It was Captain Robert Semrau, Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), until October 5, 2010 when a military court pronounced Robert Semrau guilty of disgraceful conduct and dismissed him from the Canadian Army. A lot of people thought it should never have happened.
On October 19, 2008 Robert Semrau was leading a small mentoring team of Canadian soldiers embedded with an Afghan National Army unit in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
A Taliban ambush was winding down and a U.S. Army Apache 64 Longbow attack helicopter, just because it could, had laid down some 30 mm chain gun rounds in the area, ruining the afternoon of at least one Taliban who was blown out of a tree. He was lying on the ground absent his intestines and with compound fractures in both legs. He was still alive but the prognosis was not good.
Robert Semrau has never spoken publicly about his actions concerning the grievously wounded Talib but what has never been in dispute is that he put two rounds into him where he lay on the ground. To finish him off? To put him out of his misery? The exact motivation has never been explained. Maybe it can never be explained.
It took two months but it was determined that Captain Semrau had violated the Canadian military Code of Conduct and he was arrested and returned to Canada to be tried for murder. That had never happened before to any member of the Canadian armed forces in any war zone in any war in the history of the Canadian armed forces.
Robert Semrau was fond of soldiering. He’d done a stint with the British Army’s 2nd Parachute Battalion and had served in Afghanistan with the British Army before serving there with the Canadian Army. He was an army guy. One of the most interesting things about him from the vantage point of samoyeddogs is that he wrote a brilliant book about his experiences with the RCR called “The Taliban Don’t Wave”.
It’s a good title because they don’t. Or didn’t. And probably still don’t. And that’s how Semrau and his team were often able to determine who was friendly and who was foe out there in all those poppy and marijuana fields. The non-combatant farmers and country folk will return your wave but the Taliban don’t wave.
Robert Semrau was cleared on the murder charge and avoided a prison sentence but he was still drummed out of the army. On the face of it, yes, it was a mistake to shoot. Stress. The situation. The condition of the dying person on the ground. Whatever led to it, Robert Semrau’s action was plainly against the rules.
The Taliban don’t play by the rules but the NATO allies in Operation Enduring Freedom did, or tried to. I don’t think Mr. Semrau was naive, but he must have known somewhere in his thought processes that there could, and likely would be consequences for what happened that day. It was all just going to be too bad.
Robert Semrau is alive and with his family and he’s been quoted as saying that is the most significant thing he has taken away from his experiences in the army and in Afghanistan. He doesn’t much get into the events of October 19, 2008 in his book. Perhaps there’ll be a time when he’s willing to share his side. I’m sure it would be interesting.
The Taliban Don’t Wave 978-1118261-187 John Wiley & Sons 2012
Images courtesy the photographers