Skip to main content

One Taliban suspect was feared dragged to death. Another may have been driven to his grave in the back of a Ford Ranger. Still others were said to have been executed behind buildings.

The secret probe of these complaints was known as Operation Centipede. The goal? Check out accounts of war crimes, ones allegedly committed by allied Afghan forces and witnessed by Canadians.

In the end, military investigators usually concluded there was less to the allegations than first thought.

Story continues below advertisement

While possible Canadian complicity in torture in Afghan jails has long gripped politicians in Ottawa, this week's disclosure of 4,000 pages of released records failed to reveal any smoking guns.

What some of the documents do show, however, is that the Canadian Forces wrestled with the moral implications of working with the unpredictable Afghan National Army (ANA).

"The ANA apparently tied [a suspect]to a vehicle and dragged him to his death," the military records say, describing one 2008 incident that was said to have been witnessed by a Canadian soldier.

Problem was, the investigation "failed to uncover any substantive evidence." Records show investigators confronted the soldier who was overheard talking about the incident. They ordered him to stop, feeling his third-hand story was urban legend, or the "culmination of several other stories" their investigations had debunked.

The previous year, a military doctor in Canada had been told a Canadian unit had handed over prisoners to ANA members who would "walk the detainee out of range and the detainee would be shot."

Here, too, however, the allegation was "determined to be unfounded." The soldier who made the charge declined to speak to investigators. His file alludes to credibility issues and possible mental-health problems.

In 2006, a Canadian Forces soldier saw a Taliban prisoner seated in the box of an ANA Ford Ranger truck. It was only a year later that the soldier flagged the event as a possible war crime.

Story continues below advertisement

"I know I will probably be charged for not coming forward at the time," the soldier said in an e-mail to superiors, but added he still felt obliged to step up.

He said an ANA soldier told him the suspect was about to be illegally executed. It's not clear what happened with this investigation.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.