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Friendly fire incident investigated

Beginning in Iraq, the lingering mystery about the exact events that led to the death of Canadian Special Operations Regiment Sergeant Andrew Doiron at the hands of allied Kurdish peshmerga forces has been mostly resolved with the release of a highly redacted report into the event.

Beginning in Iraq, the lingering mystery about the exact events that led to the death of Canadian Special Operations Regiment Sergeant Andrew Doiron at the hands of allied Kurdish peshmerga forces has been mostly resolved with the release of a highly redacted report into the event.

More than two months after Doiron’s death, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) has released a censored three-page report which concluded: “This CFNIS investigation into the Operational Sudden Death of Sgt DOIRON revealed he was killed as a result of Peshmerga Forces mistaking him and other members of SOTF [REDACTED] for ISIS fighters.”

Sergeant Andrew Doiron was shot  and killed in Iraq on March 6, 2015. [DND]

Sergeant Andrew Doiron was shot and killed in Iraq on March 6, 2015.

“SOTF” stands for Special Operations Task Force, and refers to the name given to the Canadian element deployed to northern Iraq, which is redacted because it is classified.

In any case, the narrative of the incident explained in the report makes for interesting reading and tells a compelling story, so here are the highlights, using the exact language and punctuation in the report.

In the introductory letter we are told that: “CFNIS conducted an independent investigation to determine whether criminality played a role in the death of Sgt Doiron and, if necessary, lay appropriate charges.”

The story begins with the deployment of the investigators: “At 2130 hrs, 6 Mar 15, Capt UTTON…advised that members on standby for the high readiness deployment for “Op Impact” were now on 24 hrs standby to deploy to Kuwait. Sgt TUSTIN and Cpl SPRINGSTEAD were immediately contacted and later advised that they would be investigating the death of a 1 x CAF mbr and 3 x CAF injured mbrs from CANSOFCOM who were operating in Northern Iraq.”

As spelled out above, the incident not only resulted in Doiron’s death but also in the wounding of three of his Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) patrol mates.

“During this investigation, many interviews were conducted, participation in the mortuary affairs processes occurred, and many physical sites were visited. Though not under the jurisdiction of the CFNIS, the friendly forces at OP [REDACTED] agreed to and were interviewed.”

The redacted name of the observation post above refers to where the peshmerga forces were positioned. The report notes that Doiron’s patrol was scheduled and expected at the observation post.

However, as Doiron and his patrol approached the post, the following occurred: “upon hearing OP [REDACTED] members racking their weapons, Sgt DOIRON responded with “wow, wow, wow, Canada” [REDACTED AT LENGTH] the OP [REDACTED] and got shot; and [REDACTED] all four members of the patrol were wounded during the incident.”

The CFNIS interviewed all friendly forces that were at the OP, including the shooter. The following are the salient points that were learned: “CFNIS Investigators asked if sleep deprivation or the stress of being on high alert, possibly might have contributed to this mistake, [REDACTED] admitted “yes, yes, yes, yes,” on that day [REDACTED] and we were exhausted.”

And while the final query directed by CFNIS investigators toward the peshmerga shooters seems to be a bit of a leading question, the investigations will reportedly go no further. Currently there are no plans for an official board of inquiry into the incident.

As CANSOFCOM commander Brigadier-General Mike Rouleau noted at the press conference when this report was released. “I know there’s a natural human tendency to want to ascribe blame in this incident, but that Kurdish soldier did not wake up that morning hoping to kill a Canadian. It’s a case of a tragic accident brought on by a certain amount of miscommunication and misidentification.”

Defence Minister Jason Kenney also supported the report’s findings. “Canadian Armed Forces investigations into the events surrounding Sgt. Doiron’s death are now complete, and I accept the findings which reflect the fact that Sgt. Doiron and his team acted with the utmost professionalism and performed to the highest of standards,” said Kenney. “We will do everything we can to reduce the risk of accidental military deaths, like that of Sgt. Doiron. The Canadian Armed Forces will continue with Sgt. Doiron’s mission: to help our allies overcome ISIS’s campaign of terror.”

Three members of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders based in Hamilton, Ont., recently travelled to Buckingham Palace to meet with Queen Elizabeth II.

The visit came as a result of the shooting death last fall of Argyll and Sutherland Highlander Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was standing guard at the National War Memorial when he was gunned down by a militant inspired by Islamic extremism.

In the aftermath of that event, the Queen–who is colonel-in-chief of the regiment–wrote to the unit to express her sympathies. In the ensuing correspondence, the Queen invited the unit’s leadership to visit her so she could “offer her personal condolences on the death of the corporal, talk about the battle honour the regiment received for Afghanistan and other regimental business,” reported the Hamilton Spectator.

The three members who made the trip were commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence Hatfield, Honorary Colonel Ron Foxcroft and Honorary Lt.-Col. Rick Kennedy. During the visit, Foxcroft gave the Queen a wall hanging which read: “With loyalty and affection and in memory of the 1,660 members of the regiment killed in service of their sovereign and country.”

Foxcroft later joked that the gift, which also contained a poppy shaped from dozens of whistles, could be useful in ridding the Queen’s gardens of Canada geese.

In other news from the fight against ISIS, Canada’s mission in the Middle East has a new commander. Brig.-Gen. Lise Bourgon, previously commander of 12 Wing Shearwater, has taken over the top spot from Brig.-Gen. Dan Constable. A former Sea King pilot, Bourgon will be based in Kuwait alongside Canada’s fighter jets and reconnaissance and refuelling aircraft. “I am honoured to be leading a team of highly trained professionals working diligently to assist in halting and degrading ISIS,” said Bourgon.

Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon  [OP IMPACT, DND]

Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon

As reported by the military, Canada’s involvement in the coalition against ISIS has so far included at least 896 airstrikes, 163 reconnaissance missions and deliveries of more than four million kilograms of fuel to coalition aircraft. On March 30, Op Impact was extended for up to another year and its mission expanded to include airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria.

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