Canadians fired almost five million bullets in Afghanistan in two years

OTTAWA  — Canadian troops fired more than 4.7 million bullets at insurgents over the last 20 months in Afghanistan, according to new statistics released by the military.

In an abrupt reversal tonight, the Defence Department issued the figures requested by the Ottawa Citizen two weeks ago.

The request was made after U.S and British governments provided similar figures to the public.

But a top general warns Taliban insurgents based in the mountains around Kandahar are reading articles in the Ottawa newspaper on a regular basis and that the military has to be careful about what details it releases.

According to an e-mail from the Defence Department, for the period between April 2006 and December 2007, troops fired more than 2.9 million rounds of 5.56-mm ammunition, the standard bullet used in Canadian rifles.

Troops fired more than 1.6 million rounds of 7.62-mm machine-gun bullets and more than 115,000 rounds of .50-calibre machine-gun ammunition during the same time frame.

Canadian tanks fired 1,650 shells and the army’s artillery guns used up more than 12,000 rounds during fighting.

Until this week, the military was claiming that such figures were secret and could put Canadian soldiers at risk.

The Defence Department declined to explain that further, noting that even releasing such details about the reasons behind the secrecy could jeopardize operations in Afghanistan.

However, faced with questions Tuesday from Bloc Quebecois MP Claude Bachand about the validity of withholding such figures, Brig.-Gen. Peter Atkinson said the Canadian Forces had a change of heart.

“We had a sitdown this morning and we reviewed that and we are going to release the ammunition expended in Afghanistan on an annual basis,” he said.

Atkinson, a special adviser to Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff, did not explain the reversal.

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