The following is the first of three articles on the death of Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry in Kandahar, Afghanistan on January 15, 2006.
Shortly after 0900 hrs on the morning of 15 January 2006, a five-vehicle military convoy drove out the gate of Canadian Forces Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City. The convoy comprised four up-armoured G-Wagons, SUV-like light military vehicles produced by Mercedes-Benz, and a civilian pattern pick-up truck. The G-Wagons carried a dozen soldiers led by Major Andrew Lutes, the officer commanding the patrol company operating out of Camp Nathan Smith which housed Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kandahar, and Sergeant Joseph Brink, the patrol section commander. There were also three civilians aboard. In the first vehicle was an Afghan interpreter. In the second was Glyn Berry, the political director of the PRT. In the third was RCMP Superintendent Wayne Martin. The pick-up truck carried contracted security guards.
The convoy was headed for the town of Takh teh Pol, about 45 minutes away, on a routine leadership engagement operation to meet with the District Chief and the local police chief. Since beginning operations in August 2005, the PRT had conducted over 1800 such patrols.
The Canadian PRT was one of 22 operated by NATO and coalition countries in Afghanistan. PRTs were integrated military-civilian formations with a mandate to improve security in their respective regions, to facilitate local reconstruction, and in general to help extend the reach of the Afghan national government. In January 2006, the PRT in Kandahar consisted of some 250 Canadian military personnel to protect and operate the facility, and a handful of civilians from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the RCMP, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the American and British aid agencies. While largely self-sufficient, the PRT relied for some of its support services on the US-led coalition base at Kandahar Airfield (KAF) about 35 kilometers to the southeast, where a 1500-strong Canadian battle group was to be deployed in February 2006.
When the convoy arrived in Takh teh Pol, neither the District Chief nor the chief of police were on hand. So the PRT patrol met with the deputy chief of police, visited a police station under construction and a local medical clinic, and departed about an hour after it had arrived. On the way back, the convoy stopped at KAF to conduct some business and have lunch.
At 1240, the vehicles were readying to leave when they were delayed for twenty minutes due to a suspected IED (improvised explosive device) found at a car lot along Highway 4, a main road into the city. The suspected IED turned out to be a discarded RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) round and was disposed of by the Afghan National Army. The tactical operations centre at Camp Nathan Smith then cleared the convoy to depart.
Taking Highway 4, the fastest route into Kandahar, the convoy reached the gates to the city 20 minutes later, marked by two curved portals known affectionately to foreigners as “the golden arches”. The vehicles then navigated a checkpoint and a traffic circle, picked up speed and changed into protective “city driving mode” for the last short stretch to Camp Nathan Smith. At 1325, as the convoy passed a taxi stand, a late 1980s-vintage silver Toyota Townace van pulled out from among the taxi cabs, fruit carts, bicycles and pedestrians, came alongside the second G-Wagon, and detonated. The explosion caused the G-Wagon to flip into the air, where it did a number of rolls and landed on its side approximately twenty meters away on the other side of the road. The civilian occupant, Glyn Berry, appears to have been killed instantly. The three military occupants – the crew commander, gunner and driver — were all severely injured: Master-Cpl. Paul Franklin, Cpl. Jeffrey Bailey, and Pte. William Salikin. Two were thrown from the vehicle, the third was trapped inside and could only be safely extracted after a damaged anti-armour rocket had been removed.
The remainder of the convoy reacted immediately, providing “buddy care” to the wounded and securing the site until the PRT’s Quick Reaction Force arrived a few minutes later. The injured were taken by Bison military ambulance to Camp Nathan Smith, then within an hour transferred by US Army Blackhawk helicopter to the “Charlie Med” field hospital at KAF where they underwent medical treatment. The next day they were evacuated to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany, a giant US-administered trauma hospital in the Black Forest which has cared for some 65,000 patients – soldiers, diplomats and journalists — from 45 NATO and coalition countries. Eight days later, the three injured soldiers were flown home to Canada for “definitive care and rehabilitation”.
On January 16, Glyn Berry’s remains were transported to London in the UK where his wife Valerie and two sons, Gareth and Rhys, lived. On January 26, a funeral service was held at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church on Trafalgar Square, after which Glyn was taken by Canadian Forces C-130 Hercules to his final resting place in Wales.
The criminal investigation was led by Captain Sher Ali Farhad of the Afghanistan National Police. His team retrieved the Toyota van’s identification numbers (engine, chassis and license plate) and the next morning tracked down the vehicle’s owner Pir Mohammed. When they raided his house, they found another silver Toyota Townace, the makings of an auto-body workshop, and weapons including an RPG launcher and a Kalashnikov rifle. Mohammed was arrested. Captain Farhad said he was convinced Mohammed was a terrorist, but he had little to connect him personally to the attack on the Canadian convoy. Two days later, Mohammed walked free. His tribal leader Mullah Naqib had intervened with the chairman of the Kandahar provincial council, Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of the President. Naqib said he had made his own inquiries and determined that Mohammed was not a member of the Taliban. “Tribal leaders, they all know who is innocent and who is guilty … I’ve never made a mistake.”
The following month, a military Board of Inquiry (BOI) was convened in Ottawa to look into the “incident”. After a three-month investigation, the BOI found that the threat level in Kandahar had been very high, as usual, but that the intelligence received did not indicate “a higher threat level than normal”. Operational security had been maintained and the convoy had followed all standard operating procedures. The patrol commander was experienced, had the necessary access to available intelligence, and ensured he was updated prior to departure and during the patrol. In determining their routes, the BOI reported that “patrol commanders were conscious of not falling into a template/routine. They continuously varied routes and timing.” In conclusion, the BOI found that the incident was “an opportunistic and deliberate attack” by an unidentified suicide bomber and “was not preventable”.
The Department of National Defence did not release the BOI report until October 2007, fully 18 months later – and only then in heavily redacted form. While no explanation was offered for the delay, it may have had something to do with suggestions the Board made for how the “incident” might in fact have been prevented. The Board recommended that routes through high-risk areas be under surveillance and convoys travelling through them “centrally controlled, extremely robust and offensively oriented”. Better armoured vehicles should be employed, such as the Nyala, Bison or LAV III. “In addition, helicopters should also be used to transport individuals wherever possible.” Every effort should be made to ensure all participants in a mission trained together before deployment. “Though training (or lack of it) was not a contributing factor in Mr. Berry’s death”, the Board reported that the civilian members of the PRT had had “minimal to no preparatory training integrated with the Battle Group prior to coming into theatre”. And one other thing: civilians should be issued ballistic glasses, “an essential piece of equipment for personal safety reasons”.
Foreign Affairs, one of whose most prominent members had been killed, never conducted an investigation of its own. It was as if senior managers were as uninterested in Glyn Berry when he died as they had been when they sent him to Kandahar in the first place – the subject of the next article in this series.