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U.S. Pilots Blamed for Friendly Fire Incident

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2002 -- A coalition investigation board has blamed two U.S. F-16 fighter pilots, and others in their chain of command, for the April 17 friendly fire incident that killed four Canadian soldiers and injured eight.

"The Coalition Investigation Board found the cause of the friendly fire incident to be the failure of the two pilots to exercise appropriate flight discipline, which resulted in a violation of the rules of the engagement and an inappropriate use of lethal force," U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Michael P. DeLong said Friday.

"The board further found that failings within the pilots' immediate command structures, while not causing the incident were contributing factors," the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command said to reporters in Tampa and at the Pentagon via videoconference.

DeLong was accompanied at the podium by Canadian Brig. Gen. Michael Gauthier, operational commander for Canada's 2,000- strong military contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom. Both said relations between the two countries remain strong despite the tragedy and that both remain committed to the coalition effort against terrorism.

When the incident occurred, DeLong said, about 22 nations were in the coalition in Tampa. "We have 35 today. We've become a team, become a family."

Gauthier said the shock of the incident was felt by the entire coalition in Tampa and throughout the theater of operations. "The friendship and trust among the allies in this campaign extends beyond the color of our national uniforms," he said.

The troops on the ground in Afghanistan today, he added, "are one family, Americans and Canadians working together, and they're focused on the mission." Canadian soldiers have resumed live-fire training in Afghanistan, he said.

Gauthier said he believes the Canadian public still supports Canada's contribution and the role it has to play in the war on terrorism. What Canadians want to hear, he said, is that the event has been properly investigated and, as the follow-up process runs its course, that steps are taken to avoid a repeat incident of this nature.

The investigation board was co-led by a U.S. and a Canadian general officer. The unprecedented appointment of co- presidents, DeLong said, "served as a statement to the extremely close and long-standing relationship between our two countries."

At the same time U.S. officials were releasing the coalition board's findings, he noted, Canadian authorities released a summary of their board of inquiry's findings in Canada.

According to the coalition report, DeLong said, soldiers from Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, were engaged in a night live-fire training at Tarnak Farms Range, Afghanistan, just south of Kandahar. The F-16s, passing over the area on their way home from a mission over Afghanistan, reported seeing "fireworks."

"The lead aircraft, perceiving this as surface-to-air fire, asked and received permission from an Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft to determine the precise coordinates of the source of the surface-to-air fire," DeLong said. "While attempting to obtain the coordinates, the wingman, flying with the lead, requested permission to fire on the location with his 20 mm cannon.

"The AWACS told him to stand by," he said, "and the AWACS later requested the wingman provide additional information on the surface-to-air fire while directing him to 'hold fire.' The wingman provided the requested information to the AWACS and then, declaring self-defense, rolled in on the target.

"Thereafter," DeLong said, "(the wingman) released a 500- pound laser-guided bomb that impacted a Canadian firing position at Tarnak Farms Range. Four Canadians were killed, eight wounded. All the wounded soldiers were immediately evacuated from the area for medical treatment."

He said Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, CENTCOM commander, has approved the board's investigative report and has forwarded it to his Air Force component for disciplinary action as appropriate.

"All ranges of disciplinary actions are open," DeLong said. "It's the service component's call."

Franks also forwarded the report to his subordinate commands to ensure lessons learned are incorporated into future actions. "Any time we have an incident like this," DeLong said, "we look at what happened. If there were deficiencies, we make the changes right then so we can get on with either the operation or training, whatever the event happens to be."

Despite persistent questions from reporters at the Pentagon and in Tampa, DeLong would not discuss details of the coalition boards findings or recommendations. He said the incident remains under investigation by the service component and releasing further information would be inappropriate. When the investigation is complete several months from now, he said, CENTCOM officials would report further details.

The general offered condolences to the families of the Canadians killed and injured and said relations between the two countries remain unchanged despite the tragic incident. "All parties concerned continue to work together to ensure safety and security of military personnel during future operations," he said.

Gauthier echoed DeLong's words of sympathy to the Canadian families. "We are all truly sorry for your loss and we will not soon forget these brave soldiers," he said.

"We have come through this tragedy with a renewed commitment to the coalition and its objectives," Gauthier continued. "We're here together to demonstrate our joint resolve to help bring a measure of closure to those affected by the loss of these fine young soldiers."

Gauthier said the outstanding cooperation between the United States and Canada throughout the campaign "was never more evident than on the night when the needs of a few prompted the actions of many." American and Canadian medics, surgeons, infantrymen and many others played key roles in saving lives and caring for the wounded that night.

The Canadian commander said he was confident from the outset that both countries would cooperate in the investigation as they have in the military operation -- openly and professionally. "This is precisely what has happened," he said.

"The United States is Canada's most important ally," Gauthier said. "Defense and security relations between our two countries are longstanding, well-entrenched and highly successful. This was never more evident than on that night in Afghanistan.

"We've fought together. We've mourned together, and now we will soldier on together," he said. "Our alliance is strong, and we will continue this campaign against terrorism even while we remember the sacrifices of these brave soldiers."

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