40,000 Canadian troops fought in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. The stated rationale was to neutralize al-Qaeda members and topple the Taliban regime, but the Taliban remains a major actor in the country and Jihadist groups’ influence has increased.
During the war Canadian special forces participated in highly unpopular nighttime assassination raids. The Globe and Mail reported in December 2008: “A top Canadian commander has defended his forces’ night raids on Afghan homes after a leading human-rights group and the Kabul government condemned the controversial tactic.” According to documents CBC News obtained through access to information, a JTF2 special forces member said he felt his commanders “encouraged” them to commit war crimes. The soldier, whose name was not released, claimed a fellow JTF2 member shot an Afghan with his hands raised in the act of surrender.
Allegations of JTF2 wrongdoing should be seen in the context of a violent war. In his 2010 book A Line in the Sand: Canadians at War in Kandahar Captain Ray Wiss, praised Canadian troops as “the best at killing people … We are killing a lot more of them than they are of us, and we have been extraordinarily successful recently… For the past week, we have managed to kill between 10 and 20 Taliban every day.”
Individuals detained by Canadians, and turned over to the Afghan army and prison system, were tortured. Under the Geneva Conventions the military force that detains someone is responsible for their treatment and many of those detained by the Canadian Forces were likely tortured with power cables, knives, open flames or rape. The United Nations Human Rights Commission, the US State Department and Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission all reported widespread torture in Afghanistan detention facilities. The latter group found that “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are common in the majority of law enforcement institutions, and at least 98.5 percent of interviewed victims have been tortured.”
Additionally, dozens of individuals given to the Afghan army by the Canadian Forces were unaccounted for, perhaps lost in a prison system that did not keep good records or maybe killed. Many of those the Canadian Forces detained likely had little to do with the Taliban. The second highest-ranked member of Canada's diplomatic service in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007, Richard Colvin reported to a special parliamentary committee: “It was the NDS (Afghan National Directorate of Security) that told us that many or most of our detainees were unconnected to the insurgency. This assessment was reported to Ottawa. The NDS also told us that, because the intelligence value of Canadian-transferred detainees was so low, it did not want them.”
The Canadian Forces regularly handed over children they suspected of Taliban ties to the NDS. According to a secret document released through access to information, on March 30, 2010, Defence Minister Peter MacKay was briefed about juvenile detainees. To get a sense of what he learned one can go to an April 2010 UN report titled Children and Armed Conflict that explained: “The use of harsh interrogation techniques and forced confession of guilt by the Afghan Police and NDS was documented, including the use of electric shocks and beating [of kids]. ... Available information points to sexual violence as a widespread phenomenon.”
In June 2008 the Toronto Star reported that in late 2006 a Canadian soldier heard an Afghan soldier raping a young boy and later saw the boy’s “lower intestines falling out of his body.” Reportedly, the Canadian military police were told by their commanders not to interfere when Afghan soldiers and police sexually abused children.