Springfield State Journal Register

April 20, 2002

Bombing accident to be probed 
Pilot of Springfield-based jet may be disciplined 


WASHINGTON - A panel of experts from the U.S. and Canadian armed forces will investigate the accident in which bombs from an F-16 jet belonging to the Springfield-based 183rd Fighter Wing killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, officials said Friday.

With witnesses testifying under oath behind closed doors, the investigation is expected to take 30 days. It will result in a report containing the facts and probable causes of the accident, according to an Air Force legal expert.

The report and any recommendation of possible disciplinary action will be made public at the end of the investigation, Pentagon officials said.

The possible actions include career-damaging critical letters in the official record, temporary or permanent loss of a pilot's flight qualifications or a court martial that could lead to discharge or even prison.

The history of friendly fire incidents, however, indicates that no punishment would be ordered unless the pilot or others involved violated direct orders, operational restrictions or normal procedures.

Officials have confirmed that the jet was from the 183rd, but have not yet said if the pilot was a member of the unit, whose base is at Capital Airport.

For example, the Navy fighter squadron commander whose bombs killed allied troops on the ground at a bombing range in Kuwait last year lost his command and his pilot's qualification because he released the bombs before given clearance, said Jay Farrar, a former Marine officer.

The latest incident involved Air National Guard pilots flying over a night training exercise in which the Canadian soldiers were firing their weapons. The Central Command said the pilot thought the shooting was hostile fire and dropped one or more bombs in self-defense.

Such an incident "could be a matter of the pilots losing a bit of situational awareness," said Farrar, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Or it could be a situation of people on the ground not adequately communicating."

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the officer responsible for the war in Afghanistan, will decide after the investigation is completed what, if any, criminal or administrative action should be taken against the pilot or others involved in the accidental bombing.

If Franks decides that some punitive action should be taken against the pilot, he likely will delegate that responsibility to a senior officer with direct authority over the 183rd Fighter Wing, the legal expert said.

Franks, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, also could direct changes in operating procedures within his area of responsibility to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The probe will be led by an Air Force general with pilot experience.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, said a Canadian general will serve on the investigative board.

The members of the board have not been named, spokesmen said.

Under normal procedures, the pilot involved would not be allowed to fly until the investigation is completed.

The investigating board will include a pilot who flies F-16s, maintenance officers, a flight surgeon, a military lawyer and others, the investigations expert said. Because the accident involved ground troops, the infantry also will be represented, as will people familiar with any air control element involved.

"Any activity that was involved in the incident will be represented," said the expert, who asked not to be

At least 19 of the 41 combat-related deaths of U.S. or allied troops in Afghanistan have been due to "friendly fire" incidents.

Copley News Service reporter Dori Meinert contributed to this report.