Capt. Jonathan Sutherland Snyder, who died Saturday in an accident after falling into a well while on a joint night patrol mentoring Afghan soldiers, was remembered by his commanding general and other top officers of Task Force Kandahar as a hero and "la creme du Canada."
Mr. Snyder, 26, a member of the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry based in Edmonton, was the second Canadian captain to die on foot patrol in less than a week in the insurgent-ripe territory west of Kandahar City.
"This tragic accident has deeply impacted us all," said Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, commander of Canada's 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. "The thoughts and prayers of the entire Canadian Task Force are with Captain Snyder's fiancee Meghan, his parents and all those who loved him," he added.
At about 9 p.m. local time, Mr. Snyder fell the equivalent of a six-storey building after tripping over the edge of what Afghans call a "kariz" or open well. Often abandoned and unmarked, these open wells connect to underground waterways for irrigation of the arid landscape. The kariz that claimed Mr. Snyder's life is estimated at 20 metres deep.
"I spoke to his patrol this morning. They related how desperately they worked to extract him from the well as they called for help," Mr. Thompson said Sunday. Medical, engineer and search and rescue personnel and equipment were rushed to the scene.
Mr. Snyder, a native of Penticton, B.C., and described by the general as "quiet, professional and extremely competent," was evacuated by helicopter to the Role 3 multinational medical unit at Kandahar Airfield. "Unfortunately, he was pronounced dead upon arrival," said Mr. Thompson.
Mr. Snyder was a member of the Operational Mentoring Liaison Team (OMLT), which has Canadian officers embedded with Afghan military units to assist them in their professional development. In a rare show of respect, Afghan National Army soldiers joined thousands of ISAF troops at Kandahar Airfield to pay tribute to Mr. Snyder in a ramp ceremony Sunday night.
OMLT Commander Col. Jean-Francois Riffou said the unit's soldiers have been grieving the loss of a true leader who acted "extremely heroically" in the field.
Maj. Robert Ritchie, Mr. Snyder's direct boss and one of eight pallbearers who carried the flag-draped casket at the ramp ceremony, praised the captain for his leadership on a recent mission when his sub-unit became isolated from the rest and came under enemy fire from three sides.
"Because of his heroic leadership under intense fire, there are many Afghans and Canadians that are alive to fight tomorrow," said Mr. Ritchie.
An eight-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, Mr. Snyder was on his third overseas mission and second posting to Afghanistan.
Mr. Snyder is the 85th Canadian soldier -- the third in the past month -- to die in Afghanistan since 2002. One diplomat has also died.
Last Tuesday, Capt. Richard Steve Leary was killed by gunfire while leading a foot patrol that was ambushed in another nearby area west of Kandahar City where Canadians have been actively fighting the Taliban-led insurgency.
Mr. Thompson said Mr. Snyder was the kind of officer that generals dream of having under their command. He said the death would not hamper or detract from the ongoing mission of bringing peace and stability to the citizens of Afghanistan and that, as "a person with a strong will, Jon would expect no less."
During his last Afghan tour in 2006, Mr. Snyder and his comrades saw some of the fiercest fighting Canadians have been involved in generations. Yet the young officer, promoted at the time from lieutenant, seemed to take the immense pressure in stride, based on news reports in which he was quoted.
Spending Easter Sunday far away from family in a remote sandbagged fire base surrounded by Taliban insurgents, the "platoon commander with Leonardo DiCaprio looks" mused that "you can't beat the weather out here" while the poor folks back home in Edmonton were probably contending with snow.
At the end of a tough tour that saw a number of Canadians killed in furious battles with insurgents after they took command in Kandahar from the Americans, Mr. Snyder made a point of reminding those on the incoming rotation not to confuse all the locals with the enemy moving among them.