Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, who detailed the findings of a joint U.S.-Canadian investigation Friday, said the pilot who mistakenly dropped the 500-pound bomb had been told to hold his fire shortly before the accident.
DeLong said the pilot, identified as Maj. Harry Schmidt, failed “to exercise appropriate flight discipline” during the April 18, 2002 incident. The bombing killed four soldiers and injured another eight.
The U.S. military panel recommended “appropriate disciplinary action” against Schmidt and the unidentified lead pilot of the pair of F-16s involved. The panel also called for disciplinary action against some members of the pilots’ chain of command.
The Canadian military held a separate news conference in Ottawa Friday to outline its findings.
“It’s the opinion of the board that the pilots… were the two individuals who were in a position to stop the chain of events that caused the deaths of our soldiers and that is why we say unequivocally that they are the cause of the accident,” retired General Maurice Baril, Canada’s former Chief of Defense Staff, said.
According to the joint committee, the lead F-16 pilot received permission from an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane to investigate reported surface-to-air fire. While the lead pilot was trying to get those coordinates, the pilot of the second F-16, or wingman, requested permission to fire on the location.
“AWACS told him to stand by and later requested that he provide additional information on the [surface-to-air fire] while also directing him to ‘hold fire,'” DeLong said. “The wingman provided the requested information to the AWACS and immediately declared that he was ‘rolling in, in self-defense’.”
Schmidt, pilot of the second plane, then released a 500-pound laser-guided bomb that hit a Canadian position.
The lawyer for the wingman released a statement shortly after the incident saying the pilot did not know at the time of the attack that the ground troops were part of the U.S.-led coalition.
“The pilot believes that he properly followed procedures based on the information he had at the time,” said the lawyer, Air Force Capt. James Key.
The report also found that the Canadian troops were not to blame in any way for the incident during a night live-fire training exercise on the ground near Kandahar airport.