KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A four-day operation aimed at disrupting an important insurgent staging area in Afghanistan was highly successful although a Canadian soldier was killed by a makeshift bomb, the military said Tuesday.
In a post-operation briefing, Lt.-Col. Mike Patrick said soldiers found about 15 ready-to-go improvised explosive devices along with electronic components and chemicals that could have been used to make dozens more.
"We've probably removed the ability of any cell operating in the ... area from effectively mounting an IED campaign," said Patrick, chief of operations for Task Force Kandahar.
"That doesn't mean they won't come back or regenerate."
"Operation Constrictor" took place in villages around the town of Nakhoney in the dangerous Panjwaii district.
Taliban insurgents have been using the villages as staging or transit areas for attacks in Kandahar city, about 15 kilometres to the northeast.
The Nakhoney area is also adjacent to the Dand district, which the Canadian military has found to be more stable and pro-democracy.
About 500 Canadians along with a few hundred Afghan soldiers took part in the hunt for the potentially deadly improvised explosive devices, essentially the main insurgent weapon against the international forces.
Insurgents also opened fire on the soldiers at times during the operation.
"The insurgents chose to present themselves in small groups," Patrick said. "In every case where they chose to engage with us, they were effectively dealt with."
He refused to discuss details of the firefights or whether any insurgents had been killed.
It is that apparent inability of the insurgents to take on the Canadian forces head-on that has made improvised bombs their lethal weapon of choice.
Pte. Alexandre Peloquin, 20, was killed on Monday morning by a makeshift bomb. "He did actually step on an explosive device," Patrick said. "Very likely, it was an IED."
The military has provided few other details of the explosion.
During "Constrictor," the soldiers found quantities of chemical accelerants that can be combined with fertilizer to make explosives. Growing crops in the poor soil requires high nitrate fertilizer, which is easy to come by in southern Afghanistan.
Soldiers also seized timers, switches, wires and other digital components used for timing and detonating the bombs, along with radios and medical equipment.
"There is an insurgent cell that can no longer project itself," Patrick said.
Still, the explosive devices and components seized suggest some of the optimism of just a few months ago may have been misplaced.
In early March, village elders in the town of Salavat invited the Canadian and international forces to provide security, suggesting a potential turning point in the battle against the insurgency.