Canadian Soldier Killed in Panjwaii District

Taliban militants killed a Canadian platoon commander in Afghanistan on Tuesday as he tried to guide his soldiers to safety, in an area of farmland west of Kandahar.

Capt. Richard (Steve) Leary, 32, was leading Canadian and Afghan troops in a foot patrol in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province when they were ambushed by small arms fire shortly after 9 a.m. local time.

The soldiers returned fire, then repositioned under Leary's leadership in what became a half-hour-long battle. Close air support was called in and the insurgents were pushed back.

Leary was struck at about 9:30 a.m., said Colonel Jamie Cade during a news conference.

No other soldiers were hurt in the gunfire.

"Captain Leary was what we in uniform are expected to be. Captain Leary was a soldier and Captain Leary was a leader," Cade said.

"In his memory and the memory of those that have gone before him we remain steadfast in our resolve to bring peace and stability to the people of Afghanistan. He will be greatly missed by his military family."

Leary was a platoon commander with 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based out of Shilo, Man.

Originally from Brantford, Ont., he was on his first overseas mission. He leaves behind his wife Rachel, his parents Richard and Gail and his sister Brandi.

His repatriation ceremony is tentatively scheduled for June 6.

After being shot, Leary was airlifted to the medical facility at Kandahar Airfield where he was pronounced dead by a medical officer.

"Every death is deeply painful to us, but it is a risk that we as members of the Canadian Armed Forces understand and assume as we work to bring peace and stability to a country that has been torn apart by war," Cade said.

Senior army spokesman Maj. Jay Janzen said Leary's men are taking the loss with much difficulty.

"When you lose a leader as effective as Capt. Leary, as personable, it is difficult, but we're just thinking about (his) family right now,'' he said.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, the Governor General, the prime minister and the opposition party leaders have all extended their condolences to Leary's family.

Canada's military losses in Afghanistan now total 84, Leary being the second solider in a month to die after an ambush. The last was Calgary paramedic Cpl. Michael Starker, whose patrol was attacked within close range of a major Canadian base in the Panjwaii district.

Of the 84 Canadians killed in Afghanistan, 39 were killed by buried bombs.

Earlier attacks

Taliban fighters have increasingly engaged NATO soldiers directly in recent weeks.

On Monday, four Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were injured in two separate Taliban attacks west of Kandahar.

One soldier was hit by gunfire while a roadside bomb blast wounded three others and their interpreter. The attacks occurred just minutes from each other in the volatile Zhari district, where Canadian forces have often come under Taliban fire.

The troops were doing foot patrols when they were attacked.

One of the soldiers was to be flown to a military hospital in German for treatment of serious injuries, while the other three were to be treated at the Kandahar base.

Recently, Canadian forces stepped up efforts to stop Taliban bomb-making operations in a sweep dubbed Operation Rolling Thunder.


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