U.S.: Friendly fire pilot reported being fired upon
Initial permission to drop bomb was denied, officials say
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A U.S. fighter pilot involved in a "friendly fire" incident that killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan dropped a laser-guided bomb after his commanders denied permission to do so, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Another eight Canadians were wounded in the incident early Thursday near Kandahar when the U.S. jet dropped a 500-pound bomb on them during a training mission, U.S. and Canadian military officials said.
U.S. officials said the F-16 pilot made an initial report to his commanders that he and another F-16 had taken enemy ground fire, and he was given permission to mark the target and return for a second look.
During the subsequent fly-over, the pilot requested permission to drop his weapon. A Pentagon official said his superiors denied permission unless the pilot felt he would be acting in self-defense. At that point, the pilot again reported ground fire, invoked his right of self-defense and dropped the laser-guided bomb, military officials said.
In a statement Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had discussed the incident with Canadian Defense Minister Art Eggleton and "assured him that Gen. Tommy Franks and his Central Command staff will work closely with the Canadian representatives in Tampa to investigate the causes of this tragic accident."
At a news conference in Ottawa, Canadian chief of staff Gen. Ray Henault said details of the incident remained to be determined. "But certainly, my understanding is that there was no hostile activity in the area that would have created this incident," he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien offered a statement of regret to the House of Commons on Thursday.
"If words cannot console this loss, they also cannot fully express the pride that all Canadians have felt on the exemplary way (Canadian forces) have carried out their duty," Chretien said. "There are so many questions. ... How has this happened? I want to assure the families and the people of Canada that these questions will be answered."
The Canadian soldiers were part of the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group. They have been in Afghanistan since late January as part of Operation Apollo, Canada's military commitment to the campaign against terrorism, according to the Canadian Defense Ministry.
In a written statement, President Bush said he had expressed his "deepest sorrow and sympathy" to Chretien.
"Canada's fallen heroes and their families are in our hearts and prayers," the statement said. "Canada is a vital member of the coalition against terrorism and hatred. It is shouldering a great burden and making tremendous sacrifices to make the world a safer place for all people."
Canadians were conducting training exercise
The bombing happened at about 1:55 a.m. in Afghanistan. The Canadian soldiers were conducting a live-fire training exercise in an area about nine miles (14 kilometers) south of the Kandahar airfield, Canadian officials said.
The soldiers were firing at inert targets in a "recognized training area," according to Maj. Jamie Robertson, a spokesman for the Canadian Joint Task Force. Henault said the American fighter pilot could not visually identify the troops because the exercise took place in the middle of the night.
"Without a doubt, there was a misidentification of the Canadians and what they were doing on the ground and that was obviously the cause of this accident," Henault said.
Six Canadian soldiers wounded in the incident are being treated at the U.S. medical facility at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Canadian officials said. Two others who suffered minor injuries remained in Kandahar.
"The immediate response of this battle group has been outstanding, and their professionalism has been unparalleled," Henault said. "Every soldier in the theater of operations is a credit to the Canadian forces and certainly a symbol of strength in this country."
U.S. forces in the region echoed these sentiments.
"This loss is shared by our entire task force. Our hearts ache with yours as we continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against terrorism," said Col. Frank Wiercinski, a U.S. Army spokesman in Afghanistan. "The cost of this fight has been great, but our commitment remains greater."
Third U.S. 'friendly fire' incident in Afghanistan
The incident marks the third time that U.S. forces have been involved in friendly fire accidents during the conflict in Afghanistan.
Friendly fire incidents late last year left three Americans and five Afghan fighters dead and more than 40 people injured -- including slight injuries to Hamid Karzai, who now heads Afghanistan's interim government.
All eight deaths came in a December 5 incident north of Kandahar. In that incident, and another nine days earlier near Mazar-e Sharif, a B-52 bomber dropped a 2,000-pound (980-kilogram) guided bomb on positions manned by ground troops who were directing air strikes against nearby Taliban targets.
In both those accidents, preliminary findings indicate that confused communications between the ground and air crews resulted in the bombs being programmed to hit friendly ground troops.
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