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Roadside bomb kills six; worst day for Canadians in Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - A devastating roadside-bomb explosion killed six Canadian soldiers Sunday in the worst single-day toll for the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.
The explosion west of Kandahar city also caused serious but non-life-threatening injuries to one Canadian soldier and light injuries to another, said Col. Mike Cessford, deputy commander of Task Force Afghanistan.
The soldiers were in a moving vehicle when the blast occurred around 1:30 p.m. The more seriously injured soldier will likely be flown to Germany for treatment at a U.S. military hospital.
"You can appreciate, clearly we are saddened by the loss of six our best soldiers ... but we stay committed to the mission," said Cessford, who was with the troops earlier Sunday.
"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."
Names of the deceased and other details were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Sunday's toll brings the total number of Canadians killed in Afghanistan since 2002 to 51.
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 different 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 celebrating Easter throughout Afghanistan. Some attended church services at the NATO base in Kandahar. Out in the field, Canadian Forces' chaplains conducted services as well.
Earlier this 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."
April has been one of the cruelest months for Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
Last April 22, four Canadian soldiers were killed when their armoured G-Wagon drove over an improvised explosive device near Gumbad.
And on April 17, 2002, four Canadians were killed when an American fighter jet accidentally dropped a bomb on them at Tarnak farm near Kandahar.
For the past month Canadian troops have been supporting Operation Achilles, a NATO-led offensive designed to drive the Taliban out of the northern part of Helmand.
Canadians have also been patrolling the Zhari and Panjwaii districts just west of Kandahar city.
The Taliban have been threatening for months to unleash a spring offensive of their own in southern Afghanistan.
Rather than battle the superior firepower and training of NATO forces in the open, the insurgents have stepped up the use of roadside bombs, suicide bombers, ambushes and other guerrilla tactics.
Hours before Sunday's explosion, Lt.-Col. Rob Walker, the battle group commander, said his troops were making progress cracking down on Taliban roadside bomb activity in some parts of Kandahar province.
He said his troops recently eliminated an insurgent "cell".
"We have killed or captured a number of individuals, and we have had no mines or anything for at least a week now," Walker said.
On Wednesday, four Afghan National Police were injured by a roadside bomb in Maywand district along the border with Helmand province.
There have been reports that Taliban leaders pay cash bounties to insurgents for killing NATO troops and Afghan security force members with roadside bombs.
Bronzed, sunburnt and dirty after more than a month of living out of their vehicles in the hot desert sun, Canadian troops in the field were in high spirits earlier in the week.
On Thursday, some soldiers stripped off their sweaty body armour after a day of patrolling in the desert and played hacki-sack in a rough circle while listening to hip-hop tunes. There was lots of laughter and joking.
Another soldier serenaded the sleepy crew of his light armoured vehicle in the pre-dawn darkness by singing "Good morning, good morning, to you" over the vehicle's intercom system, to catcalls and curses from his comrades.
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.
© The Canadian Press, 2007
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