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Monday, July 26, 2010

Leaked file suggests 4 Canadians killed by friendly fire

A classified document that was part of a torrent of secret files released to the WikiLeaks website suggests four Canadian soldiers died from friendly fire, not a Taliban attack, in a 2006 incident.

(From left to right: Sgt. Shane Stachnik, Warrant officer Frank Mellish, Warrant officer Richard Nolan and Pte. William Cushley, shown in undated photos courtesy of the Department of National Defence.)

At the time, the Canadian government said that the four soldiers died "as they fought to drive Taliban fighters" from a region near Kandahar on Sept. 3. However, the leaked document said that friendly fire from American forces was responsible for the deaths.

A spokesperson for Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the leaked document was incorrect.

"MacKay's office insists the four Canadian soldiers were killed in a firefight with the Taliban. They say the only Canadian who was killed by friendly fire died the next day, on September 4, 2006," CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said Monday night.

It's possible the discrepancy could be part of a miscommunication between U.S. and Canadian officials.

The Canadian soldiers killed on Sept. 3, 2006 were: Sgt. Shane Stachnik, 30, Warrant Officer Richard Francis Nolan, 39, Warrant Officer Frank Robert Mellish, 38, and Private William Jonathan James Cushley, 21.

The revelations come as governments, the media and policy analysts attempt to digest 92,000 secret U.S. documents on the Afghan war which went live on the Internet Monday.

Several European NATO members have expressed concern that the fallout the leak of confidential documents could extend well beyond the Internet -- and could even affect the war itself.

The U.S. records cover six years of the war in Afghanistan, including previously unknown accounts of civilian deaths and targeted attacks on Taliban members.

The files also reveal that the Taliban have used heat-seeking missiles, which is something that NATO has never publicly acknowledged.

One such missile was used to shoot down a U.S. Chinook chopper three years ago, according to the documents.

That May 2007 missile attack led to the death of Canadian combat photographer Cpl. Darrell Priede and six other NATO troops.

So far, NATO has declined comment on the release of the U.S. documents. But representatives from NATO member countries say they hope the leaks do not pose problems for the current war effort.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned that "backlashes" could result from the 91,000 U.S. military documents posted online by the WikiLeaks organization on Sunday.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that with recent progress being made in Afghanistan, he hoped "any such leaks will not poison that atmosphere."

"We are working hard with our allies on improving security on the ground and increasing ... the capacity of the Afghan government, so we are not going to spend our time looking at leaks," Hague said Monday before attending a European Union meeting.

Another EU official told The Associated Press that the organization "wants to stay as far from this as possible."

In Washington, White House national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones said the leaks "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk."

Col. Dave Lapan, a Defence Department spokesman, said the military would need "days, if not weeks" to determine "the potential damage to the lives of our service members and coalition partners."

The Pentagon is investigating the source of the leaks, and has detained Bradley Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst in Baghdad, for allegedly transmitting classified information.

The military said the leaks could have come from anyone with secret-level clearance.

In Kabul, the Afghan government said it was "shocked" by the release of the documents, while arguing that much of the information was not new.

Canadian references

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told reporters that the Canadian government is concerned that "operational leaks could endanger the lives of our men and women in Afghanistan."

When questioned about a leaked report that suggested a Canadian was among the casualties in a helicopter that was brought down by a heat-seeking missile, Cannon said that any incidents involving Canadian military members are handled by "the investigative arm of the Canadian Forces."

Another leaked report indicated that the U.S. wanted Canada to put pressure on Saudi Arabia and South Africa, two countries where the Americans believed Taliban fundraising was taking place.

On Monday, Pakistan's ISI said the accusations that it had close links to the Taliban were false.

And on Sunday, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., said the documents posted by WikiLeaks "do not reflect the current on-ground realities."

Haqqani also said Pakistan is jointly working with the U.S. and Afghanistan, "to defeat al Qaeda and its Taliban allies militarily and politically."

Most of the documents are considered "raw intelligence" reports collected by junior officers that are then passed on to analysts for further review.

In London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told reporters that the leaked documents show evidence of war crimes, though "it is up to a court to decide really if something in the end is a crime. That said … there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material."

Assange said WikiLeaks has access to another 15,000 Afghan files, though they are currently being vetted by the organization.

The Associated Press and The Canadian Press


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