May 05, 2002



The estimable Matthew Fisher (one of the most reliable dedicated war correspondents in the world, IMHO) added a few more details to the story behind the death of 4 Canadians near Kandahar from a F-16 bomb. Reading between the lines, it adds greatly to the American pilot's culpability on this one.

First off, it's clear "near Kandahar" is not an exaggeration:

The firing range where the Canadians died was only two kilometres from the front gate of the airfield where 900 Canadian and several thousand American troops have been based since the beginning of February.

Any pilot dropping ordnance 2,000 m from the edge a well-lit major base without confirming what's down there first would be a menace to any army. Period. I was wondering how American medical assistance arrived so quickly... But that's not the real shocker.

Alpha Company had been firing its Carl Gustavs, a short-range anti-armour gun, for about four hours when the accident happened.

It was a Carl Gustav live fire, then. Target practice, really, on the antitank range. Incredible.

For those who don't see it automatically... the "Carl G" is a Swedish-made shoulder-fired 84mm recoilless rifle. Every Canadian infantry platoon carries one. I've fired it. I have in fact, been called the worst Carl G shot in NATO, which isn't far from the truth. I've also been around the launch pad when shoulder-mounted SAMs were fired, during my air defence artillery days, so I know a little about what I'm talking about here. (The American Rangers and Seals use the Carl... their Army also uses the AT-4, which is a very similar weapon but with a disposable launcher).

Based on early reports, you'll remember I had assumed the Canadians had been firing .50 calibre machine guns, which could conceivably put out enough tracer to be mistaken for ground fire (smaller machine guns couldn't). But if this report is true, there was no tracer. The Carl is a recoilless rifle... there is no missile smoke trail, or impelling motor after the gun is fired... just a big flash on launch, and a somewhat smaller one 300m down range when the shaped-charge round hits. (NB: The Carl G does have a tracer, but it's barely visible from the ground, and is certainly not mistakable for automatic weapon fire even then.) The signature, night or day, is completely different from any shoulder-mounted SAM I have seen.

Now, I obviously don't know what things look like from an F-16 cockpit in the dark. But there is no way, night or day, from several kilometres off on the ground, that anyone could mistake a Carl G firing range for an air defence emplacement. The earlier question I had asked... what altitude was the pilot flying at... is moot if all they were firing was Carl Gs that night. It means the pilot dropped a bomb, with the lights of the American-Canadian base in visual range, with good visibility, not on anything that could be reasonably mistaken as an attack on his plane, but simply weapon flashes he saw on the ground... and then justified it as self-defence.

Look, I KNOW friendly fire accidents happen in war. Canadians have killed each other many times in wartime by mistake. But if Fisher's report mirrors the truth, then this is way beyond a USS Liberty style accidental attack. I can understand, if regret, mistakes I could see myself making. This is Richard Ashby fly-under-the-skilift irresponsible. And we all know what happened to him.

Posted by BruceR at 12:11 PM

MOVING DAY Sorry about the


Sorry about the lack of posts. Got a new house.

Posted by BruceR at 11:40 AM