Guard pilots may face charges in errant bombing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Air National Guard pilots may face criminal charges for their roles in a bombing that killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

A senior defense official said the Air Force is recommending that charges be filed against F-16 pilots Maj. Harry Schmidt and Maj. William Umbach. Pentagon officials were expected to announce the charges Friday after the U.S. Central Command and the Canadian government released additional details from a joint investigation of the April 17 tragedy.

The senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Thursday the Air Force would recommend that Schmidt be charged with involuntary manslaughter. He dropped a 500-pound bomb on a group of Canadian soldiers, mistaking them for enemy forces. Four Canadians were killed and eight were wounded.

The Air Force also is recommending Schmidt be charged with failure to exercise appropriate flight discipline.

Umbach, the lead pilot, would face charges of aiding and abetting Schmidt in the involuntary manslaughter, the official said. As lead pilot, he should have more forcefully intervened to stop Schmidt from dropping the bomb until confirmation of the target was received, the Air Force says.

The charges were first reported Thursday night by NBC News.

Because Schmidt and Umbach are members of the Illinois Air National Guard and are no longer mobilized under federal authority, they would have to be recalled to active duty to face the charges.

It is unclear whether the recommended charges against them will be considered under Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — essentially like a grand jury proceeding in the civilian judicial system — or will be taken directly to a court-martial.

The inadvertent killings caused a public uproar in Canada. The joint U.S.-Canadian investigation faulted both pilots for failure to follow established procedures to ensure that they attacked a legitimate target.

Central Command publicly released the basic findings of the investigation in June but did not release details. It said it needed more time to remove classified information from the report.

Schmidt spotted flashes on the ground as he was flying over the Canadians, who were conducting a nighttime live-fire exercise. He thought the fire was from hostile forces but was told by a U.S. air controller to hold fire until further inquiry could clarify the situation, according to the investigation report.

Schmidt nonetheless declared he was “rolling in in self-defense” and dropped the bomb.

The inquiry that was completed in June determined that Schmidt and Umbach were largely to blame for the mistaken attack, although it also found undisclosed problems in the pilots’ command structure.

A decision on disciplinary action was left to Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley, the senior Air Force officer in Central Command. In August, however, that responsibility was transferred to Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Lawyers for Schmidt and Umbach had claimed Moseley was predisposed to find the pilots guilty.

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