The Canadian Forces have experienced serious security breaches with military equipment being shipped back from Afghanistan, CBC News has learned.
Chris Alexander, parliamentary secretary to the minister of defence, told Power & Politics host Evan Solomon Tuesday that 10 containers had been broken into and that equipment was missing when the containers from Afghanistan were opened in Canada.
Rather than containing the expected military equipment, the containers were filled with rocks and sand, presumably to mimic the weight of the missing supplies so the breach would go undetected.
The Department of National Defence confirmed Tuesday that various military gear was missing from containers being transported to Canada from Afghanistan by chartered sea vessel, and said a full investigation is underway.
A defence spokesperson told CBC News in a statement the missing equipment is "non-critical."
"There were no munitions of any kind in any of the containers being shipped back to Canada by sea on this route. All munitions have already been received in Canada via strategic air and sealift," Lt.-Cmdr. John Nethercott said.
'Tires, tools and tents'
The department also said no uniforms were missing from any of the containers inventoried so far.
"Equipment in these containers would consist of items such as tires, tools and tents," Nethercott said.
The job of shipping the supplies back to Canada was contracted to Montreal company A.J. Maritime after the Canadian base in Kandahar was closed last November.
The company's president, Alda Rodrigues, said pilfering has been a widespread problem for the shipping operations.
"The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is volatile. Pilfering is occurring, but Canada is not alone," she said. "All NATO countries have a pilfering problem with their containers. No one knows where the pilfering is occurring."
A.J. Maritime said 448 Canadian shipping containers remain in Afghanistan, while 182 have been returned to Canada and 40 are currently in transit.
Investigators at work
According to Public Works, the total loss expected for the Department of National Defence for the year 2010-11 due to loss or property damage is $4.7 million. However, it is not known how much of those losses is a result of theft.
Military investigators are trying to determine where the supply chain is vulnerable to pilfering and security breaches. The situation is further complicated by blockades of NATO supply crossings at the Afghan-Pakistan border and tensions with militants in the area.
Pakistan's High Commission told CBC News Tuesday the security breach issue "looks like a fabricated story."
The Department of National Defence said only low-priority equipment is shipped through Pakistan. However, defence sources said any equipment useful to the Canadian military would likely be of value to enemy forces as well.
The extent of the security risk to the 950 Canadian soldiers and support staff remaining in Afghanistan remains unknown.