esp noteworthy is the remark about the aborted missions going back into 'the mix'.Does that mean some less scrupulous yanks will be sent in instead?
Australia's F/A-18 pilots defied the orders of American commanders and refused to drop their bombs on up to 40 missions during the invasion of Iraq, it can now be revealed.
In a remarkable account of how our airmen applied Australian rules of engagement, an RAAF pilot has told The Sun-Herald each of the 14 RAAF Hornet pilots aborted three to four bombing runs because intelligence given at pre-flight briefings did not concur with what they found at the target.
Last night, The Sun-Herald could not confirm whether or not American field commanders raised objections about the Australian pilots' actions, nor if US pilots later carried out the bombing runs themselves.
But Australia's Defence Force chief, General Peter Cosgrove backed the pilots' action, and said there were no recriminations.
Squadron Leader Daryl Pudney last week described how he and other Australian F/A-18 pilots were forced to weigh up the risk of civilian casualties in a split second before dropping their bombs.
He said pilots broke off many missions after they saw the target and decided there was not a valid military reason to drop their bombs.
During the war, which began a year ago on March 19, the Defence Department acknowledged just one RAAF Hornet pilot had aborted a mission set by Allied headquarters.
On March 23, four days into the war, Air Marshal Angus Houston said an RAAF pilot called off a planned attack due to poor weather and lack of air support.
But it appears there were fundamental differences between the US dominated headquarters and Australian pilots over what constituted a valid military target.
Squadron Leader Pudney said under Australia's rules of engagement pilots had to ask themselves on each mission whether it was right to drop their bombs.
"Each guy would have made that decision once to half a dozen times in the conflict. It was presented as being just one pilot in one incident, but it was all of us several times," he said.
"We were providing an identification of targets in conjunction with ground forces, and if we were not 100 per cent sure we were taking out a valid military target in accordance with our specifications we just did not drop."
Squadron Leader Pudney said he could not comment on the reasons they aborted specific missions. But it seems that it was often to avoid the unnecessary killing of civilians.
"As we approached the target area we confirmed we had the right place. Then we'd run a check provided through our training that we were doing the right thing by our rules of engagement.
"We exercise those all the time. In Iraq it was a matter of the briefings we received prior in regards to our rules of engagement, as to whether we thought this was a target we should be destroying.
"If it was not, then we decided not to deploy."
He said most decisions were made in the air, but some were command decisions.
Debriefing after the missions was carried out in an "honest, open and forthright environment".
"You don't always make the right decision, but we were always leaning towards not making the wrong decision.
"You go out on the mission wanting to do everything in your power to support ground forces and the operation.
"When I decided not to attack it was because there were some small doubts in the back of my mind saying 'Is this really what I need to be doing, is this going to help win the war right now or is it going to stop our boys on the ground getting targeted?'
"If the answer was no, then you ask what is the likelihood of it being the wrong decision. You start looking deeper into what you have been trained to do and the briefings you have had, and make a decision from there.
"Often it was a little niggle in the back of your brain that it was not the right thing to do, and then you back up and assess your training and briefing."
Squadron Leader Pudney said he did not believe the US Air Force was more trigger happy, but they operated under different laws of engagement.
General Cosgrove told The Sun-Herald yesterday there had been no recriminations against the Australian pilots.
But he would not comment on whether the US subsequently carried out any of the missions that had been aborted by the Australians.
"We do not comment on our Coalition partners' operations," he said in written replies to a series of questions put to him.
Nor would the Defence Force chief say whether there had been a failure of intelligence at the pre-flight briefings. General Cosgrove said "very few" missions had been aborted and when it did happen it was mainly due to mechanical or weather reasons.
But he fully supported the pilots' decisions to break off the bombing.
"Our pilots are extremely professional and their conduct of operations, and the high esteem they were held in by their coalition partners in Iraq, proved it," General Cosgrove said.
US Air Force spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Jennifer Cassidy said aborted missions would have gone back into "the mix" at headquarters.
"We stressed to all pilots the impact of collateral damage was something we had to be careful about," she said.
"We paid a lot of attention to avoiding collateral damage in the conflict and the rules of engagement for all pilots in the Coalition would have been the same."
Other allied pilots had to abort missions after they found targets were harmless.
One British RAF pilot exploded a missile his plane had already launched after he looked at the target through binoculars and saw it was a workman's hut in a quarry. Intelligence had told them it was a tank.
In other intelligence failures, a US Air Force A-10 tankbuster plane fired on British jeeps, killing one soldier and wounding four others.
On April 6, a US bomber attacked a US-Kurdish convoy killing 18 Kurdish fighters.