TBILISI (Reuters) - Three Georgian soldiers were killed in the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Wednesday, its defense ministry said, taking the non-NATO country's death toll to 15.
"Their combat vehicle exploded following an insurgent attack," the ministry said in a statement of the incident in one of Afghanistan's most violent provinces, which neighbors Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was in Helmand on Monday to meet his country's troops, said after the deaths that Georgia stood by its commitment to the increasingly unpopular war, dragged into its 11th year.
"The sacrifice of Georgian servicemen is appreciated by the Georgian people... future generations will live in a united, much stronger and more successful country," Saakashvili said in a statement.
The former Soviet country has over 900 troops supporting the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, including 750 in Helmand. Another deployment of 600-700 will be sent this year, making Georgia one of the largest non-NATO contributors in the war.
Georgian troops have been in Afghanistan since 2004, a commitment that underscores Tbilisi's ambition to join NATO, despite fierce opposition from neighboring Russia, with which it fought a brief war in 2008, and waning enthusiasm among the coalition's member states.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman in Kabul; Editing by Ron Popeski)