September 13, 2002



(See below.) Also now online, the American report also has some interesting things to say about communications within the Air Force structure and the situation on the ground.

1) Piecing together the two reports, we now know what the infantry section Maj. "Psycho" Schmidt destroyed was armed with: 1 Carl Gustav 84 mm shoulder-fired recoilless rifle, with six rounds; 1 other man-portable AT weapon, probably an M72; 3 machine guns, probably 1 C6 7.62 mm MG, and 2 C9 5.56 mm light MGs. By the time the F-16s overflew the training range, the section was down to 3 rounds for the "Carl G" and a limited amount of ammo for two of the machineguns (the third, probably a C9, had run out). Basically, because you can't wear Night Vision Goggles while firing the telescopic sight on a Carl G, the Canadian drill for infantry engaging an armored vehicle at distance at night involves getting someone with a machine gun and NVGs to fire, and then you aim the Carl at where the tracers are impacting. This is what was being practiced. There was no illumination of any kind (my earlier surmise about paraflares was definitely wrong). The C6 was firing in short 3-4 round bursts with its remaining ammo, to bring the Carl G (manned by two of the Canadians who died) on target. It must have been the 7.62mm rounds (fired at a target 200m away, with ricochets possibly bouncing up to 300 m into the air at most) that attracted the F-16s, as the Carl G has no tracer visible from the air. Fired horizontally, the MG tracers burn out at 800m. (The F-16s were flying at 7,000m throughout.)

2) It was a clear night, and Kandahar's proximity was obvious, the American board reports: "The most significant source of cultural lighting would have been emitting from the detention center at Kandahar Airport, five nautical miles to the north of Tarnak Farms Range. This lighting consisted of 43 1500-watt floodlights spaced around the compound and aimed to light up all areas within the fence line. C-130 crews commented that these lights could be seen up to 70 miles away on a clear night."

3) Major Umbach, who was leading the two-plane flight, was not well thought-of as a squadron commander back home, either. "Colonel Murphy was hard-pressed to state what Major [Umbach]'s duties were as commander, short of generally commenting upon assignment of personnel to jobs within the squadron. All [Air National] Guard witnesses concurred, however, that real day-to-day authority in the squadron was exercised by the full-time operations officer, Major _____... [Umbach] was serving as the squadron commander, despite the fact that he had been passed over for promotion to the next higher rank and the belief by his superiors that his promotion potential was minimal, given that he had not completed professional military education required for officers of his grade." Back home at 170 Fighter Squadron, Major Umbach was part-time, while Major Schmidt was full-time, what the Canadians call a "Class B" reservist.

4) "Psycho" Schmidt was the pilot on uppers: "Major [Schmidt] ingested 10 mg of his prescribed GO pills approximately two hours prior to the incident." The American report concludes that this was not sufficient to be considered a factor in this incident, however.

5) The verdict is the same drawn by the Canadian inquiry, and by this site some months ago: reckless disregard, pure and simple: "The Coalition Investigation Board found by clear and convincing evidence that the cause of the friendly fire incident on 17 April 2002 was the failure of Major [Schmidt], the 170th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Weapons Officer and the incident flight wingman, to exercise appropriate flight discipline. This resulted in a violation of the rules of engagement and the inappropriate use of lethal force. Under the circumstances, Major [Schmidt] acted with reckless disregard for the foreseeable consequences of his actions, thereby endangering friendly forces in the Kandahar area. The Board also found by clear and convincing evidence that an additional cause of the incident was the failure of Major [Umbach], the 170th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Commander and the incident flight lead, to exercise appropriate in-flight leadership. This resulted in his wingman's violation of the rules of engagement and inappropriate use of lethal force. Under the circumstances, Major [Umbach] acted with reckless disregard for the foreseeable consequences of his actions, thereby endangering friendly forces in the Kandahar area."

It also nails Maj. Umbach's superior, Col. David Nichols, commander of 332 AEG, for showing open contempt for their AWACS controllers in the weeks leading up to the incident: "Colonel David C. Nichols openly expressed frustration with what he perceived as severe failings with regard to the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM Airspace Control Order, command and control processes, and flow of intelligence information to the units, but failed adequately to communicate these concerns to his superiors. His failure in his responsibility as a commander to notify his superiors of such serious concerns, coupled with his indiscrete sharing of these concerns with subordinates, bred a climate of mistrust and led to an operational environment within his unit inconsistent with the Commander's Intent for Operation ENDURING FREEDOM." Nichols has been recommended for administrative punishment.

Posted by BruceR at 04:40 PM


(See below) Minus deletions for operational security, the official radio transcript of the accidental bombing of Canadian troops is considerably longer than the (I thought already sufficiently damning) edited transcript released by Maj. Schmidt's lawyer. It includes traffic on both the flight (plane-to-plane) frequency between Majors Schmidt (callsign Coffee 52) and Umbach (Coffee 51), and the conversation with the local AWACS airspace control plane and their ground control centre [CAOC]. All times are Zulu (GMT). "SAFIRE" is surface-to-air fire:

Umbach: (21:22:38) Do you have good coordinate for a mark or do you need me to roll in?
Schmidt: (21:22:42) Euh, standby. I’ll mark it right now...
Schmidt: (21:22:47) I’m in from the south-east.
Umbach: (21:22:52) [information about target marking: classified]
CAOC: (21:23:22) [Classified]
Schmidt: (21:23:29) Euh, I suppose we might as well make a left hand turn and stay in [the area] until 51 is ready.
Schmidt: (21:23:34) Euh, Okay [AWACS]. This Coffee 52. I’ve got a TALLY on the vicinity. Euh, request permission to lay down some 20 mike-mike.
AWACS: (21:23:42) Standby.
Umbach: (21:23:45) Let’s just make sure that euh, that it’s not friendly, that’s all.
Umbach: (21:23:51) When you got a chance, put on the [air data link] if you got a good hack on it.
Schmidt: (21:24:39) I’m gonna flow down here to the south west.
Schmidt: (21:24:42) [AWACS] from Coffee 52. Do you want us to push to a different freq?
Umbach: (21:24:48) Check my sparkle, check my sparkle to see if it looks good.
Umbach: (21:24:55) Yeah, I’m contact your sparkle as well.
AWACS: (21:25:00) Coffee 51 [from AWACS] HOLD Fire, I need details on SAFIRE…(the rest of the sentence unconfirmed).
Schmidt: (21:25:04) Okay, I have got some men on the road and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us. I am rolling in in SELF-DEFENSE.
AWACS: (21:25:04) [AWACS] copies.
Umbach: (21:25:17) Check Master Arm, Laser Arm, and check you are not in mark.
Schmidt: (21:25:23) I’m in from the southwest.
Umbach: (21:25:37) Do you show him on a bridge? [He still hasn't seen what Schmidt is aiming at.]
Schmidt: (21:25:39) Bomb’s away, cranking left.
Umbach: (21:25:49) Check... [unrecognizable].
Schmidt: (21:25:52) I am fine.
Schmidt: (21:25:54) Laser’s on.
Schmidt: (21:26:01) Shack ! [Bomb impact]
Schmidt: (21:26:07) [classified]
AWACS: (21:26:11) Coffee 51, [this is AWACS]. Disengage. Friendlies Kandahar.
Schmidt: (21:26:16) Copy… euh. Disengaging south.
AWACS: (21:26:18) Coffee 51 [this is AWACS]. How copy?
Umbach: (21:26:21) Copy euh… Can you confirm that they were shooting at us? [Notes the transcript: "This question does not make sense; [Umbach] knows that [AWACS] is distant from the action and in any case has no sensors that would be able to corroborate his picture of the tactical situation." The only conclusion is that Umbach must still have been talking to Schmidt, but on the frequency which the AWACS could hear.]
AWACS: (21:26:31): Coffee 51, [this is AWACS]. You are cleared Self-Defence… [Classified] wants you to work south …[unrecognizable]…Kandahar. [The AWACS still doesn't know a bomb has been dropped at this point, as much of the pilots' earlier conversation was on the other frequency. The AWACS controller clearly thinks he's being asked to acknowledge the Self-Defence call.]
Umbach: (21:26:42) Okay. One is coming back left, steer 82.
AWACS: (21:26:44): Coffee 51, Scram south! [AWACS has just been notified of the disaster on the ground.]
Umbach: (21:26:47) Coffee 51 scramming.
AWACS: (21:27:15) Coffee 51 [this is AWACS]. I need coordinates when able and I to know if any rounds were fired.
Umbach: (21:27:23) Go ahead.
Schmidt: (21:27:25) Yeah, I had one bomb dropped… in the vicinity of euh, 31 24 N, point 78, 65 43 point 522. That’s an estimate euh, if you are our general vicinity. [Notes the transcript: "The coordinates repeated in this transmission correspond to a point approximately 5 to 6 miles away from the Tarnak Farm area."]
AWACS: (21:27:45) [Classified]
AWACS: (21:27:55) Coffee 51. Repeat east coordinate.
Schmidt: (21:28:01) Yeah. I am not so sure it’s that accurate. I don’t have an accurate coordinate right now. Do you want me to go back and get you one?
AWACS: (21:28:07) [This is AWACS], negative.
Umbach: (21:28:13) Let’s go back safe. [turn off weapons systems]
Schmidt: (21:28:26) Yeah! They were definitely shooting at you.
Schmidt: (21:28:29) It sure seemed that they were tracking around and everything, and euh, trying to lead.
Umbach: (21:28:35) Yeah. We had our lights on and it wasn’t helping I don’t think.
Schmidt: (21:28:42) I had a group of guys on a road around a gun and it did not looked organized like it would be our guys.
Umbach: (21:28:49) It seems like it was right on a bridge. That’s kind of where I was at. [Umbach clearly never saw the target... there was no bridge.]
Schmidt: (21:28:52) Yeah, not quite. (pause) I hope that was the right thing to do.
Umbach: (21:28:53) Me too…
AWACS: (21:29:02) Coffee 51.
Umbach: (21:29:03) Go ahead.
AWACS: (21:29:04) Yeah, I need type of bomb dropped. Result, and, type of SAFIRE.
Umbach: (21:29:10) That was a single GBU-12 dropped. It was a direct hit on euh the artillery piece that was firing. As far as the SAFIRE [...*] Coffee 52. 51, what do you have on that? [Umbach evidently never saw the supposed ground fire, either.]
Schmidt: (21:29:27) I’d say the same. It was euh, sort of continuous fire, and euh… it appeared to be leading us as we were flying by and then as we came back around.
AWACS: (21:29:46) Do you get a top altitude of the SAFIRE?
Umbach: (21:29:52) Negative. They were burning out before here.
Schmidt: (21:29:55) I would estimate the top at approximately 10,000 ft. And just to let you know. We split in azimuth, sending 51 to the south and 52 went to the northeast. And euh, one of the guns turned back around to the east firing at 52, euh, as well. [Tracer burnout, even if a few rounds richocheted up, could not in fact of been higher than 1,000 feet. Schmidt overstates by a factor of 10.]
AWACS: (21:30:15) [AWACS] copies. And if we could, could you give me a routh longitude.
Schmidt: (21:30:24) Yeah. I did not take a mark at the time.
AWACS: (21:30:29) [Classified]
Schmidt: (21:30:36) Was that definitely the airfield that was closer? [Schmidt realizes he just dropped a bomb right outside the air base.]
Umbach: (21:30:40) Yeah.
AWACS: (21:30:40) Coffee 51. Could you just repeat the coordinate that you passed earlier?
Umbach: (21:30:43) He wants the coordinate again.
Schmidt: (21:30:45) Yeah. I do not have the proper coordinate for that.
AWACS: (21:30:49) [classified]
Schmidt: (21:30:52) Would you estimate… I’d estimate about 3 miles to the south, maybe a 150…
AWACS: (21:31:00) Coffee 51, [classified]
Umbach: (21:31:05) Yeah [CAOC] euh… There was no [classified] effective in that area tonight as far as our brief was concerned? Do you concur?
AWACS: (21:31:12) [classified]
AWACS: (21:31:19) [classified]
Schmidt: (21:31:28) Yeah. Standby for the microscope huh?
Umbach: (21:31:30) Yeahhh.

Other than the obvious deletions, the big difference between this and Schmidt's lawyer's transcript released to the press is that it has Umbach, not Schmidt, doubting they were fired upon immediately afterwards. Given the subsequent conversation, this is either an honest or dishonest mistake in the earlier version.

*Additional security redaction not noted until much later. See Flit posts for June 28/04.

Posted by BruceR at 02:57 PM



Below is the Canadian Board of Inquiry's bill of particulars justifying their fixing the majority of blame for killing four Canadians outside Kandahar on Major "Psycho" Schmidt, released in the final report today. Schmidt (Coffee 52) was the wingman to Maj. Umbach (Coffee 51): together they formed Coffee 51 Flight. Some text is still classified:

1) Approximately 4 minutes prior to invoking self-defence, and prior to splitting the formation, Coffee 51 Flight informs [the AWACS] that they have ordnance onboard.
It is unusual for a fighter formation to make such a comment to the controlling authority given the fact that they were proceeding home out of the mission area. This comment is inappropriate and the reason for it is unclear.
2) Approximately 90 seconds prior to invoking self-defence [Schmidt] requests permission to employ his gun against the observed ground fire location.
Based on the [aircrew's orders] as well as numerous testimonies, such a request seems to contravene accepted logic and procedures. Combined with the previous call to [the AWACS] Schmidt's intentions are suspect. In addition neither of the aircraft in the formation had taken appropriate evasive action to counter the perceived threat.
3) Coffee 51 Flight’s description of the ground fire depicts significant rapid fire activity [classified] up towards their position at altitude.
Actual ground fire consisted of anti-tank rounds being fired individually every 30 to 45 seconds for a total of 6 rounds. This was supported by small arms fire which included tracers. All ground fire was directed in a level plane in a westerly direction towards a single target about 200 meters away.
4) Both pilots of Coffee 51 flight were highly qualified pilots with previous combat experience, which included seeing hostile surface to air fire.
As testified by a [American 101st Airborne] helicopter pilot flying in the local vicinity just prior to the incident, the few ricochets that did occur never exceeded an altitude of approximately 1000 feet. Given the unrestricted visibility and experience of these pilots, it is surprising that their perceptions (rate, direction and angle of ground fire) would be so inaccurate.
5) [Schmidt] not only remains within the immediate vicinity of the perceived threat, but increases the risk by descending lower to the threat while allowing his airspeed to occasionally decrease below optimal maneuvering speed.
It is quite surprising and contrary to both [orders] and accepted defensive reactions that [Schmidt] would willingly allow himself to be exposed to a higher threat envelope through such actions. While the altitude minimums published may have permitted him to get this low to accomplish a “mark”, better airmanship would have dictated remaining at altitude or performing the [laser] designation at a greater distance from the perceived threat.
6) Throughout the 4 minute period prior to invoking self-defence, neither pilot’s voice reflect concern for their own safety.
In reviewing their submitted statements as well as their post-flight testimony, it seems very clear that the perceived threat was both immediate and grave (perceived to be under ambush), that would have warranted concern in their voice, directive defensive calls and aggressive defensive maneuvers.
7) Coffee 51 Flight remains in the perceived threat area for an unusually long time, both before and after bomb release, without ever attempting to escape the perceived envelope.
It is particularly alarming that neither of these experienced fighter pilots ever initiated a defensive reaction after the bomb had impacted, but rather continued to circle within the perceived threat area until AWACS directed to “Scram South”.
8) [Schmidt] invokes self-defence... based on his assessment that [Umbach] was in imminent danger.
Such an assessment defies the documented facts. [Umbach] remains at a safe altitude and distance from the perceived threat throughout entire incident. Furthermore, [Umbach] is in visual contact with the ground fire, yet never demonstrates (through calls or maneuvers) that he feels personally threatened. Finally it is doubtful that [Schmidt] truly had continuous visual contact with his lead considering the relative position of [Umbach] to him (an average of [classified] feet above and over [classified] miles behind his aircraft) as well as the other tasks he was performing ([classified] visually monitoring ground fire and flying his aircraft).
9) [Schmidt] never provides a defensive directive call to his lead after deciding that self-defence of the formation was essential.
Despite repeated claims that the invoking of the self-defence ...was necessary to protect his lead, [Schmidt] never provided his lead with a directive call to take defensive action (ie: "break L/R") or provide description of the threat direction and range.
10) Both on [classified] and in recorded statements, [Schmidt] attests to the existence of an artillery piece firing towards them.
Once [Umbach] and [Schmidt] have focused their [targeting equipment] on the ground fire location, only a few men are ever seen and no attempt is made by either pilot to positively discern and identify the perceived artillery piece.
11) It is common knowledge amongst the F-16 pilots, reinforced by their mission briefs, that [Kandahar] was an active Coalition airfield with a large concentration of friendly troops. [Umbach] becomes aware of the formations proximity to [Kandahar] over 1 minute prior to the bomb release.
It is unusual that [Schmidt] would not have visually acquired the [Kandahar Airfield] given the significant artificial lighting at the camp on the runway. Given the close proximity of the ground fire to this significant feature should have given concern to the probable presence of “friendlies” (TF Rakassan [sp] personnel, [classified] and Afghanistan Military Forces) in and around the general area. Further complicating the issue was the lingering concern amongst the F-16 pilots about the uncertain location of “friendlies” in Afghanistan.
12) Throughout the period prior to and immediately after the bomb release [Umbach] does not take positive control of the formations actions.
Not only is [Umbach] the flight lead for the mission, he is also the Commanding Officer of the 170th Fighter Squadron. Despite the extended period of exposure to the perceived threat, the calls and maneuvers by his wingman, and his knowledge of their position relative to [Kandahar], [Umbach] fails to take control of the situation. Given his position throughout the incident, in reference to the perceived threat and [Schmidt], he should have either directed the formation away from the threat or queried [Schmidt's] maneuvering into the higher threat envelope.
13) 17 seconds after the bomb impacts, [Umbach] queries [the AWACS] as to whether the perceived ground threat was “shooting at us?”
It is extremely unusual that a fighter aircraft would make such a request of an AWACS that was over [classified] miles away from the scene of the incident, and could not have possibly seen the ground fire. Furthermore, given the fact that [Schmidt] was so convinced that his lead was being fired at that he invoked self-defence.., this request demonstrates a significant difference in appreciation of the perceived threat between the two F-16 pilots, and is inconsistent with [Umbach's] post flight statements.

Another interesting fact: one of the two pilots (which one is unidentified) tested positive for amphetamines that night. Anyone still believe these guys are being scapegoated?

Posted by BruceR at 01:54 PM



I personally have no problem with last night's Bush speech, which I agree with Josh Marshall marks a return to a pragmatic foreign policy by the American president. America, Bush by implication agreed, still has to meet the standard moral obligation to the rest of the world of providing an acceptable casus belli before proceeding to war: in this case, Iraqi defiance of the UN. I do believe its delivery impacts on my earlier estimate of the probability of an invasion and Iraqi overthrow actually occurring, although I can't see a way logistically that a main force battle could be accomplished until at least mid-December, well after the Congressionals (just based on a subjective and entirely back-of-the-envelope junior log officer's analysis of ship sailing times and the like). An air or special forces campaign could, of course, come with a shorter fuze.

The interesting omission by Bush, however, was any mention of the evidence of Iraqi-Al Qaeda collusion we'd been promised. Really, other than the common interest in killing Kurds that Goldberg identified in the New Yorker, they never had one. So the Atta-in-Prague story is almost certainly a red herring now, and this new war is, in any logical sense, not the same war as the one in Afghanistan (and possibly not even really part of the "War on Terrorism", whatever that was ever meant to mean, although still falling well within the confines of the "Bush Doctrine").

Posted by BruceR at 12:58 PM



The American military tribunal looking into the Canadian "friendly fire" deaths at Kandahar has concurred with the Canadian board of inquiry that misconduct by the F-16 pilots was the proximate cause, and recommends charging Maj. Harry "Psycho" Schmidt with involuntary manslaughter, and his senior commander and wingman with aiding and abetting.

"The [inquiry] found the cause of the friendly fire incident to be the failure of the two pilots to exercise appropriate flight discipline, which resulted in a violation of the rules of engagement and an inappropriate use of lethal force."

Glad to see the wheels of justice are still turning. As I have pointed out again and again and again, by any rational analysis, the case for willful pilot negligence on Schmidt's part, and willful abdication of responsibility on the part of his wingman was indisputable months ago.

UPDATE: My friend Patrick C. points out that our defence department has now released the full text of its final report on the incident. (Presumably the conclusion of the American investigation now allows them to do so: previously only the executive summary had been made public.) Still processing...

Posted by BruceR at 10:37 AM