At least eight other soldiers were injured in the two attacks outside of Kandahar city.
Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli and Cpl. Tyler Crooks -
both of November Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment - died
in an explosion at about 6:45 a.m. local time in the restive Zhari
district west of the city.
The company's deputy commander described the pair as well-rounded soldiers who filled a variety of jobs within the unit.
"They had all kinds of unsung hero-type jobs that
they do that are not very glamorous because we put all of our focus on
the platoon guys," said Capt. Kris Reeves, shortly after the bombing.
An Afghan interpreter was also killed and five other Canadian soldiers were wounded in the attack.
About two hours later, Trooper Jack Bouthillier and
Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes, both of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, were
killed in a roadside bomb blast in the Shah Wali Kot district northeast
of the city, a region where the Taliban have stepped up attacks in the
last few months.
Three other soldiers were wounded in that attack.
All of the soldiers were taking part in a major
operation aimed at attacking Taliban command centres and supply lines,
along a massive front stretching in an arc from the west to the
northeast of Kandahar city.
The combined Canadian and American assault -
involving over 2,000 troops - is the biggest land operation the two
countries have conducted since the Korean War.
Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, the commander of Canadian
troops in Afghanistan, implored Canadians to remember that the soldiers
believed both in the mission as a whole and in the jobs they were
"Please do not think of this as a failure on the
part of any person or of the mission itself," Vance said, reading a
statement at Kandahar Airfield.
"Success in war is costly. We are determined to
succeed so that Afghan lives improve, but the insurgents are equally
determined to challenge and prevent Afghanistan from flourishing as the
nation it so wants to be. Remember, the deaths of these superb
Canadians occurred as Canadian Forces were bringing safety to those in
peril. Today, they succeeded."
The deaths bring to 116 the number of Canadian soldiers who have died as part of the Afghan mission since it began in 2002.
In the attack on November Company, the blast could be
faintly heard kilometres away at a Canadian forward operating base. Not
long afterward, a platoon warrant officer gathered other senior
officers to break the news.
Word spread quickly around the base.
Vernelli and Crooks were both well-known and popular
with other soldiers in the company, which is on the cusp of finishing a
Both men were close with the commander of November
Company, Maj. Rob McBride, who often joked with Crooks over the radio
"They were close friends of his," said Reeves.
Such was his respect for Crooks that McBride supported the young soldier as a candidate for officer training.
"He was getting ready to (be) on that path to be commissioned from the ranks," Reeves said. "He would have been good."
The bond McBride had with Vernelli, a veteran of a previous stint in Afghanistan, was just as strong.
The new father of a six-month-old girl was interested
in returning to the battle-ravaged region, but wanted more of a
challenge than being in one of the platoons.
"He wanted a role that he would be able to contribute and do something interesting and more hands on," Reeves said solemnly.
"So when he was deliberating whether he wanted to
come back, the (officer commanding) got wind of that and said: 'Come
back. Come back and we'll make this a really good tour."
Bouthillier was described by Vance as a fine athlete with a outstanding sense of humour.
The general also praised Hayes for his bravery.
"His friends remember him not only as a friend and a
comrade in arms but a brother who inspired them to stand up in the face
of danger and do what was right," Vance said in his statement.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his condolences behalf of the nation.
"The commitment to make Afghanistan a better place to
live, demonstrated on a daily basis by the brave men and women of the
Canadian Forces, is a testament to the values respected and revered by
all Canadians," the prime minister said in a statement.
The offensive in which the soldiers died - Operation
Jaley - has been ongoing over the last four days under a total news
The full battle group of the 3rd Battalion Royal
Canadian Regiment - backed by tanks, artillery and air support -
crossed the start lines around midnight March 17.
In Zhari district, soldiers marched on foot,
crossing pitch-black poppies fields and three-metre deep streams -
known as wadis - throughout that night.
One Canadian company approached from the north and
one from the south in a squeeze-play manoeuvre meant to pin-down
Taliban forces, while a full battalion of the famed U.S. 2/2 Infantry
Regiment airdropped by helicopter into farmland west of them.
By daybreak they were in position to begin searching
compounds and nearby fields for insurgent hideouts and bomb-making
Canadian Leopard 2A6M battle tanks belonging to the
Lord Strathcona's Horse regiment also rumbled in from the north,
covering both NATO troops and an Afghan battalion that launched its own
separate attack under the supervision of Canadian mentors.
"In all honesty, the point of the day was to go find
a fight and we did," said Lt. Jeff Lloyd, who led November Company's 4
Platoon with the Afghans.
It was Lloyd's last mission before being rotated home.
The purpose of the late-winter assault was to hit
Taliban staging points in advance of the spring fighting season, the
annual bloody offensive of ambushes and roadside bomb attacks which
begins soon after the poppy harvest ends.
The Taliban draws much of its fighting strength
between May and October by tapping into southern Afghanistan's massive
pool of unemployed farmhands.
Canadian soldiers uncovered a massive bomb-making
factory at raid incompound, which had at least five booby traps laced
throughout the structure.
Lt. Aaron Corey led his platoon metre by harrowing
metre as they uncovered strings of command wires - meant to set off the
explosives - throughout the mud-walled buildings.
In that incident all of the explosives were defused.