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‘There was a mistake’: Canada will get to bottom of friendly fire death, Lawson says

WATCH: The Kurds have blamed Canada for the incident that killed Sgt. Andrew Doiron, but Ottawa is insisting our troops did nothing wrong. Vassy Kapelos reports.

OTTAWA – Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of defence staff, says Canada will “get to the very bottom” of what happened when a Canadian soldier was killed in a friendly fire incident last week.

But he said the incident will not put the extension of the mission – which is set to expire in April – in jeopardy.

“The government has already indicated openly that it will not,” Lawson said in a brief media interview on Monday.

“This was a friendly fire incident, this was not combat, and that the strategic reasons for being there remain in place and that is to ensure that [ISIS], this heinous threat that’s over there, is pushed back where they need to get pushed back to.”
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WATCH: Gen. Tom Lawson says an investigation into the death of Sgt. Andrew Doiron has already started.

Lawson said Canada’s special forces had already been in the area of northern Iraq earlier in the day where Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron, 31, was killed.

READ MORE: Condolences pour in for Canadian soldier killed in Iraq

“Obviously there was a mistake, but what we saw was our special operations forces going to survey the ground at an observation point, in a little town near the front in one of our sectors,” Lawson said.

“They had been there earlier in the day and had set this meeting up for later that evening, and something went wrong.

Doiron’s death marks the first Canadian casualty as part of the U.S.-led coalition war on the extremist Islamic State group, or ISIS. Another three soldiers were injured.

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WATCH: Defence Minister Jason Kenney explains what the government believes led to the death of Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron

Conflicting reports about exactly what happened have been circulating since Doiron’s death.

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At odds are the versions of Canadians and Iraqi Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga– the two groups who are supposed to be uniting in the war against ISIS.

Lawson said he’s “sorry” that Kurdish officials have labeled the incident as Canadians’ fault, but doesn’t think it will affect the relationship on the ground.

According to the Kurdistan government, Canada’s ambassador to Iraq, Bruno Saccomani, has already met with the country’s head of foreign relations to ensure Canada’s commitment to the fight against ISIS.

“I think that the Kurds that we work with in that region, have a far better idea of what took place there. So what we’d like to do is, just like to kind of tone it down a little bit and see what the coalition investigation team and our two investigation teams come up with,” Lawson said.

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WATCH: NDP leader Tom Mulcair reacts to the death of Sgt. Andrew Doiron

“Although there was some awkward statements made, and we would really rather that they had not been made until an investigation is done, we’ve seen this tremendous partnership grow from six months ago when our fellas went in there.”

He said Canadians have seen the results of Kurdish forces being effective in bringing pressure against [ISIS].

“There is a friendship and a professional admiration that grows between the two groups, and that’s what we want to build on.”

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Lawson added the other three soldiers who were wounded in the incident are in stable condition, but one was shot twice in the leg and needed surgery.

Here are the conflicting reports about the friendly fire incident:

How did Sgt. Doiron die?

Canadians:  Defence Minister Jason Kenney calls Doiron’s death a “failure of identification.”

The defence department said Canadian troops were training local forces, and had just returned to an observation post behind the front line when they were mistakenly fired upon by Kurdish peshmerga fighters late Friday.

Kenney said Doiron’s death had “nothing to do with combat,” adding that it was a case of mistaken identity on the part of Kurdish fighters at night.

He said Canadian troops “acted professionally.”

Kurdish forces:  A spokesman for the peshmerga, however, said Doiron and the other soldiers ignored an order to stay in their car and showed up to the front line unannounced.

The peshmerga asked the Canadians to identify themselves – and when they answered in Arabic, the Kurdish forces started shooting.

Who is at fault?

Canadians:  A senior government official told Global News that the Kurdish account “misrepresents the facts on the ground.”

The official said Doiron would have been at the location during the daytime, and would have co-ordinated with the Kurds for his return in the evening.  The official says they would have worked out “when and how they would come” to that location.

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Immediately prior to the shooting, the Canadians were on their way to the “forward Kurdish position,” a few hundred metres to the front line. According to the source, they had passed through a number of Kurdish positions based on pre-arranged criteria.

After passing the second Kurdish position, for “reasons unknown they came under fire.”

WATCH: NDP calls for open debate, vote on Canada’s combat role in Iraq

There will now be three separate investigations into the shooting.

Kurdish forces: The Kurdish forces, however, blame the Canadians.

“It was their fault,” Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hekmat said.

READ MORE: Kurd official says Canadian soldier killed in Iraq after group ignored order

Hekmat added that he doesn’t know why the Canadians were at that location. “I consider it an improper action by the Canadians and illogical,” he said.

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Other questions:

What happened during the last friendly fire incident?

The last time a friendly-fire incident resulted in the death of a Canadian soldier was in the early 2000s, in Afghanistan. At that time, there was not only an investigation, but also charges brought against the two American soldiers involved.

Who else has died in the fight against ISIS?

So far, four other troops have been killed as part of the coalition, not counting Iraqi forces.

They include a U.S. Marine presumed lost at sea in October, a Marine killed in a noncombat incident in Baghdad in October, a U.S. Air Force pilot killed in December when his jet crashed in Jordan, and a captive Jordanian pilot burned to death in a cage by the Islamic State group.

With files from Jacques Bourbeau, the Canadian Press and the Associated Press

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