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Pilots charged in friendly-fire deaths of Canadian soldiers

09/13/02 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Criminal charges were preferred Sept. 11 against the two Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots involved in the friendly-fire deaths of four Canadian soldiers and injuries of eight others April 17 near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The pilots, members of the 170th Fighter Squadron, based in Springfield, Ill., and part of the 183rd Fighter Wing, have been recalled to active duty in response to the charges.

Maj. Harry Schmidt is charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and eight counts of assault. He is also charged with failing to exercise appropriate flight discipline and with not complying with the rules of engagement in the Afghanistan area of operations. The charges were filed under Articles 119, 128 and 92, respectively, of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Maj. William Umbach was also charged under the same articles. He also faces the allegation that as flight commander he negligently failed to exercise appropriate flight command and control and to ensure compliance with the rules of engagement.

According to the investigation board's summary of facts, the pilots were returning from a mission when the flight lead noticed what he described as fireworks coming from an area a few miles south of Kandahar. Perceiving this as surface-to-air fire directed against them, they asked an Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft for permission to obtain coordinates of the site.

While attempting to get the coordinates, the wingman requested permission to fire on the location with his 20 mm cannon. The AWACS aircraft controllers told him to standby, later requesting additional information on the surface-to-air fire and directing him to hold fire. The wingman gave the information and immediately declared that he was "rolling in in self-defense." He then released a 500-pound laser-guided bomb that hit a Canadian firing position at the Tarnak Farms Range.

The four Canadians who were killed and the eight wounded were participating in a night live-fire training exercise at the range. The wounded soldiers were immediately evacuated from the area for medical treatment.

When the two F-16s landed, the pilots were told they had released a bomb on friendly forces.

Brig. Gen. Stephen T. Sargeant, the co-president of the Coalition Investigation Board that examined the friendly-fire incident, preferred the charges.

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