The axe assault that badly injured a Canadian soldier was part of a deliberate ambush as troops met with village elders in southern Afghanistan, the military says.
Lieut. Trevor Greene, a journalist and former navy officer from Vancouver, suffered a serious head wound during the meeting near the small Canadian outpost at Gumbad, about 70 kilometres north of Kandahar.
Capt. Kevin Schamuhn, the commander who was leading the expedition, told CBC News that the Canadian troops had already visited several villages during the day to attend shuras, or meetings with village elders.
He said all of them had been peaceful events where they shared lunch or tea and introduced themselves.
- INDEPTH: Canadians in Kandahar
Schamuhn said the last shura of the day started off well as the troops sat down with about 30 villagers, including many children.
The Canadians took off their helmets and put down their guns as they usually do to reassure villagers that they were friendly.
'There was no gut feeling that something was about to go down'
A few minutes before the attack, someone moved all the children about 20 metres away â but none of the Canadian troops noticed anything unusual, Schamuhn said.
"There was no weird feelings. There was no gut feeling that something was about to go down. Everything was very calm and similar to the previous meetings."
A minute later, a man who appeared to be less than 20 walked up behind Greene and pulled a half-metre-long axe out from underneath his clothes.
"He pulled an axe out from underneath his clothing and lifted right above his head, standing right behind Trevor," said Schamuhn, who was sitting only about a metre away.
As he lifted up the axe, the man shouted "Allahu Akbar," which means "God is great" in Arabic.
Then, said Schamuhn, "he swung the axe into Trevor's head."
More assailants fired shots, grenade at troops
The Canadian soldiers reacted instantly, the military says.
"The Canadian soldiers who were by him, his security force, killed the assailant immediately following the attack," said Col. Tom Putt, the Canadian deputy commander of Task Force Afghanistan.
Militants then started firing at the Canadian and Afghan soldiers from a nearby riverbank and they fired back.
Another militant tossed a rocket-propelled grenade at the soldiers but no one was hurt.
Young men, elders fled after attack
Schamuhn said it seems apparent that the attack was well-planned and not the spontaneous act of a madman.
During the chaos, he said, all the young men and elders who were at the shura disappeared.
"There's a lot of people who knew what was about to happen. I'm sure of it."
'He was just really set on helping these people and doing it right'
A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter flew Greene to the military hospital at the international brigades' headquarters at Kandahar airfield, where he underwent surgery.
He was in critical but stable condition and would be transported on Sunday to the U.S. military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, military officials said.
Schamuhn said Greene was simply trying to help the same people who attacked him.
"He was just really set on helping these people and doing it right. He's just really well-spoken and mature. ...He was just really looking forward to helping these people."
Greene is published author, former navy officer
Greene was with the Seaforth Highlanders, a Vancouver-based reserve infantry unit, and was on a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.
He was a navy officer for eight years in the Canadian Armed Forces, according to his website.
He is also a published author and entrepreneur who worked for Bloomberg news service and wrote a book about prostitutes disappearing in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Canadian troops face increasing dangers as they assume command
Canadian troops are facing increasing dangers in the volatile Kandahar region as they slowly take over command of the region from the Americans.
Canada has deployed about 2,300 soldiers as part of an expansion of a NATO-led security mission into southern Afghanistan.
Greene's visit to the Kandahar hospital marked the third time Canadian troops have been brought there in as many days. Five Canadian soldiers were hurt in a suicide bomb attack on Friday.
- FROM MARCH 3, 2006: 5 Canadian soldiers hurt in suicide attack
The rollover of an armoured vehicle during a traffic accident on Thursday killed two soldiers: Cpl. Paul Davis of Bridgewater, N.S., who died Thursday, and Master Cpl. Timothy Wilson of Grande Prairie, Alta., who survived until Sunday.
- FROM MARCH 4, 2006: 2nd Canadian soldier dies after Afghan crash
Three Canadians have died in Afghanistan and about 20 have been injured in action and accidents there so far in 2006.