Canadian soldier killed by friendly fire in Iraq
The death of a Canadian soldier, and the injury of three others, in a friendly fire incident in Iraq "will not affect" the government's decision whether to extend the mission against ISIS, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said Saturday.
Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron – based out of Garrison Petawawa in Ontario – was killed Friday after members of the Canadian Special Forces were mistakenly engaged by Iraqi Kurdish fighters, the Department of National Defence said in a statement.
Three other members were injured in the incident; Kenney said they are in "stable" condition.
Speaking to reporters Saturday, Kenney called the incident "sad," but said there is always an "inherent risk" in any kind of military operation.
The defence minister also reinforced the importance of the Canada's military presence in the Middle East.
"We believe that Canada has an important role to play in international security, including the very serious threat of (ISIS), which has explicitly declared war on Canada, (and) encouraged terrorist attacks against Canada civilians," Kenney said.
"There continues to be a very real national security imperative to join with our allies in confronting this organization, and not sitting on the sidelines," he added.
Canada's six-month mandate for the mission is set to expire on April 7. However, it is believed that the Conservatives will likely extend it past that date.
Kenney stressed this was a case of "mistaken identity" on the part of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga militia, and that the Canadian troops were not on the frontlines.
"(They) were behind the forward line of our troops; they were not at what we would describe at the front," he said.
Kenney said that there will be an inquiry into Friday's events.
According to the Department of Defence, the soldiers were engaged by Iraqi Kurdish forces following their return to an observation post behind the frontlines.
The special forces contingent, whose is advising and assisting Iraqi and Kurdish troops in their battle against Islamic State extremists, is based near the northern city of Erbil.
Halkord Hikmet, a spokesman for the peshmerga, told CTV News that the Canadian soldiers did not notify them after they parked their car in the village of Qablan, and proceeded to the frontline by foot.
"On their way back to their car it was dark, they were intercepted by one of our forward ambush positions and they shouted back in Arabic, and that’s when the peshmerga forces opened fire on Cthe group," said Hikmet.
Hikmet said that after the Iraqi Kurdish fighters approached the Canadians, they recognized them, halted fire and began aiding the wounded soldiers.
Hikmet said the Kurdish soldiers are "saddened" by the incident, but that it was not the "fault" of their forces.
"It’s especially sad because of the courageous role that Canada plays in supporting our troops in fighting ISIS,” he said.
Canadian soldiers are in Iraq as part of an international, U.S.-led coalition dedicated to fighting the extremist Islamic State militant group.
About 600 Canadian military personnel were committed to Operation IMPACT for a six-month period, which is set to expire next month. About 69 special forces were sent to specifically help train Iraqi Kurdish fighters.
Harper offers condolences
Doiron was raised in Moncton, N.B., but had been stationed at Garrison Petawawa in Ontario. The 31-year-old was remembered Saturday as a leader and a gifted special operator.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered "deepest condolences" to Doiron's family, friends and colleagues on Saturday, and also said it is "imperative" that the anti-ISIS campaign continue its mission.
"This tragic incident reminds us of the very real risks that our brave men and women in uniform assume on our behalf to defend the freedoms that we cherish," Harper said.
"More than ever, it is imperative that we, along with the more than 60 countries in the coalition, continue the campaign to halt ISIL’s spread and reduce its capacity to carry out terrorist attacks abroad and here in Canada."
In a statement, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau said that his "thoughts and sympathies" go out to Doiron's loved ones, as well as the other three soldiers who were injured.
"I join with all Canadians in mourning the tragic loss of Sergeant Andrew Doiron, from the Special Operations Forces, who was killed yesterday in Iraq," Trudeau said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair also offered his condolences to Doiron's friends and family, and wished the three other soldiers a "swift recovery."
"New Democrats stand with the men and women of the Canadians Armed Forces and with all Canadians in their grief as we all reflect on Sergeant Doiron's great sacrifice," Mulcair said in a statement.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson said Doiron's death would be widely felt across the military.
“A soldier and a warrior, Sergeant Doiron was a consummate professional appreciated by all," he said in the statement. "His sacrifice will not be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. I am grateful for his service and dedication. He will be missed.”
With files from The Canadian Press