After a three months of investigations, the CIA now admits that a NATO Predator drone flew off course on July 10 of this year and mistakenly launched a missile strike on a wedding reception being held in Pamperin Park in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
CIA investigators report that the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which was flying missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, misidentified the Miller-Peterson wedding celebrants for Taliban insurgents and launched an attack, killing six and wounding 17.
After failed attempts to establish radio contact with what were then suspected to be militants and having no other indication that the attendees were actually “friendlies,” the drone operator was given a go-ahead to launch the attack on the gathering. On that fateful Saturday evening, the Predator drone soaring a mile over the north Green Bay suberbs launched its radar-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missile and struck the reception area with pinpoint accuracy, just as the DJ was announcing the arrival of the wedding party.
The explosion caused the collapse of the nearby gazebo that held the wedding cake, launched charred tables, chairs and wedding guests out of the blast zone and destroyed the sign-in table, leaving the bride devastated and totally embarrassed.
Those immediately killed in the attack included the Best Man, the photographer and four guests on the bride’s side. Among the wounded were the couple’s parents, two groomsmen, several friends no one had seen since college and two wedding crashers who later fled from the hospital before being identified.
“This completely ruined my wedding,” the recently married Melissa Peterson-Miller told investigators. “First, theflowers were all wrong, then Rodney [Stevens, one of the groomsmen who was injured in the attack] threw up on the cheese tray at the rehearsal dinner last night, and now this!”
The incident report reveals that the drone pilot believed the targets on the ground appeared to be militants wielding weapons and firing them into the air in an act of aggression. It turns out, the guests were merely conducting a “raise the roof” dance move as part of the DJ’s appeal for support and “a little energy” while the wedding party arrived to take their seats at the head table.
The CIA admitted that it had briefly lost contact with the drone earlier that morning and once communication had been re-established, the drone operator was unaware that it had wandered so far off course and was by then cruising over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Upon taking control, reports indicated that he guided the armed UAV south towards Green Bay thinking that it was the Afghan city of Khogyani.
According to the CIA, once the operator regained control of the drone, he followed the proper protocols, continued his counter-insurgency mission and re-initiated the search for enemy combatants. The CIA maintains that this unfortunate accident could have been avoided had the victims properly identified themselves as friendlies by activating their IFF [Identification Friend or Foe] transponders, which clearly would have alerted the drone operator to call off the attack.
Coalition Predator drones have long attacked tribal wedding parties and ceremonies throughout Iraq and Afghanistan but this is the first time they have admitted targeting American nuptials. Santos said that armed UAVs “almost never cruise the skies over the United States so we typically don’t expect anything like this to happen.”
Coalition forces have since issued an apology to the families of the victims for completely ruining what otherwise would have been a really great day.
“We regret the unfortunate loss of life and hope the Miller and Peterson families accept our apology,” Santos said. “We have been authorized to offer grieving families $2,500 in casualty payments to ease the pain for their loss, which is a standard restitution for accidental civilian deaths during Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Santos was also sure to remind the recipients that according to U.S. and NATO policy, “condolence” payments are considered to be a gesture of sympathy and not meant as an admission of fault or negligence.