On a single day in the summer of 2006, the Canadian Forces were involved in at least half a dozen instances of "friendly fire" that left two Afghans dead and four injured. The Forces ended up paying about $35,000 in compensation, even though it admitted no liability for the deaths.
Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through access-to-information legislation show more than 30 instances since January of 2006 where the Canadian Forces compensated Afghan citizens for everything from lost cellphones to the accidental killing of relatives by Canadian soldiers. The military labelled the vast majority of the payments "ex gratia," meaning they were made voluntarily and with no admission of liability.
Although the forms don't say so directly, several of the friendly fire compensation claims appear to stem from an incident on Aug. 26, 2006, in a key district west of Kandahar city. On two occasions that day, Canadian soldiers opened fire on vehicles they thought belonged to the enemy, when in fact they were carrying Afghan security forces. The Canadians claimed the vehicles, travelling at high speed, were unmarked and non-uniformed Afghans responded to warning shots with gunfire of their own.
The claim registries that note how much money was handed out contain very little detail about what actually happened that day. One of the forms outlining the $8,959.99 paid for one of the friendly-fire deaths simply states: "Settlement of ex gratia claim arising from incident of friendly fire that occurred on 26 Aug. 2006 in the Zheray district where [Redacted]"
The Forces paid the same amount for each of the two Afghans who were killed. Those injured received either $1,800 or $4,500 each, but the extent of those injuries is not described.
The documents shed light on the kinds of challenges facing Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. On more than one occasion, the military paid thousands of dollars after Afghans were injured or killed during "rules of engagement" escalation, where soldiers fired warning shots that then ricocheted and hit civilians. One such instance in February of last year left one person dead. The Forces paid $8,500 in that case, but the details of what happened are redacted.
Some of the claim forms don't specify whether Afghans were killed or injured as a result of these force escalations. The Forces often paid somewhere between $8,000 and $9,000 when deaths occurred, but it is unclear if this amount was reserved for members of Afghan security forces or simply related to how much the claimant requested. In another case, "rules of engagement" escalation left an Afghan civilian dead - the Forces paid what the claimant asked for, $2,000.
Many of the other compensation claims relate to private property damaged or destroyed by Canadians during operations. Those claims range from $33 to several thousand dollars. The Forces, it appears, also have a habit of losing cellphones they hold for safekeeping when Afghans enter Canadian compounds.
However, it is difficult to tell what all the compensation claims deal with - in some cases there is no explanation for why the money was handed over. In other cases, the explanation is completely redacted.