Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Our Fallen Soldier

Canadian Soldier Dies in Afghanistan
SHAHWALI KOT, Afghanistan — A Canadian soldier spearheading a convoy into the newest hotspot of Taliban activity was killed Monday night when a powerful mine ripped through his armoured car.
Trooper Darryl Caswell, 25, was driving the convoy's lead vehicle, a Coyote, as it hit the bomb en route to a remote NATO base in Kandahar province's Shahwali Kot district.
Two other crew members were hurt, including one who suffered inhalation burns in his throat, and were taken by helicopter back to the Canadian-led emergency hospital at Kandahar Airfield.
The medical evacuation occurred in the midst of the desert as night fell and troops spread out on a lonely rural highway to secure the area.
"They're cowards," the commander of another vehicle in the resupply convoy said of those who planted the mine.
"I have no respect for them or their way of life. We'll see what happens. But I suspect there will be some payback."
He said he saw two blasts, one after the other, from his Bison troop transport about seven vehicles behind the Coyote.
Col. Mike Cessford, deputy commander of the Canadian mission here, voiced his condolences to Trooper Caswell's family, and said bombing was typical of insurgents who are avoiding direct combat with NATO troops when possible.
"It is a tactical weakness," he said.
Moments after the explosion, soldiers spotted two Afghan men near the side of the road observing the wreckage, before disappearing into the barren landscape of mountain and sand.
Intelligence officers later intercepted cell phone communication among suspected Taliban making plans for an ambush of the convoy.
Other crew members from the Coyote, which has the nickname Ghostrider painted on its side, appeared badly shaken by the incident. "I just have no energy any more," murmured the commander as he struggled to climb into another vehicle.
A quick-reaction security force arrived and surveyed the scene, and army engineers ensured there were no other explosives nearby. Then, six hours after the blast, the convoy of about 12 vehicles headed back the way it came.
The trucks and armoured cars arrived at a remote Canadian base, also in Shahwali Kot, at about 4 a.m. Tuesday. The convoy had left Kandahar Airfield, the huge NATO base, at noon Monday, never reaching its final destination.
The wreckage of the Coyote was towed along with the convoy. The front wheels and undercarriage on the driver's side were completely blown off, and the tires on the other side badly mangled.
Trooper Caswell's flak vest was still inside the driver's mangled cockpit.Much of the rest of the vehicle seemed to be intact, though.
"They're chickensh—," said a soldier as he looked over the wreckage. "It's bullsh— when you have to play by the rules and they don't. I'm f—ing sick of it."
The convoy was supplying food, water, spare parts and other goods to the Hotel Company base and other "austere forward-operating bases," further north, where U.S. infantry and Canadian artillery units are based.
They returned to the area, largely abandoned by NATO for about a year, in the last several weeks and have encountered significant Taliban activity.

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