July 19, 2002



What the transcript released late Thursday DOES show is the complicity of Maj. "Psycho" Schmidt's wingman on the flight and his squadron commander, Maj. William Umbach. After telling Schmidt explicitly to make sure those aren't friendly troops on the ground, Umbach, who was in a position to see what Schmidt was seeing, does nothing else to rein him in, nor does anything himself to "make sure it's not friendlies." If Schmidt really did have a predisposition to engage in reckless bombing that night, which seems clear, Umbach was the only person in a position to do anything about it. But other than some wimpy, "Oh, I don't know, Psycho" weasel words, he had no problem letting Schmidt do whatever he wanted. That's not leadership.

Posted by BruceR at 11:10 PM



A partial transcript of the discussion in the air that led to 4 Canadians being bombed last April, from the National Post:

Maj. Schmidt: Boss man [AWACS], this is Coffee 52. I've got tally in the vicinity. Request permission to lay down some 20 mike [cannon].
Maj. Umbach: Let's just make sure it's not friendlies. That's all.
Schmidt: When you've got a chance, put it on the spy.
Umbach: Check my sparkles [infrared target marking]. Check my sparkles. See if it looks good.
Schmidt: I'm copying your sparkles well.
AWACS: Hold fire. I need details on safire [surface-to-air fire].
Schmidt: I've got some men on a road, and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us... I am rolling in in self-defence.
AWACS: Boss man copies.
Schmidt: Shack [bomb has landed]. Can you confirm they were shooting us?
AWACS: You're cleared. Self-defence.

People (actually, Schmidt's lawyer mostly) are saying this is evidence there's a witch hunt out for Maj. Harry "Psycho" Schmidt, the F-16 pilot who killed 4 Canadians. The allegation, repeated in every Canadian paper this morning, is that there was a rush to judgment, that Psycho is being strung up to save... well, we're not sure who, maybe the AWACS controller? But the transcript hardly bears that out. For an AWACS team to back up Schmidt after the bomb landed is not clearance to attack... sounds more like post facto rationalization to me. Once the pilot declares self-defence, someone sitting in an AWACS hundreds of miles away is not going to contradict him. All the AWACS guy is saying at the end there is, "I believe you." And at that instant, given the information Schmidt had provided, there was really no reason for them not to.

More important and revealing are two other things Schmidt said. He asks for confirmation, presumably from his wingman Umbach, that the bad guys were actually shooting at them... only after he has already devastated them with a 500-lb laser guided bomb. In other words, he had no certainty previous to that, when he claimed self-defence... suggesting even he didn't believe his own excuse when he gave it. Second, he claims he saw a "piece of [anti-aircraft] artillery," and that's what he was aiming at. That probably rules out an earlier suggestion of mine, that Schmidt may have mistaken paraflares for a surface-to-air missile. No, Schmidt thought he saw a gun... bringing us back to the story that he believed a 7.62mm MG, .50 cal MG, or a Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon (only the latter has been confirmed so far as being in use at the time of the attack) was a Taliban antiaircraft gun, either 14.5 mm or 23 mm. Remember neither of those weapons could possibly reach Schmidt at his cruising altitude, and that he certainly knew that. Remember also that he first wanted to engage with 20mm cannon fire, which is about the only thing he could do that would bring him within range of such a gun. Remember that Schmidt could see Kandahar's lights, and knew he was dropping ordnance on muzzle flashes only a kilometre outside the American perimeter. And then try to estimate the likelihood the Taliban would have wheeled a trailer-mounted anti-aircraft gun so close to Western troops and then open fire on planes they could neither see (it being quite dark) nor hit. Is the alternative (that Psycho just saw some non-dangerous muzzle flashes over the 'Stan and felt a need to attack whatever was responsible for them) so unbelievable? His lawyer wants you to think it is.

UPDATE: A lot of the articles on this are assuming when Schmidt is asking if someone else can confirm he was being fired at, he's talking to the AWACS plane, not his wingman, and that the AWACS controller is responding in the affirmative to him. How an AWACS plane, whose only information is essentially what Schmidt tells him, that and a radar plot of Schmidt's plane, could determine what's on the ground below, is not made clear. I suggest the transcript above is properly read as a three-way conversation, with Schmidt asking Umbach, "they were firing on us, right?" after the bomb has exploded, and the AWACS controller then chiming in with the equivalent of "don't sweat it, if it was self-defence it was self-defence."

Another interpretation of that sentence I have seen is the AWACS controller is coming back on air to clear Schmidt to go in and attack after the bomb has dropped, meaning he got a post facto okay, and the controller must be complicit. Again, this is not borne out by the transcript... as you can see, the AWACS controller had already acknowledged the self-defence claim before the bomb fell. ("Boss man copies.") Even if he had then gone on to somehow check the ground position against some known map of allied positions while the attack was going in, which is stretching belief, there's no way his response, knowing the bomb already had exploded, would have been, "you're cleared, self-defence." If there was no doubt the troops on the ground weren't friendly, then he just would have said, "you're cleared, no friendlies in area," or words to that effect. What he said instead indicates that the AWACS controller was saying "you were in the best position to judge, I trust you. If you say it was self-defence, I'm sure you're right." It does not indicate complicity with the pilot, or responsibility on the part of the AWACS aircrew in the death of the Canadians. The Canadian papers are falling for a lawyer's spin.

Posted by BruceR at 10:03 AM