Peshmerga Officials: “We didn’t know Canadians were there”

The Canadian government and the Kurdish Peshmerga cannot confirm each other’s version related to the death of Sgt Andrew Doiron, a Special Forces operator from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR). Three Canadian operators were also wounded by the Peshmerga friendly fire—one has been flown to Germany for further medical treatments.

Sgt. Doiron's CSOR brothers are honouring him by sharing this picture, which was one of his favourites.
Sgt. Doiron’s CSOR brothers are honouring him by sharing this picture, which was one of his favourites.

The Kurdish officials’ version of the facts stipulates that the Canadian operators were on the front line to call in airstrikes and didn’t made the Peshmerga aware of their presence.

Whenever Canadian soldiers leave their Forward Operating Base (FOB), they would call it in on the radios so their headquarters (HQ) would be aware of their movements. Soldiers also send in location  status (LOCSTAT) every now in then during their patrols—again so the HQ knows their whereabouts.

I also have high doubts that no Kurdish officers were made aware of Canadian movements near the frontline, especially if there was intense combat in the region the day before.

Adding to that, a high-Canadian government source, who remains anonymous, confirmed that the small four-man team had established a rendezvous point with Kurdish fighters.

The same four went on a reconnaissance mission earlier in the day so they could co-ordinate events that would occur at night time. Identification signals were confirmed by both the Canadians and the Peshmerga operating in the area—signals used for identifying soldiers when you cannot have a visual confirmation.

What makes me really wonder why the Kurds are blaming the Canadians is the fact that they were “challenged” on two occasions without incidents. It is the third group that opened fire on the Canadians.

CSOR—A rare breed of Canadian soldiers.

What amazes me is that the operators of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment are a select group of elite soldiers—they train for unconventional warfare. As a matter of fact, it is their bread and butter so it is highly doubtful that the CSOR operators didn’t communicate their intentions with the Peshmarga.

Their training is one of the hardest the Canadian Forces has to offer. CSOR is also closely working with Canadian Tier 1 unit; JTF-2. Let’s remember that members of JTF-2 were awarded the United States Presidential Unit Citation for actions in Afghanistan. A clear sign of the true professionalism of our Canadian Special Operations operators.

It is very unlikely that the CSOR four-man team was moving—unannounced—up and down a few hundred meters behind the frontline.

As a matter of fact, CSOR has been successfully conducting combat operations in Afghanistan without sustaining any combat-related death. The Afghanistan combat operations were far more dangerous and the same CSOR operators worked on countless occasions with their Afghan counterparts.

Not our “fault,” said the Peshmerga officials

When I deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 to mentor Afghan soldiers, I quickly understood that it was never their fault. Whenever there was something going bad or completely wrong, the Afghans always had an excuse.

On many occasions, we would get caught in a crossfire where unmentored ANA teams would fire at us without even trying to confirm their targets. Most of the time, this was happening during day time where it was easy to distinguish whom you are shooting at.

The Peshmerga are similar to the Afghan soldiers thus making it very possible for them to repeat the same mistakes—shoot without confirming their targets in this instance. We also have to understand that these Peshmerga fighters didn’t receive the same amount of training the Afghan soldiers had. However, they have proved on many occasions that they were fearful fighters that would do anything to achieve their mission.

What really bothers me in this tragic incident is that fact that the Peshmerga are lying right in our operators faces—the same faces that enables them to properly fight the Islamic State and have surgical airstrikes when in trouble.

I expected an answer from the Peshmerga officials similar to that: “Our communications with the Canadians weren’t clear and our soldiers fired upon an unknown force—that we later identified as Canadian Special Forces operators—without issuing the challenges we agreed upon. While this is a tragic incident, the support we are receiving from the Canadian is essential so our forces can prevent future friendly fire incidents and concentrate our efforts on the Islamic State militants.”

But no… It’s the Canadians fault.

A couple of investigation teams are currently heading to Iraq to determine what really happened.

Meanwhile in Canada

Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson told the media the incident will likely not affect the relationship between Canada and the Kurds.

“Although there was some awkward statements made, and we would really rather that they had not been made until an investigation is done, we’ve seen this tremendous partnership grow from six months ago, when our fellas went in there — we’ve seen the results being Kurds who are very, very effective in bringing pressure to bear against ISIL,” Lawson said.

General Lawson also put a lot of emphasis on the fact that the Canadians in the region are not participating in combat operations: “”The government has already indicated openly that it will not — [that] this was a friendly fire incident … not combat, and that the strategic reasons for being there remain in place.”

Many Liberal Medias are openly hoping the Conservative government will change the definition of the Iraq deployment to a combat mission—a move that would greatly affect the upcoming federal elections. A move that would also give them leverage to bring the soldiers back home despite the current support of the Canadian population towards the mission in Iraq against the Islamic State.

Unfortunately for these Medias, the Iraq campaign is not a combat mission since no Canadians are actively taking part in combat operations. As mentors, it is normal that they will sometimes visit the soldiers they are training on the frontline to check on them and see if they are conducting their operations in a proper manner.

This is not a combat operation…. This is called true mentorship.

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Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.