NEWS
12/15/2011 06:59 EST | Updated 02/14/2012 05:12 EST

Canadian Forces Members Cleared Of Afghan Allegations

Canadian special forces soldiers were possibly witnesses to American war crimes in Afghanistan, but they did not themselves commit any crimes, a Canadian military investigation has determined.

The investigation into a series of allegations of murder and abuse has now wrapped up, with no charges against Canadian troops.

The investigation began after a Canadian soldier accused some of his colleagues of crimes as serious as murder. The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) spent more than two years on the investigation, called Project Sand Trap.

On Wednesday, investigators said they have determined there was no criminal wrongdoing by Canadian troops — but the results of the investigation have now led military police to pass information about U.S. special forces soldiers to American investigators.

"Information collected during the course of the investigation pertaining to non-CF members was brought to the attention of the appropriate foreign investigative authorities," the CFNIS said in a statement.

Lt.-Col. Robert Delaney, commanding officer of the CFNIS, said Canadian investigators gave foreign investigators the "basic facts of the allegations that we have and the information that we've obtained that would be pertinent to them."

He said "any information involving foreign nations would be passed to them for them to investigate as they see fit."

Delaney would not confirm that the allegations involve American soldiers, but CBC has previously confirmed that the 2008 allegations involved U.S. forces.

Complaints date back to 2005

The Sand Trap investigation focused on allegations made by a Canadian special forces soldier who belonged to the secretive Joint Task Force 2.

Over the course of more than two years, that commando complained again and again about the actions of some of his colleagues. The soldier says he went up the chain through his troop leader, his squadron leader, and finally to the commander of all of Canada's special forces — but it appears none of them ever called in military police.

The commando's complaints date back to 2005, and his allegations ranged from rocket attacks on civilian compounds to soldiers skinny-dipping in Dubai.

But a year later, things got more serious. On a secret mission targeting a Taliban doctor, a JTF 2 soldier was accused of shooting an unarmed Afghan whose hands were raised in the air in surrender.The commando who complained did not see the shooting take place, but said other soldiers did.

These allegations all formed part of what military police would later call "Sand Trap 1." That investigation ended in 2009, and concluded there was no Canadian criminal wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, the CFNIS said it had been looking into further allegations: "Namely, two allegations of negligence, one allegation of assault, and one allegation of murder," it said in a statement.

No evidence to support allegations

"There was no evidence found to support these allegations; moreover, the investigation determined that the CF member acted within the rules of engagement in all instances."

Those rules govern when soldiers can use force, and are still considered secret by the military.

But investigators also looked into other allegations made by the commando, including an allegation that in January 2008, he saw American forces execute unarmed Afghan civilians.

The American special forces operators were on a Canadian-led operation. The commando said after he saw the executions, he complained to his Canadian commanders. The next day, the soldier says, he was sent home to Canada. But it wasn't until June 2008 — 2½ years after the commando first raised concerns about his unit — that he took his complaints directly to the independent military ombudsman.

Staff there immediately called in the military police, and warned them about the "extremely serious allegations" … that could "significantly impair Canadians' support" for the military.

According to documents obtained by CBC News, the soldier become more and more worried, even as military police began their investigations. One staffer in the ombudsman's office wrote the commando felt his peers are "being encouraged to commit war crimes by the chain of command, which they may be held accountable for, as their superiors walk away."

The staffer said the commando worried about the atmosphere inside his unit and claims he saw aggressive soldiers — even some accused of wrongdoing — promoted, while other more cautious soldiers were not.

Second investigation

The second investigation, known as Sand Trap 2, looked into whether Canadian Forces members failed to properly report "serious criminal offences allegedly committed by individuals from other nations" in 2007 and 2008, the statement said.

Investigators said they had found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Canadian troops — not even in the apparent failure to notify military police of the commando's allegations.

But investigators did find enough evidence to justify notifying American investigators of alleged crimes.

Delaney said it was a complex investigation, noting that nearly 100 interviews were conducted.

"Those hundred people weren't necessarily sitting around the same camp fire, readily accessible to us," Delaney said. "So there was a great deal of leg work done on the part of investigators to speak with each and every one of those to assemble all the facts in this case so we could get a very clear picture of what took place on the ground."

Although the criminal investigations have now concluded, military commanders are conducting a classified review of JTF2s entire operations, from command in Canada, to action on the ground in Afghanistan.