Canadian soldiers searching for Taliban weapons were suddenly called away to help comrades a few hundred metres away in a scene captured on newly released video showing the aftermath of Friday's deadly bombing west of Kandahar city.
The explosion killed Master Corporal Scott Vernelli, 28, and Cpl. Tyler Crooks, 24, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, along with an Afghan interpreter. Five other Canadians were wounded.
The improvised explosive device (IED) went off shortly after 6 a.m. as they were ending foot patrol duty. They planned to rest and talk with village elders, 40 kilometres west of Kandahar city. It's believed one of the soldiers set off the IED when he stood up.
In the video, taken by CBC camera operator Dave Rae, soldiers in a nearby compound can be seen being dispatched to the scene of the blast in Afghanistan's Zhari district.
"We were in the second compound of the morning and that's when we heard and felt the explosion, about 300-400 metres south of us. There was a hub of activity," Rae said.
"There was maybe 20 or 30 people all trying to deal with the situation. The medics were treating the wounded and the compound where they had just entered, the entire wall, 20 to 30 feet of the wall, had been blown apart."
A voice on the video says, "Hey, get all our guys over here. Let's go, now," as soldiers in that second compound quickly leave. The area is full of sparsely populated and abandoned buildings and is considered prime Taliban territory.
About two hours later, Troopers Jack Bouthillier, 20, and Corey Joseph Hayes, 22, both of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, were killed by a roadside bomb blast in the Shah Wali Kot district, northeast of Kandahar city. Three other soldiers were wounded.
The four fallen soldiers, all based at CFB Petawawa in eastern Ontario, 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.
Eradicated insurgent supplies: commander
Military officials described the four-day mission, which was winding down when the explosions occurred, as the largest joint Canadian-U.S. operation since the Korean War.
The mission sent some 2,000 Canadian, U.S. and Afghan troops into an area ranging from Maywand District in the west of Kandahar province up to the Shah Wali Khot District in the north.
Operation Jaley, which means "net" in Pashto, was "designed to disrupt the insurgents' command centres and scoop up their bomb-making supplies in this Taliban- saturated area," said the CBC's Alan Waterman, reporting from Kandahar.
Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, said Canadians should remember that the soldiers believed both in the mission as a whole and in the jobs they were doing.
"Please do not think of this as a failure on the part of any person or of the mission itself," he told reporters at Kandahar Airfield.
Vance told CBC the Jaley mission eradicated insurgent supplies in the area, perhaps pushing the fighting season — which typically begins in the summer — back by a month.
'Few burdens are heavier'
The bodies of the four soldiers began their journey home late Saturday night.
Around 3,000 NATO troops paid tribute to the soldiers at a ramp ceremony at Kandahar airfield.
"Few burdens are heavier than the caskets of a soldier," said Capt. Roy Laudenorio, the battle group padre for 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment.
"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 deaths Friday bring to 116 the number of Canadian soldiers who have died as part of the Afghan mission since it began in 2002.