Canadian soldier killed in southern Afghanistan
Reservist was also a Calgary paramedic
An Alberta-based soldier has been killed and another Canadian wounded in a gun battle after militant fighters ambushed their foot patrol in a rural area of southern Afghanistan, the military said Tuesday.
Cpl. Michael Starker, a reservist with 15 Field Ambulance, was killed by enemy fire at about 11:45 a.m. local time Tuesday in the Pashmul region, in the Zhari district outside Kandahar city.
The two soldiers were airlifted by helicopter to Kandahar airfield, where Starker was pronounced dead.
Starker, a Calgary paramedic since 2005, was deployed to Afghanistan in December, the city of Calgary said in a statement Tuesday.
The injured soldier is in good condition and stable, the military said.
"On behalf of my family, I want to extend our condolences to Cpl. Michael Starker's family and friends. I have no doubt that he was a dedicated and courageous member of our Armed Forces."
Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kandahar that the soldiers were conducting a civil-military co-operation patrol in the area when they came under attack, Laroche said.
"The aim of the patrol was to show their presence, interact with the local population and discuss the development needs of the community," Laroche said. "The intent was to exchange with the population — something we could not do last year."
The general paid tribute to Starker and said his comrades remain dedicated to the task of bringing peace, security and prosperity to the people of Afghanistan.
"We have lost a fine soldier today and our thoughts are with his family and friends," Laroche said. "He died helping Afghans build a better future for themselves and their children. His dedication and sacrifice will not be forgotten."
Laroche noted that many Afghans have returned to the region since Canadian troops established a presence there.
"Our presence is necessary," he said. "It's essential in these districts."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his condolences in a statement sent out Tuesday afternoon.
"Our Canadian Forces are making immense sacrifices. They are working to bring security and democracy to the people of Afghanistan while also protecting and promoting Canadian values," the statement said. "Corporal Starker made the ultimate sacrifice, and his efforts will remain a source of pride for all Canadians."
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion also praised Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.
"This tragic loss serves to remind us of the sacrifice our brave men and women in uniform make every day while working to protect Afghan civilians and trying to bring stability to the region," he said in a statement.
About 2,500 Canadian soldiers are participating in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, most of them in Kandahar province.
The death brings Canada's toll in Afghanistan to 83 soldiers and one diplomat since the mission began in early 2002.
With files from the Canadian Press