The families of the first two Canadian soldiers to be killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan are asking for answers tonight after a report that two suspects were arrested only to be handed over to Afghan officials and not seen again.
Sergeant Robert Short and Corporal Robbie Beerenfenger were killed when their vehicle ran over a land mine in October, 2003, south of Kabul. Shortly after their death, intelligence sources intercepted cellphone calls and arrested two suspects working for local warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, according to a CBC News report aired Wednesday.
The notorious warlord's Hizb-i-Islami network is allied with the Taliban.
Canadian officials debated what to do with the suspects - ruling out a Canadian trial so as to preserve secrets of the intelligence trade and unable to keep them in Afghanistan, which didn't have a Canadian prison, the CBC report said.
So, they were turned over to Afghan officials, and Canadians have since lost track of the pair, the CBC reported.
One of the widows, Tina Beerenfenger, was told over five years ago that two brothers were responsible for the attack and had been captured. Since then, military officials haven't said anything about what happened to the men.
"I was really upset, and shocked," to learn of their handover, Ms. Beerenfenger said from her New Brunswick home Wednesday night.
"I want these people [suspects]to be accountable for what they've done. I want Canada to stand up and take charge."
Sgt. Short's wife Susan said she was never told of any arrest, and that her trust in the military has since been shaken.
"Just disappointed, disappointed. I trusted them... I really, really thought [military officials]were being upfront with me, and straightforward with me. [I'm]really, really disappointed," Ms. Short said.
"I would like them to have said that they have found them, that they knew who [the suspects]were, and told me what they were doing with them."
Ms. Short said she thought her husband's killers were Taliban, and was surprised to hear the CBC report that they worked for the local warlord.
Globe reporter Jessica Leeder and photographer Peter Power tell the story of Sgt. Robert Short, one of the first Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan
Sgt. Short and Cpl. Beerenfenger were the first soldiers killed after a friendly fire incident claimed four lives the year earlier, and the pair were the first to die by enemy fire.
The revelations come amidst questions raised by diplomat Richard Colvin over Ottawa's treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. Many were handed over to local officials. Mr. Colvin alleges that high-ranking Canadian leaders were aware that many detainees were tortured, a claim that has been denied by current and former military leaders and the Harper government.
Ms. Beerenfenger, who remarried in August to another soldier, said she believes it "unlikely" that she will hear more information in the aftermath of the CBC report, but holds out hope.
"I'd be interested in getting some answers, and maybe even some closure," she said. "Nobody told me anything."