Roadside bomb kills six on worst day for Canadian military in Afghanistan

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - The Canadian Forces suffered its worst day in Afghanistan on Sunday when a powerful roadside bomb killed six soldiers as their comrades back at various bases were celebrating Easter with chocolates and mementoes received from home.

The devastating explosion west of Kandahar city cast a pall over troops who were trying their best to mark Easter out in the Afghan desert or at the massive NATO base at Kandahar Airfield, far away from their loved ones back in Canada.

''You can appreciate, clearly we are saddened by the loss of six of our best soldiers ... but we stay committed to the mission,'' said Col. Mike Cessford, the deputy commander of Task Force Afghanistan who was out with the troops just earlier in the day.

''This is what we do. We are focused on rebuilding Afghanistan, on doing the right things for those kids who wave at us every day as we drive down the roads here.''

The blast also caused serious but non-life-threatening injuries to one Canadian soldier and light injuries to another, said Cessford. The more seriously injured soldier will likely be flown to Germany for treatment at a U.S. military hospital.

The soldiers were in a moving vehicle when the blast occurred around 1:30 p.m.

Names of the deceased and other details were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Sunday's toll brings to 51 the total number of Canadians killed in Afghanistan since 2002.

Cessford would not say what type of vehicle the soldiers were in, exactly where the blast occurred or what military unit they were from.

Many of the troops posted west of Kandahar city are with the Gagetown, N.B.-based Royal Canadian Regiment battle group.

In Ottawa, Navy Lt. Morgan Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Defence Department, said this is the worst one-day death toll since Canada's mission in Afghanistan began in 2002. Previously, there had been several days on which up to four Canadians were killed.

Word of the deaths came as soldiers of the 2,500-member Canadian task force were attending church services at the NATO base in Kandahar. Out in the field, Canadian Forces' chaplains conducted services as well.

Hours before the deaths were officially announced, a subdued hush fell over Canadian troops at the base in Kandahar as they tucked into their evening meal at the dining hall, which was decorated with blue-painted Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies wrapped in gold foil.

''It has been a bad day,'' said one officer, his face twisted in pain.

In the past week, soldiers in the field were proudly handing around home-made pictures and construction paper cut-outs of Easter bunnies sent by their children, with greetings and endearments scrawled in crayon.

Soldiers also dug into hoarded Easter chocolates sent to them by loved ones. Some of the troops in the field earlier this week said they were going to save their treats until Sunday.

Word that something terrible had happened quickly rippled through the base at Kandahar. Attempts by the troops to call home were stymied for hours when the military imposed a communications lockdown because of the deaths.

Speaking in France to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it has been a ''difficult day in Afghanistan.''

He broke the news of the six deaths at a dinner for veterans and said ''our hearts ache for them and their families.''

In Ottawa, Opposition Leader Stephane Dion expressed sorrow on behalf of the Liberal party. ''We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the men and women of the Canadian Forces, who risk their lives to create a safer and more secure world for Canadians and people the world over,'' he said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, who opposes the Afghan mission, tried to steer clear of politics in paying tribute to the fallen soldiers.

''Like all Canadians I'm deeply shocked,'' Layton said in an interview. ''It feels like you've got a hole in your heart . . . It's just nothing short of tragic.''

Organizations: Canadian Forces, NATO, Royal Canadian Regiment Defence Department

Geographic location: Afghanistan, KANDAHAR, Canada Ottawa Germany U.S. France

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