- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 18, 2003

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AP) A U.S. pilot charged with involuntary manslaughter in the accidental bombing deaths of four Canadians in Afghanistan was under orders to hold fire when he dropped the bomb, a fellow airman testified yesterday.
Maj. John Milton testified in a hearing to determine whether two members of his Illinois National Guard squadron should be court-martialed for the "friendly fire" incident last spring. Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach face up to 64 years in a military prison if convicted.
On a videotape of the bombing played by Air Force lawyers yesterday, a flight controller is heard saying "hold fire" after Maj. Schmidt requests permission to fire his 20 millimeter cannons. Maj. Schmidt had spotted fire on the ground and thought Maj. Umbach was under attack.
Maj. Milton testified that the order meant Maj. Schmidt must refrain from attacking.
Four seconds after the order, Maj. Schmidt dropped the guided bomb, killing the four Canadians, who had been performing anti-tank exercises with live ammunition. Eight other soldiers on the ground were wounded.
Five of the survivors have testified at the hearing that they were not firing into the air at the time.
Under cross-examination, Maj. Milton later indicated that a hold-fire order does not apply when a pilot believes he is under attack and that Maj. Schmidt probably wanted to use the cannon to "suppress" the enemy fire, not destroy ground troops.
Strafing at night with a cannon "is a technique," Maj. Milton said. "It's not prohibited."
Maj. Milton, who has flown similar missions over Afghanistan, was not involved in the April 17 incident. He was called as a government witness to explain, as a pilot, how he understood the order. He has testified he "is biased" in his colleagues' favor.
Defense attorneys have said that the pilots thought they were under fire from Taliban or al Qaeda forces and that a breakdown in communications prevented the pilots from knowing allied troops were in the area.
The proceeding is akin to a civilian grand jury hearing.
In testimony Thursday, an Air Force commander testified that Maj. Schmidt and Maj. Umbach had received standing orders warning that allied troops would intermittently use live ammunition.


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