A dramatic video showing an RAF pilot steering a smart bomb away from its Taliban target to save a group of Afghan villagers was released today.
The laser-guided Paveway IV bomb was dropped from a Harrier jump jet to kill an insurgent commander in a car in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan.
But while it was in mid-flight, the militant stopped his vehicle next to a number of Afghan civilians.
The previously classified footage, shot from the Harrier, shows the pilot changing the bomb’s course so it detonates in a safe area of desert.
None of the Afghan civilians was killed and there was no damage to their property, the RAF said.
The pilot of the Harrier, who asked not to be named, said: “One task for fast jet pilots in Afghanistan is to conduct targeted strike operations against confirmed Taliban commanders.
“In this instance I found and tracked the target and had deployed my weapon. However, as it was flying to the target I saw the vehicle stop amongst civilians.
“Every pilot dreads the prospect of inadvertently causing harm to any innocent civilian, so I knew I had to act immediately.
“The Paveway IV smart bomb is amazingly accurate and incredibly flexible. I can control it whilst it is still in flight, so I used my onboard laser to guide the bomb into a safe area of open desert.
“It’s a shame I couldn’t prosecute the target as we had planned, but it was much better to let him go free this time than risk killing innocent civilians.
“In any case, this Taliban commander didn’t get away for long – we continued to track him and he was successfully attacked a couple of days later when the moment was right.”
The incident took place at the end of last year but the footage has only just been declassified.
The Paveway IV smart bomb, which was first used by the RAF in Afghanistan at the end of last year, can be controlled all the way to the target to minimise the risk of passers-by being killed.
Civilian casualties caused by foreign forces in Afghanistan are hugely controversial and the commander of Nato troops issued new orders in June aimed at reducing them.