- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

The Air Force general weighing disciplinary action against two U.S. pilots for bombing Canadian troops in Afghanistan sent a message to commanders the day afterward saying that "it is difficult to imagine a scenario" for not holding fire in such cases.
Some allies of the F-16 pilots believe the memorandum shows a pre-disposition by Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley to find the pilots guilty of negligence in the April 17 nighttime bombing that mistakenly killed four Canadian soldiers.
Gen. Moseley, the top Air Force officer in U.S. Central Command, is considering whether to discipline the pilots. His options include convening a hearing that could lead to a court-martial of Maj. Harry Schmidt and the lead pilot, Maj. William Umbach.
A day after the incident, Gen. Moseley sent a memo through an aide to commanders.
"There is a well-defined mechanism to ensure you and I do not engage friendly forces," said the memo, a copy of which was provided by a military source to The Washington Times. "It is difficult to imagine a scenario, other than troops in contact, whereby we will not have time to egress the threat area, regroup, deconflict and then engage in a well thought-out and coordinated plan that ensures success."
The memo ends with "Gen. Moseley sends."
Asked to comment, Charles Gittins, Maj. Schmidt's civilian attorney, said, "If true, such comments would cast grave doubt on the fairness of any decision that Gen. Moseley might make in this case, as it indicates pre-disposition prior to completion of the investigation."
A spokesman for Central Command, which runs the war in Afghanistan, declined to comment on the memo.
In the April 17 incident, the two F-16 pilots were ending a mission over Afghanistan when they spotted what they believed was surface-to-air fire. They told the air controller by radio they were attacking in self defense. Maj. Schmidt, aided by Maj. Umback, dropped a laser-guided bomb on what turned out to be Canadians involved in planned live-fire training near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
A joint U.S.-Canadian investigative board in June blamed the two pilots for the accident. The case was given to Gen. Moseley for further investigation. Majs. Schmidt and Umbach are believed to be the only U.S. military personnel to face disciplinary action for "friendly fire" in Afghanistan.
Gen. Moseley's memo also urged air crews to guard against a similar tragedy.
"I need everyone's head in the game we cannot afford another tragic incident," he says. "Commanders will sit down with their air crews and 'chair fly' [the rules of engagement] to ensure a complete understanding."
Less than three months after this warning, an Air Force air crew was blamed in another "friendly fire" incident. An AC-130 gunship fired cannon and machine-gun rounds at what the crew believed was an anti-aircraft battery inside a village. Locals say more than 40 Afghan civilians were killed. The Air Force is investigating.
Gen. Moseley also called for better pre-flight briefings.
"Before air crew step to the jet, they must have a solid understanding of the ground situation and the ongoing dynamics," the three-star general said. "I cannot overstate how fluid the ground environment in Afghanistan is and the challenges this creates in identifying friendly vice Taliban and al Qaeda forces.
"Friendly forces on the ground are lightly armed and working in difficult terrain against an elusive enemy. These troops have come to rely on air power when they become engaged. We need to be there and do it right in accordance with the ground commander's priorities and deconfliction plans among the many teams throughout the area."
Gen. Moseley's emphasis on pre-mission briefs comes as both pilots say they were not told that Canadian troops would be conducting training that night.
The Pentagon has refused to say whether the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft crew was told about the exercise.
The Toronto Star last week published an interview with the retired Canadian general who led a separate investigation. He told the newspaper the AWACS crew, which controlled the F-16 pilots that night, was not told about the exercise.
The joint U.S.-Canadian investigative board said that "failings within the pilots' immediate command structures, while not causing the incident, were contributing factors." The board did not elaborate. Central Command has not released the board's classified report, which said the accident resulted from "the failure of the two pilots to exercise appropriate flight discipline."
The Washington Times reported July 18 that Maj. Schmidt informed the AWACS he was rolling in self-defense and was not stopped by the controller.
Afterwards, the pilot asked, "Can you confirm they were shooting us?"
According to a transcript of the communication obtained by The Times, an AWACS controller responded, "You're cleared. Self-defense."

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