Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A Canadian soldier was killed by an explosive device during a foot patrol several hours after nightfall on Sunday.

The soldier, whose family has asked that his name, age and unit not be released for the time being, was the 81st Canadian to die since Canadian troops began fighting in Afghanistan in early 2002.

“This incident will not discourage us from continuing our mission,” Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, the Task Force Afghanistan commander said in a statement in which he described “the fallen comrade” as “a good soldier.”

As Laroche began his statement in English, the soldier was an anglophone. Statements are read in French first when the soldier is a francophone.

The soldier, who had only recently arrived in Afghanistan, died near the village of Zangabad, about 35 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City. This was in Panjwaii, long one of the most hotly contested districts between the Taliban and the Canadians and the Afghan forces who fight alongside them.

No other soldiers were hurt by the explosion and it was not followed by any exchange of fire with enemy insurgents.

The death was the first combat-related casualty since the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry battle group took over responsibility for the province of Kandahar several weeks ago and the third Canadian to die in Afghanistan this month.

The cause of death of a soldier who died of a gunshot wound in his quarters at the main Kandahar base five days ago was still being examined by military investigators.

The third Canadian to have died in March was one of the last soldiers still serving in Afghanistan from the previous battle group. He was killed when his armoured vehicle struck a buried explosive device.
The soldier struck down in Sunday’s blast was immediately evacuated by helicopter to NATO’s multi-national hospital at the Kandahar Airfield where he later died of his wounds, Laroche said.

“At the time of the incident, he, his comrades and Afghan security forces were conducting a dismounted patrol. . . in order to maintain contact with the local population,” he said. “We have been patrolling this area the last few weeks. We know that there are a lot of mines in the region. That is why we have increased our presence.”

A high number of Canadians to have died in Afghanistan have been killed while in vehicles which had driven over improvised explosive devices (IED). Several deaths have been caused by suicide bombers who attacked Canadian convoys by driving cars into them. Only a handful of fatalities have been the result of direct combat between Canadian Forces and the Taliban, and no Canadians have died in a firefight since last summer.

March has traditionally been when the Taliban have returned to the battlefields of southern Afghanistan from their winter sanctuaries in Pakistan’s lawless border areas. The insurgents normally use the winter months to recruit, recuperate, re-arm and get funding to carry out their spring and summer offensives.

But since being routed by Canadian Forces in Panjwaii and Zhari districts in the fall of 2006 during what was called Operation Medusa, the Taliban have done little actual fighting. To avoid heavy combat losses to much more heavily armed forces, they have switched tactics, relying increasingly on IEDs and suicide bombers.

Meanwhile, military officials are investigating after a soldier was found dead Saturday afternoon in his room at Edmonton Garrison.

Base spokesman Cpt. Mark Peebles had few details to release Sunday, but said the Canadian Forces National Investigation Unit is investigating the death.

“We won’t know for sure what happened until the investigation is complete,” Peebles said.

The soldier’s family has been notified and his identity and rank will not be released without their permission, he said.

The soldier was found in his room at the barrack’s single quarters.

With files from Edmonton Journal