RIGA - One soldier has been killed and three others wounded in an attack on Latvian troops in Afghanistan.
The soldiers were returning from escorting a group of journalists to Meymaneh province when a bomb blast rocked their convoy at 11:56 a.m. Latvian time Aug. 11.
Pfc. Edgars Ozolins died en route to the hospital, while three other soldiers are suffering from medium to heavy injuries, the defense ministry said.
"A Latvian private first class died while performing his duties in Afghanistan. I would first like to express my condolences to the relatives and service mates of the soldier," President Valdis Zatlers said at an Aug. 11 press conference.
The president also said, however, that the country would not consider pulling out of the mission in Afghanistan because of the death.
"We will not breach or recall our international liabilities. We are participants of a united security system," he said.
Ozolins was the first National Armed Forces soldier killed in service in Afghanistan. In recent years, however, one engineer was killed in the country and two servicemen were killed in Iraq.
The Latvian defense minister reportedly personally called the family of the fallen soldier to express his condolences. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves also sent his condolences to the family of the dead soldier.
"Please convey my words of condolence to the victim's family and friends," Ilves said in a message to Zatlers.
Latvian Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins has also voiced his sympathy for the family, calling the death a "great loss" for the nation.
"In our thoughts we are together with the family members of Private First Class Edgars Ozolins. This is a great loss, both for them and for all of Latvia. I believe that the government and the National Armed Forces will provide all possible assistance to the family of the fallen soldier. Due to his professional and selfless service, Edgars Ozolins will always remain in our memories," the foreign minister said in an Aug. 12 press release.
It was the first international mission that the 23-year-old soldier had been sent on, Commander of Latvian National Armed Forces Juris Maklakovs said at a press conference. He would have been rotated back to Latvia at the end of the year.
As many as 13 civilians were killed in the blast. The attack came from a remotely controlled homemade explosive device. None of the journalists that the group was escorting were harmed in the attack.
Pvt. Ainars Stepins sustained a moderately severe leg injury and will continue treatment in Afghanistan, where he was reportedly in stable condition following surgery on Aug. 12. Pfc. Andis Brencis and Pvt. Juris Skerskans sustained light trauma and will be able to continue with the mission.
Psychologists and religious figures will be sent to Afghanistan to help the remaining Latvian soldiers cope with the loss of their fellow warrior. Chaplains and psychologists will also be available to the family to help ease the loss.
Ozolins' remains will be sent back to Latvia through Oslo. The Defense Ministry has promised to compensate the family for the expense of the funeral and for trauma they have experienced because of the loss.
At present, 117 Latvian troops, two police and a representative of the Foreign Ministry are serving with the NATO-led ISAF force in Afghanistan.
Although insurgents are most active in Afghanistan's southern regions, they have recently been stepping up attacks in the north, where the Latvian troops are deployed.
Over the course of the past year, Latvian troops have come under increasingly heavy fire. Until the most recent incident, however, no serious injuries had resulted from the increased fighting.