KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Col. Geoff Parker was a target of opportunity in an indiscriminate, desperate attack that sacrificed civilians in order to strike at NATO, the Canadian military said Thursday as it bade farewell to a respected officer, the most senior victim of the mission to date.
Two days after the deadly car bombing in Kabul, about 1,500 military and civilian personnel stood in silence at Kandahar Airfield as Parker’s flag-draped casket was hoisted onto the back of a Hercules military plane.
In a profession known for its strict pecking order, Parker stood out with his unrelenting attitude and his refusal to defer to superiors when he believed he was right, said a colleague who had known him for 20 years.
“Even in his very early years in the army, Geoff was the kind of fellow that wouldn’t compromise,” said Lt.-Col. Conrad Mialkowski, who got to know Parker in 1991 when they were platoon commanders together with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment.
“If something was stupid, he would say it and use that kind of language. And we had challenging bosses over the years who Geoff wouldn’t always agree with and he certainly would address those.”
But Parker had the rare ability of correcting others without putting them down, Mialkowski added.
“He would point it out in either a humorous way or in a logical way so that whoever he was being critical of would get the point without being embarrassed about it.”
The 42-year-old Parker, a native of Oakville, Ont., died Tuesday when a suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy during morning rush-hour in the Afghan capital. The attack, the deadliest for NATO in Kabul in eight months, also killed five U.S. soldiers and 12 Afghan civilians.
A repatriation ceremony was scheduled for Friday at CFB Trenton.
Parker, as he was known to his wife Mary Jane, was a best friend and a great father to his two kids, Charlie and Alex, his “loving bride” said in a heartfelt statement released Thursday by the Canadian Forces.
“I have known Parker essentially all my life and I, as well as all those who took the time to truly know him, realized he was a kind, caring, sarcastic and supportive friend,” she said.
“Never one to back down from a challenge, or what he saw as right, Parker loved the Royals, the Army and Canada. All who knew him, knew of his capacity to work, to care and to be supportive of others.”
She cited in particular Parker’s “dedication, care and thoroughness” when tasked with the duty of notifying other families of lost loved ones.
“The children and I will miss him dearly but know he is watching over us with the encouragement to ’put a smile on and move forward,”’ she said.
“I know we’re not the first, but I pray we are the last.”
The Canadian Forces said Brig.-Gen. Andre Corbould, two other Canadian officers and a corporal were also in the five-vehicle convoy when the suicide bomber exploded a minivan loaded with nearly a tonne of explosives. But they were not injured.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said the target was the foreign convoy. But Mialkowski said there is no indication the bomber was specifically targeting high-ranking soldiers.
“Our sense is that it was most likely an attack on something that was just identified as something that was foreign and out of place,” Mialkowski said.
“It truly is an indiscriminate act. The way we see it, it’s fairly desperate that that is what the insurgency has resorted to because it actually sort of demonstrates to us that … they will kill civilians indiscriminately in order to get at us.”
Parker was in Kabul on a reconnaissance mission in preparation for his new job as deputy director of stability for Regional Command South headquarters at Kandahar Airfield.
It’s a civilian position that typically lasts one year. Parker would have been co-ordinating humanitarian and development activity in support of the ISAF mission.
“The job he was going into clearly wasn’t to carry a rifle or a machine-gun and clear the grape fields of Panjwaii,” Mialkowski said.
“But that was the strength that Geoff brought to the battle. He was the kind of fellow who was a very analytical thinker … he understood what had to be achieved on the ground but was able to apply his mind to assist in a coalition fight down here.”
The attack in Kabul comes despite a ramped up effort by Afghan authorities to intercept would-be attackers and better secure a capital city that saw a spate of brazen attacks this winter.
Parker was the seventh Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan this year and the 145th member of the Canadian military to die in the eight-year-old Afghan mission. Two civilians — diplomat Glyn Berry and journalist Michelle Lang — have also been killed.