Suicide bomber kills five French soldiers 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 August 18, 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 president offers the victims' families and loved ones his most sincere condolences and shares their pain. He wishes the wounded swift recoveries," the statement from the Elysee Palace said on Tuesday.

"The head of state expresses France's determination to continue to work within the International Security and Assistance Force to re-establish peace and stability in this country and contribute to its development."

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, but polls show most French voters oppose the war.

"It's necessary to end the war," Sarkozy told journalists at the base. "There was never a question of keeping troops in Afghanistan indefinitely."

The French parliament was due to hold a minute of silence for the dead soldiers on Wednesday afternoon and Prime Minister Francois Fillon was due to make a statement later, parliamentary sources said.

France's troops in Afghanistan will be among those singled out for honour at the parade, with a detachment of the La Fayette brigade -- recently returned from a tour on the frontline -- parading for Sarkozy and the public.

The French military is also in action in Libya, where the air force is taking a leading role in the NATO bombing campaign against Moamer Kadhafi's regime and had dropped weapons to rebels fighting his forces.

Earlier this year, French troops and special forces also helped overthrow former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to accept electoral defeat.

In all, 13,500 personnel are deployed in various overseas trouble spots.

Earlier in Afghanistan, the police chief in Tagab, part of Kapisa Province, reported a suicide bombing attack in front of a French military convoy in the area.

"At around 11:25 today a suicide attacker on foot targeted a French convoy in Gulzarkhail village of Tagab district. There were some casualties among the French forces," said senior police official Sayed Sakhidad Matin.

He said an Afghan policeman had also been injured in the attack, but no further details were yet known as investigations were ongoing.

NATO earlier announced the death of two foreign troops in the south, one in an insurgent attack on Wednesday, and a second in a bomb attack on Tuesday.

Wednesday's latest deaths brought this year's toll to 306 foreign troops killed in Afghanistan, according to an AFP estimate based on data compiled by independent monitor

© 2011 AFP

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