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Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan happy but cautious at bin Laden's death

Good news for troops, but it won't change their mission, and it might provoke reaction, they say.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

SALAVAT, Afghanistan -- Word that U.S. forces had killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden swept through a small Canadian patrol base in southern Afghanistan on Monday like a brush fire.

Initial disbelief gave way to cautious optimism and outright jubilation as soldiers passing each other asked: "Have you heard?''

"I just found (out) a few moments ago. Good news, another indication that we're winning the war,'' said a beaming Warrant Officer Gabriel Bernard as he gave a double thumb's up.

"Hopefully, it's a step forward toward world peace and a resolution for the conflict here in Afghanistan.''

Some wondered what the reaction might now be from both al-Qaida and the insurgents in Afghanistan. "Many consider him a saint,'' said one man on the base, who preferred not to be identified.

Others -- whose first question in the news-deprived environment of the base near Salavat in Panjwaii district was "Are you kidding?'' -- said they did not think they would see the day.

"I did not expect it to happen on my tour,'' said Sgt. Michel Pelletier.

"I guess it's a step forward, because they've been trying for so long to get him.''

Pelletier said bin Laden's death in neighbouring Pakistan might put a dent in the insurgents' morale, temporarily.

However, he expressed skepticism that it would change anything in Afghanistan, where Canadians along with their NATO allies have spent almost a decade fighting a stubborn insurgency following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"I'm sure they have other leaders who probably are going to step up,'' Pelletier said of al-Qaida.

"I don't see this war changing that fast.''

At Canadian headquarters at Kandahar Airfield, military officials called bin Laden's death "significant.''

At the same time, Capt. Annie Djiotsa, task force spokeswoman, said the killing would have no impact on Canada's combat mission as it winds down ahead of the July withdrawal.

"The threat remains and we are focused on the job at hand that the Canadian, Afghan and our international partners expect us to complete,'' Djiotsa said.

"We shall continue to apply the same commitment to the mission as we have been doing every day in the districts of Dand and Panjwaii.''

On the base near Salavat, one soldier went from tent to tent to announce the news he had just learned via the Internet.

The death quickly became a topic of conversation, with phrases like "That's great'' and "Good news'' tossed out frequently.

They wanted to know where and how the operation was carried out.

One American soldier said he wondered if U.S. President Barack Obama would try to take credit for bin Laden's killing.

"The military did all the work,'' he said to a buddy, to strenuous agreement.

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