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Law

U.S. pilot found guilty in 'friendly fire' incident

Mistaken bombing killed four Canadians


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(CNN) -- An Air Force pilot involved in a "friendly fire" bombing that killed four Canadian troops in Afghanistan was found guilty Tuesday of dereliction of duty, reprimanded and ordered to forfeit more than $5,000 in pay.

Maj. Harry Schmidt, a decorated IllinoisAir National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot from the 170th Fighter Squadron, has until July 12 to decide whether to appeal.

The letter of reprimand said Schmidt "flagrantly disregarded a direct order from the controlling agency, exercised a total lack of basic flight discipline over [his] aircraft, and blatantly ignored the applicable rules of engagement and special instructions."

The letter was written by Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, 8th Air Force Commander, about the April 17, 2002 bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Along with the four Canadian troops killed, eight others were seriously wounded in the bombing.

The other pilot involved in the incident was Schmidt's mission commander, Maj. William Umbach. Both originally faced manslaughter and assault charges, but the charges were dropped. Umbach was reprimanded for "leadership failures" as the lead pilot in the two-ship flight, and allowed to retire.

Carlson's letter to Schmidt was scathing.

"You acted shamefully ... exhibiting arrogance and a lack of flight discipline," it said.

"When your flight leader warned you to 'make sure it's not friendlies' and the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft controller directed you to 'stand by' and later to 'hold fire,' you should have marked the location with your targeting pod.

"Thereafter, if you believed, as you stated, you and your leader were threatened, you should have taken a series of evasive actions and remained at a safe distance to await further instructions from AWACS.

"Instead, you closed on the target and blatantly disobeyed the direction to 'hold fire.' Your failure to follow that order is inexcusable."

Carlson said he did not believe Schmidt, who said he believed his plane was being fired upon by Taliban forces.

"Your actions indicate that you used your self-defense declaration as a pretext to strike a target, which you rashly decided was an enemy firing position, and about which you had exhausted your patience in waiting for clearance from the Combined Air Operations Center to engage.

"You used the inherent right of self-defense as an excuse to wage your own war."

Carlson said Schmidt lied about why he engaged the target and then tried to blame others once an investigation began.

"You had the right to remain silent, but not the right to lie. In short, the final casualty of the engagement over Kandahar on 17 April 2002 was your integrity."

Schmidt's fine of $5,672 will be made in two monthly payments of $2,836.

He will no longer be permitted to fly Air Force aircraft, but will continue to serve in the Illinois Air National Guard in Springfield.

A 1987 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Schmidt flew FA-18s in two fighter squadrons and taught at the elite Naval Fighter Weapons School, more famously known as "Top Gun" school.

While flying for the Navy, Schmidt earned the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal twice, the Navy Achievement Medal twice and the Air Medal three times.


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