- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

Moments after an American pilot dropped a bomb that accidently killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in April, an air controller told him, "You're cleared. Self-defense," according to a transcript of the communication obtained by The Washington Times.
The F-16 fighter pilot who dropped the bomb, Maj. Harry Schmidt, and his lead pilot, Maj. William Umbach, are expected to cite this clearance in their defense as the military decides whether they should face criminal charges.
A joint U.S.-Canadian investigative board blamed both pilots for the April 17 "friendly fire," Canada's first combat deaths since the Korean War a half-century ago.
"I've got some men on a road, and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us," Maj. Schmidt says on the radio to Maj. Umbach and a controller on an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) jet.
"I am rolling in in self-defense," Maj. Schmidt, an Illinois Air National Guard pilot, says, according to the transcript.
The "artillery" was fire from Canadian ground troops undergoing live-fire training at the Tarnak Farms Range near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Neither pilot was told about the Canadian exercise that night before they left base for close-air support action. The Pentagon has declined to say whether the AWACS crew was made aware of the exercise.
After Maj. Umbach pinpointed the target, Maj. Schmidt dropped a 500-pound guided bomb.
"Can you confirm they were shooting us?" Maj. Schmidt then asks of the AWACS.
"You're cleared. Self-defense," a controller says.
The fact that the controller cleared the pilots after the bombing was not disclosed by U.S. Central Command in June when it briefed reporters on the results of the Canadian-American investigation.
In another portion of the pilot-controller transcript, where Maj. Schmidt tells the AWACS he is "rolling in in self-defense," the controller does not tell him to stop. "Boss man copies," the controller says.
Charles Gittins, Maj. Schmidt's civilian defense attorney, said yesterday that the transcript shows a command failure, not pilot error.
"It shows that neither the air crew nor the AWACS were briefed about friendlies conducting a night live-fire exercise," said Mr. Gittins, a former Marine Corps aviator. "And that's a command-and-control failure, not an air crew failure."
Maj. Schmidt is a former Navy F-18 Hornet pilot and Top Gun instructor pilot. He transferred to the Air Force and is a full-time F-16 instructor pilot in the Air Guard.
A Central Command spokesman declined to comment on the communication.
"If that is accurate, that is one of the things that would be part of the determination to go forward, that we would document one way or another," said Lt. Col. Martin Compton.
The military investigative board stated "the cause of the friendly fire incident" was "the failure of the two pilots to exercise appropriate flight discipline, which resulted in a violation of the rules of engagement and an inappropriate use of lethal force."
The statement released by U.S. Central Command, which runs the war in Afghanistan, specifically cited the pilots for going ahead with the attack after being told by the controller to "hold fire."
The investigation also cited "failings within the pilots' immediate command structures."
A source close to the investigation said this is an apparent reference to the fact that the Combined Air Operations Center did not brief the pilots on the Canadian exercise. The source said there has been a continuing problem during the war of ground forces not wanting to share operational details with the air component for fear that secret special-operations missions would leak out.
Gen. Tommy Franks, who leads Central Command, has turned over the case to his top Air Force officer, Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley, to decide what type of punishment, if any, the two officers should face. Gen. Moseley could hand out administrative punishment. He also has the option of convening an Article 32 hearing, a military version of a grand jury, that could lead to a court-martial.
On the night of April 17, when the two pilots spotted the fire, they had been in the air for six hours and were preparing to make the three-hour flight back to an airfield in Kuwait.
"Boss man," Maj. Schmidt says to the AWACS, "this is Coffee 52. I've got tally in the vicinity. Request permission to lay down some 20 mike [20 mm cannon]."
"Let's just make sure it's not friendlies. That's all," says Maj. Umbach.
Maj. Schmidt: "When you've got a chance, put it on the spy. You've got a good hack on it." The "spy" is a sensor.
Later, Maj. Umbach, the lead pilot, says, "Check my sparkles. Check my sparkles. See if it looks good."
Maj. Schmidt: "I'm copying your sparkles well."
"Sparkle" is an infrared point to signify a ground target. The pointer is visible only through night-vision goggles.
At this point, the AWACS says, "Hold fire. I need details on safire," a reference to surface-to-air fire.
"I've got some men on a road, and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us," says Maj. Schmidt, who had begun evasive maneuvers. "I am rolling in in self-defense."
"Boss man copies," responds the AWACS.
Maj. Schmidt and Maj. Umbach then use lasers to pinpoint the target, and Maj. Schmidt releases the bomb.
"Shack," Maj. Schmidt exclaims as the bomb hits the target
"Can you confirm they were shooting us?" he asks.
"You're cleared. Self-defense," the controller responds.


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