Soldier told to assist wounded Taliban, major says
Captain accused of murder sought advice over radio, court martial hears
Capt. Robert Semrau’s commanding officer ordered him to offer f irst aid to a wounded Taliban insurgent found on a battlefield, a court martial heard Thursday.
Maj. Steven Nolan said he received a radio call from Semrau at 11 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2008. Semrau was the leader of a small group of Canadian soldiers embedded with the Afghan National Army ( ANA), which was clearing Taliban insurgents from around the town of Lashkar Gha, in Helmand Province.
Nolan said Semrau wanted to know what to do. He had encountered a wounded Taliban whom the Afghans were not treating. “ My reply was fairly standard,” Nolan testified. “ Mentor the ANA in providing first aid.”
Semrau replied, “ Roger, out.”
It was Semrau’s job as leader of a mentoring team to teach the Afghan what to do in such a situation, Nolan said. The idea, he said, was to “ try your best to get the Afghans to step in and do it and step in to prevent failure.”
Five to seven minutes later, Semrau came back on the radio, Nolan said, “and indicated to me the Taliban had died of his wounds.”
Semrau, 36, of CFB Petawawa, is on trial for second-degree murder for allegedly shooting the severely wounded, unarmed Taliban insurgent in the chest with a C-8 rifle. The court martial has heard that Semrau later justified the shooting as a mercy killing.
Nolan testified that the operation during which Semrau allegedly committed the crime was hastily assembled. He received orders to move with 297 Afghan soldiers and 30 Canadians into a dangerous part of Helmand 12 hours in advance of their scheduled departure. The Canadians were divided into three groups, with Semrau leading a team of three soldiers and an interpreter. The Afghan police, British and U.S. forces were also involved.
The job of the Canadians was to assist and mentor their Afghan counterparts and “not let them fail in the execution of their mission,” Nolan said.
On Oct. 19, the stated mission was to clear seven to 10 kilometres of terrain near Lashkar Gha. Intelligence reports suggested there were 50 to 70 Taliban in the area.
By 11 a. m., Apache helicopters had twice been called to f ire upon Taliban insurgents; one wounded Afghan police officer had been evacuated by Chinook helicopter.
Nolan told the court martial that he didn’t think twice about Semrau’s encounter with the wounded Taliban.
Later that day, however, he had a strange exchange with an Afghan colonel. The colonel, who had been chewing a psychotropic substance most of the day, congratulated him on the fact that one of his soldiers had killed a Taliban.
It seemed completely out of context, Nolan said, and he dismissed it as another “ bizarre comment” from the Afghans. He would later learn Semrau was being accused of shooting an unarmed insurgent.