The people of Afghanistan have long used underground aqueducts known as a karez or qanat to move water long distances and provide nourishment for their crops and families.
During the operations in Afghanistan, there were always rumours, and some evidence, of karezes being used to store weapons and ammunition or to move insurgents. There were however, practical limitations to using them for anything but water transportation due to their depth and the steepness of their walls as we discovered after June 7, 2008.
Capt. Jonathan Snyder, a 26-year-old member of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry from Penticton and a University of Victoria grad, was on his second tour of Afghanistan. He was later recognized for his bravery on that second tour with a Star of Military Valour, Canada’s second-highest award for bravery, for his leadership of a team assigned to an Afghan company that was ambushed by Taliban insurgents. A few nights after that incident, humble and dedicated, he was back patrolling across a contested area of grape fields dotted with karez shafts.
Snyder stepped near the edge of a karez in the darkness and the ground gave way. He fell 20 metres down into the darkness and into water. His patrol members worked desperately to recover him. A helicopter eventually carried him to Kandahar Airfield, where he was pronounced dead.
As his death was not “a direct result of hostile action,” however, Snyder was ineligible for the Sacrifice Medal that was announced later that summer. He was, nevertheless, patrolling at night in territory where an enemy was active. As he was unable to give away his movements, using white light was not an option and his death, though accidental, was a direct result of his operational service in Afghanistan.
A review of the policy took place and with Snyder’s case top of mind, the eligibility criteria for the medal were amended the next year to read “as a direct result of a hostile action or action intended for a hostile force” and “as a result of an injury or disease related to military service.” With time, Canadians have accepted that all deaths and injuries related to an operation where a hostile force is operating deserve recognition. We have Snyder to thank for that, a Canadian hero in every sense of the word.