U.S. pilots should have known Canadians were below, inquiry told

The U.S. pilots who bombed Canadian troops in Afghanistan should have known allies were on the ground, an American official testifies

The American pilots who dropped a bomb on Canadian troops in Afghanistan had the responsibility to read a warning about the possibility of allies being in the area, a U.S. military hearing was told Thursday.

The information was available to both F-16 pilots, according to U.S. Col. Lawrence Stutzriem, who was working at the Coalition Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Saudi Arabia last April when the Canadians were attacked. The radar facility co-ordinated the air missions over Afghanistan.

The laser-guided bomb killed four soldiers, and injured eight others, during a night-training exercise near Kandahar.

Airspace Control Orders (ACOs) were issued informing pilots that coalition forces might be conducting ground exercises, Stutzriem testified, and it was up to air crews to review the reports before flying.

"It was told in the ACO," Stutzriem said, when asked by defence lawyers why the pilots were not told specifically about the live-fire training on the Tarnak Farms range the Canadians used.

"Air crews with proper planning should have known," he added. "In the ACO, the entry was that that range was effective 24 hours ... I think it's very clear."

The man who dropped the bomb, Maj. Harry Schmidt, is charged with involuntary manslaughter. A pilot flying next to him, Maj. William Umbach, is accused of aiding manslaughter. The inquiry that got underway in Louisiana this week will determine whether any disciplinary action, including a court martial, is warranted.

Stutzriem said that the written orders clearly make the Tarnak Farms range a "restricted" zone, and that pilots were not authorized to open fire there.

"The range is posted, there's an airport," he said during cross-examination. "It's understood that the area near Kandahar is a friendly area."

Schmidt and Umbach have said they thought they were under enemy attack when they saw the Canadian guns firing below, and contacted air controllers on the ground to try to find out who was shooting. Seconds after the bomb exploded, officials told them to disengage because "friendlies" were in the area.

Schmidt's defence lawyer challenged Stutzreim on the stand, arguing that the U.S. pilots thought they were under attack and so couldn't wait for clarification from air controllers.

But the colonel disagreed with suggestions that the Americans in the air were operating "in the fog of war." He called their tragic decision to bomb a straightforward, "plain vanilla" attack on a target.

Mother of Canadian soldier attending hearing

Claire Leger, mother of Marc Leger, one of the four soldiers killed, said it's been very difficult to listen to the testimony.

She said she's attending the hearings because she wants to know why her son died.

After watching videotapes from the F-16 jets, Leger said she wonders why Schmidt didn't wait to find out who was on the ground.

"I think the thing that hurts the most, I guess, is that he didn't take the time to wait to find out what he was going to bomb. And that's very painful," she said.

Leger said the fact that Schmidt didn't wait is hard to swallow.

"If he would have waited a little bit, he would have saved four lives," she said.