Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge was embedded in Afghanistan when Canadian troops arrived in 2002 and writes about Canada’s sacrifices in the war there.
My neighbor just lost three sons in Afghanistan.
Warrant Officer Dennis Brown, Corporal Dany Fortin and Corporal Kenneth O’Quinn. All died together Tuesday when a roadside bomb exploded during a patrol in southern Afghanistan. No, they don’t all share the same last name…but all three were Canadian.
That brings the total number of Canadians killed in Afghanistan since 2002 to 111. Tragically, their deaths were announced only a few hours after our Worldfocus BlogTalkRadio program which, this week, focused on our neighbor to the north’s commitment to the war known in this country officially as “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Many Americans are only vaguely aware — if at all — of the support Canada has given to the war in Afghanistan. Canada is more commonly associated with the role of peacekeeping. Afghanistan is the first time Canadian troops have gone into large-scale combat since the Korean War. And they have paid the price.
The 111 deaths may seem like a low number when compared to the 640 American military personnel killed in Afghanistan, but those figures don’t tell the whole story. The number of Canadians serving in Afghanistan is put at about 2,700, almost all of them based in the very violent south home to the Taliban in the Kandahar area.
During our program, Canadian freelance journalist Terry Glavin, who recently spent a month reporting in Afghanistan, points out that statistically, Canadian forces have paid an even higher price than American forces. He notes that the mortality rate of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan is two to three times the mortality rate of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Canada’s role in Afghanistan has been the source of some of the most divisive debate Canadians have seen in recent memory. The growing public outcry is part of the reason the Canadian Parliament voted to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan by 2011.
I was in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2002 when the first Canadian soldiers stepped off the plane. As they walked into the air terminal, I remember how much older they looked than the American soldiers, who were at least a decade younger. For many Canadian soldiers, the military is a profession.
Less than a month later, I was embedded as the Canadians faced combat for the first time in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda. For a while, I followed a Canadian sniper team who used a 50-caliber rifle. The distinctive crack of the heavy gun echoed through the Shahi Kot Valley. The Canadians were especially effective against one of the greatest threats to the operation, Taliban mortar teams. The Canadian sniper teams were credited with killing 20 Taliban or al-Qaeda members. Two of the sniper teams were recommended for the U.S. Bronze Star.
It was just a month later when the first Canadian casualties of the war were counted. They were killed not by Taliban or al-Qaeda militants, but by the very nation they came to support — the United States. A U.S. plane mistakenly attacked the Canadian troops as they took part in a live-fire training exercise, leaving four Canadian soldiers dead and eight others wounded.
It’s seven years later and Canada’ s deep commitment to its neighbor to the south is still measured by the flagged-draped coffins that come home bearing the red, white and maple leaf.
– Martin Savidge
Read more about Martin’s experience in Afghanistan: Embedded on a chopper in Afghanistan.