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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

CBC TV December 20, 2002

Did amphetamines play a role in friendly fire attack on Canadians


BRIAN STEWART: Good evening. Street-wise drug users have an old saying. Speed kills. Speed is slang for amphetamine, a powerful stimulant. That stimulant may have played a role in the accidental US bombing of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan last April. Four died, eight were wounded. According to the ABC program "20/20," the two American pilots involved in the friendly fire incident were using amphetamine when they rolled in for the attack, amphetamine issued by the US Air force. Eric Sorensen reports. ERIC SORENSEN (Reporter): What has never been adequately answered is why? Even after being told to hold fire, why did US fighter pilot Harry Schmidt drop a bomb on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan? Tonight, suggestions that a stimulant supplied by the US military may have been a factor. Here's actual cockpit video of the scene that light night.

MAJOR SCHMIDT: I've got a battalion in the vicinity.

SORENSEN: Major Schmidt and another F16 pilot spotted the flash of weapons fire near Kandahar. Below, oblivious to what's happening in the air, Canadian soldiers in a nighttime, live-fire exercise.

SCHMIDT: Okay, I've got a, uh...I've got some men on a road and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us, I am rolling in, in self-defence.

SORENSEN: Schmidt believes it's enemy fire. He's told by an AWACs radar plane to hold fire. He does not.

SCHMIDT: Bombs away. Cranking left. Lasers on. Shack

SORENSEN: Shack means the bomb has hit. Then Schmidt was told it was not enemy fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Disengage. Friendlies. Kandahar.

SORENSEN: Friendlies, Canadian.

SCHMIDT: I hope that was the right thing to do...

SORENSEN: Schmidt soon discovered how wrong he'd been. Now his legal team is questioning whether amphetamines played a part in the deaths of four Canadians, a stimulant the military routinely gives to pilots to give them alert on long flights, for example, over Afghanistan.

REAR-ADMIRAL EUGENE CARROLL - RETIRED (Former US Navy Pilot): It's a stimulant and heightens all your senses really. You get more alert. You get edgy.

SORENSEN: Eugene Carroll says it's nothing new. He's a former US Navy pilot who was given pills, he says, to juice him up for long flights.

CARROLL: It's certainly something that has to be considered. Are the drugs enhancing safety or are they creating situations which are dangerous in and of themselves?

SORENSEN: The US military considers such stimulants to be a medical tool to combat fatigue, a serious threat to the pilot, his mission, and his aircraft.

JOHN PIKE (GlobalSecurity.org): The problem that they were having over Afghanistan was that if you're going to borrow a $30 million dollar fighter, they want to make sure that you're going to bring it back in one piece, and using these stimulants I think was basically the command policy to make sure that the pilots and planes came back.

SORENSEN: Court martial proceedings against Majors Harry Schmidt and William Umbach begin next month. The US military is expected to try to pin responsibility for the bombing on the pilots, and it now appears the pilots will try to turn the tables on the military that supplied them with the stimulant used to help carry out their mission over Afghanistan. Eric Sorensen, CBC News, Washington.

Copyright 2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation