KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Tears streaked the faces of normally stoic Canadian soldiers Sunday as they carried the bodies of two young comrades to their final journey home.
Cpl. Christian Bobbitt, 23, and another unnamed soldier were killed Saturday in a roadside bomb blast.
Bobbitt was a member of the 5th Combat Engineer Regiment, based in Valcartier, Que. The men had been in Kandahar since March, as part of the 2e Batallion of the Royal 22e Regiment, or the Van Doos.
Another soldier was seriously wounded but was in stable condition in hospital Sunday.
News of the deaths was not immediately released by the military, who had to track down some of the next of kin.
Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance said the soldiers were killed when their resupply convoy was struck by two improvised explosive devices in the Zhari district, west of Kandahar city.
They had come out of their vehicle to secure the area after the first explosion, when another IED exploded around 3:20 p.m. local time.
Their deaths bring to 127 the number of Canadian soldiers who have died on the Afghan mission since it began in 2002 – seven since the beginning of July.
Vance said Bobbitt, or “Bob” to his friends, was a well-liked soldier with a well-known technical expertise who was always there to help his comrades.
Bobbitt had just been promoted to corporal.
“He was a hard worker, and a great competitor,” Vance said. “He excelled in all that he did, whether it was at Guitar Heroes, or on a rink.”
He is survived by his spouse Felicia, his brother Jonathan and his parents, Liane and Yvan.
The other soldier was not named, as military officials had not yet contacted one of his family members.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper extended his condolences to the families and friends of the two slain soldiers.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of these soldiers during this difficult period,” he said in a statement Sunday.
“The men and women of our Canadian Forces tirelessly strive to make a positive difference in this world. Their selfless actions protect Canadians, our interests and our values.”
Maj. Yannick Pepin, commander of the 51st Field Engineer Squadron, offered his condolences to both families following a ramp ceremony on the tarmac.
He said Bobbitt was a happy guy, who made fun of everybody.
“He was kind of the clown of the section,” Pepin told reporters.
He said he and the unnamed soldier were good friends.
“They were very brave men, very courageous and very proud of what they were doing,” he said.
“It’s very difficult for us, the loss of these two,” Pepin said.
But after a short break to deal with the loss, he said the squadron would be back on the dangerous roads of Kandahar on Monday.
“There are other soldiers here and we haven’t lost two guys for nothing. They’ll continue with what those guys were doing.”
The men were part of a group of engineers who clear the roads of IEDs.
Vance said they were probably involved in defusing half of the roadside bombs found in Kandahar in July.
“I can say with confidence that these two brave engineers saved the lives of dozens of innocent people last month alone,” Vance said.
Three American troops under the command of the Canadian Forces’ Task Force Kandahar were also killed in a separate roadside bomb attack Saturday, as well as a French soldier killed in a gun battle with insurgents north of Kabul. In keeping with U.S. military tradition, the names of the American soldiers were not released.
July was the deadliest month for international troops since the start of the war in 2001 – 74 foreign troops were killed, including five Canadians. Military officials say the higher number of casualties was expected with a surge in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and an ensuing increase in operations.
Vance urged the public to look beyond the media attention on casualties.
” I ask that you do not succumb to the temptation of considering the mission as a failure,” he said in a statement at the NATO base in Kandahar.
On Saturday alone – the day the two men died – he said Task Force Kandahar disrupted two major IED factories, seizing suicide vests and bomb-making materials.
“I assure you that hundreds of thousands of Kandahar citizens are deeply grateful for the work of soldiers like (these two),” Vance said.
“Being unable to protect yourself and your family is horribly frightening – so (these soldiers), along with Afghan and coalition soldiers, are seen as protectors motivated by selflessness and honour.”
Pte. Sebastien Courcy, 26, died July 16 when he stepped on an explosive device during an operation to shut down Taliban bomb-making factories in the volatile Panjwaii district.
Cpl. Nick Bulger was killed July 3 by a roadside bomb, Master Cpl. Pat Audet and Cpl. Martin Joannette were killed July 6 in a helicopter crash, and Master Cpl. Charles-Phillippe Michaud died July 4 from injuries suffered during a foot patrol in Panjwaii in June.