Sgt. Andrew J. Doiron had been in the Canadian military for more than a decade when he was killed Friday. He’s depicted in a photograph distributed by his fellow Special Forces with a thick red beard and a sign seemingly bearing the logo of the Decepticons, the evil robots in the “Transformers” franchise. A scarf is wrapped around his head, his head cocked at an angle. He seems like a lighthearted guy.
The 31-year-old Special Forces soldier was cut down by gunfire in northern Iraq. The shots came from Kurdish soldiers the Canadians were in the region to train, both Kurdish and Canadian officials said, according to CBC News.
It is there that the story told by Kurdish and Canadian officials diverges, however. A Kurdish spokesman, Halgurd Hekmat, told the Associated Press that the Canadians showed up to a checkpoint unannounced to call in airstrikes on the Islamic State without using prearranged code words, an “illogical” move. Canadian officials dispute that, saying Doiron and three other soldiers who were wounded were well behind an established front line and had already made it through two checkpoints set up by the Kurds.
The incident has escalated the argument in Canada about the nation’s role in the conflict in Iraq. One columnist with The National Post said it is time to dispense with the “hogwash” that Canada is not involved in a combat mission, and said the explanation given by the Kurdish Peshmerga for the death should be greeted with “considerable skepticism.”
“I find it hard to believe that highly trained Canadian commandos would reply to a challenge in the language of the enemy, rather than use pre-ordained code words,” wrote the columnist, John Ivison. “Blaming Canadian advisers for ‘an improper action’ may help justify the actions of a trigger-happy Kurd but it will hardly strengthen goodwill between coalition forces.”
Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of Canada’s defense staff, said Monday that while the Canadian military will investigate Doiron’s death, it won’t damage the relationship between Canada and the Kurds. But the Canadian military mission in Iraq already had prompted mixed reaction at home, particularly after Canadians got into several firefights in the fall. Doiron’s death only underscores that while Canadian officials say none of their troops are filling a combat assignment, their mission is still dangerous.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, underscored the accidental nature of the death while offering their condolences.
“We offer our sympathies to the people of Canada and to the family and loved ones of Sergeant Doiron,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokesman for the National Security Council. ” Our thoughts are also with the three injured members of the Canadian Armed Forces as we wish them a speedy recovery.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter spoke with Canadian Minister of Defense Jason Kenney on Sunday, and offered similar sentiments, a Pentagon spokesperson said.
“As NATO allies, NORAD partners, and North American neighbors, Secretary Carter and Minister Kenney highlighted the deep and enduring defense partnership between the United States and Canada,” the spokesperson said. “The two leaders noted that they look forward to meeting in person and agreed to continue the strong institutional and personal relationship that their predecessors enjoyed.”