Amphetamines may have contributed to friendly fire incident, says ABC report
Date: Friday, December 20 2002
Topic: Canadian Politics
OTTAWA (CP) - An ABC News 20/20 report says amphetamines given to two U.S. fighter pilots may have contributed to a friendly fire incident last April 18 that killed four Canadian soldiers and wounded eight more in Afghanistan.
But reports by both Canadian and U.S. investigators said the Dexedrine pills, known on the street as speed or uppers, were not a factor in the attack on a Canadian live-fire exercise near the troops' Kandahar base.
And the Canadian commander in Afghanistan, Lt.-Col. Pat Stogran, said it's "beyond comprehension" how the Americans could have mistaken a night-time exercise for an attack from an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,500 metres).
The ABC report says the "go pills," given to the pilots to help them stay awake and alert on long missions, are illegal narcotics.
"This is speed," says Dr. Robert DuPont, former White House drug czar. "This is where we got the phrase, speed kills."
ABC obtained never-before-seen footage of the night-time attack from the F16s' targeting imagery, as well as audio tape of Maj. Harry Schmidt - "under the full influence of the amphetamine pills," says the report - declaring he's taking groundfire.
"I've got some men on a road with a piece of artillery firing at us," he says. "I am rolling in self-defence."
Schmidt had been told to hold fire by controllers in an AWACS command and control aircraft but says he was convinced he and his senior wingman, Maj. Bill Umbach, were under attack.
"Bombs away," the flight recording says. "Cranking left."
It was only after Schmidt drops the 250-kilogram bomb that he is told it is not the enemy. "Bossman, disengage friendlies, Khandahar," says the tape.
Schmidt and Umbach, both of the Illinois Air National Guard, were blamed by U.S. and Canadian inquiries, which said while there were some shortcomings in the command structure, Schmidt was too quick on the draw.
The ABC report says the amphetamines may have affected his decision-making.
The pair face a preliminary hearing at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on Jan. 13. They face up to 64 years in prison if convicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault.
The Canadian board of inquiry said go pills have been used for more than 30 years.
"Blood and urine tests and a drug screen done after the incident were normal for both pilots, with the only remarkable result being a low level positive in Major (name deleted) drug screen that confirmed his stated use of go pills," said the Canadian investigation's report.
"In accordance with set policies, (the two pilots) were ground tested and both were without side-effects and were medically cleared for operational use of go pills," it said.
"It was the assessment of the CIB medical adviser that the operational use of the go pill had no adverse effect on the (pilots)."
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Friday, Stogran said he and other members of the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, just want justice to take its course.
The colonel said he's "irked" by the tactics of the pilots' lawyers, including the release of selective segments of transcripts from inquiry interviews with Canadian soldiers suggesting weapons were fired into the air.
"Unfortunately, the families have to bear the brunt of these spurious revelations that are coming out," said Stogran.
"We just want justice to take its course. We're not out for vengeance or revenge or anything like that. Negligence is negligence, whether it's at 20,000 feet or had it occurred within the battle group."
The only tracers going up would have been ricochets, Stogran said. And a helicopter pilot flying in the area at the time said those were visible for only 1,000 feet (330 metres), at most.
"As if a fighter aircraft at 20,000 feet would even see the terminal effects of a round at that range," said the colonel. "The tracer would have burnt out.
"I find it incomprehensible that the company would have been sitting on the ground shooting up into the air."
Anti-tank guns - the largest weapons on-site - could not be fired at a significant upward angle because the backblast would threaten lives on the ground.
To pilots at altitude, the Canadian troops would have appeared a stone's throw away from what was unmistakably a coalition airfield.
There was a detainee compound in the middle of the Kandahar base that was lit up like a football field every night. Supply flights coming in to the base would navigate by those lights from 80 kilometres out.
Stogran used to fear the lights would attract enemy fire.
"It was Target Afghanistan," said Stogran. "The compound was lit up like a sports stadium and it was visible for miles.
"If you were at any altitude at all, that would just increase the range that it was identifiable from. There's no mistaking that as being a coalition centre. At any altitude, the intensity of those lights that were on the airfield should have served as a beacon of a no-fire zone."
The Tarnac Puhl training area was so close to the airfield, troops would sometimes walk it, out and back.
Platoon- or company-sized exercises were conducted at the former al-Qaida training site daily. And soldiers wore infrared strobes as well as glint tape on their helmets so they would be clearly visible to allied aircraft.
"There was one quick-reaction force mission where the Spectre gunships actually talked one of our platoons onto an objective at night using their infrared signature," said Stogran.
© Copyright 2002 The Canadian Press