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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
'Friendly fire' pilots avoid courts martial
Pallbearers carry coffin of one of the Canadian soldiers killed in the incident
The deaths caused widespread anger in Canada
Two US fighter pilots who mistakenly bombed and killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan last year will not face courts martial, US defence officials say.

Major Harry Schmidt and Major William Umbach had faced a series of charges brought by the United States Air Force, including manslaughter, aggravated assault and dereliction in the line of duty following the incident in April last year.

They could have been sentenced to more than 60 years each in prison.

But Lieutenant General Bruce Carlson, the Air Force commander who reviewed the case, has decided to recommend that the two F-16 pilots face "administrative sanctions", with Major Schmidt also possibly facing a flight evaluation board.

There's no closure in this... They made a mistake and should be held accountable
Mary Anne Perry
Mother of injured soldier

The decision comes despite the findings of a joint US-Canadian investigation which said the two pilots were at fault for the deaths - the worst case of so-called friendly fire during the war in Afghanistan.

The pilots were found to have shown a reckless disregard for flight rules.

The inquiries also discovered that they had taken military issue amphetamines, so-called "go pills", to allow them to fly the 10-hour sortie to Afghanistan.

Both pilots have maintained their innocence throughout, blaming the "fog of war" for the deaths.

'Lethal force'

The Canadian troops were on a night-time training exercise near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on 17 April 2002 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 US air controllers to wait for verification, but the pilot decided to act and dropped a 500-pound (230-kg) laser-guided bomb onto his target, killing the Canadian soldiers and injuring several others.

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

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

General Carlson said that Major Umbach would get a letter of reprimand, and that he had recommended that his request for retirement be granted.

Major Schmidt's case would be reviewed by his commanders in a "non-judicial" proceeding.

The maximum non-judicial punishment is a reprimand, confinement to quarters for 30 days, loss of a month's pay and travel restrictions for two months.

Major Schmidt could reject the non-judicial proceeding and demand a court martial.

Disappointment

The case caused outrage in Canada, which at the time had more than 800 troops serving in Afghanistan.

It also led to questions being asked in Canada about its military role as a junior partner to the US in its Afghanistan campaign.

Relatives of those killed and injured expressed their disappointment at the decision.

"There's no closure in this," Mary Anne Perry, whose son was injured in the incident, told the Associated Press news agency.

"They made a mistake and should be held accountable."




SEE ALSO:
US 'friendly fire' pilot accused
19 Jun 02  |  Americas


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