Sun, Jan 04, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Canadian charged in Afghan killing

UNARMED Military adviser Robert Semrau is accused of shooting a man during a bloody battle to defend the capital of Lashkar Gah from attacks by insurgents

AP AND AFP , TORONTO and OTTAWA

A Canadian military adviser who served in Afghanistan during a bloody October battle against the Taliban has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of an unarmed Afghan man, Canadian defense officials said on Friday.

Captain Robert Semrau is accused of shooting the man “with intent to kill” in Helmand province, where Afghan soldiers, Canadian officers and British troops had been defending the capital of Lashkar Gah from persistent attacks by insurgents, the Department of National Defense said in a statement.

As a member of the Operational Mentor and Liaison Team, the Canadian military unit that coaches the fledgling Afghan National Army, Semrau’s responsibilities included guiding and counseling Afghan troops on military tactics and the rules of war.

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service — the major crimes unit of Canada’s military police — charged Semrau on Wednesday, the department said, the same day it revealed it was probing a death that took place in Helmand “on or about” Oct. 19.

Semrau is being held by military police before being returned to Canada, where a military judge will decide whether he should remain in custody.

Military officials at Kandahar Airfield refused to elaborate on a news release issued on Friday by the defense department.

Semrau was one of several Canadian military advisers who were in Helmand for the bloody three-day defense of Lashkar Gah in October. Also taking part were British forces, who are deployed extensively in Helmand.

Afghan and foreign troops eventually retook the Nad Ali district center, which had been held by insurgents, after a three-day fight.

That battle, which also involved air strikes, endedon Oct. 18. Afghan and NATO officials claimed at least 100 Taliban died in the fighting.

Afghan Ambassador to Canada Omar Samad said the allegation should not taint all the work done these past few years by Canadian military advisers.

“One needs to put this in context, which means that the training and mentoring provided by Canadians so far has been exemplary,” he said.

“Like in any other situation, there may be some flaws or some mistakes that are made, and this may be one of them.”

In related news, Canadian forces in Afghanistan killed a presumed suicide bomber who was about to unleash a “spectacular” attack with 600kg of explosives, a military official said on Friday.

The suspected suicide attacker tried to ram his sports utility vehicle into a patrol at a checkpoint in Kandahar city, and was shot and killed after several warnings from Canadian troops, said Major David Warnke, who heads Canada’s counter-improvised-explosive-devices unit.

Upon inspecting the vehicle, troops uncovered the explosives, which included three Soviet-era aircraft bombs weighing up to 250kg.

The resulting explosion “would’ve been a spectacular attack and it would’ve been effective,” Warnke said at a press briefing in Kandahar, broadcast by Canadian television.

The explosion would “likely have killed everyone within 260 meters of the vehicle and could have injured people up to 1.5 kilometers away,” Warnke said, according to CBC News.

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