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Media covering Afghan war to wear identity tags

KANDAHAR -- Journalists travelling with the Canadian Forces will be required to wear military dog tags to identify them if they are injured or killed, Canada's top commander here said Monday.

The new policy is part of a series of measures designed to remind the media of the risks of operating in this war-ravaged country.

"We're not trying to restrain the freedom of movement of the media or their access to convoys, but we want to be assured that they understand the nature of the beast," said Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, Canada's top-ranking officer in Afghanistan.

Over a dozen journalists from various media organizations are currently embedded with the military at Kandahar Airfield. From now on, those who join the military in the field will be required to take a refresher course in first aid. They will also be briefed on the dangers of improvised explosive devices and other threats.

"Certainly, everyone will be briefed on the level of risk. We're not putting people at risk for the pleasure of putting them at risk," Laroche said.

The stepped-up measures come after Radio-Canada cameraman Charles Dubois, 30, had to have part of his leg amputated after the armoured vehicle in which he and fellow reporter Patrice Roy were travelling struck an improvised explosive device. Master Warrant Officer Mario Mercier and Master Corp. Christian Duchesne were killed in the attack, as was an Afghan interpreter. Another Canadian soldier was wounded.

The journalists were covering the first major combat operation conducted under the command of the Royal 22nd Regiment, known in English Canada as the Van Doo. The goal of the operation was to reclaim control of Gundy Ghar, a strategic hill in Zhari district, where the Taliban have been especially active recently.

Laroche said the Radio-Canada journalists were briefed on the risks involved in the operation. But he conceded that "each mission has its surprises, and there ended up being more activity than expected."

Canadian soldiers carry metal identification discs around their necks bearing their unique service numbers. Until now, journalists have only been required to carry ID cards with their passport numbers.

Sixty-nine Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002. Dubois is believed to be the first journalist to be seriously injured since the military began embedding members of the media.

Canada has about 2,500 troops stationed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led coalition that is trying to secure and stabilize the country.

Canada's military commitment ends in February, 2009, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he will not extend the mission without the consensus of Parliament.

Date posted: August 27, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 9