September 14, 2002



(See below.) Piecing together the official Canadian and American reports into the bombing accident in Afghanistan allows us to get really close to the mindset of Maj. Harry "Psycho" Schmidt, the F-16 pilot responsible.

Psycho had been a former Top Gun instructor and regular force F-18 pilot, the archetypical "hot shot" pilot in every way. Tom Cruise's "Maverick" character and he might have got on real well. There is no doubt he was a superb pilot, completely in command of his aircraft. Back home, he had been working full-time for the Air National Guard as the weapons officer when the squadron was mobilized for a 90-day rotation to flesh out the no-fly zone missions over Iraq. It wasn't his first exposure to a combat zone, not by a long shot.

Along with others from his ANG squadron, he joined 332nd Air Expeditionary Group, commanded by Col. Nichols, a likable, affable commander, "one of the boys," who took a fairly lax attitude toward discipline. In the days leading up to the incident, Col. Nichols had displayed what could have been open contempt for the squadron's AWACS and ground controllers, who monitored the battlespace. Previously, when one of his other pilots had disobeyed a directive and flown out of permitted space, he told the pilot he knew he had done it intentionally, but was going to let it slide. (After the accident, Nichols would openly blame the controllers, saying it wasn't his pilots' fault that they didn't know the position of every last soldier in Afghanistan.)

The pilots couldn't be told the locations of all friendly units in Afghanistan. That was impossible. They knew there was no serious surface-to-air capability left to the Taliban. So they were basically told to follow 2 simple rules:

1) Stay above a set altitude floor at all times (the exact altitude is classified, but was probably betwen 15 and 20,000 feet), high enough that any conceivable ground fire would be ineffective.
2) If ground fire was observed, fix its precise location, report it, and wait for orders from the AWACS. Because AWACS generally erred on the side of caution, this generally meant doing nothing.

The squadron had flown over 30 days in theatre without engaging once. Their one and only opportunity had been a two-plane strike in Iraq 48 hours before, involving two other of the squadron's pilots: Psycho had helped to plan it. But the Iraqi target had moved: there was nothing to hit. Just before flying out, Psycho had been at a squadron pilots' meeting where some frustration had been expressed that his squadron was not seen to be doing well on this tour.

Psycho popped 2 dexadrine pills around the time he took off. It was enough to counter any fatigue, not enough to get him buzzed. Because he was also responsible for planning missions for the squadron, this was his first combat mission in over a week. He would be flying wingman for the squadron commander back home, Maj. Umbach, a civilian airline pilot who had flown weekends with the ANG for many years. Umbach, if well-liked, was not well respected as a pilot or leader. In the air, it was generally assumed he would defer to Psycho's greater experience.

Flying home after yet another uneventful mission, Psycho saw groundfire. He was a little disoriented: he had seen the initial tracer fire through vision-limiting Night Vision Goggles, then switched on his targeting apparatus to get a closer look: focussed on the magnified night-vision image in his cockpit, he didn't notice he was practically right over Kandahar. It was a clear night: he could see occasional tracer, coming from the area of an apparent crew served weapon. He didn't see anyone being fired at, or firing back, so he concluded it was aimed at aircraft: his aircraft. It didn't matter that there was no conceivable way that fire from the ground could have hurt him or Umbach. He saw it as a personal affront that anyone could be trying to shoot at him that night. It was time for he and the squadron to get some. He asked the AWACS controller for permission to engage. The AWACS (commanded, interestingly enough, by a Canadian Air Force major that night) predictably said no.

At that point, something inside Psycho snapped. He was convinced now he was seeing surface-to-air fire, so whatever was down there couldn't be Allied, so why couldn't he drop a bomb with impunity? If his assumptions were right, he could use a claim of "self-defence" to dodge Rule 2. He knew Col. Nichols would buy it, especially if some Taliban turned up dead, thanks to him. He knew Umbach wouldn't interfere, too. AWACS? What did they know? They weren't in the cockpit with him, after all.

The whole thought process took exactly four seconds. Then he started rolling in.

Posted by BruceR at 01:33 PM



People of a pro-war bent who persist in believing there's evidence of a Bin Laden-Iraq connection are rapidly entering something close to Justin Raimondo's Bizarro world: come on people, let it go now. Other than being two aspects of the Bush Doctrine, this war is not connected to the last war. This piece in the Opinion Journal is a nice summary of the conspiracy lunacy:

*Evidence Iraq was behind the Oklahoma City bombing: An Oklahoma City restaurant worker named Hussain al-Hussaini from Iraq looked something like an early police wanted poster. Um, that's it so far.

*Evidence Iraq was behind the first World Trade Center bombing: One known conspirator fled back to his home in Iraq and is still there. Another sometimes travelled on an Iraqi passport. A third had relatives in Iraq. Um, that's it there, too.

For some reason, the phrase "indicting a ham sandwich" comes to mind.

Posted by BruceR at 12:37 AM