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U.S. pilots charged in Canadian deaths

By PAMELA HESS, Pentagon correspondent   |   Sept. 13, 2002 at 2:21 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has filed criminal charges against the Illinois Air National Guard F-16 pilots involved in the April 17 friendly fire incident that killed four Canadian soldiers and injured eight others near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Maj. Harry Schmidt, the pilot who dropped the 500-pound laser-guided bomb on the Canadian soldiers, was charged on Wednesday with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and eight counts of assault. He is also charged with failing to exercise appropriate flight discipline and not complying with the rules of engagement in Afghanistan.

Maj. William Umbach faces the same charges, plus allegations that as flight commander he negligently failed to exercise appropriate flight command and control and to ensure compliance with the rules of engagement.

The Canadian soldiers killed were practicing stalking tanks with machine guns and anti-tank weapons on a range a few miles from the Kandahar air base when Schmidt and Umbach's F-16 flew overhead. Umbach saw the level ground fire a mistook it for surface-to-air missile fire. He requested permission to mark the target. That approval was given.

Schmidt then turned to the target to mark or get its exact location and he requested permission to fire his 20 mm cannon at the target. Permission was denied.

Schmidt then announced over the radio he was being fired on and was "rolling in self-defense" and fired a single laser-guided bomb at the target.

The bomb killed four soldiers from Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and wounded eight.

The situation was viewed as particularly egregious by U.S. Air Force brass, including Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the top Air Force officer in U.S. Central Command, who shortly after the incident sent a memo to commanders saying "it is difficult to imagine a scenarios" where the standard rules of engagement -- to leave the area, examine the target and then attack -- should not apply.

Schmidt and Umbach are expected to argue in court that memo indicated prejudice against their actions and that charges were therefore a foregone conclusion, the Washington Times reported in July.

The Toronto Star in July reported that the AWACS crew was not informed the Canadians would be exercising nearby, suggesting the problem was not with the pilots but further up the chain of command. The joint U.S.-Canadian investigation found "failings within the pilots' immediate command structures, while not causing the incident, were contributing factors."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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