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Canadian Jon Snyder helped save 50 Afghan recruits from the Taliban. Three days later, he died




Bullets pelted the low mud wall above Capt. Jonathan Snyder’s head, showering him and the Afghan troops around him in dust.

Taliban machine guns rattled in the distance, spraying the other side of the wall with lead.

“Tell them to shoot back!” Jon yelled to the Afghan National Army (ANA) commander next to him. The man just stared back, frozen in the face of his first major battle. His 55 ANA troops were lined up along the low mud wall, waiting for orders in what was their first combat mission under the Canadians’ guidance.

They weren’t supposed to be ducking bullets in a stinking ditch between two farmer’s fields, waiting for the Taliban to surround them and gun them all down. They were supposed to be learning how to march.

Jon pressed his back against the wall and listened for a break in the Taliban gunfire.

He jumped up at the first break in fire and started shooting back, peppering one of the Taliban-held compounds across the field with bullets. He dropped to his belly a second later, just as gunfire cut the air where he’d been standing.

Jon’s team of four Canadian soldiers followed his lead, peaking over the wall to fire a few shots, then ducking and moving a few steps along the wall before firing again.

“Fight back!” Jon urged the ANA troops once more.

They didn’t understand his words, but they got the message. They started shooting back, two and three at a time, jumping up and firing wildly before ducking back behind the metre-high wall.

The Taliban gunfire eased off, and suddenly the Canadians and the Afghans felt like they had a chance.

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Months later, Jon and his Canadian troops would be honoured at Rideau Hall for showing the Afghans how to fight off the Taliban and escape the ambush, while making sure that no one was left behind.

“With little chance of survival, they exposed themselves to great peril and retaliated against the enemy while encouraging the Afghan soldiers to do the same,” the Governor General’s office said in its official account of that battle.

Cpl. Cary Baker, Cpl. Steven Bancarz and Capt. Robert Peel received the Canadian Medal of Military Valour for their efforts that day, while Cpl. Donovan Ball and Capt. Snyder were awarded the Star of Military Valour — the highest honour handed out during the Afghan War. Ball risked enemy fire to keep their escape route open, while Snyder coached the Afghan commander through a nearly unwinnable situation.

But Jon wasn’t there to receive his medal. The 26-year-old died three nights after the ambush, when he fell into an unmarked well during a night patrol in southeastern Afghanistan.

A memorial for Jonathan Snyder is shown in Langley, B.C., on Nov. 11, 2013.

Dale Friesen/Facebook

Jon’s family and former comrades-in-arms are remembering him for his leadership, his dedication and his decency this Remembrance Day, as they mark the 10th anniversary of his death in Afghanistan.

Jon’s father David, a former reservist, says he had misgivings about the Afghan War, but he’d wanted to keep those to himself until after his son was done serving.

“War is so stupid,” said David Snyder in a phone interview from Penticton, B.C. “But sometimes, you have to go.”

Snyder says his son was a decent, popular and fiercely independent man who always treated others with respect. “He wasn’t hung up or resentful,” Snyder said.

WATCH BELOW: Penticton students mark Remembrance Day in 2015

Bancarz described Jon as a “natural leader” who didn’t lord his skill over others. “He wasn’t cocky, he wasn’t egotistical,” Bancarz said. “He was just good at it.”

Peel said Jon was a brilliant soldier who might have one day become a top commander in the Canadian Forces. “Everyone regarded him as one of the guys who was going to go all the way,” Peel said.

Baker remembers Jon as someone who was truly dedicated to being a soldier.

“It’s a sad thing, but the guy died doing what he loved to do.”

A B.C. boy who “wasn’t intimidated” by bullies

Jonathan Sutherland Snyder was born Dec. 20, 1981, and raised on his family’s ranch in Penticton, B.C., along with his brother Adam, who was a few years older. Their father David taught English at Penticton High School and their mother, Anne, was a local reporter.

Jon was an independent and confident boy who knew from a young age that he wanted to be in the military. He joined the cadets at age 12 and planned to become an officer after university.

He pursued a wide range of interests as a child, from skiing and basketball to singing and acting on stage.

“He had a confidence that he gained early from performing in musical theatre,” Jon’s dad, David, said in a phone interview from his home in Penticton. “He wasn’t intimidated.”

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Jon also had the confidence to stand up for his beliefs when he saw something wrong. At age 13, he intervened to stop an older kid from bullying a younger boy at cadet camp in Valcartier, Que.

“That’s harassment,” Jon told the bully.

The older cadet turned on Jon and pinned him against the wall, saying: “I’ll tell you what harassment is.”

Jon reported the incident to his parents and it got back to the regional cadet officer. Jon’s dad says the bully was “accosted” within 24 hours, and the boy didn’t bother anyone again.

‘I have a lot of hope for this country’

Jon joined the Canadian Forces at age 18 through the Regular Officer Training Plan, which allowed him to pursue a post-secondary education while training to become an officer. He graduated from the University of Victoria in 2003 with a major in English and a minor in sociology, then joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Edmonton as a lieutenant.

Jon deployed to Afghanistan for his first tour of duty in February 2006. He impressed the Canadian brass at the Battle of Panjwaii in March, and was promoted to captain a short time later.

In a 2006 interview with the Canadian Press, Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie suggested Snyder had the guts and intelligence to one day succeed him as head of the Canadian army. Leslie is now parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Capt. Jonathan Snyder is shown in Afghanistan.

Steven Horsby/Facebook

Jon loved serving in Afghanistan, and downplayed the dangers of the job in conversations with his parents.

“I have a lot of hope for this country,” he told his parents in a 2006 email.

“When I talk to the locals, 99 per cent of them are tired of the war and just want to live a normal life. That is why we are here, to provide security in the area and support the new government so that one day, this country can support itself.”

Buried in the middle of that email was an admission: Jon had survived an improvised explosive device that struck his armoured vehicle on April 7.

“Don’t worry, everyone walked away from the attack without injury,” he wrote, adding: “The experience has taught me some valuable lessons that will keep me safer in the future.”

Afghanistan postpones election after attack on a high-profile security meeting

Jon’s tour lasted eight months, after which he returned to Canada and bought a condo in Edmonton with his then-girlfriend, Megan. The two had been friends since Grade 5 and became a couple in high school.

The Canadian Death Race and a return to Afghanistan

Jon spent the summer of 2007 living with Megan in Edmonton and training with several soldiers in the area, including Robert Peel.

“He was the whole package,” Capt. Peel said. “He was extremely well-read, extremely fit, had an exceptional understanding of the battlespace and his people, and just oozed leadership.”

Jon and Peel decided to see how tough they were by tackling the grueling Canadian Death Race – a 125-kilometre ultra-marathon through the Rocky Mountains. Most contestants run the race as part of a five-man relay, but Jon and Peel were determined to each run the race solo.

WATCH BELOW: What it’s like to win the Canadian Death Race

Rob says spotters pulled him out of the race at the 100-kilometre mark, “because my eyes weren’t dilating anymore.”

But Jon just kept running. “Jon finished the race with no problems at all — except that he almost killed himself with acute renal failure,” Peel said.

Cpl. Baker says Jon’s performance won him a lot of respect among his fellow soldiers. “He put himself in the hospital voluntarily, trying to do that race himself,” Baker said. “The guy didn’t have an ounce of quit in him.”

Jon proposed to Megan on Christmas Eve in Costa Rica, and the two agreed to set their wedding date for one year later, December 2008 in Jamaica.

Jon volunteered for a second Afghan tour before the wedding: an eight-month training mission with the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team, beginning in February 2008. He and his team of four Canadians would train groups of 100 Afghan troops to fight the Taliban.

Jonathan Snyder, centre, is shown in Afghanistan in this photo from 2008.

Derek McLagan/Facebook

Jon spent four months training his first group of recruits before he was rotated out to work with a new group in Afghanistan’s volatile Zharey district in late May.

Jon was also separated from his original squad and assigned four temporary soldiers to command: Capt. Robert Peel and Corporals Baker, Bancarz and Ball. He knew Peel from their workout sessions in 2007, but he didn’t know the others very well.


Jon and his new squad were sent out on June 4, 2008, to mentor a company of Afghan army recruits through a major operation in southeastern Afghanistan. They left their base at 2:30 a.m. and marched south on a mission to check several former Taliban weapon caches that were thought to be empty.

In this Dec. 4, 2007 file photo, Canadian troops are shown in the Sangasar region near where Jonathan Snyder’s unit was ambushed.

he Canadian Press Images/Louie Palu

They had just stopped between two farmers’ fields near their first objective when they came under fire. The Taliban had been waiting for them in a cluster of nearby buildings.

The Afghans and Canadians took cover on the west side of a low mud wall that protected them from machine gun fire to the east, northeast and south. They feared the Taliban would cut them down if they retreated across a field to the west, so they had no choice but to hunker down behind the wall and figure out how to break the ambush.

“They pretty much had us,” Baker said.

“They came very close to completely encircling us.”

But Jon didn’t panic. Instead, he sent Peel and Baker to fight from a trench-like road at the south end of the wall, and later dispatched Ball and Bancarz to protect their escape route at the north end. He also refused to let the Afghans abandon two soldiers who were seriously injured during the fight.

Peel says Jon expertly coordinated their defence through earpiece radios, issuing orders and demanding updates throughout the battle.

“The whole time Jon was just talking to us … in this really calm, cool voice,” Peel said. “The more stressed he got, the calmer his voice got.”

In this Dec. 4, 2007 file photo, a Canadian soldier with a machine gun covers a line of advance during an operation in the Zharey-Panjwaii area where Canadian troops were later ambushed.

The Canadian Press Images/Louie Palu

The ambush lasted nearly two hours, and ended when Cpl. Ball made contact with reinforcements at the north end of the wall. Jon ordered the retreat and the Afghan and Canadian troops slowly backed out of the ambush.

Peel and Baker stumbled across two injured Afghan soldiers as they brought up the rear. They told Jon and he sent several more ANA troops back to carry their injured men.

“It was organized chaos,” Baker said. He described the Afghan soldiers as “about as green as they get.”

Peel said the Afghan leaders were clearly inexperienced, but some of the Afghan recruits were impressive in their first battle.

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The Canadian and Afghan troops put the two wounded men on helicopters and marched back to their base at Howz-e-Madad, southwest of Kandahar, after the battle. The Taliban harassed them along the way but failed to mount another full-scale assault. Baker, Bancarz and Peel say they’re still not sure how many Taliban they were fighting that day, but it might have been as many as 60 well-trained insurgents.

They all took a moment back at the base to appreciate just how lucky they’d been to escape the fight.

“It was probably about as bad as it gets, and if it wasn’t for Jon’s leadership and understanding of what was going on, and then all five of us working as a team to get out of there, it probably could have ended up a lot worse,” Peel said.

WATCH BELOW: Canada honours fallen soldiers in ‘No Stone Left Alone’ ceremonies

An accident on patrol

Three days later, Jon and several other soldiers were on a foot patrol after dark, with only a thin crescent of moon to light their way.

They were navigating through a grape field with the help of their night vision cameras, which cover one eye and depict the world in green light and shadow. Night vision cameras amplify light but they also mess with your depth perception, making it hard to see your feet or avoid small obstacles on the ground. It was particularly dark that night, and the field was filled with shadows.

A Canadian Forces soldier is shown with a night-vision camera attached to his helmet before a patrol in Panjwaii, Kandahar, Afghanistan on Apr. 18, 2010.

The Canadian Press/Louie Palu

Snyder never saw the shadow that would kill him — an unmarked, open well called a kariz, which farmers use to irrigate their fields. Most of these wells are uncovered holes big enough to drop a bucket into — nothing at all like a standard water well.

Jon fell into the kariz and plummeted more than 20 metres to the bottom, into an underground reservoir, sometime after 9 p.m. that night.

The soldiers above ground tried to get him out, but the hole was too deep and the ground around it was too soft.

Baker says Jon kicked off his heavy boots and tried to shrug off the nearly 45 kilograms of gear that threatened to drag him down.

“He fought for four or five hours,” Baker said. “He fought the whole time.”

Engineers, rescue crews and medics showed up and eventually pulled Jon from the water, unconscious, sometime after midnight on June 8. They rushed him by helicopter to Kandahar Airfield, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Canadian death toll in Afghanistan includes 157 Forces members, 2 civilians

“It was devastating,” said Peel, who was assigned to take over Jon’s unit the next day. “As the years have gone by it’s probably one of the things I’ve struggled with the most — the survivor’s guilt of it all.”

Bancarz says Jon’s death came as a shock to everyone on the base. “It doesn’t matter if you get vapourized by an IED, riddled with bullets or fall in a well,” he said. “It’s still hard, man. It’s still hard.”

The Snyder family learned about Jon’s accident the next day. An army colonel showed up to tell Megan about it, and she broke the news to Jon’s dad, David, by phone.

“I don’t know if I’ve been the same since,” David said.

Remembering Jon

The Canadian Forces flew Jon’s body back to Trenton, Ont., on June 11, and buried him at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa on June 16. He was the 85th Canadian soldier killed in the conflict.

Eight months later, Jon’s fiancée Megan accepted his Star of Military Valour from then-governor General Michaelle Jean. Bancarz, Baker, Peel and Ball were also there to accept their medals in the ceremony at Rideau Hall.

Governor General Michaelle Jean speaks with Megan Leigh Stewart as she presents her with the Star of Military Valour to her presented posthumously to her common-law husband, Capt. Jonathan Snyder, during a ceremony at Rideau Hall Friday, Feb. 13, 2009.


Jon’s former comrades say they have mixed feelings about the medals they earned from that ambush.

Baker tried to turn the medal down, but he’s grown to accept it over the years. “I realized I could use it to show how awesome Jon was,” he said.

Jonathan Snyder’s mother reflects on the Afghan War

“It’s a tremendous honour and I’m really proud of it and proud of the guys I was with that day, but I struggle with it sometimes,” Peel said.

Jon’s mother Anne, who lives in Nova Scotia, flew back to Penticton to be the Silver Cross mother for the Remembrance Day service in 2013. The town has set up several tributes for her son, including a memorial plaque. The Snyders also launched a scholarship in his name at the local high school.

David and Dorothy Anne Snyder are shown participating in a National Day of Honour ceremony at a Canadian Forces base in Esquimalt, B.C., on May 9, 2014.


David says his son would want to be remembered as a good man and soldier. He wouldn’t want to be lionized as a larger-than-life “hero.”

Baker says Jon lived his dream of being a soldier, and that’s how he’d probably want to be remembered.

“We’re all there because we volunteered to do it, and Jon was the epitome of that,” Baker said.

“That guy could literally do anything he wanted with his life, and that’s what he chose. He was probably one of the best I’ve ever seen do it.”

Peel says he used to look at Remembrance Day as a time to pay tribute to veterans from the First and Second World War — a set of distant names to honour from someone else’s conflict.

“The loss of Jon in Afghanistan made Remembrance Day very real for me,” he said.

“For me, every year, Remembrance Day is about remembering Jon Snyder.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali



Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.

In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.

“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.

“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”

“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.

Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”

Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”

“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.

He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”

As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our

country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.

The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”

On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu

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Harris accepts VP nomination



Harris accepts VP nomination

Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”

Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”

“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”

Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself



Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.

In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.

“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m

The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.

But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.

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