Canadian defence minister escapes rocket attack in Afghanistan

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Peter MacKay (left) with Celso Amorim.
Image: Elza Fiúza/ABr.

Canadian Minister of Defence Peter MacKay just narrowly escaped a rocket attack by the Taliban in Afghanistan yesterday morning. He was visiting Forward Operating Base Wilson 20 kilometres west of Kandahar.

MacKay escaped into a Jeep as the first explosion went off at 11:00 a.m., local time (UTC+4:30). The second rocket, which struck 15 minutes after, hit four Canadian soldiers. The soldiers are now in good condition.

MacKay was picked up by a helicopter an hour later.

Some military experts and reporters on the scene suggested that the attack would not have been targeted to hit MacKay specifically. But according to Canadian Press reporter Bill Graveland, the Taliban could have guessed someone important was present when they saw Blackhawk helicopters.

"I don't believe that there was any way they had any idea the Mr. MacKay was there, but if you see a number of Blackhawk helicopters flying over a base, you're going to assume it's somebody important," said Graveland.

"I do not believe he was targeted," said Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier. "I think these are things that have occurred [coincidentally] in time and space."

MacKay held a news conference at Kandahar Air Field last night.

"There was an explosion. It was a loud bang," said MacKay. "When it happened, we heard the explosion, we heard the whistle overhead, we were told to get down and we did. Thankfully, again, when missions like this are underway, you're given a very thorough briefing as you'd expect. We're told how to react, everything went like clockwork. We were taken out of harm's way very quickly, and put in an armoured vehicle. And I'm grateful for the experience, because now I have a greater appreciation of how competent, how able and how successful our people are in the field."

MacKay is in Afghanistan to talk about improving the country's economy, security, health care and education.