6 Canadian soldiers killed in roadside bombing in Afghanistan
4 are from Gagetown, N.B., and 1 from Halifax, Canadian Forces says
Six Canadian soldiers were killed and two others were injured Sunday when their armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb west of Kandahar City, resulting in the worst single-day loss of life for Canadian Forces in Afghanistan,military officials said.
The LAV III hit an "improvised explosive device" around 1:30 p.m. local time, Col. Mike Cessford, deputy commander of Task Force Afghanistan, told reporters at the airbase in southern Kandahar province. Ten soldiers in total were in the vehicle.
Cpl. Christopher Paul Stannix, 24, a reservist from the Halifax-based Princess Louise Fusiliers,also died. The identity of the sixth victim was not released at the request of his family.
Earlier, Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed the deaths while speaking to a shocked crowd of dignitaries and veterans in Lille, France, where he was attending a dinner to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
"Sadly today has been a difficult day in Afghanistan," Harper said. "We've learned that an incident has claimed the lives of six Canadian soldiers and injured a number of others.
"Our hearts ache for them and their families, and I know as we gather here on Easter Sunday our thoughts and prayers are with them," the prime minister said.
Harper's announcement was met with an audible gasp from the crowd.
The troops were serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the Maywand district near the border with Helmand province,where the multinational force recently launched a major offensive against the Taliban that is called Operation Achilles.
In another area of southern Afghanistan, one NATO soldier was killed and another injured earlier Sunday by a similar type of bomb, a NATO spokeswoman said. The location was not disclosed.
1 soldier in serious condition
Cessford said the 10 soldiers were riding in the vehicle when it struck the explosive. Four Canadian soldiers were flown to the hospital at Kandahar airbase.
One is listed in serious condition with non-life-threatening injuries and will likely be taken to the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, Cessford said. A second soldier suffered minor injuries and the other two were not hurt.
There had been no Canadian combat casualties since November 2006, when Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Girouard and Cpl. Albert Storm were killed by a suicide car bomb that attacked their Bison armoured personnel carrier outside Kandahar.
The Canadian soldiers who died Sunday had been out in the desert for a month living off their vehicles, eating field rations and sleeping under the stars, military officials said.
And in recent days, they were busy shepherding coalition convoys to the Sangin district, the scene of fierce fighting between the coalition and the Taliban.
"We lost six of our best, and really, we are thinking of the families as much as anyone," Cessford said, adding that despite the tragic incident,the soldiers stationed at Kandahar remain committed to the mission.
"We are focused on rebuilding Afghanistan and doing the right thing by those kids who wave at us every day as we drive down the roads here," Cessford said.
Maj.-Gen. Ton van Loon, the ISAF chief of Regional Command South, said "the hearts of his soldiers" go out to the victims' families and their country.
Reaction to soldiers' deaths
In Canada, politicians said they were shocked by the number of casualties.
Jack Layton told CBC News, "It's a devastating blow." The NDP leader, who opposes Canada's mission in Afghanistan that was recently extended by the government,stayed clear of politics Sunday. He said Sunday was a day to pray for and reflection those who sacrificed their lives for the country.
Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion expressed sorrow, saying members of the Canadian Forces "risk their lives to create a safer and more secure world for Canadians and people the world over."
In Ottawa, Lewis MacKenzie, a retired major-general,said he was "naturally shocked, but not surprised" by the latest Canadian casualties, and added that there is an insurgency going on over there, "so things like this will happen."
The Canadian soldiers were likely escorting logistics convoys filled with fuel and food, MacKenzie speculated.
Scott Taylor, publisher of military magazine Esprit de Corps, told CBC News that whenever NATO launches an offensive, Taliban members immediately attack "to show they have sting in their tail."
Since 2002, 51 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan, where Canada has more than 2,000 troops, with the majority in Kandahar.
The main thrust of the offensive in Helmand province is being handled by British and American troops, with Canadian soldiers offering backup and security. About 5,000 soldiers in all are engaging the Taliban, including elements of Afghanistan's army.
In February, the Taliban said it had 6,000 fighters ready for a spring offensive and could dramatically increase that number if necessary.
Al-Jazeera reported at the time that Taliban leader Mullah Dadallah had recruited 500 suicide bombers for the campaign.
With files from the Canadian Press