Suicide bomber kills 4 Canadian soldiers

Four Canadian soldiers were killed and 10 others wounded by a suicide bomber on a bicycle in southern Afghanistan Monday while they were conducting a security patrol, according to the Canadian military.

Four Canadian soldiers were killed by asuicide bomber on a bicycle in southern Afghanistan on Monday while the troopswere conducting a security patrol, according to the Canadian military.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out toall of the families affected," said Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, the Canadian commander in southern Afghanistan.

One of the soldiers has been identified as Pte. David Byers of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based in Shilo, Man. His family lives in Espanola, Ont.

Family members of the three other soldiers who were killed requested that military officials not release their names at this time. The names of soldiers wounded in Monday's attack also haven't been made public.

"Plans are being made to medevac 10 Canadian soldiers who were injured in today's suicide attack to Landsthul, Germany, for further medical treatment," a National Defence release said. "Pending medical assessments, several other soldiers may also be sent to Germany. None of the soldiers have life-threatening injuries."

The bombing injured 27 civilians, including children, according to a statementby NATO. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. The attack occurred at9:30 a.m. localtime, about 30 kilometres west of Kandahar City.

Fraser said the suicide bomber rode his bicycle into a group of soldiers and civilians and detonated the explosive device. The military believes the device was attached to the bicycle.

In the opening session of the House of Commons today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the soldiers were handing out candy to children when the bomb exploded.

Fraser saidthe woundedsoldierswere in stable conditionandwere initiallytaken by helicopterto military medical facilities in the region, including the Canadian-led multinational hospital at Kandahar airfield.

Two Afghan children injured in the attack weretaken to the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team's camp in Kandahar City for treatment.

37 Canadians killed since 2002

With the latest deaths, 36 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed since the Canadian mission to the country began in 2002.

"The Taliban is a bunch of cowards," Frasertold reporters in Kandahar. "The Taliban continue to attack this country. They continue to attack the people. They attacked children today. That's about as cowardly as you can get."

Frasersaid the troops had been on patrol and werehelping Afghan forces to provide a secure environmentso thatpeoplecould return to their homes after a military operation in the area.

The two-week NATO-led operation, known as Operation Medusa, displaced people living west of Kandahar. Thebombing occurred in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province, wherethe operation against the Taliban ended Sunday.

"This is our main effort right now," Fraser said, "helping the people get back to a normal life, and today, the Taliban attacked that."

Officials said two other bombings in Afghanistan on Monday killed a total of 13 Afghans. The other bombings occurred inKabul and in the western part of the country.

Reconstruction is 'the overarching goal'

The Department of National Defence in Ottawa condemned the bicycle bombing, saying:"Cowardly Taliban attacks like this are an attempt to undermine Canadian and international efforts to help the Afghan people achieve peace and security."

"Reconstruction of Afghanistan, the overarching goal of Canada and of the international community, is inhibited by insurgency,"the department saidin a statement. "The Taliban have proven time and time again that they are opposed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the improvement of conditions for all Afghans."

NATO spokesman Mark Laity told CBC Newsearlier thatofficials were trying to determine the exact number of soldiers andcivilianswounded in the first attack, butwhen suicide bombings occur, sometimesinjured Afghan people make their own way to hospital andthe exact casualty count is not clear.

"It's a fairly chaotic scene," he said. "We are not yet certain how many civilians were involved. At the moment, the number seems small."

NATO has said its troops killed more than 500 insurgents in the operation and called it a success,even though violence continues in the south.

"After the success of the Operation Medusa, where we pushed the Taliban out of a large area, we are trying to set up the conditions for non-combat rebuilding and reconstruction. So this was not a combat scene," Laity said.

'They are not defeated'

Hesaid the Talibanremain a threat to the region. "They are not defeated. They suffered a significant defeatbut they are still there and they are still active."

Canada has more than 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly in the Kandahar region. On Friday, the Harper government announced that it was increasing the country's troop commitment to 2,500.

Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, who claims to be a spokesman for Taliban affairs in southern Afghanistan,told the Associated Press thatMonday'sbomber was an Afghan from Kandahar named Mullah Qudrat Ullah.

Ahmadi, whose ties to theTaliban are not known,said militants willcontinue attacking U.S., NATO and other coalition forces.

Fraser said Canadian troops will continue their humanitarian efforts, which will include handing out food, tarps and tractors to displaced people in southern Afghanistan.

With files from the Associated Press