The four Canadian soldiers approached the Kurdish outpost in the darkness.
Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron was leading the special forces team. The 31-year-old native of Moncton, N.B., known as Drew to his friends and comrades, had been in northern Iraq since September, just one of dozens of Canadian commandos helping the Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State.
This particular outpost had been attacked the night before. Several ISIL fighters had been killed, but the Kurds had also suffered losses.
During a visit earlier in the day, the Canadians had been asked to help strengthen the position.
Doiron’s team had agreed to return later that night.
What the Canadians didn’t know was that a different group of Kurdish fighters had moved into the position after they’d left.
This new group, tired, jittery and expecting another ISIL attack, didn’t know the Canadians would be visiting that night.
In the darkness, Doiron and the others spotted a Kurdish fighter on a rooftop to their left. The Kurd saw them at the same time.
Doiron called out a pre-approved greeting, a code word of sorts to let the other man know they were on the same side.
The Canadians watched as the Kurdish fighters took up an offensive posture.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Canada!” Doiron called out.
The Kurd opened fire, hitting the sergeant and sending the other Canadians diving for cover.
Moments later, a machine gun began firing as well.
The bullets were coming from the Kurdish outpost that had been the Canadians’ objective.
As Doiron lay on the ground, his comrades tried coming to his aid.
Every time they did, the Kurds would open fire again until all four Canadians had been hit.
Finally, in the absence of the Canadians returning fire, the Kurds realized their mistake. They quickly gathered Doiron and his team up into vehicles and rushed them to where a helicopter could evacuate them.
A short time later, Doiron had died of his wounds, becoming the first Canadian soldier killed in the war against ISIL. One of his comrades was lucky to survive.
Canadian military officials delivered this extraordinary account of the friendly-fire incident that killed Doiron Tuesday as they released a summary of two separate investigations that blamed “mistaken identity and a breakdown in communication in a setting characterized by tension, fatigue and confusion.”
The investigations were conducted by the Canadian Forces investigative service as well as the U.S.-led coalition leading the fight against ISIL.
The full investigative reports were not released along with the summary, though National Defence did provide a heavily censored copy of the Canadian probe.
After Doiron was killed, a Kurdish commander had suggested the Canadian commandos were to blame.
Mosa Gardi said Doiron’s team “got very close to the fighting without our co-ordination.” He also alleged the Canadians answered in Arabic, “leading the peshmerga to believe they were IS militants, and shot them.”
But investigators concluded Doiron “performed his job to the highest standards both prior to and throughout the incident,” and the Canadians “conducted their operations appropriately and in concert with all pre-approved and accepted protocols.”
“It was also determined that no Arabic was spoken by (Doiron’s team) on the approach to the final position that night,” the summary report reads, “and that Arabic was only spoken after the accident, during the co-ordination of the medevac.”
Speaking to reporters upon the summary report’s release, Canadian special forces commander Brig.-Gen. Mike Rouleau said the Kurds at the outpost that night were “legitimately concerned about an additional attack by ISIS, similar to the one they’d experienced the night before.”
It was Rouleau who gave the detailed account of Doiron’s doomed patrol during a technical briefing to reporters Tuesday.
He said it didn’t help that the Canadians had run into a pack of wild dogs on the way to the outpost, with the barking having “likely further heightened already high Kurdish anxiety levels.”
Rouleau was effusive about Doiron’s leadership and professionalism on March 6.
He said the sergeant continued to tell his team where to call in a helicopter for evacuation even as he lay dying, and had asked another Kurdish commander to call the outpost before they left.
“This was not something that was planned,” Rouleau said of having the Kurdish commander calling ahead. “But it does show Sgt. Doiron’s thoroughness, something he was known for in his regiment.”
Rouleau later admitted, however, he didn’t know if the call had actually gone through.
Asked about possible repercussions for the Kurdish fighter who shot Doiron, Rouleau was emphatic that Doiron’s shooting “was an accident.”
“He was looking at Canadians, but he saw what he thought was an ISIS infiltration and attack on his position,” Rouleau said, later adding the Kurd “did not wake up in the morning wanting to kill a Canadian soldier.”
Despite this, Rouleau said Canadian soldiers on the ground in Iraq are only allowed to move at night now when escorted by a Kurdish soldier.
“Our presence at or near the forward positions remains the exception,” he added, “and definitely not the rule.”
By releasing the summary report now, the Canadian Forces and Conservative government are hoping to turn the page on the friendly-fire incident and return the focus to Canada’s ongoing efforts to eradicate Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.