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Friday, 13 September, 2002, 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK
Pilots charged over 'friendly fire' deaths
Pall bearers carry the coffin of one those killed after arrival at Ramstein airbase in Germany on 20 April, 2002
The deaths caused outrage in Canada
Two American fighter pilots who accidentally bombed Canadian troops in Afghanistan earlier this year are being charged with manslaughter and aggravated assault.

The US Air Force is bringing the charges against the F-16 fighter pilots, who are blamed for killing four Canadian soldiers in a so-called "friendly fire" incident.

Both men are also charged with dereliction of duty.


These charges are only accusations, both officers are presumed innocent

Pentagon
These are the first known criminal charges laid against US military personnel in the Afghanistan conflict for a friendly fire incident, although there have been a number of such incidents involving coalition and civilian casualties.

On 1 July, a US air strike killed dozens of guests at an Afghan wedding party. A US military investigation later concluded that the attack was justified because American planes had been fired at.

The dereliction charge against Major Harry Schmidt was for failing to exercise appropriate flight discipline and not complying with the US military's rules for firing weapons in Afghanistan.

Major William Umbach, the flight commander, faces a similar charge for negligently failing to exercise appropriate flight command and control and to ensure compliance with the rules for firing on a target, the Pentagon said.

The Air Force said earlier that Major Umbach should have intervened more forcefully to prevent Mr Schmidt from dropping the bomb before confirmation of the target was received.

Investigator's recommendation

The charges were recommended by Air Force Brigadier General Stephen T Sargeant, who was co-director of a joint US-Canadian investigation board that studied the circumstances of the 17 April incident.

"These charges are only accusations," a Pentagon announcement said. "Both officers are presumed innocent."

The 17 April tragedy was the worst case of friendly fire of the nine-month war in Afghanistan.

Canadian troops
More than 800 Canadian troops are serving in Afghanistan
The Canadian troops were on a night-time training exercise near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar when they came under attack by the F-16s.

The two fighter planes were returning from a mission over Afghanistan when they saw what they believed to be enemy fire.

Major William Umbach reported hostile activity and Major Harry Schmidt requested permission to fire.

He was told by American air controllers to wait for verification, but the pilot decided to act in self-defence and dropped a laser-guided bomb onto his target, killing the Canadian soldiers.

'Inappropriate'

A US military inquiry concluded that this amounted to inappropriate use of lethal force.

According to the separate Canadian inquiry, Canadian troops had notified American military officials that they would be conducting live-fire exercises that night.

News of the charges has been welcomed by Canada's Defence Minister John McCallum.

He said the charges reflects the seriousness with which the Americans are treating the case.

The incident had caused tension between the two countries and led to questions being asked in Canada about its military role as a junior partner to the US in its Afghanistan campaign.


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European probe

Background

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See also:

07 Sep 02 | South Asia
30 Apr 02 | South Asia
30 Mar 02 | Americas
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