The investigative arm of the Canadian Forces is probing possible "inappropriate conduct" stemming from the death of a "presumed insurgent" in Afghanistan's Helmand province, military officials said Wednesday.
Col. Jamie Cade, acting commander of Task Force Afghanistan, said the task force was made aware of the allegations on Dec. 27 and notified the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS), which immediately initiated an investigation.
"The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service has launched an investigation into these allegations, and to determine whether proper reporting procedures were followed," Cade said during a brief news conference in Kandahar.
He said the alleged insurgent died "on or about" Oct. 19 in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.
The investigation service will "determine the facts, analyze the evidence and if warranted, lay the appropriate charges," Cade said.
"As the investigation is ongoing, no further details will be released at this time."
'We have a right to know'
The CFNIS is an independent military police unit with a mandate to investigate serious and sensitive matters in relation to national defence, property, departmental employees and Canadian Forces personnel serving in Canada and abroad.
Some observers immediately questioned whether the Canadian Forces should be in charge of the investigation.
Military analyst Michel Drapeau said the inquiry into the death of a Somali youth at the hands of Canadian soldiers in the early 1990s showed the military it needed to be more open and transparent.
But Drapeau, a retired colonel who served in the Canadian Forces from 1959 to 1993, said he worries the lesson has been forgotten.
"A police force doesn't investigate itself, and in this case, the National Investigative Service is a Canadian Forces organization, reporting to itself," Drapeau told CBC News on Wednesday.
The military, Drapeau said, could ask the RCMP to take over the probe or even assist the investigative team, a move he believes would enhance the reliability, objectivity and credibility of the investigation.
"Because we are a democracy, and because the people serving in uniform are our sons and daughters and they are transporting with them our morals and values, we want to know, and we have a right to know," he said.
Human rights lawyer Paul Champ told CBC News on Wednesday the military is doing a disservice to its own members by being so secretive.
"I think it doesn't instil a lot of confidence in the Canadian public about what's happening," said Champ, who is best known for leading a legal bid by Amnesty International to extend Canadian human rights protections to Afghan detainees handed over by Canadian troops to Afghan security forces.
Canada has about 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly based in the south around Kandahar. Neighbouring Helmand province is largely patrolled by British troops.
Canadian troops were involved in an operation in Helmand in the days before Oct. 19, guiding the Afghan National Army in a battle against Taliban militants who had launched a three-pronged attack on the Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah. British troops were also involved.
Afghan Gen. Sher Muhammad Zazai has said Canadians were involved in fighting in Helmand on Oct. 16. The battle, which also involved air strikes, ended Oct. 18. Afghan and NATO officials said at the time that at least 100 Taliban were killed in the fighting.
It's not immediately clear if those incidents and the one under investigation are related.