Head of Canada's forces in Afghanistan fired for misconduct

Canada's top commander in Afghanistan has been sacked amid allegations of "inappropriate conduct" with a female aide, breaking strict military rules and losing the confidence of his bosses.

Brigadier-General Daniel Ménard, a rising star in the Canadian army, was dismissed just days after a separate incident in which he was fined $3,500 for accidentally discharging his rifle as he boarded a helicopter.

"I am not happy to bring you this news," Mr Ménard's second-in-command Colonel Simon Hetherington told reporters in Afghanistan. "It is what it is."

Canadian television reported that Mr Ménard had had an affair, breaking standing orders for the Canadian military stipulating that "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." A statement on the Canadian defence department's website said an investigation was underway to ascertain whether Mr Ménard had breached "Canadian Forces' Personal Relationships and Fraternisation" directives.

Col Hetherington will take charge of Canada's 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan until Brigadier-General Jon Vance, who led the Canadian mission before Ménard, can be rushed out to replace him. He will take the reins until September.

Last week Mr Ménard pleaded guilty to negligently discharging his rifle as he and his boss, chief of defence staff General Walt Natynczyk, prepared to board a Blackhawk helicopter. No one was hurt and nothing was damaged but Ménard was hit with the stiffest fine ever imposed for mishandling a weapon in Canadian military history. He only returned to Afghanistan last Thursday.

As he was being stripped of his command, Nato released a scathing report on the series of errors that led to an airstrike in February that killed 23 civilians.

Blaming a "lack of understanding" from "poorly functioning command posts", the report saved its harshest criticism for the operators of a Predator drone providing surveillance of three vehicles that ground commanders thought was a Taliban convoy.

"Information that the convoy was anything other than an attacking force was ignored or downplayed by the Predator crew," the report found. Six officers have been reprimanded.

US General Stanley McChrystal has made avoiding civilian casualties a priority, issuing ever-stricter directives and apologising to President Hamid Karzai for the February airstrike in Uruzgan.

The issue of civilian casualties is increasingly sensitive in Afghanistan, with some incidents provoking riots and anti-American protests.

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