Two Canadian medics were killed Saturday morning, including the third Canadian woman to die in combat, when the armoured vehicle they were travelling in struck a homemade landmine in Afghanistan.
Master Cpl. Kristal Giesebrecht, 34, of Wallaceburg, Ont., who was married and on her second tour of Afghanistan, and Pte. Andrew Miller, 21, of Sudbury, Ont., had gone out with troops sent to defuse an improvised explosive device, which the military said the Taliban had planted in the doorway of a house.
Giesebrecht was from the 1 Canadian Field Hospital in Petawawa, Ont., and Miller was from 2 Canadian Field Ambulance, also in Petawawa.
They died 20 kilometres west of Kandahar City in Panjwaii District, a Taliban hotbed where most of Canada's battle group is now arrayed.
Peter MacKay, minister of national defence, issued a statement on the deaths of the two soldiers.
"We grieve the loss of Master Cpl. Kristal Giesebrecht and Pte. Andrew Miller who died yesterday in Afghanistan. ... This is a tragic loss for Canada and for the Canadian Forces.
He said the two gave their lives helping to create the secure conditions needed for reconstruction efforts and continued progress in Afghanistan.
They were the sixth and seventh medics to die in Afghanistan and the 11th and 12th Canadians to die here this year.
"My heartfelt sympathies are with the families and loved ones of these brave soldiers," MacKay said.
Their deaths bring to 150 the total number of Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since 2002.
"We cannot say for certain that these medical personnel were targeted deliberately," Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, the Task Force Kandahar commander, said in an announcing the deaths.
In what was an apparent allusion to the presence in southern Afghanistan of large numbers of insurgents from Pakistan, he added: "It is certain that the threat to Afghans stemming from the influence of out-of-area fighters at this time of year is very serious.
"Our efforts to aid local Afghans and their government to function properly have begun to bear positive results, but those who do not live here, yet come here to fight, are immune to counter-insurgency influences."
Another Canadian injured in the attack was in stable condition at the main medical hospital at Kandahar Airfield.
"It maybe seems to you that we are simply victims here - I assure you we are not," Vance said in remarks directed at Canadians at home.
"We take casualties and we hurt, and such is the nature of war, but your soldiers, soldiers like Kristal Giesebrecht and Andrew Miller, stand as guardians between a terrible threat and the innocents who cannot protect themselves."
The last Canadian woman to die in Afghanistan was Trooper Karine Blais of the 12e Regiment blinde du Canada of Valcartier, Que. She was killed in April 2009, in an IED attack in Shah Wali Khat District.
The first Canadian woman to ever die in combat was Capt. Nichola Goddard of the 1st Royal Canadian Horse Artillery of Shilo, Man. A forward observation officer, she was killed in Panjwaii in May 2006, when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at her armoured vehicle by an insurgent.
Women, who comprise about 15 per cent of the Canadian Armed Forces, have been welcome in all military trades except submarines since 1989. However, relatively few female soldiers have served in combat roles.
Most of the women who have gone into harm's way have been medics who go forward with infantry and combat engineers into dangerous places or logisticians who have been part of combat logistics patrols that resupply forward bases and outposts.
Giesebrecht was a whirlwind of activity when spotted recently in a clinic, rushing around good-naturedly at double or triple time as she made her rounds.
The medic was, Vance said, "a mentor and an inspiration" to the other combat medics, who form a tight, highly respected and trained community within the military.
"Kristal prided herself on her health and her fitness, although she always felt the solution to any problem could be found in a box of chocolates," the general said.
Miller had made it known that he wanted to come to Afghanistan "so that he could put his skills to the test," Vance said. An accomplished cook, he went by the nickname Caillou because of his resemblance to the infinitely curious cartoon character of that name, the general said.
The last Canadian to die before Giesebrecht and Miller was combat engineer Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil of Glace Bay, N.S. He was killed by an explosive device while on a foot patrol in Panjwaii last Monday.