"Hey now, wait. Standby on these," the pilot cautioned. "They could be animals in the field." Seconds later, tiny white flashes appeared by the figures -- the heat signature of gunfire. "There they are," he said, now sure he was looking at the enemy.
At an Air National Guard base in Terre Haute, Ind., an intelligence analyst whose job it was to monitor the video to help prevent mistakes on the mission also observed the muzzle flashes -- but noticed that they were firing away from the embattled Marines.
Marines at Patrol Base Alcatraz, 12 miles from the firefight, watched their screens too, as they kept in contact with both the drone crew and the platoon members, who had set out from the base just an hour earlier. It would be their decision whether to call in a missile strike.
Thirty-one seconds after the pilot reported muzzle flashes, the Marines at Alcatraz ordered that the Predator be prepared to strike if the shooters could be confirmed as hostile. At 8:49 a.m., 29 minutes after the ambush began, they authorized the pilot to fire.
In minutes, two Americans would be dead.
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