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Manning, a 31-year-old radar operator from Chicoutimi, Que., was an artillery soldier who spent the better part of his tour at the outpost amid the villages of western Panjwaii. (DND )

Friends, family and comrades of Bombardier Karl Manning were struggling to understand why such a well-liked professional would have wanted to take his own life as friends and colleagues gathered to pay their respects at Kandahar Airfield on Sunday.

"A unit is a family," said Maj. Vincent Giroux, the battle group's battery commander. "I think [why] is the question everybody is asking. His family, Canadians in general, friends who knew him. We would like to know why and what happened."

Many of those gathered in front of the Canadian memorial at the airfield expressed utter disbelief at his death early Friday at a forward base in the volatile Zangabad area, southwest of the provincial capital.

"It is still a shock for us," said Giroux, who was Manning's commanding officer.

He and other soldiers painted a picture of a confident, easy to approach man who was recently eager to demonstrate his skills to American soldiers who are flooding into his remote outpost in anticipation of the Canadian pull-out.

An investigation is underway, but his death is believed to be a suicide, as military police have ruled out foul play and enemy action.

Manning's father Reginald Manning told Quebec newspaper Le Soleil he was also refusing to believe his son committed suicide, saying he communicated regularly with Karl. The elder Manning told Le Soleil that Karl was fine and that he had just bought a house and he had plans of marriage.

The body was discovered by fellow soldiers early Friday.

Manning, who was near the end of his tour, was an artillery soldier operating the radar at a remote base in western Panjwaii. He'd been there for six months as part of the 1st Battalion Royal 22e Regiment battle group.

The death is the second of the year, and the first for the Canadian mission in Afghanistan since March 27. That's when Cpl. Yannick Scherrer was killed by an improvised explosive device southwest of Kandahar city.

If ruled a suicide, Manning would become the fourth soldier involved in the Afghan mission to have died by their own hand overseas.