KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The Canadian soldier killed during a counter-insurgency operation last week stepped on an explosive before being thrown off a cliff edge to his death, military officials disclosed Sunday.
Initially, with the operation ongoing, they would only say that Pte. Sebastien Courcy, 26, died after a fall from "high ground" during the mission in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province.
In fact, Courcy "stepped on something that exploded" as his team made their way to a vantage point on Salavat Gar, a mountain overlooking the village of Nakhonay, south of Kandahar city, said Lt.-Col. Mike Patrick, chief of operations for Task Force Kandahar.
Patrick said it remains unclear whether the explosion was the result of a freshly planted IED or an old landmine, an ever-present threat in the war-ravaged country.
But the operation that cost Courcy's life - dubbed Operation Constrictor IV - uncovered four bomb-making factories, dismantling an "assembly line" of the Taliban terror network, Patrick said after the three-day operation was complete.
A massive cache of weapons was also seized, including 50-calibre machine guns, bazookas and suicide vests, as well as chemical accelerants, home-made explosives and thousands of yards of commercial-grade detonation cord.
He said soldiers also found epoxy and ball bearings, which are glued to bombs to create deadly shrapnel.
"We removed hundreds of IEDs from the battlefield, pre-made, a substantial quantity of weapons, a huge amount of ammunition...but more importantly, the ability to manufacture the things that hurt us the most - IEDs," Patrick said.
He said there were suspected insurgents detained and some killed, but he would not say how many. He said they will be turned over to Afghan authorities to face trial.
Most of them fled the path of Canadian soldiers, and there were few engagements with Taliban, he said.
"They'll be back," Patrick said, but they "are not coming back today or tomorrow."
He said the plan is not to occupy the village, but to disrupt insurgents and take their munitions out of circulation.
The operation "hit the jackpot on the disruptive effect," he said.
A ground crew left Wednesday and took up position in a nearby town - a "feint" meant distract the insurgents. The next day, helicopters delivered two companies of infantry to the area around Nakhonay, effectively surrounding the town.
Nakhonay has been a staging area for Taliban attacks in Kandahar city, he said.
Patrick said the operation was not aimed at hunting down insurgents, but in disrupting their activities and seizing their weapons. In that sense, it was one of the most successful single operations conducted by Canadians in Kandahar, he said.
Canadians hadn't been in Nakhonay for two years, and the village is near the border of the Dandh district, where there is an ongoing effort to rebuild and develop communities in order to convince locals to shun the insurgency. Military and Afghan officials unveiled a model village project in the town of Deh-e-Bah earlier this month.
Patrick said they also wanted to get the weapons out of circulation ahead of elections next month.
Patrick said about 50 Taliban had turned the village of about 2,000 into a staging point for terror attacks in the city.
"The people had be living with this sort of Taliban occupation for a while," he said.