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Canadian commando seriously hurt in Afghanistan firefight
David Pugliese
CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA -- One member of the Canadian military's special forces unit is believed to have been seriously injured and two others wounded in a firefight earlier this week in Afghanistan.

One member of the Ottawa-based Joint Task Force 2 is in hospital while two other members from the unit who were injured have returned to duty. It is thought to be the first time a JTF2 soldier has been injured in combat.

The Canadian Forces issued a news release Wednesday, acknowledging three JTF2 commandos had been wounded and that one was in hospital. Military officials refused to release any other details.

The Canadian news release followed a similar statement from U.S. officers in Afghanistan that three coalition troops had been wounded during a Dec. 4 attack on enemy forces in a small village north of Kandahar. Thirteen insurgents, believed to be responsible for a number of bombings in southern Afghanistan, were killed in that battle.

"Our heart goes out to them, Prime Minister Paul Martin said Wednesday "and Canadians are thinking very, very much of them.''

According to the U.S. officers, the coalition soldier was seriously wounded and has been transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany.

He is listed in stable condition.

Two other coalition soldiers, three Afghan and three U.S. military personnel, were also injured in the fighting. All of those have been treated and released. U.S. officers did not specifically identify the coalition soldiers as Canadian, but it is known that JTF2 is working with American forces in Afghanistan in the Kandahar area.

U.S. Brig. Gen. Jack Sterling Jr., deputy commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force 76 in Afghanistan, praised the troops for their efforts. "Afghan and coalition forces are going to continue to bring the fight to the enemies of Afghanistan no matter where they are, no matter where they are trying to hide,'' the general said in a statement. "This is a resounding victory for Afghan forces and for the Afghan people. We located and closed with the enemies of this nation and, as we have said we would in the past, brought them to justice. The nation and the people of Afghanistan are moving toward a better, brighter future.''

Canadian brass have remained silent about the mission, citing the need for security.

Canadian Forces spokeswoman Capt. Stephanie Godin declined Wednesday to say whether the JTF2 members were wounded by hostile fire or in an accident, adding that such details would jeopardize the security of the unit. She also declined to give the ages of the individuals involved. Military officials also refused to release information on when the incident happened, the extent of the injuries or whether the JTF2 member is in hospital in Canada or elsewhere.

Defence Minister Bill Graham has promised on several occasions to release more information about the commando unit but that has been successfully resisted by military officials.


In September, Brigadier General Mike Ward told journalists that JTF2 members had captured and killed individuals in Afghanistan. But he declined to give any other details. "Our aim in all of these operations is to capture where possible in order to use the intelligence value that any of these detainees may have for us,'' he said at a press conference.

"We have not suffered any casualties at this point, but casualties occurred on the other side,'' he added.

But documents obtained by the Citizen show that military officials had earlier this year prepared a statement to be read to the news media in case a member of JTF2 was killed or wounded. It noted that the Canadian Forces must be cautious about releasing any information and that a board of inquiry would be held in the event of JTF2 casualties.

It's not the first time that an announcement by U.S. officials have forced the Canadian military to play catch-up on releasing information. In March, 2002 then U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks announced at a televised press conference that Canadian special forces were involved in Operation Anaconda, a major assault against enemy troops in Afghanistan. Canadian military officials, however, refused to confirm what Franks announced, only later having to reverse that stance and acknowledge JTF2 was indeed involved in the mission.

Other countries, ranging from the U.S. to Poland to Australia, are more open with information about their special forces. Canadian officers, however, argue that since JTF2 is on par with the secretive British Special Air Service and the U.S. Delta Force, little if any information should be released.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier and Graham have both suggested Canadians should prepare for casualties in Afghanistan since the Liberal government has committed approximately 2,000 troops to the Kandahar area in support of the U.S-led war on terror. That mission will get underway in February although there are a number of regular Canadian soldiers in the area now. An unknown number of JTF2 commandos are also working in the Kandahar region.

Hillier has advocated expanding Canada's special operations force so it can play more of a role in U.S. and coalition missions as well as domestic operations.

Defence analyst Steve Staples said it is time for Graham to provide the Canadian public with more information about the injuries of the JTF2 personnel. He also questioned whether the troops were under U.S. or Canadian command at the time and whether they took prisoners on this latest operation.

"With Canadian soldiers' lives being put at risk, the government must limit 'operational security' concerns and provide a public response to these and other questions,'' said Staples, an analyst with the left-leaning Polaris Institute in Ottawa.

Several groups have raised concerns about what has happened to Afghans that JTF2 has turned over in the past to the Americans.

In 2001 the government gave JTF2 $119 million, in addition to its ongoing annual budget, to significantly expand the size of the special forces unit and acquire new equipment. This spring the federal government announced another infusion of cash. It earmarked $2.7 billion for new JTF2 training facilities as well as equipment for the unit and new helicopters and trucks for the Canadian Forces overall. Military officials have declined to detail how much of that $2.7 billion would go to JTF2.

JTF2's budget is secret, but in the mid-1990s, when the unit was made up of around 100 commandos, the government was spending about $40 million a year on the formation. The unit now has approximately 500 members, according to a recently released Senate defence committee report.

Ottawa Citizen

© CanWest News Service 2005

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