All were taking part in the exercise as observers.

The U.S. military and Kuwaiti and foreign forces have set up a permanent training range at Udairi, where exercises are conducted almost year-round. About 5,000 Americans are based in Kuwait. The United States and Britain have air forces deployed as part of "Operation Southern Watch," which patrols southern Iraq to enforce a no-fly zone.