KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A Canadian soldier who was a “proud Cape Bretoner” on his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan has become the latest victim of the war against the Taliban.
Sgt. James MacNeil, 28, of Glace Bay, N.S., was killed by an improvised explosive device Monday morning near the village of Nakhonay after he had dismounted from his armoured vehicle.
It’s the second straight Canadian death in Nakhonay, about 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city.
“He was serving on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan,” said Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of Task Force Kandahar, as he stood in front of the cenotaph at Kandahar Air Field.
“Sgt. MacNeil was killed by the detonation of an improvised explosive device while on a joint foot patrol with the Afghan National Army near the village of Nakhonay.”
Nakhonay is in the Panjwaii district which is known as the birthplace of the Taliban. It has been a bloody battleground for Canadian troops since they arrived in Kandahar province in strength four years ago.
Dozens of Canadians have been killed or wounded in the restive district. While villages and towns have been repeatedly cleared, the Taliban have quietly reasserted themselves in parts of the region.
IEDs have been the single biggest cause of death among Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
Eight out of the 10 Canadian deaths this year were the result of an IED blast. In all, 89 of the 148 Canadian fatalities in the eight-year-old Afghan mission came about from IEDs — which include roadside bombs and some other type of explosives, according to the Department of Defence.
Two civilians — diplomat Glyn Berry and journalist Michelle Lang — have also been killed in Canada’s mission to Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid tribute to MacNeil and sent condolences to the soldier’s family, friends and comrades. “May you be consoled by the knowledge that an entire country stands behind you in your grief,” Harper said in a statement.
The prime minister said MacNeil “was a courageous, dedicated soldier who gave his life trying to help the Afghan people build a better future for themselves and their country.”
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said MacNeil was “bringing hope to a population that has seen much hardship and turmoil. His death is a terrible loss for the Canadian Forces and all of Canada.”
Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean also issued a statement expressing “great sadness” over MacNeil’s death. “We shall forever be indebted to him for the tremendous perseverance, courage, heroism and generosity that he exhibited. We shall not forget him,” Jean said.
In Kandahar, Vance said: “For each IED that Canadian soldiers find and disarm, Afghan lives are spared and the processes of rebuilding their communities can continue.”
“Through constant patrolling and maintaining a presence in that community, Afghans know to trust both Canadian and Afghan soldiers and respect their efforts to bring them security from all sources of harm.”
MacNeil was with 2 Combat Engineer Regiment based at CFB Petawawa.
He was the epitome of excellence and professionalism, said Vance, who called him a “proud Cape Bretoner” who couldn’t say No to a social gathering. Vance said he was inevitably “the life of the party”.
Vance said MacNeil was known for his good sense of humour and, according to his men, was a great person to work for.
“He was blessed with a permanent smile and eyes that could not conceal the mischief that he was no doubt contemplating.”
Vance said that after MacNeil’s last deployment to Afghanistan, and before his promotion to sergeant, he was recognized as the top master corporal in 2 Mechanized Brigade Group.