Reservist testifies he could have prevented death of soldier

A Calgary reservist charged with manslaughter in a training accident in Afghanistan admitted Tuesday he could have prevented the death of a fellow soldier.

CALGARY — A Calgary reservist charged with manslaughter in a training accident in Afghanistan admitted Tuesday he could have prevented the death of a fellow soldier.

Under cross-examination at his court martial, Maj. Darryl Watts conceded that if he had ordered his soldiers into nearby armoured vehicles during the firing of an anti-personnel mine, it is likely Cpl. Josh Baker would still be alive.

“Would you say if the men were inside they would have been uninjured and Cpl. Baker would not have died?” asked prosecutor Maj. Dylan Kerr.

“Correct,” replied Watts.

Watts maintained he was not in charge of the firing-range safety that day in February 2010. But as platoon commander, he said, if he had any concerns about the firing exercise, he had the authority to call it off.

“If I had decided it needed to be done, it would have been done,” said Watts.

“As a platoon commander, the order would have been mine — yes.”

But with the soldiers dressed in full combat gear, Watts said he was convinced neither he nor his men were in any danger.

“I did not think that would be a risk to us … a risk to anyone. At no point did anyone suggest anything was unsafe or wrong,” he said.

Watts, 44, faces six charges, including manslaughter, unlawfully causing bodily harm, breach of duty and negligent performance of duty.

Baker, 24, died when the C19 Claymore anti-personnel mine, packed with 700 steel balls, raked the Canadian Forces platoon on a range four kilometres north of Kandahar.

He was struck four times and one of the steel balls penetrated his chest. Four other soldiers were seriously injured.

The defence has wrapped up its case. Final arguments are scheduled for Wednesday morning.

“I thought the testimony of Maj. Watts was compelling,” said his lawyer, Balfour Der. “I think it put his position pretty squarely before the panel that he did everything he could to ensure safety by turning the matter over to someone who was an expert when he knew nothing about it.”

The matter could be in the hands of the five-member military jury by Thursday.

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