Three Canadian soldiers who were set to return home later this month were killed Wednesday morning when their armoured vehicle came under direct attack in southern Afghanistan.
Five other soldiers were wounded, one critically.
"The brave soldiers killed today were coming to the end of their tour," Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson told reporters in Kandahar. "It saddens me to think of their loved ones, who were expecting them to return home later this month."
Cpl. Andrew Grenon, Cpl. Mike Seggie and Pte. Chad Horn were killed in the Zhari district of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province.
Thompson said that when the insurgents attacked the soldiers at about 9:30 a.m., the Canadians returned fire. Even the wounded soldiers pulled themselves out of the armoured vehicle and started firing back.
The eight soldiers were rushed out of the area, and three were pronounced dead at the Kandahar Airfield. Thompson said one of the wounded is now in critical condition and another in serious but stable condition. Two are in good condition, and one has been treated and released from medical care.
Thompson would not release other details about the attack or the injured.
Soldier got bravery medal week before death
Thompson said the three dead were all members of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry battle group, based in Shilo, Man.
"Andrew, Mike and Chad gave their all in support of the mission," Thompson said. "We will honour their memory by remaining steadfast in our efforts to help the people of Afghanistan."
He said Grenon, a 23-year-old who was on his second tour in Afghanistan, brought "confidence to those around him and inspired the first tour guys, making them feel safe."
Grenon, who was originally from Windsor, Ont., saw fierce fighting and was twice injured on his first tour in 2006-07, but still volunteered to go back, according to the Windsor Star.
The newspaper said Grenon was awarded a bravery medal, called the Canadian Expeditionary Forces Commander's Commendation, a little over a week ago for preventing a riot and saving the lives of two soldiers during a battle on March 3.
"You have to prepare yourself that you might not come back," Grenon told CBC News before going to Afghanistan in 2006.
"It's a hard thing to do. It's a hard thing to accept. [But] the sooner that you accept it, the sooner that you realize the fact that your life will be in danger, the sooner that you can do your job without hesitation."
His friend, fellow soldier Daniel Jenkins, said Grenon, who enjoyed hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and writing songs, was fully devoted to being a soldier.
"He was a hell of a soldier, for sure. The real deal," he told CBC News on Wednesday. "He loved what he did."
Seggie learned Pashtun to communicate with Afghans
Seggie, 21, came from a family of Patricias, as both his father and uncle served with the regiment, Thompson said. He said Seggie, who was "cool under fire," had a great attitude and would often make himself the butt of a joke just to get a laugh out of his comrades.
Thompson said Seggie had learned several Pashtun phrases in order to communicate better with the local population in Afghanistan.
Seggie, who had been stationed in Shilo for two years, was extremely close to his family and friends and excited about returning home to see his nephew, his family said in a prepared statement.
"Mike loved life and lived it to the fullest, there was never a dull moment when Mike was around. He enjoyed driving his 1968 Barracuda and showing it off any time he had the chance," the family said.
The family did not confirm Seggie's hometown, but media reports suggest he was originally from Winnipeg.
Calgary's Horn had 'unlimited potential'
Horn was a professional, hard-working soldier, Thompson said. At 21, the Calgary man had "unlimited potential and was admired by his peers."
Thompson said Horn was considered the best gunner in the company and was credited with saving the lives of many of his comrades during his time in Afghanistan because of his ability to act under fire.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking in Windsor, called the soldiers' deaths a tragedy.
"These are tremendously brave men and women who put their lives on the line for this country, for its values and to help their fellow human beings," Harper said.
"We don't have a draft. They do it voluntarily. It's a tremendous tragedy whenever we lose one of them."
Enemy 'getting bolder': Retired colonel
Retired Canadian military Col. Michel Drapeau told CBC News that the direct nature of Wednesday's attack speaks to the confidence of the insurgents in Afghanistan.
"It suggests that the enemy is getting bolder, more effective in the ability to command and control the forces it has, to assemble these forces at the time of its choosing, and capable to deliver, in this case, a mortal blow," he said.
"[The military is] no longer dealing with an insurgent that plants a bomb in the middle of the night, but somebody who is bold enough and equipped enough with ammunitions and know-how to stand up to a very, very potent force."
He said Canadians will need to have more support from their allies, including more troops sent to the southern Kandahar region, to handle the emboldened insurgents.
Vehicles can't be impervious: Thompson
Thompson said the Canadian military will investigate the quality of the armoured vehicle the soldiers were in, but he warned that even the best armoured vehicle cannot protect soldiers from every attack.
"You cannot design a vehicle that is impervious to all direct fire," he said. "It is impossible… Every vehicle has vulnerability."
"We are not invulnerable and don't own a vehicle that is impervious, nobody does. Sometimes the insurgents get lucky."
Harper said his government has made "considerable investments" in the mission to improve the Canadian military's effectiveness and safety. Still, he said the mission will always be dangerous by nature.
"We haven't told anybody anything other than this is a very dangerous, very difficult mission," he said.
"We got 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 added. "We're obviously working with our allies and with the government of Afghanistan to prevent that situation from developing ever again."
The three deaths come exactly two weeks after three other soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the same volatile Zhari district. Two other Canadian soldiers were killed in August, as well as two Canadian aid workers, making it one of deadliest months for Canadians in Afghanistan.
Canada launched its Afghan mission in February 2002, and about 2,500 Canadian soldiers are now serving in the war-torn country, most of them in the volatile south.
With Wednesday's deaths, the number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan has risen to 96. A Canadian diplomat also died.