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  • 'Friendly fire' pilots won't be court-martialled

    'Friendly fire' pilots won't be court-martialled

    [cbc.ca]

    Last Updated Thu Jun 19 21:46:45 2003

    WASHINGTON-- One of the two U.S. military pilots who bombed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan last year will be allowed to retire, while the other could lose a month's pay, the U.S. military said on Thursday. Maj. Harry Schmidt and Maj. William Umbach won't be criminally prosecuted for accidentally killing four members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in April 2002.

    Lt.-Gen. Bruce Carlson, the 8th Air Force commander who reviewed the case, announced on Thursday the pilots will not face criminal prosecution, but will be disciplined in an administrative forum. Schmidt dropped a 225-kilogram laser-guided bomb on the Canadian troops who were conducting night-time training exercises near Kandahar on April 18, 2002.

    Carlson said air force commanders should decide whether Schmidt should be prosecuted on lesser charges, including failure to make sure the targets of his bombing weren't allies. His maximum non-judicial punishment would be to lose a month's pay, be confined to quarters for one month and have his travel restricted for two months.

    The seasoned pilot, who once served as a fighter pilot instructor, will also face a flight evaluation board that will decide whether he can continue flying. Umbach has been given a letter of reprimand. He has told the air force he wants to retire and Carlson recommended that he be allowed to do so.

    The pilots were facing charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and dereliction of duty. Conviction on those charges could have brought a sentence of up to 64 years in prison. Some of the Canadian soldiers' families have said they want the U.S. military to take the fliers' wings away.

    Dick Murtha, who represents the family of Pte. Richard Green, one of the men killed, said the families are considering a civil suit if they don't believe justice is done.

    Written by CBC News Online staff

  • #2
    'I wanted their wings,' Canadian mother says

    Last Updated Thu Jun 19 21:44:22 2003

    [cbc.ca]

    TORONTO-- The relatives of four Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan are disappointed the American pilots who dropped the deadly bomb will not be court-martialled. The U.S. air force announced Thursday that it will not pursue involuntary manslaughter charges against the two pilots involved.

    Instead, Maj. Harry Schmidt and Maj. William Umbach will face "non-judicial punishment" such as lost pay. Schmidt, who actually dropped the bomb, may also be punished for less-serious charges, such as failing to obey an order to hold fire. A board will determine his future. "We certainly didn't want 64 years prison for these men, that's totally ridiculous," says Claire Leger, the mother of Sgt. Marc Leger one of four Canadian soldiers killed by Schmidt's bomb in April 2002.

    "But I did expect some kind of punishment, if you want to call it that, or at least acknowledgement of what they've done. I wanted their wings." The three other soldiers killed were Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, Pte. Richard Green and Pte. Nathan Smith. Eight other Canadians were injured.

    In Montreal, the relatives of another victim also said they're not satisfied with how Washington has handled the matter. "Today's a very sad day for us. It's like another wound opening. We are very disappointed," said Agatha Dyer, the mother of Cpl. Dyer.

    Leger said she wanted the Pentagon to learn a lesson from the tragedy and try to prevent more "friendly fire" deaths. But based on similar mistakes in the war in Iraq, it's obvious the U.S. hasn't made life any safer for coalition troops, she said. In the absence of a court martial, some of the Canadian families are considering launching a civil lawsuit. They've hired a lawyer to look into possible legal action.

    Written by CBC News Online staff

    Comment


    • #3
      I can understand the families' grief. However, I don't think the incident warranted punishment. Fractricide are accidents. One could argue negligence in this case. Yet, again it's not a simple thing. Negligence can be generated by a number of sources that makes finding someone criminally liable less acceptable.

      Accountability should not be examined in hindsight. The only way you can judge a person appropriately is to weigh the incident in conditions similar to those surrounding the events in question. Alot of people don't realize that.

      While the F-16 is a very sophisicated aircraft, the primary system on board is the pilot. Humans are not evolving at the same rate as the technology they are using.

      The US military should "always" strive to minimize fractricide. However, the sad truth is that it will likely remain a part of war for many years to come. It's easy to blame the pilot who dropped the bomb killing the friendly forces. However, he or she is doing their best not to kill their own people. When that does happen, they take it almost as hard as the family. They were suppose to support the guys on the ground, not kill them.

      If the family believes the USAF was negligent, suing them in civil court is appropriate. However, accidents happen. Fractricide is not limited to our allies. US troops die in these incidents as well. The reason why it appears that way is because the US military is doing the lion-share of CAS operations.

      In any case, the US should examine the events and strive to prevent them in the future.
      "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Deltapooh
        I can understand the families' grief. However, I don't think the incident warranted punishment. Fractricide are accidents. One could argue negligence in this case. Yet, again it's not a simple thing. Negligence can be generated by a number of sources that makes finding someone criminally liable less acceptable.
        Fracticide is indeed generally the result of an accident and we should never establish a precedent that military personnel in combat situations who err should be punished out of hand.
        However, in this case the pilots unwillingness to hold fire when specifically ordered to, amounts to negligence that should be punished severely. There is a large difference in killing a comrade by a misplaced grenade or shot in the heat of CQB to a pilot at 10,000 feet disregarding an order to engage a target that poses no threat to them.
        The mistake the pilot made in this instance was not in dropping the bomb wide of the target and hitting friendly forces - that action of even releasing the weapon should never have happened as it was, in this case, a direct violation of an order. The man should be thrown to the wolves. Good luck to the Canucks.

        Comment


        • #5
          The pilot who released the ordinance will be tried for dereliction of duty. But everything I've heard about the radio calls surrounding the release suggest the charge is not well founded. Where things went wrong is at the place long before the pilots got into the cockpit of those airplanes. They should have known the Canadian training exercise was going on below in planning the mission. If it had been an actual combat operation, they would have known too, no question about it.
          Get the US out of NATO, now!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by SparceMatrix
            Where things went wrong is at the place long before the pilots got into the cockpit of those airplanes. They should have known the Canadian training exercise was going on below in planning the mission.
            The US Brigade HQ (of which the Canadian Bn was a part) was informed by the Canadian Bn of the training excercise, in order to avoid exactly what happened. The Pilots obviously weren't informed, so there was a failure of communication somewhere between the US Brigade command, and the Air Force command in Afghanistan at the time.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Deltapooh
              However, the sad truth is that it will likely remain a part of war for many years to come. It's easy to blame the pilot who dropped the bomb killing the friendly forces. However, he or she is doing their best not to kill their own people. When that does happen, they take it almost as hard as the family.
              It wasn't as if a stray bomb or shell just happend to land in the Canadian training area. The pilot disobeyed the rules of engagement, used poor judgement, and disobeyed an order to standby. IMO, that is quite a serious offence, even in wartime. The US chain of command is also to blame though, as the pilots were supposed to know about the Canadian exercise. Still, the pilots have shown little remorse.

              Comment


              • #8
                It wasn't as if a stray bomb or shell just happend to land in the Canadian training area. The pilot disobeyed the rules of engagement, used poor judgement, and disobeyed an order to standby. IMO, that is quite a serious offence, even in wartime. The US chain of command is also to blame though, as the pilots were supposed to know about the Canadian exercise. Still, the pilots have shown little remorse.
                Not only were the pilots fully within their responsibilities, but it is worth wondering if the US should hold the Canadians responsible for placing their people in harms way. If the Canadians had been a part of an actual combat mission, coordination with the air forces in the area would have been more appropriately managed. There are details that are worth examining for purposes of overhead in the communications with the pilots, but that is all. Actually, the Canadians should show a little more remorse for their own people and a little less resentment for pilots who were, after all, more justified to be there in the first place.
                Last edited by SparceMatrix; 21 Jun 03, 15:08.
                Get the US out of NATO, now!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by SparceMatrix


                  Not only were the pilots fully within their responsibilities, but it is wondering if the US should hold the Canadians responsible for placing their people in harms way. If the Canadians had been a part of an actual combat mission, coordination with the air forces in the area would have been more appropriately managed. There are details that are worth examining for purposes of overhead in the communications with the pilots, but that is all. Actually, the Canadians should show a little more remorse for their own people and a little less resentment for pilots who were, after all, more justified to be there in the first place.
                  The Canadian Bn HQ passed on word that it was conducting its training exercise (in an officially designated training zone), as per the US regulations for such a procedure. The point of this procedure is, as the result of this incident proves, obvious. Somewhere between the US Brigade HQ and the two pilots involved, the word was not passed on as it was supposed to be. I've read the official reports and transcripts, and the pilots disregarded their own rules of engagement (the ROE clearly state aircraft are to await instruction from the AWACS regarding target ID and NOT to descend into the perceived threat - the pilots DID descend into the perceived threat and ignored the AWACS order to standby), and used poor judgement (you tell me if small arms fire can apear to be AAA whizzing past your aircraft at 10,000 feet AGL, as claimed by the pilots. There was also plenty of time between first sight of the fire and the dropping of the bomb, in order to ID the target - several minutes in fact). This wasn't simply a stray shell - it was avoidable human failure at several levels.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I believe this was more of a chain of command failure. If I'm not mistaken, the ROE still allowed the pilots to act on their initiative against targets of opportunity based on their threat level. Any enemy action is considered a threat. The pilots must then decide to engage or not engage the target. I don't see a major threat coming from light infantry. Small arms fire isn't anykind of real threat at 10K. It was also night time. So I don't see how the enemy could be effective with small arms, or larger caliber AA, for that matter without some additional guidance.

                    The pilots are not in the clear. This was a career-ruining incident for both men. The pilot who dropped the bomb and lied about the enemy situation will face an Article 15 (I think it is) where he will face light discipline.

                    I know this was more than a bomb straying off course. In a similar incident in 1991, an Apache helicopter pilot blew up two US Army vehicles he was sent to support. Like the Canadian tragedy, there was no system failure. It was human failure. The pilot in that incident was punished, but not for killing two Americans. In that case, the flight commander was given instructions not to engage the targets. He would identify and his wingman would kill. He broke a system meant to prevent friendly fire incidents.

                    In this case, the "hold fire" still allowed the pilots room to make decision. It was a bad call. However, punishing him for killing the Canadians is wrong. Punishing him for lying about the threat is justified.

                    If there is anyone to blame, I believe we should look to the USAF and our chain of command. Turning an Al-Qaeda based into a friendly training facility was a mistake, particularly if the command failed to brief the pilots on the changes. Other problems might include the ROE. If it was not clearly written, you have trouble. There is also the unspoken, but well-known, fact that combat is the fastest path to advancement. Another problem is that these pilots are trained so well, they become eager to prove themselves in combat.

                    Of course we'll never know. A Court Martial would have brought all this out. The pilot's defense teams would have likely put the USAF on trial. Alot could have been learned. However, it should be solved in offices, not in a case where lives are on the line.

                    I understand these pilots did wrong. I just don't see them as the problem, but a part of it. They will be punished. However, prosecution for manslaughter would be a stretch. The families should not focus solely on the people that pulled the trigger that night. I believe they were placed in an environment where accidents were bound to occur. This was a chain of command failure.

                    However, the USAF is going to cover that up.
                    "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      (you tell me if small arms fire can apear to be AAA whizzing past your aircraft at 10,000 feet AGL, as claimed by the pilots. There was also plenty of time between first sight of the fire and the dropping of the bomb, in order to ID the target - several minutes in fact).
                      Several minutes can be an eternity in flying. If pilots in an F-16 could see arms being fired on the ground, then those arms are a potential threat to that F-16. Seeing something like that on the ground is no small feat in an F-16.

                      The more I hear all the dissembling over the incident the more convinced I become that somebody in the Canadian command screwed up, not the pilots. Maybe there is some scam being run.
                      Get the US out of NATO, now!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Deltapooh
                        I believe this was more of a chain of command failure. If I'm not mistaken, the ROE still allowed the pilots to act on their initiative against targets of opportunity based on their threat level.
                        The ROE states pilots are not to descened and engage ground AAA that is well below the aircraft's altitude. While the Canadians admitted that some rounds were ricocheting skywards, these rounds hardly had enough momentum to reach anything close to 10,000 ft. Pilots are allowed to engage the AAA, if it is perceived to be an imminent threat. This is what the pilot eventually did, although he still deliberately descended into the threat before target ID, which is forbidden by the ROE.

                        Other problems might include the ROE. If it was not clearly written, you have trouble.
                        The full US/Canadian report is here:
                        http://www.centcom.mil/CENTCOMNews/R...rms_Report.htm

                        It is quite long, but scroll down, and you can find the section on ROE. To me they appear clear, but perhaps they are not, by military standards (I'm not iin the military).

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by SparceMatrix
                          Several minutes can be an eternity in flying. If pilots in an F-16 could see arms being fired on the ground, then those arms are a potential threat to that F-16. Seeing something like that on the ground is no small feat in an F-16.
                          It's one thing to see small arms fire on the ground. It's an other to state the fire is aimed at your aircraft, with tracers wipping by your cockpit.

                          Up to that point (April 2002), there had been many (what are called) SAFIRE incidents, with pilots reporting ground fire. The precedent for these had been well established, and the proper procedures followed.

                          The more I hear all the dissembling over the incident the more convinced I become that somebody in the Canadian command screwed up, not the pilots. Maybe there is some scam being run.
                          What part of "operating in a fully and officially designated training zone", don't you understand? Where is your 'evidence' that the Canadian command messed up? The link for the report is above, and you're welcome to read it in full.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            No amount of noise will obscure the obvious. The F-16 was combat operational in a country occupied by both Canada and the US for combat operations. The F-16 correctly identified some kind of weapons being fired on the ground. If friendly forces had been combat operational on the ground, the pilot would have known long before the incident who those people were and what they were firing too.

                            Skip the windy references, concentrate on what no one can argue against, listen to the endless diatribes against the pilots and easily begin to wonder what is actually going on. The Canadians screwed up, but the Canadians don't have the deep pockets to deflect the outrage of the relatives of the deceased.
                            Get the US out of NATO, now!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by SparceMatrix
                              Skip the windy references, concentrate on what no one can argue against, listen to the endless diatribes against the pilots and easily begin to wonder what is actually going on. The Canadians screwed up, but the Canadians don't have the deep pockets to deflect the outrage of the relatives of the deceased.
                              WTF?
                              You appear to have some highly developed form of animosity against the Canucks. You have not presented a single piece of evidence that it was the Canadians who made a mistake - your inability to acknowledge it was the US at fault contrary to the evidence speaks volumes. This is not a US - Canadian issue, this is an issue of one of our pilots killing our men by ignoring procedure and disobeying an order. His nationality is irrelevant - yours is all too obvious.

                              Re: the 1991 incident - was that not the destruction of the 2 USMC LAVs? The Apache pilot decided he knew better than the procedures and people died. In that case, as this, it was not a question of training - all involved are highly trained and experienced - it is a question of attitude.

                              Comment

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