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IDF to Demote or Transfer 8 Officers Following Report on Training Deaths

The top Israel Defense Force brass has accepted the recommendations of a special commission of inquiry that advises the demotion or transfer to other posts of eight army commissioned and reserve officers.

The move follows the accidental deaths Tuesday of five soldiers and the wounding of 10 others in a training exercise Tuesday.

The report echoed the personal observations of Maj. Gen. Uri Saguy, head of the IDF Ground Forces Command, under whose auspices the war games were being held, that the deaths were the

The soldiers were killed when a 155mm artillery shell fired from a distance of some seven miles slammed into an infantry unit that had just succeeded in a simulated capture of a hilltop. The “softening-up shell” was supposed to have been directed at their next target, which was located less than a mile away.

The eight men disciplined or transferred, who range in rank from lieutenant colonel to lieutenant, were found guilty in varying degrees of dereliction of duty in the chain of supervision, safety and rechecking functions preliminary to opening fire.

A reserve captain serving as a battalion artillery liaison officer had admitted, immediately following the incident, that he had given the wrong code name for the target.

LAST TWO SOLDIERS BURIED

The inquiry commission, headed by reserve Maj. Gen. Amos Yaron, ruled that the other officers bore equal responsibility for their failure to draw attention to the mistaken order before it was executed.

Standing IDF orders decree that a chain of supervisors and safety officers monitor the open-fire orders. None of that chain picked up on the mistake, according to the report.

The IDF Military Police investigation unit will be called on to consider whether criminal charges should be leveled against those found to be derelict in their duty.

The last two of the five soldiers killed in the accident were buried Thursday. They were identified as Sgt. Maj. Yosef Berniker, 35, of Kibbutz Gesher Haziv, and Staff Sgt. Shimon Biton, 22, of Jerusalem. Berniker immigrated to Israel in 1974 from New Orleans.

Six of the 10 injured soldiers are still in the hospital. Four were sent home after treatment.

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