Norwegian military officials have released the names of the four soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Sunday. Defense Minister Grete Faremo, her voice cracking with emotion, said she will be among those bringing their bodies home.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that the four soldiers “were among the finest we have,” and that their deaths are “a gruesome reminder” of how dangerous their military assignment was.
The four soldiers killed were assigned to the special Kystjeger commando based in Harstad and present in Afghanistan since 2005 as part of Norway’s Military Observation Team (MOT). Military chief Harald Sunde said they were part of “the most experienced forces we have” in Afghanistan.
Faremo, fighting back tears at a somber press conference in Oslo on Monday, said she and Sunde would travel to Afghanistan so that they could accompany their caskets back home to Norway.
“We have lost four of our best soldiers,” Faremo said. “Norway is a small country. We have no one to lose.”
But she and Stoltenberg confirmed that their government won’t withdraw any troops as a result of Sunday’s attack on the soldiers’ armoured vehicle. It was blown up by a roadside bomb that the Taliban claims to have placed and exploded. Researchers have said that as many as 60 percent of recent casualties in Afghanistan have been the result of such roadside bombs.
The four soldiers killed were:
— Andreas Eldjarn, age 21, from Tromsø in northern Norway
— Simen Tokle, age 24, from Ballangen in Nordland County
— Trond André Bolle, age 41, from Lena in Toten (Oppland County)
— Christian Lian, age 31, from Kristiansand in southern Norway
Military officials said all four were riding in an armoured Iveco personnel carrier, on their way to meetings with local officials in Faryab Province in northern Afghanistan, where Norway has taken on special responsibility for stabilization efforts in the area.
“It was a patrol from the stabilization force (based at Meymaneh) out on assigment when they were hit by the roadside bomb,” said Sunde. He said their vehicle was completely destroyed in the blast.
Helicopters, Sunde said, arrived “relatively quickly” in an effort to rescue those on board but their lives couldn’t be saved. Their bodies were brought back to the Norwegian camp at Meymaneh.
Officials said Faryab was long a relatively peaceful area of Afghanistan, but its security has worsened in recent years as insurgents fanned out to fight NATO’s presence around the country.
Some military researchers believe casualties will continue to mount, as insurgents and organized criminal gangs boost their own offense against the NATO forces. Nearly 100 NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this month, and more than 300 since the year began.
Ståle Ulriksen of the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI is charged with researching strategic challenges in Afghanistan, and told newspaper Aftenposten that Norwegian soldiers are increasingly coming under fire. Last month, nine soldiers were wounded in northern Afghanistan, two of them critically.