Canadian Soldier Dies on Night Foot Patrol

A Canadian soldier died Saturday after tumbling into a deep well during a night foot patrol in the Zhari district, a restive area southwest of Kandahar.

Capt. Jonathan Sutherland Snyder, a member of the First Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry based in Edmonton, Alta., is the second officer to die while on duty in the war-ravaged country in less than a week.

“This tragic accident has deeply impacted us all,” Brigadier-General Denis Thompson, commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, said in a prepared statement Sunday morning.

While soldiers are equipped with infra-red technology at night, the military is releasing few details surrounding Capt. Snyder's death. However, the well, which was part of a larger irrigation system of wells that Afghans call a “kariz”, was at least 20 metres deep.

Capt. Snyder, a Penticton, B.C. native, was on his second tour to Afghanistan.

Brig.-Gen. Thompson said that after Capt. Snyder fell into the well around 9 p.m., the rest of his patrol desperately tried to pull him out as they radioed for help.

"Medical, engineering and search and rescue assets were rushed to the scene, and Jon was lifted from the well," Brig.-Gen. Thompson said.

Capt. Snyder was later air lifted to the nearby military hospital at Kandahar Air Field where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy has to be conducted to determine an official cause of death.

Before his death, Capt. Snyder was attached to the Canadian military's Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT), a group tasked with training Afghan National Army soldiers.

“Jon was serving as a mentor and role model to members of the Afghan National Army, and his recent leadership in the field likely saved both Canadian and Afghan lives,” Brig.-Gen. Thompson said, adding the young captain was “extremely competent” and “professional.”

Last Monday afternoon, three soldiers attached to the OMLT unit were wounded, one seriously, during a foot patrol in the same turbulent Zhari district after a home-made bomb was set off.

A major, who can not be identified due to privacy concerns, accidentally kneeled on it when the patrol stopped for a rest. He lost both legs in the explosion and is currently being treated at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

On Tuesday, Captain Richard (Steve) Leary, a member of Second Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, died following an ambush while on a foot patrol in the Panjwai district.

Brig.-Gen. Thompson said while the deaths of two officers are devastating, the military is “built to have redundancies.

“It's terrible to say that, but that's just the way the military is structured to make sure that we can take casualties,” he said. “So as tragic as each of these is, there is no reason to put down our tools and not carry on.”

During Capt. Snyder's first tour to Afghanistan in 2006, he was quoted by several media outlets.

In June of 2006, while stationed at a military outpost in Panjwai, he tried to counsel a young Afghan security guard who was frightened of insurgents.

"You shouldn't fear for your life," Capt. Snyder told the man, according to USA Today. "They should be fearing for their lives because of you."

Before his tour was over later that summer, Capt. Snyder gave a pep talk to incoming troops on dealing with locals.

"The people here aren't much different from the way people act back home in Canada if you're dealing with teenagers and little kids," the young captain said, according to the National Post. "There's a lot of similarities. I'd say go in there with an open mind and treat people as you would back home in Canada and go from there."

Since the Canadian mission in Afghanistan began in 2002, 85 soldiers and one diplomat have been killed. Capt. Snyder's death is the 11th this year.

BY KATHERINE O'NEILL

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