KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canadian soldiers killed an Afghan National Police officer and injured six others today in two apparent friendly-fire shooting incidents in southern Afghanistan.
The shootings took place just days after a Canadian soldier shot and killed an Afghan boy and injured a teenager following an incident in which a Canadian convoy was struck by a suicide bomber.
In the first incident today, Canadian soldiers fired on a truck carrying armed men after repeatedly warning the truck to stop, said a NATO spokesman.
Several warning shots were fired, sparking a shootout that resulted in the death of one man and injuries to four others, said Col. Fred Lewis, deputy commander of Canada’s NATO contingent in southern Afghanistan.
“It is believed that the persons in the vehicle opened fire in response to warning shots fired by the Canadians,” Lewis said. “It was at this time (that) Canadian soldiers returned fire on the vehicle and its six occupants.”
Only later did the Canadians discover that the men in the unmarked truck were Afghan National Police officers in plain clothes.
“Neither their vehicle nor their immediate appearance readily identified them as such,” said Lewis.
Less than an hour later, a motorcycle carrying two people approached the same Canadian artillery position — approximately 25 kilometres west of Kandahar — at high speed, military officials said.
The Canadians once again opened fire after warning the driver several times to stop, injuring both motorcyclists.
They, too, turned out to be Afghan police officers.
There were no Canadian casualties.
All six injured Afghans were airlifted to the international military hospital at Kandahar Air Field for treatment. Their conditions were unknown.
NATO described both shootings as self-defence reactions to volatile circumstances, but apologized for the incidents.
“We share an extremely close and professional relationship with the Afghan National Police and we deeply regret this incident,” said Lewis.
Afghan police and Canada’s arms-length military investigative body, the National Investigation Service, were to probe the shootings.
It’s unclear why the Canadians perceived a truckload of men as an imminent threat, even if they were armed.
Recent suicide attacks in southern Afghanistan, for instance, have involved mainly small vehicles driven by individual bombers rather than groups of insurgents.
As well, truckloads of armed men, often in civilian clothing, are a common sight in the region.
Lewis couldn’t explain the reasons behind the shooting, saying details of the initial incident were still being gathered.
“I think the key here is that these Afghan national security force members were not in uniform,” he said.
On Tuesday, a young Afghan boy was shot after a suicide attacker struck a Canadian resupply convoy in Kandahar City, killing one soldier and injuring three others.
Cpl. David Braun, 27, of Raymore, Sask., died when a vehicle packed with explosives detonated beside the convoy.
One civilian — a young girl — was also killed by the blast, along with the attacker.
Approximately two hours after the attack, two Afghan youths were fired on by a Canadian soldier when their motorcycle breached a security perimeter around the bombing site.
A single bullet passed through the 17-year-old driver, striking and killing his young passenger.
The boy’s identity was not released by NATO officials, although a neighbour identified him by a single name, Asif.
The neighbour also said the boy was eight years old. Earlier reports indicated he was 10.
Canada has roughly 2,200 soldiers working as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, most of whom have just recently arrived in Kandahar as part of a fresh new six-month rotation of troops.
Lewis declined to speculate on whether the shootings might be linked to the fact that the soldiers involved were new to the job.
“I would say right now that the soldiers have acted exactly in accordance with the rules of engagement and the training that they’ve undergone,” he said.
“They did what they had to do.”