March 20, 2009 by Gsmith
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (The Canadian Press) – Four Canadian soldiers were killed and at least eight others injured Friday in two separate bombings outside of Kandahar city.
Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli and Cpl. Tyler Crooks – both of November Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment – were killed in an explosion at about 6:45 a.m. local time in the restive Zhari district west of the city.
Five others were injured in the attack.
About two hours later, Trooper Jack Bouthillier and Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes, both of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, were killed in a roadside bomb blast in the Shah Wali Kot district northeast of the city, a region where the Taliban have stepped up attacks in the last few months.
Three other soldiers were wounded in that attack.
All of the soldiers were taking part in a major operation aimed at attacking Taliban command centres and supply lines.
Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, the commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, implored Canadians to remember that the soldiers believed both in the mission as a whole and in the jobs they were doing.
“Please do not think of this as a failure on the part of any person or of the mission itself,” Vance said in a statement at Kandahar Airfield.
“Success in war is costly. We are determined to succeed so that Afghan lives improve, but the insurgents are equally determined to challenge and prevent Afghanistan from flourishing as the nation it so wants to be. Remember, the deaths of these superb Canadians occurred as Canadian Forces were bringing safety to those in peril. Today, they succeeded.”
The deaths bring to 116 the number of Canadian soldiers who have died as part of the Afghan mission since it began in 2002.
In the attack on November Company, the blast could be faintly heard kilometres away at a Canadian forward operating base. Not long afterward, a platoon warrant officer gathered other senior officers to break the news.
Word spread quickly around the base.
Vernelli and Crooks were both well-known and popular with other soldiers in the company, which is on the cusp of finishing a six-month tour.
Both men were close with the commander of November Company, Maj. Rob McBride, who often joked with Crooks over the radio about sports.
“They were close friends of his,” conceded Capt. Chris Reeves, the deputy commander of November Company.
Such was his respect for the young soldier that McBride supported Crooks as a candidate for officer training.
“He was getting ready to (be) on that path to be commissioned from the ranks,” Reeves said. “He would have been good.”
The bond McBride had with Vernelli, a veteran of a previous stint in Afghanistan, was just as strong.
The new father of a six-month-old was interested in returning to the battle-ravaged region, but wanted more of a challenge than being in one of the platoons.
“He wanted a role that he would be able to contribute and do something interesting and more hands on,” Reeves said solemnly.
“So when he was deliberating whether he wanted to come back, the (officer commanding) got wind of that and said: ‘Come back. Come back and we’ll make this a really good tour.”‘