OTTAWA (AFP) — Canada announced Wednesday the death of three soldiers in an insurgent attack on their armored vehicle in Afghanistan, bringing it closer to the symbolic 100 dead since the start of its mission in 2002.
The rocket attack occurred at 9:30 a.m. local time in the Zhari District in the south, killing three and injuring five other soldiers, said Brigadier-General Denis Thompson, the top Canadian commander in Kandahar.
"The soldiers were conducting a security patrol when the attack occurred," he said. "All eight soldiers were evacuated to the Kandahar Airfield where three were confirmed dead by medical officials.
"Of the five soldiers who were injured, one is reported to be in critical condition, one is in serious but stable condition, two are in good condition, and one has been treated and released."
The deceased soldiers were to end their Afghan tour later this month, Thompson said. The oldest of them was 23 years old and had been injured once before on a previous rotation in Afghanistan in 2006.
The insurgents had found a weakness in their military vehicle's armor, said Thompson, adding: "Sometimes the insurgents get lucky."
Canada maintains a contingent of 2,500 soldiers in the Kandahar region as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The latest fatalities bring Canada's military death toll in Afghanistan since the start of the mission in 2002 to 96 soldiers.
The figure increases to 99 if the deaths of a senior diplomat in 2006 and two aid workers assassinated in August are counted.
Last month, the Taliban published a menacing letter urging Canada to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan or face more bloodshed and civilian casualties.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a press conference on Wednesday left no doubt of his determination to hunt down insurgents until Canada's scheduled withdrawal in 2011.
"This is a very dangerous, very difficult mission, but we went into this seven years ago because we realized that to leave a country like Afghanistan in a state of anarchy and chaos was creating a situation that was endangering our own security," he said.
"We saw that with the attacks on the World Trade Centre (in New York) and we're obviously working with our allies and with the government of Afghanistan to prevent that situation from developing ever again," he said, referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States
It is widely believed in Canada that Harper will announce snap elections in the coming days, and Canada's mission in Afghanistan is almost certain to be a key issue in the campaign, with support usually waning after casualties are announced.
The main opposition Liberals earlier this year approved a mission extension to 2011, but demanded a renewed focus on reconstruction and development, and less on combat.
Wednesday, Harper reiterated his government's objectives to 2011 "to continue the good work our people have been doing in Afghanistan under very dangerous and very difficult circumstances and to transition towards the training of the Afghan military, (with) greater emphasis on development and reconstruction."
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