2 more Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan

Two Canadian soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb west of Kandahar city on Saturday, bringing to three the number of Canadian troops killed there since Friday.

Two Canadian soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb west of Kandahar city on Saturday, bringing to three the number of Canadian troops killed there since Friday.

Sgt. Gregory John Kruse. ((DND) )

Warrant Officer Gaetan Joseph Roberge and Sgt. Gregory John Kruse were on a security patrol in the Panjwai district around 12:15 p.m. local time when the explosion occurred.

An Afghan police officer and Afghan interpreter were also killed in the blast about 25 kilometres west of Kandahar city.

Four Canadian soldiers were wounded and airlifted to the hospital at the Kandahar Airfield. They are listed in good condition. An Afghan interpreter suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from hospital.

"There are no words to properly express our sorrow at this moment. Every one of our soldiers is very dear to us. They are our friends and our brothers," the Canadian commander of coalition forces in Kandahar, Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, said Sunday.

"We also grieve for our Afghan brothers with whom we have been working side by side to help make their country more secure and stable."

Roberge was a member of the Royal 22nd Regiment who was serving with the Irish Regiment of Canada in Sudbury, Ont. He was part of the Canadian team mentoring Afghanistan's fledgling national police force.

Kruse was from 24 Field Squadron, 2 Combat Engineer Regiment based in Petawawa, Ont. He was serving as a member of 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment battle group.

Warrant Officer Gaetan Joseph Roberge. ((DND))

News of the latest deaths came as the body of Pte. Michael Freeman, who was killed in Kandahar on Friday, was being flown back to Canada early Sunday.

The 28-year-old soldier died when his armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the Zhari District of Kandahar province during a security patrol around 12:45 p.m. local time.

Freeman's body was being flown back to Canada following Saturday's ramp ceremony, which was attended by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk.

The men learned of the three Canadian soldier deaths while in Afghanistan on Saturday as part of a secret three-day visit to the country.

The two latest deaths bring to 106 the number of Canadian soldiers killed in the Afghan mission since 2002. One diplomat and two aid workers have also been killed.

Roadside bomb attacks have killed nine Canadian soldiers in December alone, making it the bloodiest month for Canadian troops since April 2007, when nine soldiers died. 

MacKay, whose visit couldn't be reported until he left the country, attributed the deaths to a seasonal spike in violence — even though the number of Canadian combat casualties usually eases over the harsh winter months in Afghanistan.

"In any insurgency, you're going to see, shall we say, hills and valleys, spikes in violence at certain times of the year," MacKay said Saturday.

"There are a number of factors, a number of cultural factors here as well. We know that the sophistication and the types of methods and the types of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] have changed as well and we've had to adapt."

Canada has about 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly based in the south around Kandahar. The military mission is slated to end in 2011.

Canadian forces have staged several major offensives aimed at driving the Taliban from the Panjwai and the neighbouring district of Zhari, both considered to be Taliban heartland, since taking responsibility for Kandahar province.

"Zhari and Panjwai are the traditional problem areas in Kandahar province, largely because there's a quite complex tribal mix there," Thompson said Sunday.

"And, frankly, this is where the movement started, so it's where its rooted the deepest."

With files from the Canadian Press