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By David M. Bresnahan

June 28, 2002


TAMPA, Fla. -- Two US. F-16 pilots, along with those in their chain of command, have been blamed for a "friendly fire" incident the cost the lives of four Canadian soldiers and injured eight more.

"The Coalition Investigation Board found the cause of the friendly fire incident to be the failure of the two pilots to exercise appropriate flight discipline, which resulted in a violation of the rules of the engagement and an inappropriate use of lethal force," announced U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Michael P. DeLong, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, Friday.

"The board further found that failings within the pilots' immediate command structures, while not causing the incident were contributing factors," the  told reporters at a news conference. The investigation board was co-led by a U.S. and a Canadian general officer.

Canadian Brig. Gen. Michael Gauthier, operational commander for Canada's 2,000-strong military contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom, was in attendance for the announcement. He told reporters that the shock of the incident was felt by the entire 22 nation coalition in Tampa. "The friendship and trust among the allies in this campaign extends beyond the color of our national uniforms," he said.

There are now 35 nations in the growing coalition, and DeLong said it was like a "team," or a "family."

Gauthier said he believes the Canadian public still supports Canada's contribution and the role it has to play in the war on terrorism.

Soldiers from Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, were engaged in night time live-fire training at Tarnak Farms Range, Afghanistan, just south of Kandahar. The F-16s, passing over the area reported seeing "fireworks," according to the coalition report.

"The lead aircraft, perceiving this as surface-to-air fire, asked and received permission from an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to determine the precise coordinates of the source of the surface-to-air fire," DeLong said. "While attempting to obtain the coordinates, the wingman, flying with the lead, requested permission to fire on the location with his 20 mm cannon.

"The AWACS told him to stand by," he said, "and the AWACS later requested the wingman provide additional information on the surface-to-air fire while directing him to 'hold fire.' The wingman provided the requested information to the AWACS and then, declaring self-defense, rolled in on the target.

"Thereafter," DeLong said, "(the wingman) released a 500-pound laser-guided bomb that impacted a Canadian firing position at Tarnak Farms Range. Four Canadians were killed, eight wounded. All the wounded soldiers were immediately evacuated from the area for medical treatment."

Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks approved the report and has forwarded on to the Air Force for disciplinary action.

"All ranges of disciplinary actions are open," DeLong said. "It's the service component's call."

Policies and procedures may be changed to avoid similar problems in the future.

"Any time we have an incident like this, we look at what happened. If there were deficiencies, we make the changes right then so we can get on with either the operation or training, whatever the event happens to be," explained DeLong.

Reporters pushed for greater detail of the incident and the board's recommendations, but DeLong refused to provide the information. He insisted that because the investigation will continue by the Air Force additional information can only be obtained upon completion.

"We have come through this tragedy with a renewed commitment to the coalition and its objectives," Gauthier continued. "We're here together to demonstrate our joint resolve to help bring a measure of closure to those affected by the loss of these fine young soldiers."

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David M. Bresnahan  is an award-winning independent investigative journalist. He maintains an archive of his work at  and offers a free e-mail alert so you will not miss any of his news stories or commentaries.