Canadian commandos who were gunned down by Kurdish soldiers at a checkpoint in northern Iraq on Friday night had visited the same location earlier and arranged a series of code words to pave the way for their return that evening, a senior Canadian government official confirmed Sunday night.
The Canadians had already passed by a number of Kurdish locations using the codes without any problems. But when they came upon one checkpoint in the village of Bashiq, a Kurdish soldier instead opened fire on the group.
Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron, 31, was killed. Three other Canadian special forces members from Petawawa were injured in what is being described as a friendly fire incident. Report ottawa citizen
The details emerging Sunday night are in contrast to the version being told by the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, who have laid blame on the Canadians for the incident.
The Kurds claim the Canadians arrived unannounced at the checkpoint in an area that has seen heavy fighting the previous day with members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“When (the Canadians) returned, the Peshmerga asked them to identify themselves,” Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hekmat told The Associated Press. “They answered in Arabic. That’s when Peshmerga started shooting. It was their fault.”
Hekmat added that he doesn’t know why the Canadians were there. “I consider it an improper action by the Canadians and illogical,” he said.
Defence Minister Jason Kenney has disputed that account but has not provided many other details.
However, a senior government official said the visit was indeed co-ordinated with Kurdish forces in advance and had proceeded smoothly until the Canadians reached one specific area where they were attacked. “Only when they got to a specific area did one fellow open (fire) and that caused other (Kurds) to engage.”
Canadian special forces troops held a ramp ceremony Sunday in Erbil as Dorion’s body was loaded onto a plane for transport to Canada. His remains will be flown to the military base at Trenton, Ont., arriving sometime mid-week, then taken along Highway 401 — the Highway of Heroes — to the coroner’s office in Toronto. The highway was named in honour of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan whose bodies were also transported along that route.
On Sunday, Doiron’s family issued the following statement: “Our son gave all and through his loss, we gave all. We’ve lost our beloved son and we kindly ask the media to give our family space and privacy to grieve.”
Kurdish militia accusations that Canadian soldiers are to blame for the Kurds’ fatal “friendly-fire” shooting of a Canadian commando and the wounding of three others were speculative and not helpful, Kenny said.
“We would ask our allies in the Peshmerga militia to wait until there is an investigation and we can sit down and compare notes and see exactly what happened,” he said. “We’re going to wait for the inquiry. My understanding is the Canadian troops conducted themselves professionally (and) did what they were supposed to do in such a circumstance.
“This has nothing to do with accompaniment or combat,” Kenney added. “The Canadian troops were behind the forward line of our troops. They were not at what we would describe as the front.”
Kenney said the Canadians arrived at the observation post, about 200 metres from the front lines.
“It’s a tragic incident, at nighttime, of friendly fire. Regrettably, such incidents occur in all military deployments. It’s part of the inherent risk, unfortunately.”
Canada has around 600 military personnel committed to Operation Impact. Most are part of the air contingent based in Kuwait. But 69 special forces troops are in northern Iraq to help train and advise Kurdish forces.
Doiron’s death is the first in the mission.
In February, the Canadian Forces revealed that soldiers had exchanged fire with ISIL fighters in self-defence.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris has called for an independent investigation into Friday’s incident, noting that the circumstances raise questions about the Conservative government’s claims that Canadian troops are fulfilling a non-combat role and are only involved in training Iraqi forces.
Kenney, who told the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa on Saturday that Canada has made a positive difference with its military mission in Iraq and that ISIL is “on its heels”, called Doiron a “true Canadian patriot” and said the incident will not affect the work of Canadian special forces on the ground in Iraq.
He also said it will not have any impact on any government decision on whether to extend the Iraq military mission in Iraq.
“We believe that Canada has an important role to play in international security, including confronting the very serious threat of ISIL, which has explicitly declared war on Canada, encouraged terrorist attacks against Canadian civilians and which we believe was at least partly responsible for inspiring terrorist attacks against this country last year.”