A Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan last week died when he stepped on a land mine or other explosive device during what the Canadian Forces is calling its single most successful "asset-removal" mission in Afghanistan, dismantling four IED-production facilities and seizing countless guns, explosives and bomb-making materials.
The military initially said Private Sébastien Courcy, who died on Thursday, was killed as a result of a fall. Yesterday, Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Patrick, chief of operations for Task Force Kandahar, said Pte. Courcy was part of an observation team atop Salavat Mountain, a piece of high ground that gave the Canadians a wide view of the battlefield. While on the mountaintop, it appears Pte. Courcy stepped on "something that exploded," Col. Patrick said.
It's not clear whether the blast was caused by a newly planted improvised explosive device or an old mine. The explosion didn't kill Pte. Courcy, but he lost his footing and fell to his death. His body was repatriated at CFB Trenton in Ontario yesterday.
Col. Patrick said there was no enemy fire at the time of Pte. Courcy's death.
Indeed, there was very little direct contact between Canadian troops and insurgents during the operation.
"Our notion here was not to have a kinetic operation - when I say 'kinetic,' I mean killing people. We did not want to do that," Col. Patrick said. "Really what we wanted to do was get the insurgents out, and take their stuff off the battlefield."
Operation Constrictor IV was designed to clear a village called Nakhonay, about 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar in the volatile Panjwai district. The village of 2,000 is a known Taliban hideout, but has not been the target of a Canadian mission in about two years. The four-day operation began on Wednesday and ended on the weekend.
Constrictor was a joint operation between U.S. and Canadian troops. The Americans made up the first part of the mission, sending a company - about 120 soldiers - into position outside Nakhonay. The move was designed to confuse insurgents as to the target of the operation. The following night, Canadian helicopters dropped two companies of Canadian troops into the area, surrounding Nakhonay.
The mission was designed to force insurgents to flee the area quickly, leaving their weapons and equipment behind. When the Canadians moved in to Nakhonay, they found that was exactly what had happened. Soldiers uncovered four IED factories ranging in size from a single room to an entire compound. Col. Patrick said his troops seized suicide vests, machine guns, thousands of metres of commercial-grade detonation cord and hundreds of IEDs, among other items.
"It went better than we thought," Col. Patrick said. "It was a '10.' "
Although the Canadian military did not frame it as such, the operation's timing is significant because it comes with just a month to go before Afghanistan's presidential election. NATO forces expect insurgents to ramp up their efforts in the lead-up to the election in an attempt to discredit the process.
Col. Patrick said it is still possible insurgents will be able to manufacture IEDs in and around Nakhonay, but one at a time, rather than at the rate of thousands churned out at the IED factories.
"It's the difference between a mom-and-pop operation and the Mafia," he said.