KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The highest-ranking member of the Canadian Forces to die to date in Afghanistan was a career infantryman and “rising star,” admired for his smarts and professionalism and loved as a friend with an infectious sense of humour, one of his fellow colonels said Tuesday.
Col. Geoff Parker, 42, a one-time commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, was killed when a man believed to be working for the Taliban drove a car full of explosives into a NATO convoy during morning rush hour on the edge of Kabul.
The attack also killed 12 Afghan civilians and five U.S. soldiers, making it the single deadliest strike against the coalition in Afghanistan’s capital city in more than seven months.
Parker, based at Land Force Central Area Headquarters in Toronto, was in Kabul preparing his team for an upcoming undisclosed mission, said Col. Simon Hetherington, deputy commander of Task Force Kandahar.
“The post he was preparing to fill was important and of such high profile that he was hand-picked from across the army to do so,” Hetherington told a news conference at Kandahar Airfield.
“A rising star, his potential was undeniable.”
Hetherington spoke on behalf of Brig.-Gen. Dan Menard, who is on leave.
In a statement that seemed more detailed and personal than those that usually accompany news of Canadian casualties, Hetherington described Parker, born and raised in Oakville, Ont., as a fun-loving officer who was well-loved and respected within the ranks of the Canadian military.
“Geoff could be incredibly funny and he had a truly infectious laugh and smile. To some, he was simply known as ‘Parker,’ because that’s what his wife called him,” Hetherington said.
“We all knew him to be remarkably smart and the consummate professional officer. Equally important, he was always standing by as a friend. He knew when to give you the hard truth to get you going and when to lend a sympathetic ear.”
The website for the Department of National Defence still carries a 2007 biography of Parker from his days as a lieutenant colonel and commanding officer for 2 RCR.
“He was a career infantry officer — a proud member of the Royal Canadian Regiment — who excelled in virtually every position he held in the army,” Hetherington said.
“As a battalion commander, he led his soldiers from the front and with distinction.”
Five American servicemen and 12 Afghan civilians were also killed in the attack. Many of the civilians were on a public bus at the time of the blast.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov.-Gen. Michaelle Jean denounced the attack and extended their condolences to Parker’s family.
“The Taliban have consistently demonstrated their utter brutality through their complete disregard for the lives of innocent Afghans,” Harper said in a statement.
“This attack will not deter Canada from its mission to help the people of Afghanistan stand on their own in repelling the forces of extremism and international terrorism.”
The Canadian military will continue its efforts to bring greater security to Afghanistan unabated, Jean said.
“This barbaric act of aggression in the middle of rush hour reminds us of the many dangers our brave military personnel and the Afghan population are exposed to every day,” she said.
“Despite this tragedy, the will of Col. Parker’s brothers and sisters-in-arms to protect the Afghan people remains unshaken.”
Parker was the seventh Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan this year and the 145th member of the Canadian Forces to die as part of the mission since it began eight years ago. Two civilians — diplomat Glyn Berry and journalist Michelle Lang — have also been killed.
The attack occurred the same day federal International Development Minister Bev Oda visited Kandahar province — including a flyover of Canada’s signature $50-million Dahla dam project.
“It’s always unfortunate when these situations happen,” Oda said. “It’s a sacrifice that the world is willing to make for the people here in Afghanistan.”
The attack — the deadliest for NATO troops in Kabul since September — comes despite stepped-up efforts by Afghan authorities to intercept would-be attackers and better secure a city that saw a spate of brazen attacks this winter.
The powerful blast occurred on a major Kabul thoroughfare that runs by the ruins of a one-time royal palace and government ministries. It wrecked nearly 20 vehicles, including five SUVs in the NATO convoy, and scattered debris and body parts across the wide boulevard. The body of a woman in a burka was smashed against the window of the bus.
U.S. troops and Afghan police held a security cordon around wrecked vehicles at the blast site in the west of the city. Emergency workers zipped the dead into body bags and hoisted the wounded into ambulances.
“I saw one person laying on the ground with no head,” said Mirza Mohammad, who was on his way to work when the blast happened up the road.
Afghanistan’s Interior said most of the 47 injured were aboard the bus when the car bomb blew up.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a phone call from an undisclosed location that the bomber was a man from Kabul and his car was packed with 750 kilograms of explosives. The target of the attack was the foreign convoy, he said.
NATO said five of its vehicles were damaged as well as more than a dozen civilian vehicles. There were no obvious military vehicles among the wreckage, but NATO troops often travel in unmarked SUVs in the capital.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned the attack and said it would not deter NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan.
“NATO remains committed to its mission to protect the Afghan people and to strengthen Afghanistan’s ability to resist terrorism,” Rasmussen said in Brussels.
In a similar attack in February, suicide bombers stormed two small downtown Kabul hotels and killed 16 people.
— With files from The Associated Press