The accidental bombing occurred as Canadian forces were carrying out a live-fire training exercise, which caused the pilot of one of two U.S. F-16s flying overhead to think he was being attacked, Pentagon officials said. The pilot dropped a 500-pound bomb on the Canadian troops.
The attack wounded eight other soldiers, two of them seriously. Canadian defense officials questioned how a mistake of such magnitude could have occurred, since the troops were working in a recognized training zone south of Kandahar. The Canadians’ training exercise did not include firing into the air.
The soldiers were members of the Third Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, based near Edmonton, Alberta.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien expressed outrage at the accident. He pledged an extensive investigation into the incident, which is among the worst cases of friendly fire attacks to occur in the war in Afghanistan.
“We have so many questions this morning. Extensive training for combat is meant to save lives. In this awful case it took so many lives,” he told legislators during a special session of parliament. “And I want to assure the families and the people of Canada that these questions will be answered.”
The prime minister also expressed his sympathy to the soldiers’ families, saying Canada owed the fallen troops a “debt of gratitude that is beyond mortal computation.”
President Bush called the Canadian Prime Minister to express his condolences and pledge cooperation for an investigation of the incident. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke with Canadian Defense Minister Art Eggleton by telephone, and issued a statement expressing deep regret for the deaths.
The injured Canadians will be transferred to a U.S. medical facility, either in Uzbekistan or Ramstein, Germany. The two soldiers who received slight injuries in the attack will remain in Kandahar.
Canadian forces are fighting with U.S. and European troops against Osama bin Laden’s terrorist al-Qaida organization and remnants of Afghanistan’s Taliban militia.