Military to Investigate Soldier's Death

Corporal Brendan Anthony Downey did not die in a combat zone and his death is the subject of a military investigation but he will be honoured with a ramp ceremony to repatriate his body, say Canadian Forces officials.

Downey's body was discovered Thursday in the living quarters at Camp Mirage, a base in the Persian Gulf that is used as a staging area for Canadian airlifts to Afghanistan.

"The airman died on an overseas mission in support of the mission in Afghanistan and to the military it's irrelevant how or where somebody is killed," said Maj. Jay Janzen, spokesman for Task Force Afghanistan. "What's important is that we honour and respect our fallen comrades at all times no matter what the circumstance."

Officials are saying little about Downey's death, other than that his body was found in an accommodation room that was immediately sealed off and investigators from the military's National Investigation Service were called in.

"We grieve with the family of Cpl. Downey," said Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's Chief of Defence Staff, during a sit-down with reporters in Calgary.

"Any loss in our operations is difficult for us, difficult for the military family, difficult for his family.

"Given the circumstances of this death, I've asked the National Investigation Service to have a look at it, and over time we'll determine exactly how this occurred."

"No further details are available at this time, although enemy action has been ruled out," said Janzen.

Downey was a military policeman from the Military Police Detachment in Dundurn, Sask. Officials are not ruling out any of the possible causes of death which include foul play, accidental discharge of a weapon and suicide.

It's not the first time a Canadian soldier involved in the Afghanistan mission has died under circumstances requiring a probe by investigators.

In August of last year, Maj. Raymond Ruckpaul died of what investigators concluded was a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his quarters at a NATO base in Kabul. A probe is ongoing into the death of Bombardier Jeremie Ouellet, whose body was discovered in his room on Kandahar Airfield last March.

And investigators have yet to wrap up a probe into what has been described as a "friendly fire" accident that killed Cpl. Kevin Megeney in his tent in March, 2007.

This is the first death, though, in what is considered to be the safest location for soldiers taking part in Task Force Afghanistan. Camp Mirage is not in the war zone. It is located in a friendly Arab state that does not want to officially acknowledge it is helping a Western power in the Afghanistan conflict.

"On behalf of all Canadians, I would like to offer my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Corporal Downey," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a statement released Saturday. "Our Canadian Forces are making an immense sacrifice to bring security to the people of Afghanistan . . . We remain committed . . . to ensuring that progress continues for the people of Afghanistan bringing them lasting stability and security."

As a member of the Afghanistan mission, Downey's name will be added to the cenotaph at Kandahar Airfield, bringing the total number of Canadian soldiers who have died in the conflict to 86. One diplomat has also been killed.

The insurgency continues to claim the lives of local Afghans in Kandahar province where Canadian troops are stationed.

On Friday, gunmen killed a popular member of Afghanistan's parliament near his home in the Zhari district, west of Kandahar City.

On Thursday, attackers tossed a grenade into a police post in the neighbouring Panjwai district and then opened fire into the building, killing eight policemen.

By Graham Thomson, Canwest News Service

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