Air Force pilot will face dereliction charge

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

NEW ORLEANS -- The Air Force set aside manslaughter and assault charges against a U.S. pilot Monday and said he will face trial on dereliction-of-duty charges for mistakenly bombing Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan last year, killing four.

Maj. Harry Schmidt, 37, could get six months in prison if convicted of the offense.

A date for the court-martial was not immediately set.

The dereliction count alleges that Schmidt "failed to comply with the applicable rules of engagement" and "willfully failed to exercise appropriate flight discipline over his aircraft."

Schmidt and fellow National Guard pilot Maj. William Umbach, the mission commander, attacked the Canadians' position on April 17, 2002, from their F-16s, claiming they thought they were under attack from Taliban forces.

Schmidt has maintained that the Air Force gave no warning that allies would be performing live-fire exercises when he dropped the laser-guided bomb.

Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the Barksdale-based 8th Air Force, recommended last week that Schmidt face possible administrative punishment instead of court-martial on homicide charges. But Schmidt rejected that course, saying he would try to clear his name at a court-martial instead.

Schmidt's lawyer, Charles W. Gittins, said the Air Force's decision not to pursue the more serious charges "reinforces the fact that Harry didn't act criminally and shouldn't have been charged criminally."

The Air Force said although the more serious charges will not be tried at court-martial, they have not been dropped. The decision means the charges could, in theory, be reinstated although that is considered unlikely.

Schmidt had transferred to the National Guard in 2000 after serving as a Navy pilot and an instructor at the Navy's "Top Gun" fighter pilot school.

Charges were dropped last week against Umbach, 44, a United Airlines pilot. Umbach was given a letter of reprimand and allowed to retire, as he had requested.

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