- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were firing some volleys into the air, not solely horizontally, as an official inquiry states, before two American F-16 pilots mistakenly bombed their position, killing four, according to investigation transcripts.
Also, a Canadian safety sentry told the Canadians to halt their live-firing training minutes before the accidental bombing to allow a cargo plane and helicopter to land at nearby Kandahar air field in Afghanistan, the transcripts show.
Air Force sources close to the investigation say that if the order had been followed, the "friendly fire" accident might never have occurred. "It shows there were other contributing factors in the accident," said a source close to the investigation. One source provided copies of the official transcripts to The Washington Times.
U.S. Central Command, which is running operations in Afghanistan and ordered the investigation, declined to comment on the transcripts. An Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon said regulations prevent the service from commenting on evidence.
The Air Force has leveled charges of manslaughter against the two Illinois Air National Guard pilots, Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach. The two were flying patrol over Afghanistan the night of April 17 when they saw the ground fire, identified the fire as coming from Taliban or al Qaeda fighters and dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb.
The two face a pretrial hearing, called an Article 32, in January at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The Air Force's decision to criminalize the incident has drawn protest from fellow aviators, Illinois Gov. George Ryan and local congressmen.
The coalition investigation board's "summary of fact" stated that "efforts to conserve ammunition on the range produced limited ground fire and was fired horizontally at the time [the F-16 pilots were] in visual contact with the live-fire range."
If true, horizontal fire would diminish the pilots' contention they thought they were being fired on and responded in self-defense.
But testimony taken by the investigation board shows there was firing into the sky that night from the Tarnak Farm Range, where about 100 Canadian soldiers were engaged in anti-tank training. Some were ricochets; other volleys went upward because the soldiers were on lower ground than their targets.
"Yeah, there would have been rounds, like a short burst, going into the air to begin with," testified Sgt. Lorne E.L. Ford, one of eight soldiers wounded by the bomb blast. He lost an eye and suffered other injuries.
He added, "The only rounds that I could see going in the air of course were the tracers, and of course there was ricochets. None of them really went above 100 feet, if they even reached that."
Cpl. Rene R. Paquette, another Canadian injured in the blast, said ricochets from rounds hitting tank targets may have zoomed 900 to 1,200 feet in the air.
Concerning the order to halt fire, Canadian Cpl. Cheyenne Larocque testified that he issued the "check fire" order minutes before the bombing, conveying an order from air controllers at the Kandahar air field.
"I said, 'This is sentry, check fire,'" Cpl. Larocque testified before the U.S. Air Force-Canadian board of inquiry, which issued a report blaming the two American pilots for the deadly accident.
Cpl. Larocque testified that the army unit acknowledged getting the order five seconds later. He said the bombing occurred before the check fire was lifted.
"When they gave me the check fire and I passed it on, everything was going normal," he told the board. "They knew about the aircraft coming, but when they heard that explosion, that's when everything started getting all screwed up."
A source close to the investigation said there were still gun flashes coming from the ground when the two U.S. pilots released their bomb.


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