Families of Western troops grieve in Afghanistan

Tue May 24, 2011 10:32am EDT
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Grieving Canadians and Britons said goodbye on Tuesday to fallen relatives on Kandahar Air Field, a rare reminder in the heart of the war in Afghanistan of the human cost to Western armed forces that has made the decade-long conflict so unpopular back home.

Canada organizes family visits after a member of their armed forces is killed in Afghanistan so that relatives can "feel the heat, smell the air, get covered in the dust" that their loved ones knew in their last days, said Rear Admiral Andy Smith.

"It is still very recent, so a visit like this really helps us go through the grieving process," said Guy Scherrer, father of Corporal Yannick Scherrer, who was killed by a homemade bomb in late March, after a memorial service on the base.

"I had many questions inside ... what was this for? And now I have the answer. I see now exactly what his job was, he was here for the protection of men, women and children," he said.

Canada is the only nation fighting in the NATO-led coalition to organize such trips, which are expensive and complicated -- flying civilians into a war zone can be a security worry -- but are powerful experiences for the bereaved.

A British family were invited on what is likely to be the last such trip, with Canadian combat troops due to return home by the end of July, because Captain Ben Babington-Browne died on a Canadian helicopter that crashed.

The effort is a reminder of public unease in Canada about the war, which helped push the government to end its combat mission after nearly 10 years.

After spells in other areas, they spent five years as the lead nation in one of the toughest battlegrounds of the war, Kandahar province, the Taliban's spiritual homeland, where they lost the majority of 155 soldiers killed in Afghanistan.   Continued...