Defence officials in Ottawa vigorously denied Russian and Iraqi media reports Monday that a Canadian CF-18 fighter jet had mistakenly killed scores of Iraqi soldiers while providing close air support to Iraqi security forces trying to recapture the western city of Fallujah last Friday.
“The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is aware of recent media reports of Canadian involvement in a potential friendly fire incident near Fallujah, Iraq, on December 18, 2015,” said in an email statement Maj. Isabelle Bresse. “CF-18 Hornets did not conduct an airstrike near Fallujah, Iraq, on December 18, 2015.”
According to the military’s website tracking Canadian airstrikes in Iraq, on Dec. 18, “two CF-18 Hornets successfully struck three ISIS fighting positions northwest of Mosul using precision guided munitions.” Mosul is about 400 km north of Fallujah. In fact, Canadian jets were nowhere near Fallujah all of last week.
The denial came after the Russian news agency Sputnik ran a story on Monday, which quoted an anonymous source in the Iraqi military, claiming the coalition aircraft that mistakenly bombed the Iraqi soldiers was a Canadian fighter jet.
The anonymous source told Sputnik that the pilot initially fired two missiles at Islamic State (IS) militants, killing 40 people, but the third missile hit a group of Iraqi army soldiers during their offensive on IS positions.
When contacted for clarification Monday, the U.S. Central Command, which leads the Operation Inherent Resolve against Islamic State militants, said “the Coalition is investigating the incident and will make further details available when appropriate.”
Earlier reports had indicated that the airstrike had been carried out by American forces.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Associated Press Saturday the airstrike seems to have been “a mistake that involved both sides.”
“These kinds of things happen when you’re fighting side by side as we are,” Carter told AP. He said the airstrike had “all the indications of being a mistake of the kind that can happen on a dynamic battlefield.”
Iraq’s defence minister, Khalid al-Obeidi, told reporters in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, that the strike killed one officer and nine soldiers. He said Iraq had begun an investigation and that the “wrongdoer would be punished according to Iraqi law.”
Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is on a visit to Iraq and met with Iraqi and Kurdish defence officials. Speaking at a teleconference from Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government, in northern Iraq, Sajjan reiterated the Liberal government’s pledge to withdraw all six Canadian fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing campaign.