- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AP) Two U.S. pilots charged with involuntary manslaughter in the accidental bombing of Canadian troops showed a "reckless disregard" for standing orders by attacking ground fire instead of continuing on their course, an Air Force general testified yesterday.
Brig. Gen. Stephen T. Sargeant, who headed the investigation into the bombing in southern Afghanistan, said in a military hearing that the pilots failed to follow procedure by not communicating about gunfire on the ground. At an altitude of more than 15,000 feet, the pilots were not in range of fire from the ground, he said.
"At that point, it would have been possible to continue on," he said.
Maj. Harry Schmidt, who dropped the bomb, and Maj. William Umbach, the mission's commander, were charged after an investigation headed by Gen. Sargeant concluded the pilots had acted rashly by attacking ground fire rather than evading it.
Gen. Sargeant testified that the airmen should have reported the ground fire to flight controllers but also should have stayed their course. Instead, Maj. Schmidt slowed down and dropped in altitude, violating standing orders to keep himself out of danger, the general said.
As a pilot, "you are not to put yourself in harm's way," Gen. Sargeant said.
The ground fire came from Canadian troops conducting live-ammunition exercises at Tarnak Farms, a firing range near Kandahar. Four Canadians were killed. The deaths were the first combat fatalities for the country since the Korean War.
The hearing, akin to a civilian grand jury, will determine whether the case against the pilots should proceed to a court-martial. If convicted on all charges, which include aggravated assault and dereliction of duty, Maj. Schmidt and Maj. Umbach face up to 64 years in prison.
Attorneys for Maj. Schmidt and Maj. Umbach have said poor military communications kept the pilots unaware that allied troops would be in the area. With no knowledge of the allied troops, the pilots justifiably attacked in self-defense when they saw ground fire, they said.

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