Probe begins after soldier found dead in Afghanistan

Investigators have begun a probe into the death of a Canadian soldier whose body was found Thursday in her room at Kandahar airfield.

Body of Maj. Michelle Mendes on its way back to Canada

Investigators have begun a probe into the death of a Canadian soldier whose body was found Thursday afternoon in her room at Kandahar airfield.

Maj. Michelle Mendes, 30, of Wicklow, Ont., east of Toronto, is the third female soldier to die in Afghanistan. She was based in Ottawa with Defence Intelligence and was a member of Task Force Kandahar headquarters.

Enemy action has been ruled out as the cause of death, said public affairs officer Maj. Mario Couture.

"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of our lost comrade. Our primary focus at this time is to provide the best possible support to the family of our soldier and to her colleagues," Couture said.

The military has not released further details.

Later Friday, NATO troops gathered on the tarmac at Kandahar Airfield as Mendes's body loaded aboard an aircraft bound for Canada.

 "Her tragic death has left many of us stunned," Padre Martine Belanger said during the ceremony. "We gather this evening, in sorrow, with numb hearts and stunned silence, trying to wrestle with her unexpected demise and untimely death."

'Hard work and dedication'

Defence Minister Peter MacKay issued a statement on Friday offering condolences to Mendes's family.

"Her hard work and dedication will not be forgotten," he said.

The number of Canadian soldiers who have died since the Afghan mission began seven years ago has now risen to 118. One diplomat and two aid workers have also been killed.

Mendes's death marks the first Canadian loss of life since April 13, when Trooper Karine Blais, 21, was killed by a roadside bomb north of the city of Kandahar. Blais's funeral was scheduled to be held Friday in Les Méchins, Que.

The Mendes family has not yet commented on the death.

The military said the family would like privacy and is expected to release a statement in the coming days.

According to published reports, Mendes, a graduate of Kingston's Royal Military College, had previously toured in Afghanistan and was among 11 soldiers who were returned to Canada for treatment in September 2006 following a friendly-fire incident that killed one soldier.

The military said Friday that while Mendes was on that flight, she wasn't wounded in the friendly-fire incident.

In 2006, Mendes's mother, Dianne Knight, told the Colborne Chronicle, which served the community near where she lived, that her daughter wanted "an entire career in the army" and had done intelligence work.

With files from The Canadian Press