September 16, 2002


(See below.) Self-fancied right-wing contrarian George Jonas (otherwise best-known as ex-husband of the much more intelligent Barbara Amiel) continues to bang his drum slowly for the American pilots charged with wrongfully killing 4 Canadians.

Jonas' previous efforts in this area have been lauded, for no obvious reason, by Mark Steyn and others. So what if all the evidence is against him? Why stop now? Jonas' reasoning, if it can be called that: full details of ground activities in Afghanistan were regularly not being passed on to the pilots flying air patrols over the country. Hence the Americans are innocent:

"Why was it left up to pilots whizzing by at 20,000 feet to determine whether muzzle flashes on the ground were hostile or friendly?" I asked in June. Now we know why. It was left up to the pilots because a "cumbersome" document detailing ground force movements was "intentionally deleted" from their briefing.

But you see, it WASN'T left up to the pilots. The two-plane flight in question was the only air patrol over all of Afghanistan that night. They were actually seconded from Iraq no-fly duty. The tribunals found that they had 1 1:250,000 map of the whole country in the cockpit with them. Jonas apparently feels they should have been made to annotate that map with the location of every last friendly ground soldier IN ALL OF AFGHANISTAN that night, and that this would have saved the Canadians somehow. Has George ever seen a 1:250,000 map? Doubtful. At that scale you can communicate messages like "airfield here" or "stay away from this city". The precise location of a 12-person Canadian detachment, along with all the other CIA, Special Forces, Delta, SAS, and Afghan allied detachments as well (even if those could be known, which they clearly couldn't), would be one incomprehensible dot among hundreds, viewed through night vision goggles staring at your lap while trying to control a highly expensive and deadly piece of military hardware. This is George's solution to the friendly fire problem.

The pilots' bosses had a better way of identifying tracer fire: call the AWACS plane, who had better maps. AWACS could also call ground control, and check with their maps. The inquiries found that on average from identification of a possible target to communication back to the pilots using this procedure took an average of five minutes. In this particular case it took just 157 seconds. But as one can see from the transcript below, "Psycho" Schmidt only gave his controllers 90 seconds, before deciding to act regardless.

But, but, but, stammers Mr. Jonas. seizing upon and misinterpreting another sentence in the Canadian inquiry: the one that begins "Even though it is reasonable to believe that the [Canadian shooting] might have been perceived as enemy surface-to-air fire..." Aha, says George:

So apparently, here's Canada's advice to fighter pilots: When it is reasonable to believe that you're taking enemy surface-to-air fire, don't just respond but sit there... climb to a safe altitude and range to give the enemy a chance to escape."

No, George, that's not what the inquiry said (read the sentence above again). The inquiries concluded that it was reasonable to believe that the firing below was surface-to-air fire (it's fair to say that's one legitimate explanation for tracers in the night), but they also both concluded that it was completely unreasonable for either pilot TO FEEL THREATENED, given the simple fact they were flying at least 10,000 feet higher than any bullet fired from the ground could possibly reach. "A longer, more patient look from [the pilots'] safe altitude and range, combined with a good knowledge of the airspace and the threat in the area, should have confirmed that the event observed was neither a direct threat to their formation or enemy activity of a significant nature," continued that same sentence George quoted. The planes were ALREADY at "a safe altitude and range." There was no rush. Both inquiries concluded that the pilots THEMSELVES didn't feel the least bit threatened. Neither took any evasive action. Neither showed any sign of alarm. Schmidt's "self-defence" claim was a deliberate lie, told because that was the only way he was going to drop a bomb on what he thought he saw that night. It had no basis in reality.

"Canada's advice to fighter pilots" is that when you see unidentifiable ground fire that is of no conceivable threat to you or any other pilot in an fluid combat zone at night, mark it, report it and wait for orders. George would like to see these rules made more liberal, apparently: essentially giving pilots the freedom to bomb anything they think they see, regardless of the circumstances. As a ground soldier myself, that worries THE F*CK out of me. I'm not in the least bit upset that American air mission planners concluded that pilots splitting duty between Iraq and Afghanistan probably couldn't stay current on every last ground activity in both countries, all the time, and annotate their trusty little laminated cockpit maps with markers accordingly. That's what their air and ground controllers' job was, and by all accounts they did it well that night. I AM upset when soldiers given simple rules to follow don't follow them for some personal reason, people get killed as a direct result, and the whole thing is written off to some "systemic failure." (Note that Jonas, predictably, doesn't name the persons he thinks should be charged INSTEAD of Schmidt and Umbach.)

But you see, I don't think the risk to lives on the ground, or the overall mission, ever entered George's little head. He took a contrary position on this issue early on, and now he's determined to defend it... regardless of facts, regardless of logic.

Posted by BruceR at 08:06 AM



"Hey, Mohammed!"
"Yes, Ali?"
"See that missile-like object up there, the one that's headed towards us? How long would you say that was?"
"Oh, that's a long one. Got to be at least fifty feet, wouldn't you say?"
"Nah, even longer. I'd say fifty-two."
"Yeah, I'm sure you're right."

Posted by BruceR at 12:30 AM