For the third time this month, soldiers lined the tarmac at Kandahar Airfield to bid a sad farewell to their fallen Canadian comrades.
The bodies of the four soldiers, killed in two bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan on Friday, began their last journey home Saturday night. They're expected to arrive at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, east of Toronto, Monday at 2 p.m. ET.
More than 3,000 NATO soldiers paid tribute at the ramp ceremony to honour the memories of Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, Cpl. Tyler Crooks — both of November Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment battle group — Trooper Jack Bouthillier and Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes, both with the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
"Few burdens are heavier than the casket of a soldier," said Capt. Roy Laudenorio, battle group padre for 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, based in Petawawa, Ont.
"It is a reminder of the price of peace and longed freedom. The soil of this land will, hopefully, remember heroes who gave up their lives for a future not yet fully born."
The four soldiers were taking part in a major operation to attack Taliban command centres and supply lines to disrupt insurgents as they prepare for the summer fighting season.
Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, said insurgents have been set back in their ability to stage attacks.
"This is one step in many on the way to securing the elections for the 20th of August, the presidential elections," he said Saturday.
Gains in counter-insurgency campaign may be short-lived
Disruption campaigns against insurgents are meant to buy time and, in this case, the general warned, the effect will be short-lived.
"I would suspect that disruption would last for about a month, such that it will take a little bit of time to get their feet back under them [the Taliban] to be able to commence operations again," Vance told reporters.
Military officials have said several more counter-insurgency offensives are planned throughout the spring and summer.
Three other Canadian soldiers were killed in a bomb attack on March 3 and one soldier died in another explosion March 8.
The losses from Friday's attacks were not one-sided, the general insisted, and he went on to challenge the public perception that soldiers are helpless in the face of such bombings.
"We caused far more insurgent casualties, dead and wounded, than they caused to us," he said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper again spoke of the deaths Saturday, offering his condolences on behalf of Canadians.
"The deaths of four young soldiers and the injuries of others ... reminds us once again of the sacrifices these people make, and that military men and women have made historically, to give us what we have today," he said in a speech to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters in Mississauga, Ont.