Three Canadian soldiers were killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb detonated near their armoured vehicle on a notoriously dangerous stretch of highway in southern Afghanistan, the Canadian military said Thursday.
The soldiers were conducting a patrol in the volatile Zhari district in Kandahar province when an improvised explosive device exploded about 10:30 a.m. local time, Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson said at a news conference late Thursday morning in Kandahar.
A U.S. military convoy was bombed in roughly the same spot on April 15, an attack that left two marines dead and two seriously wounded.
Wednesday's attack killed Sgt. Shawn Eades, Sapper Stephan John Stock and Cpl. Dustin Roy Robert Joseph Wasden.
Another Canadian soldier was wounded, and is said to be in serious but stable condition.
The soldiers were members of the 12 Field Squadron, 1 Combat Engineer Regiment based in Edmonton, and were attached to the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry battle group while in Kandahar.
Several Saskatchewan media reported Wasden was from the Spiritwood area, about 200 kilometres north of Saskatoon, and leaves behind a wife and young daughter.
Scott Wasden, a player with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, said he's proud of his cousin.
"He just wanted to make a difference and believe that he was doing right, and he had the support from his family and friends and that he was doing the right thing," he told radio station CFJC in Kamloops, B.C.
Wasden, interviewed by CBC News in June 2007, acknowledged that risks are part of a soldier's job. At the time, he had just learned of the deaths of three of his comrades overseas, but he said that wouldn't deter him from leaving on his own upcoming tour in Afghanistan.
"It's part of the job, it's what you do. It's one of the things that's a risk when you sign up," said Wasden, who grew up on a family farm near Leoville in west central Saskatchewan.
The names of Wasden and Stock, 25, were released later on Thursday.
Stock's family said that they want to send their condolences to the friends and families of Wasden and Eades.
"Stephan was loved by so many people, his circle of friends stretch from coast to coast and his family, both here and in Ireland," his father David, mother Leona and brother Bryan said in a statement.
"Stephan believed in Canada's mission. He died proud and brave doing what he felt was right," they said.
"He wanted his friends to have no fear for him because he had no fear of the mission in Afghanistan. We truly believe that if he came home safe that he would request to return for another tour."
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell released a statement Thursday evening paying tribute to Stock.
"Today, British Columbians are mourning the loss of a dedicated soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice while pursuing the goal of peace and safety for Afghanistan and the world," the statement said.
"I want to express condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Stephan Stock on behalf of all British Columbians. We owe an incredible debt to men and women like Stephan who put themselves in harm's way in the service of their nation."
Many details did emerge about Eades, 33. Thompson described him as a veteran soldier and a devoted father, one who always shared stories of his two children with his colleagues and friends.
"[He] was respected by his subordinates, peers and superiors for his outstanding professionalism and his operational experience and his competence," Thompson said.
'He loved his girls'
Eades, who grew up in Hamilton, Ont., and joined the military at 18, was on his third tour in Afghanistan.
Interviewed before departing for the country in 2005, he told CBC News: "We are just raring to go. We've been basically building up to this point for the last 3½ months. We just want to get going, get working on our job and come home."
Lisa Eades told the Canadian Press that it was her husband's dream to help people by serving in the military and that he believed strongly in the Afghanistan mission.
Still, she said it was hard for him to leave his family, especially his two daughters, Breanna, 7, and Nyia, 4.
"He loved his girls and it was very hard for him to go away," she said when reached in Edmonton.
Eades and the other two slain soldiers were part of a tight-knit crew of combat engineers who were en route to a site to survey a route for use in a future operation, said Thompson.
Combat engineers perform one of the most dangerous roles in battle — clearing paths and roadways of mines so infantry and support convoys can safely move through the area. Combat engineers also hunt through vehicles and the countryside looking for planted explosives.
"As combat engineers, they were proud, resourceful and armed with the technical knowledge that they generously used to assist the mission in helping the people of Kandahar province," said Thompson.
Taliban more aggressive: Thompson
Thompson said the three deaths, and other NATO deaths this month, are not a sign that the Taliban are gaining strength, but he acknowledged they have become more aggressive.
He said roadside bombs planted by the Taliban, which account for many foreign soldier fatalities, inflict casualties, but don't indicate that the Taliban are holding that ground.
"They're not holding any of the ground that they attack us on," he said.
"So really the net effect is zero, other than it whittles away at our resolve," said Thompson, but he added that it is not affecting Canadian soldiers who remain resolved to continue the mission.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Wednesday's attack cowardly, and reaffirmed that Canada's commitment to the Afghan mission won't waver. He praised the slain soldiers for the contributions they made in the fight to bring peace and security to Afghanistan.
"Today, all of Canada mourns the deaths of three brave soldiers killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan," he said in a written statement.
"These three soldiers were exceptional Canadians who made a selfless choice to serve their nation. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten. We will honour their sacrifice by continuing on with this vital mission."
Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff, said the deaths of three more soldiers in Afghanistan highlights the worsening security situation in the area where Canadians are fighting.
Speaking from Iqaluit, Natynczyk said the military grieves for the loss of the soldiers, and for their families, their friends and the troops still in Afghanistan.
Deadly month for foreign troops
The latest deaths come during a deadly month for both Canadians in Afghanistan and foreign troops stationed in the war-torn country as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Ten French soldiers died Tuesday in a gun battle near the capital, Kabul, in the largest single loss of life for any of the international forces engaged in combat in Afghanistan in more than three years. Three Polish soldiers also died Wednesday in the central Ghazni province.
Word of the Canadian deaths came as troops gathered in Edmonton for the funeral of another soldier killed in Afghanistan earlier this month, Master Cpl. Erin Doyle.
Doyle, of B.C., died Aug. 11 when insurgents attacked his combat outpost in the Panjwaii district in the province of Kandahar.
His death came two days after Master Cpl. Josh Roberts of Saskatchewan was killed in a firefight with insurgents in Zhari district.
On Aug. 13, two Canadian aid workers were shot dead when insurgents ambushed their SUV in Afghanistan's eastern Logar province. Jacqueline Kirk of Montreal and Shirley Case of Williams Lake, B.C., were killed, along with Trinidadian-American aid worker Nicole Dial and the group's Afghan driver, Mohammad Aimal.
With the latest three deaths, the number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan has now risen to 93. Canada launched its Afghan mission in February 2002, and about 2,500 Canadian soldiers are now serving in the war-torn country, most of them in the volatile south.