Major Exercise Canceled After Military Grounds US Aircraft in Djibouti

An AV-8B Harrier flies behind an aerial refueling plane above Africa in preparation for taking on fuel during an aerial refueling exercise Nov. 18, 2013. (USMC/SSgt. Matt. Orr)
An AV-8B Harrier flies behind an aerial refueling plane above Africa in preparation for taking on fuel during an aerial refueling exercise Nov. 18, 2013. (USMC/SSgt. Matt. Orr)

The U.S. Navy has temporarily grounded military flights in Djibouti and canceled a major exercise days after it began following two aviation accidents there this week.

Naval Forces Central Command on Thursday put air operations "on hold" and called off the remainder of the Defense Department's Alligator Dagger exercise, according to a NavCent release.

On Tuesday, an AV-8B Harrier jet from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit crashed during takeoff at 4:10 p.m. local time after taking off from Ambouli International Airport.

The pilot was able to eject and was treated for injuries by the expeditionary medical facility at Camp Lemonnier, officials said. It's not clear what prompted the pilot's ejection.

Related content:

Separately, a CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter from the 26th MEU sustained minor structural damage about two hours later during a landing near Arta Beach, a military spokesman told CNN on Wednesday.

NAVCENT said members of the CH-53 aircrew were not injured, and the helicopter "has remained at the landing site pending additional assessment."

"Both incidents are currently under a joint investigation, and we will provide more information when able. A safety stand-down has been initiated for all exercise participants," the release said.

According to the Defense Department, the annual Alligator Dagger amphibious warfare exercise is the "largest regional amphibious combat rehearsal" used to integrate and synchronize Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51, 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, with NavCent and special operations forces units.

The two-week war drill began early this week.

"Routine operations for other units assigned to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command are unaffected by this cancellation, and U.S. naval personnel continue to conduct maritime security operations throughout the region," the release said.

It is unclear if aviation units under the Army or Air Force are affected by the temporary stand-down. 

The news of the stand-down follows two additional accidents in recent days in the U.S.

Another CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed during a training mission in southern California on Tuesday. The Marine Corps confirmed Wednesday that all four crew members on board were killed.

On Wednesday, an Air Force Thunderbird pilot was killed after his F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed during a routine training flight at the Nevada Test and Training Range.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Show Full Article