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Thursday
Mar102011

Corporal Tasker Killed by Sniper, His Bomb-Sniffing Dog Collapsed and Died

Ministry of Defense(WILTSHIRE, England) -- British mourners traditionally give a respectful silent salute to slain soldiers, but Thursday they were joined by dog owners who brought their dogs to the grim arrival of Lance Corporal Liam Tasker and his bomb-sniffing dog Theo.

Tasker, 26, died in a firefight on March 1 in Helmand province with Theo by his side. The dog, a springer spaniel, suffered a seizure from the stress and died hours later after being returned to base, according to the British Ministry of Defense.

Tasker's body and the ashes of Theo were returned Thursday on the same military plane to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, England.

Residents of Wootton Bassett, near Lyneham, lined the streets when Tasker's coffin, draped with the British Union Jack, passed through the town on its way to Oxford, where soldiers' bodies are examined by a coroner before being returned to families. Villagers traditionally greet the casket with a solemn moment of silence. It's a ritual of respect that began more than two years ago, explained a local government employee. But when the bells of St. Bartholomew's Church tolled Thursday, the mourners included devastated dog handlers and their animals, she said.

Tasker and Theo had worked together uncovering roadside bombs in Afghanistan and were remarkably successful, finding 14 bombs meant to kill and maim British soldiers. They had more operational finds than any other individual team in Afghanistan to date, the Ministry of Defense said. They were featured in a video released by the Army before Tasker's death, showing a perky Theo on patrol with his handler. The two were so good at what they were doing that their tour of duty had been extended by a month.

Theo, 22 months old and on his first tour of duty, was with Tasker when he was felled by a sniper's bullet during a firefight and died.

Theo's ashes were due to be presented to the Tasker family Thursday in a private ceremony.

Tasker, from Kirkcaldy, Scotland was the 358th member of the British military to have died in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001. Theo is the sixth British military dog killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

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