Pilot in bombing faced 'no threat'


U.S. Air Force pilot, Col. David C. Nichols, left, former wing commander of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group at Al Jaber Air Force Base in Kuwait, Lt.Col. Mark Coan, center, and Nichols' attorney Charles Allen, right, return to the Article 32 hearing process where Nichols gave his testimony, Saturday at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. Col. Nichols was wing commander at the time two U.S. Airmen assigned to the squadron mistakenly bombed Canadian soldiers that were on a live-ammunition excercise, killing four of them last April in Afghanistan.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 2:30 a.m.

Facts

On the Net:

U.S. report: http://www.centcom.mil/News/Reports/Tarnak-Farms-Report.htm
Canadian report: http://www.vcds.dnd.ca/boi/00native/final-report.doc

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. - A U.S. pilot who mistakenly bombed Canadian troops in Afghanistan was under no threat of attack from small-arms fire before or after the 500-pound bomb was released, an Air Force commander testified at a military hearing Saturday.
Lt. Col. Richard Anderson II, who was in charge of all coalition pilots' combat orders, said the pilot and his mission commander were also under "extremely tight" restrictions on weapons use.
Standard procedure would have been to evade surface-to-air fire, not attack, he said.
However, Anderson indicated under cross-examination that he was unaware the pilot who dropped the bomb, Maj. Harry Schmidt, had been briefed that Taliban forces had rocket launchers powerful enough to put Schmidt's mission commander, Maj. William Umbach, in danger that night.
The defense has argued that Schmidt had good reason to believe he was under attack because the gunfire he saw coming from the Canadians appeared to be aimed at Umbach's F-16.
The Air Force charged Schmidt and Umbach with involuntary manslaughter in the bombing last spring that killed four Canadian soldiers and wounded eight.
The hearing, scheduled to end Jan. 24, is to decide whether the pilots should face a court-martial.
If convicted, they could face up to 64 years in military prison.
Lawyers for Schmidt and Umbach have said that the two were never told the Canadians would be performing live-ammunition exercises in the area. The Canadians were using machine guns and anti-tank weapons in their exercises, and defense lawyers indicated Saturday that Schmidt mistook the Canadian ground fire for Taliban rocket launchers.
On a videotape taken from Schmidt's F-16, a flight controller can be heard saying "hold fire" after Schmidt requests permission to fire his 20-millimeter cannons toward gunfire on the ground.
Anderson testified Saturday that Schmidt's request was unusual. "I really couldn't think of a tactical advantage" to using the cannons, he said.
Four seconds after the cannon request, Schmidt said he was "rolling in, in self-defense" to drop the guided bomb. Thirty-nine seconds later, the bomb was dropped, killing Canadian infantrymen Sgt. Marc Leger, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, Pvt. Richard Green and Pvt. Nathan Smith.
The deaths of the soldiers - all members of the 3rd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based near Edmonton - were the first for Canadian troops in a military combat operation since the Korean War.
Five Canadian survivors of the bombing testified earlier they were not firing into the air at the time of the bombing. They had been holding anti-tank exercises at Tarnak Farm, a firing range near Kandahar.
The defense lawyers have said the Air Force never passed along information about the allied exercises to pilots flying missions over the area.
However, Col. Lawrence Stutzriem, who was with the agency responsible for coalition air operations at the time of the bombing, testified that Air Force pilots flying missions in the area had received written orders warning that allied troops would intermittently use live ammunition.
The defense has also contended Air Force-issued amphetamines taken by the pilots to prevent fatigue may have impaired their judgment. The Air Force says use of the pills is voluntary.
Schmidt is a combat-decorated Navy pilot who transferred to the National Guard in 2000. Umbach is a United Airlines pilot who had served in the Air Force. They are also charged with aggravated assault and dereliction of duty.
Access to Anderson's testimony was blocked for a time Saturday morning because officials determined its content was classified.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top