Canadian commander in Afghanistan fired for alleged relationship

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, was sacked Saturday for alleged conduct unbecoming an officer.

The decision by Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, who commands all Canadian troops overseas, was made following allegations made earlier in the day, that Menard had had an inappropriate intimate relationship with someone in Task Force Kandahar. This had “caused Commander CEFCOM to lose confidence in Brig.-Gen Menard’s capacity to command,” officials said in a statement that was released just before dawn on Sunday in Kandahar.

An investigation is being conducted into the allegations and Menard, who was to command the biggest NATO campaign of the war in Kandahar in the next few weeks, is to return to Canada immediately, a military spokesman at Kandahar Airfield said.

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and civilian employees, including journalists embedded alongside them, must follow very strict rules governing behaviour with each other. No intimate personal relationships are allowed in theatre, including those involving married couples deployed at the same time.

“Sexual activity or any other form of intimate contact in any context with another individual is prohibited anywhere in the Joint Task Force Afghanistan Area of Operations,” according to theatre standing orders governing personal relationships.

Brig.-Gen Jon Vance, who preceded Menard as commander in Afghanistan, is being rushed to Kandahar to take over for Menard. Vance will command the Canadian task force again until September when Menard’s nine-month tour had been scheduled to end. Vance is to be replaced by Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, who was also to have replaced Menard.

Task Force Kandahar will be commanded for the next few days by Col. Simon Hetherington, the current deputy commander of Canada’s 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan.

“As soon as Gen. Lessard became aware of the allegations on May 29, he made the assessment and the decision,” Hetherington said in confirming that Menard had been relieved of command at 2:20 p.m. ET.

“I am not happy to bring you this news,” Hetherington told a small gathering of reporters at 4:30 a.m. Kandahar time.

“It is what it is.”

“I can’t discuss any details of anything that is under investigation. Nor can I go into information on the identity of the alleged other person . . .

“The allegations against Gen. Menard are just that, allegations against Gen. Menard.”

Menard joined the Royal 22nd Regiment as an infantry officer in 1984. Being only 42 years old and already a flag officer, he was considered one of the army’s top young commanders.

Only last Tuesday, Menard pleaded guilty at a court martial in Gatineau, Que., to negligently discharging his rifle. That incident, which took place in March, involved Menard inadvertently firing his rifle as he was about to board a U.S. army helicopter in Kandahar with Canada’s top soldier, Gen. Walt Natynczyk.

Menard was fined $3,500 for the negligent discharge and had only returned to Kandahar on Thursday evening after three weeks of leave in Canada.

“This will be very interesting weeks and months. We are looking forward to it,” Menard said when encountered in a cafeteria hours after he returning here from Canada. The general was referring to a major campaign against the Taliban that he was expected to lead this summer that many believe is the most critical of the eight-year war against the Taliban.

Soldiers waking up to the news in Kandahar on Sunday morning expressed shock and disbelief at the allegations against Menard, but declined to discuss their thoughts on the record.

Asked whether it might effect the military’s standing among the public, Hetherington said: “I don’t see it as a mark against the Canadian military, at all.”

Menard’s emergency replacement, Vance, left Afghanistan on Nov. 25 after a nine-month tour in which the Canadian task force began, for the first time, to live among the Afghan population in small communities to the southwest of Kandahar City. It was a counter-insurgency tactic that was later applauded by U.S army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, who personally visited Vance three times to discuss ways the program could be implemented across Afghanistan.

“It is an administrative and logistics matter to get Gen. Vance here,” Hetherington said. “Gen. Vance is likely to arrive here in five to seven days; call it a week . . .

“It can be assumed that he was selected because of his recent Afghan experience. His reputation with the allies is sound. He is a proven, professional officer.”

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