France confirms five soldiers killed in Afghanistan

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Five French soldiers and an Afghan civilian were killed Wednesday in a suicide bomb attack, President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said Wednesday, one day after he returned from a visit to Afghanistan.

Four more soldiers and three more local civilians were "gravely wounded" in the attack on a unit protecting a meeting of a local tribal council in Joybar in eastern Afghanistan's Tagab valley, the statement said.

"A terrorist detonated his bomb close to the French soldiers," the Elysee said, condemning the "cowardly murder" and expressing France's determination to remain part of the NATO-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan.

The attack was the most deadly blow to French forces in Afghanistan since 18 August 2008, when 10 soldiers were killed and 21 injured when a patrol was ambushed by Taliban guerrillas in Uzbin, in the Sarobi district east of Kabul.

The deaths brought to 69 the number of French soldiers to have died in Afghanistan since 2001, when they deployed in support of the US-led campaign to overthrow the Taliban regime and hunt Al-Qaeda militants.

They are also a political blow for Sarkozy, coming one day after his visit to Afghanistan -- where he defended the campaign against opposition at home -- and one day before the Bastille Day military parade in Paris.

The march down the Champs Elysees is the highlight of the French army's calendar, but will now be overshadowed by the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, amid calls for France to accelerate its withdrawal from the country.

Sarkozy announced on Tuesday during his trip to Sarobi that a quarter of France's 4,000-strong contingent would come home before the end of next year.

© 2011 AFP

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