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(Adrian Wyld)
(Adrian Wyld)

Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan relieved of duty Add to ...

Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan, Brigadier-General Daniel Ménard, has been dismissed from command following allegations he had an intimate relationship with a member of his staff, violating the military's rules on personal relationships in the field.

The other member of Joint Task Force Afghanistan has been sent home, according to a military spokesman.

Lieutenant-General Marc Lessard, commander of Canadian forces overseas, made the announcement Saturday, a few days after Brig.-Gen. Ménard returned to Kandahar from a three-week leave.

The change of command comes at a crucial time in the war in Afghanistan. Coalition troops are poised to launch a major operation in Kandahar in June, which Brig-Gen Ménard once described as the defining moment of the war where his troops would "break the back" of the Taliban.

It's a personal thing, so I don't see that as any sort of mark against the institution at all. Col. Hetherington

Although Canadian military commanders sought to contain the controversy as personal, news of Brig.-Gen Menard's dismissal reverberated across Afghanistan, on local radio and television shows.

Brig.-Gen Menard commands 2,800 Canadian soldiers in southern Afghanistan, as well as a contingent of American troops serving under Canadian command.

The allegations against him had "caused Commander CEFCOM to lose confidence in Brig-Gen. Ménard's capacity to command," the military said in a brief statement.

Military rules strictly forbid any kind of intimacy on deployments including relationships of an emotional, romantic or sexual nature.

On Saturday, Brig-Gen. Menard, who is 42 and married with two children, was relieved of duty. He will be flown back to Canada, according to a military spokesperson.

Major Daryl Morrell, senior public affairs officer with Joint Task Force Afghanistan, said it was "too early to speculate on the charges" Brig.-Gen. Ménard could face, because they won't be known until the military completes its investigation.

Lt.-Gen. Lessard made a brief visit to Afghanistan several weeks ago, before Brig.-Gen Ménard went on leave. However, reporters at Kandahar Airfield were told the allegations were only revealed to Lt.-Gen Lessard on Saturday. Lt.-Gen. Lessard acted immediately to replace Brig.-Gen Menard.

Colonel Simon Hetherington, previously Brig.-Gen. Ménard's second-in-command, is now acting commander.

In comments to reporters, he sought to downplay any consequences the allegations could have on the military's reputation.

"The allegations against Brig-Gen. Ménard are that - they're allegations against Brig.-Gen. Ménard," Col. Hetherington said.

"It's a personal thing, so I don't see that as any sort of mark against the institution at all," he added.

Brig.-Gen Menard joined the Canadian forces in 1984 and was posted to the Royal 22nd Regiment where initially served as a platoon commander.

He rose quickly through the ranks, serving in Great Britain, Berlin, Germany and Bosnia as well as National . He assumed command of Task Force Kandahar in November, replacing Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance.

Now Brig-Gen Vance, is being dispatched back to Kandahar and resume control of the mission for the pivotal fighting season.

He will be replaced by Brig.-Gen Dean Milner in September.

This is not the first time controversy has dogged Brig.-Gen Ménard.

Last week he was fined $3,500 for accidentally firing his rifle at Kandahar Air Field in March. He had failed to switch is C8 carbine rifle to the "safe" position before departing in a helicopter with his boss, General Walter Natynczyk.

The rifle fired a double-burst. Nobody was injured, but the incident qualifies as an offence under the National Defence Act, with a maximum penalty of dismissal from the military.

At a military hearing into the incident, Brig.-Gen Ménard's defence lawyer argued for leniency, noting the commander reported the mishap to investigators and discussed the incident openly with his soldiers.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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