OTTAWA—The Canadian army captured more suspected Taliban fighters in 2009 than any other year of its mission in Afghanistan.
The Defence Department released statistics Friday that show 225 prisoners were taken on the battlefield, and just over half were later released.
The number is a reflection of heightened military operations and the captures came at time when Canadian troops were ceding territory to incoming American forces, which took over vast swaths of Kandahar province.
The new number dwarfs the 90 prisoners reported captured in 2008 and is almost a third higher than the 142 prisoners taken in 2007 and 2006, when fighting was at its peak.
The latest information shows that 92 suspected insurgents were handed over to Afghan authorities.
The figure is significant because, until recently, human rights groups have been left in the dark about how many prisoners were transferred to local jails, where there have been claims of torture.
The timing is also important.
Transfers to Afghan jails were suspended three times in 2009, partly because of abuse claims, but also because Afghanistan’s intelligence service said the Canadians were not providing enough evidence to prosecute the suspected Taliban.
Many of were simply released, much to the frustration of the Canadian military.
The statistics released Friday also show one suspected militant died of wounds at Kandahar Airfield in the multi-national hospital.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission kept a running tally of prisoners captured by coalition forces and reported in spring 2010 that Canada took double the number compared with its allies.
The Canadian military has struggled to gather more evidence whenever a suspect is captured. The cases where Taliban fighters are caught red-handed planting a bomb are never in dispute.
But there are instances where soldiers spot someone talking on a cellphone, or staking out their location. The troops call them “dickers.”
Military officials say those suspects are often picked up and given a gunshot-residue test. They’re detained if they test positive.
Soldiers will ask questions in the field before the suspected insurgent is transferred to Kandahar Airfield, where a highly legalized process begins.
Unlike early days in the war, military intelligence officers must now ask permission in writing each time before interrogating suspects, who are further processed with biometric scans and medical exams.
Critics, most notably diplomat Richard Colvin, have stated that the army captures innocent people indiscriminately and that has contributed to resentment among the Afghan population