updated 12/13/2008 9:12:59 PM ET 2008-12-14T02:12:59

Three Canadian soldiers died Saturday and one was injured when their vehicle was hit by improvised explosive device in southern Afghanistan, the Canadian military said.

The soldiers were responding to reports people were planting a suspicious object west of Kandahar City on the border between the Arghandab and Zhari districts, close to the village of Senjaray, the military said in a statement.

The military is not releasing their names until all the next of kin are notified.

The injured soldier is in fair condition, said the statement.

The deaths come just eight days after three other Canadian soldiers were killed, bringing the nation's death toll in Afghanistan to 103 soldiers and one diplomat since the military mission began six years ago, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

News of the latest deaths came as about 1,000 people gathered Saturday in Ontario for a military funeral for one of the three killed last week, Cpl. Mark McLaren.

McLaren, warrant Officer Robert Wilson, and Pte. Demetrios Diplaros died when their armored vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.

Canada has 2,500 soldiers in Kandahar province, the former Taliban stronghold that has again emerged as the epicenter of violence. The country increased its deployment in Afghanistan after declining a U.S. request to send troops to Iraq.

However, despite the troop increase, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates hinted two days ago that Canada should continue fighting the war in Afghanistan after the mission's scheduled end in 2011. Speaking during a quick visit to Kandahar to meet with front-line commanders, Gates said that the longer the mission can have Canadian soldiers as our partners, the better it is.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has insisted that Canada's mission will not extend beyond 2011, saying Canadians do not have the appetite to keep their soldiers in Afghanistan longer.

Canadians have been increasingly concerned about the toll in Afghanistan in recent years. Canadian soldiers who die in Afghanistan are flown to Ontario and driven to a Toronto morgue before being returned to their hometowns. Canadians often line the overpasses of Highway 401 — now known as the "Highway of Heroes" — to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers.

There are some 53,000 NATO-led troops from 27 countries serving in Afghanistan, including 32,000 U.S. troops. One American serviceman died in Afghanistan in November, a dramatic drop from earlier months; there have been 148 U.S. military deaths in all this year.

The U.S. military is beginning a massive building effort in Afghanistan to house the roughly 20,000 additional troops that are expected to begin pouring in early next year, a top U.S. military officer said Friday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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