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Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

Air Force drops friendly fire charges

June 20, 2003

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— The Air Force dropped homicide and assault charges Thursday against two fighter pilots who mistakenly bombed Canadian soldiers last year in Afghanistan, killing four.

The pilots, Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach, had been charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and dereliction of duty and faced up to 64 years in prison if convicted in a court-martial.

The decision was met with disappointment by relatives of the Canadian soldiers.

"I was hoping ... for a court-martial," said Marley Leger, wife of Sgt. Marc Leger, who died when the powerful explosive detonated next to him. But "it doesn't matter what the decision would be. It would not bring back Marc."

Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the Louisiana-based 8th Air Force, dropped all charges against Umbach. Schmidt still faces dereliction of duty counts but will not be court-martialed.

Carlson recommended that commanders should decide whether Schmidt, who released the 500-pound bomb from an F-16, should be punished for lesser criminal offenses, including failure to ensure that the troops he attacked were not allies and to obey when air controllers told him to "stand by" before he dropped the bomb.

Carlson also recommended that a flying evaluation board determine whether Schmidt should be allowed to fly again for the Air Force. The maximum nonjudicial punishment would be a reprimand, forfeiture of a month's pay, confinement to quarters for a month and restriction on travel for two months.

Both pilots declined to comment.

Besides Leger, the April 17, 2002, bombing near Kandahar killed Pvt. Richard Green, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer and Pvt. Nathan Smith and wounded eight other Canadians. They were the first Canadians to die in combat since the Korean War.

The two Illinois Air National Guardsmen had been the first Air Force pilots to face homicide charges as a result of a friendly fire incident during combat.

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