Skip to comments.Five Canadians wounded in new Afghan fighting; bodies of comrades flown home
Posted on 09/05/2006 4:47:21 PM PDT by Clive
PANJWAII, Afghanistan (CP) - Tracer rounds and exploding rockets lit up the sky Tuesday as Taliban insurgents launched brazen, co-ordinated attacks on Canadian armoured vehicles, wounding five soldiers in a battlefield west of Kandahar.
A volley of eight to 10 rockets or mortars landed near a light armoured vehicle in the Panjwaii area, just north of the Arghandab River, where Canadians have fought dug-in Taliban insurgents.
The five injured soldiers were evacuated to Kandahar Airfield, hours after five colleagues who died in weekend fighting were loaded onto a cargo plane destined for Canada.
The injured men were all expected to recover from their wounds, including shrapnel and concussion injuries.
The Canadians returned fire during the attack and NATO air strikes were called in. Several buildings were left in flames after the fighting.
The clash capped off a series of intertwined attacks Tuesday that may have
been triggered by the detention of some Taliban figures earlier in the day.
"It's easy to make that connection because we've seen retaliation and retribution a number of times, in fact we've come to expect it," said Maj. Geoff Abthorpe, a senior Canadian commander in the area.
"It was well co-ordinated. I don't see how it could have been anything but a concentrated effort."
The chain of events started just after lunch when three men in a white car emerged from the combat zone and approached a Canadian checkpoint and tried to talk their way through.
Soldiers cuffed the three men with plastic ties, covered their ears with industrial earmuffs and their eyes with blacked-out goggles. Some of the men had recently fired weapons, according to a chemical test applied by soldiers.
During questioning, one of the men's cellphones rang.
A translator answered and was surprised to hear a "high-ranking individual from the Taliban" on the other end of the line, Abthorpe said.
A few hours later, Canadians south of the river reported small arms fire and the violence spread northward when soldiers were attacked in an ambush by four men carrying AK-47 assault rifles.
An Apache attack helicopter blasted away at their position. Eventually one dazed man wandered out of the building still brandishing his AK-47. Canadian soldiers gunned him down.
"We took him out of the equation," said Abthorpe, who was commanding one of the armoured vehicles in the counter-attack.
The mortar or rocket attack came about an hour later.
The troops of Canada's Task Force Kandahar have scrambled several times in recent days to deal with casualties and to counter Taliban assaults.
The Canadians are fighting in Panjwaii, a district extending about 40 kilometres west of Kandahar city, as a main element of NATO's Operation Medusa. U.S., British and Afghan forces are also involved in the offensive to put the Taliban-held region under Afghan government control.
Despite NATO artillery barrages and aerial bombardment, insurgents have fought stubbornly and inflicted casualties among the incoming troops.
Early Tuesday, NATO soldiers at Kandahar Airfield paid tribute to the bodies of five Canadians killed over the past two days in Panjwaii. About 800 Canadians and 100 soldiers from other countries bid farewell to them in the solemn ramp ceremony.
A procession of soldiers, squinting in the desert sunlight, carried the flag-draped coffins onto the C-130 Hercules aircraft as a piper played a mournful tune. Tears streamed down some of the pallbearers faces while others fought back tears with clenched jaws.
Injured soldiers belonging to the same unit as the deceased accompanied the remains onto the plane for a private goodbye. Some of them were pushed up the plane's ramp in wheelchairs; others limped or hobbled on crutches.
Canadian Forces spokeswoman Lieut. Sue Stefko said the plane is expected to touch down at CFB Trenton late Wednesday.
Sgt. Shane Stachnik, Warrant Officer Frank Mellish and Warrant Officer Richard Nolan, all based at CFB Petawawa, Ont., and Pte. William Jonathan James Cushley, were killed in action on Sunday.
Colleagues were reluctant to talk about the senior non-commissioned officers Tuesday. Some pointed out that the men would not have appreciated gushing eulogies.
"These warrant officers are basically the grandfather to the platoon," said Lieut. Grant Mcdonald.
"As a young officer, you come in, you rely heavily on your warrant officer to guide you through. They're who the platoon looks for to lead the platoon and gain strength from. They'll be sadly, greatly missed."
On Monday, Pte. Mark Graham was killed and more than 30 others wounded when two U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt warplanes mistakenly strafed Canadian troops.
Fellow soldiers remembered the former track star and two-time Olympian as a generous soul who was quick with a joke.
"He was always smiling and he was incredibly humble about his accomplishments," said Pte. Jacob Williams, an armoured vehicle driver from Hamilton.
The five deaths in Panjwaii are the most sustained by Canada in a 24-hour period since Canadian troops first arrived in Afghanistan in early 2002.
So far, one Canadian diplomat and 32 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan.
A NATO spokesman claimed Tuesday that artillery and air strikes killed between 50 and 60 suspected Taliban militants and that some 700 more were encircled in the Panjwaii area. None of the claims were possible to confirm.
NATO has already claimed more than 200 Taliban killed in the operation. The Afghan Defence Ministry said Tuesday 200 militants have died since Saturday, increasing its previously reported toll of 89.
Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban military commander for south and southeastern Afghanistan, rejected NATO's claim of over 200 dead as propaganda on Monday.
A Panjwaii district council member, Haji Agha Lalai, said NATO bombings have killed 21 civilians over the past three days in an area called Zungawad. NATO spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy said he had no immediate details to support Lalai's claims.
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