U.S. Army Confirms 'Friendly Fire' Deaths

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

TORONTO, July 3 -- Fifteen months after a Canadian soldier and U.S. soldier were killed in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army has confirmed that both were shot from behind by a U.S. machine gunner in a "friendly fire" incident.

The confirmation, made after a Freedom of Information Act request by the Associated Press, means that six of the 60 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan in the last five years died from accidental fire by their U.S. allies. Two more of the fatalities are under investigation.

The cause of death of Canadian Pvt. Robert Costall, 22, along with Vermont National Guard Sgt. John Thomas Stone, 52, adds to Canadian resentment that began early in the conflict when four Canadian soldiers were killed in a mistaken bomb run by a U.S. fighter jet.

The Canadian Defense Department, which promised to investigate Costall's death, has said nothing publicly, despite requests Tuesday. At the time of the shooting, Canadian news reporters in the field with the forces were ordered out of the area and other soldiers were forbidden to talk about the incident.

According to a censored version of the U.S. Army report released to the AP, Costall was part of a Canadian special operations team working with U.S. forces near the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. On the cloudy night of March 29, 2006, they came under attack from the Taliban. The report said a U.S. soldier, whose name was blacked out, opened fire from behind with a heavy machine gun during the attack.

"I immediately realized [the gunner] was shooting at the Canadian position," the report quoted a first sergeant on the scene as saying. The sergeant whistled to the gunner to stop firing. The gunner then turned his weapon around, only to continue firing on another "friendly" position, the American compound, the report said.

The report does not indicate if anyone was disciplined. The U.S. Army's Central Command headquarters in Florida did not respond to a request for information Tuesday.

The report said Costall, the father of a year-old son, was killed by two shots in the back. Three other Canadian soldiers were slightly wounded and returned to duty.

Stone, of Turnbridge, Vt., was a medic known to fellow soldiers as "Doc." He was felled at the American compound. At the time of his death, family members said he had joined the Army in 1971, in part because he was seeking answers to what happened to his brother Dana, a freelance photojournalist who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970. John Stone was on his third tour in Afghanistan.

Costall was the 12th Canadian fatality of the Afghanistan conflict, but he was said at the time to be the first Canadian soldier to die in a gun battle since the Korean War of 1950-53. The other Canadian fatalities in Afghanistan resulted from the accidental jet attack and roadside bombs.

Canada declined to send troops to Iraq, but its forces are stationed in the troubled southern region of Afghanistan. Public opinion polls taken last month indicate that half to two-thirds of Canadians want the troops withdrawn.

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