KUWAIT CITY — The country’s top military commander dropped a broad hint Sunday that a slew of investigation reports have found Canadian soldiers blameless in the friendly fire death of Sgt. Andrew Doiron, and that the fatigue of battle-weary Kurdish fighters was the likely cause of the tragedy.
Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of defence staff, made the remarks following a speech by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the fighter base in Kuwait which launches many of the U.S.-Led coalition’s attacks on the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Doiron was gunned down accidentally on March 6, at night, near an observation post along the front lines west of Erbil, in northern Iraq.
The Harper government hasn’t been briefed on the contents of three separate investigations into the tragedy, but that will happen soon, possibly within a month, Lawson said.
Recommendations will also be made to prevent a repeat of the shooting, which has been described as a case of mistaken identity when the elite Canadian trainers stopped to check on an isolated Kurdish unit.
“What we have to mitigate is things like fatigue,” Lawson said, suggesting that special forces would avoid areas where there had been recent battles. “You’ll see many of the mitigation steps we recommend will have to do with that area.”
When asked if the weariness of the under-trained fighters was a factor, the defence chief said: “I think we’ll see the fatigue of the soldiers who were at the front, the peshmerga at the front, would have played a part.”
The Kurdish forces had fought a series of pitched battles with extremists in the days leading up to the tragedy.
Lawson committed to releasing a sanitized summary of the findings of the three investigations — a military police criminal investigation, a technical investigation by special forces, and a U.S. special forces evaluation.
Throughout Harper’s whirlwind tour of Iraq and Kuwait, there were persistent questions about Doiron’s death — something the prime minister said he hoped wouldn’t detract from the peshmerga’s well-earned reputation for bravery and halting ISIL in its tracks.
He capped the trip with a speech to the aircrews and maintainers carrying out the bombing campaign against the Islamic State, and he delivered it with an election-style flourish.
“You stand on guard between the civilization we enjoy and the savagery that seeks to come to our shores,” Harper said, standing in front of two CF-18s fighters and a giant Canadian flag.
It was another perfect photo-op moment, one of several over the last two days.
Harper made a pair of stops in Erbil on Saturday that had a definite campaign-style feel.
At Melwood Geometrix Ltd., a Montreal concrete prefabrication maker with an office in the Kurdish capital, the prime minister met the company manager, was handed a Montreal hockey sweater, and was treated to an explanation of the company’s operations.
And all of it was carried out before the cameras — much like a campaign stop.
During his speech to the military, Harper even managed to get in a plug for Bill C-51, the government’s anti-terror legislation, telling the assembled crowd that it will give security agencies greater powers to thwart terrorist plans.
“On the home front, we’re working to give our security agencies the whole range of modern tools necessary, to identify terrorists and to thwart their plans, including greater ability to stem the recruitment and the flow of home-grown fighters,” he said.
On Saturday, Harper took a trip close to the front in northern Iraq where Kurdish peshmerga fighters are holding the line against Islamic State extremists.
And during a meeting with Iraq’s prime minister he promised $167 million in humanitarian, development and military assistance.
Harper also met briefly today with the Emir of Kuwait, who is hosting the Canadian air contingent along with other nations that are part of the U.S.-led coalition.
Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press